Banning medical marijuana should be a deemed a criminal act

Richard Rider, Chairman, San Diego Tax Fighters Richard Rider, Chairman, San Diego Tax Fighters

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I wanted to add my own personal commentary to the Bilbray story about his daughter using medical marijuana. It’s rare that I have an emotional attachment to an issue, as most of my positions are based on hard-nosed facts and sensible logic. However, with the issue of medical marijuana — where I differ from most (not all) of my fellow Republicans — I have both emotional and logical reasons for my position.

To start with, the problems of marijuana prohibition are FAR greater than the harm marijuana causes. It creates a profitable black market for criminals, and it’s crowding our legal and prison systems with non-violent offenders committed what really ARE victimless crimes.

This folly of marijuana prohibition is more widely accepted than you think. The list of bright folks who agree with marijuana legalization starts with most of the Economic Nobel Prize winners — including Milton Friedman.

AN ASIDE: I personally do not like marijuana. I have never smoked it — indeed I’ve never smoked so much as a cigarette. I prefer not to be around those that are high or getting high. The smell is bad, and the behavior of users can be boorish. But I fully understand that, if we want a free society, my dislike for marijuana and its users is not grounds for having the politicians, police, courts and prisons criminalizing and persecuting folks when no real crime has occurred.

I could go on and on as I always do with devastating facts, but I wanted to offer a more personal experience on this issue — limiting it to the medical marijuana benefits and legalization for just that narrow purpose. If you have no experience with the positive effects of marijuana on the sick, talk to someone who does. Like me.

When my son was 27, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a type of cancer that 50 years ago was a death sentence. Fortunately, with modern day chemotherapy, the successful rate of treating this form of cancer is remarkably high. But the treatment process requires intense chemotherapy.

For those that have not seen someone go through chemotherapy, it’s likely you cannot imagine how unpleasant it is. My best effort to illustrate is that I ask people to imagine the worst case of a hangover, or food-poisoning, or some awful illness, and you still really aren’t even close to what hard-core chemotherapy is like.

My son stands 6’2, and during chemotherapy, his weight fell to under 150 lbs. His hair was gone. His attitude after treatment was bleak. The mere act of trying to eat was extraordinarily challenging.

There are some legal prescriptions that can be offered during this treatment that can help. Most important was an “Emend” pill that cost $100 EACH, which would bring down the nausea. It was needed for the 2 days after a chemo treatment, and he had to go through that treatment twice a month.

At this point, cost wasn’t a factor for him. His high deductible insurance didn’t cover this drug, but we parents gladly paid for the pills.

But for people without terrific insurance or the ability to come up with an extra $400 dollars a month, obtaining this legal prescription drug can be challenging if not impossible.

Alternatively, smoking marijuana was nothing short of a miracle drug for my son. There were three major medical benefits — the sum total of which made it considerably superior to Emend.

First, it eliminated the nausea almost instantly. And I do mean INSTANTLY — assuming the marijuana is smoked.

Second, it increased his appetite. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.

Third, it improved his mental state. No, not by putting him in an upbeat mood, but by simply making him not feel completely terrible and hopeless. All of these are critical elements for successfully beating cancer and getting through the treatment.

Let me add a fourth benefit that is obvious — but needs to be included. Even though marijuana is an illegal drug, it’s CHEAP — certainly compared to Emend.  Probably only 1/100th of an Emend pill.  It would be cheaper still if it were legal.

Medical MJ is one of the ways we can help control the runaway costs of health care. Not a panacea, but another arrow in the medical quiver.

My son did beat cancer, but it was literally the fight of his life. When someone is fighting for their life, they do not want the government to interfere with their treatment. If I were faced with chemo, my personal dislike of marijuana would be trumped by my interest in effective treatment at a reasonable cost.

The argument against medical marijuana usually is that marijuana might fall into the wrong hands. Perhaps, but most of the problem evolves around the lack of oversight rules to control distribution. No doubt widespread abuse of this “medical” option occurs, but chalk that up to the complete inability of government to provide or enforce proper guidelines.

But back to medical marijuana. To deny cancer patients this highly effective, low cost drug when they are fighting for their lives, is unconscionably wrong.  I hope that Congressman Bilbray and my other Republican friends will reevaluate their position to be more accepting of medical marijuana. It is the right thing to do — both from a logical and from a compassionate perspective.

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