Boss Emeritus: Put aside the pot jokes and look again at Colorado legalization

posted at 12:41 pm on March 26, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Our great friend and Boss Emeritus, Michelle Malkin, offers a powerful testimony today in her column on marijuana legalization — and a surprisingly personal perspective. Sure, we all have fun with jokes at Colorado’s experiment with recreational approval, but the access it creates does more than just serve as easy access to intoxication. Michelle found herself in one of the pot shops that have opened to serve demand that comes from more than just fun and games, hoping to find help for her mother-in-law:

It’s 9 a.m. on a weekday, and I’m at the Marisol Therapeutics pot shop. This is serious business. Security is tight. ID checks are frequent. Merchandise is strictly regulated, labeled, wrapped and controlled. The store is clean, bright and safe. The staffers are courteous and professional. Customers of all ages are here.

There’s a middle-aged woman at the counter nearby who could be your school librarian. On the opposite end of the dispensary, a slender young soldier in a wheelchair with close-cropped hair, dressed in his fatigues, consults with a clerk. There’s a gregarious cowboy and an inquisitive pair of baby boomers looking at edibles. A dude in a hoodie walks in with his backpack.

And then there’s my husband and me. …

For the past three months, my mother-in-law, Carole, whom I love with all my heart, has battled metastatic melanoma. After a harrowing week of hospitalization and radiation, she’s at home now. A miraculous new combination of oral cancer drugs seems to have helped enormously with pain and possibly contained the disease’s spread. But Carole’s loss of appetite and nausea persist.

A month ago, with encouragement from all of her doctors here in Colorado, she applied for a state-issued medical marijuana card. It still hasn’t come through. As a clerk at Marisol Therapeutics told us, there’s a huge backlog.

In states where only medicinal use is permitted, Carole would still be out of luck. However, in Colorado, access for recreational use also allows people to get around the permitting process temporarily, although the prices go up for non-medicinal use:

But thanks to Amendment 64, the marijuana drug legalization act approved by voters in 2012, we were able to legally and safely circumvent the bureaucratic holdup. “A lot of people are in your same situation,” the pot shop staffer told us. “We see it all the time, and we’re glad we can help.”

Be sure to read it all. Michelle makes a good point about the entrepreneurial aspects of Colorado’s legalization, as well as the improved ability for citizens to exercise their own choice on both recreational intoxicants and medical treatments. The marijuana is grown on site and/or locally, so it involves no issues that would normally invoke federal jurisdiction.

That leaves the question, though, of whether marijuana actually does provide an effective therapeutic treatment. Unfortunately, this is another area in which the federal government obstructs rather than clarifies, as the Washington Post reported last week:

While 20 states and the District have made medical marijuana legal — in Colorado and Washington state the drug is also legal for recreational use — it remains among the most tightly controlled substances under federal law. For scientists, that means extra steps to obtain, transport and secure the drug — delays they say can slow down their research by months or even years.

The barriers exist despite the fact that the number of people using marijuana legally for medical reasons is estimated at more than 1 million.

Stalled for decades because of the stigma associated with the drug, lack of funding and legal issues, research into marijuana’s potential for treating diseases is drawing renewed interest. Recent studies and anecdotal stories have provided hope that marijuana, or some components of the plant, may have diverse applications, such as treating cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease.

But scientists say they are frustrated that the federal government has not made any efforts to speed the process of research. Over the years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has turned down several petitions to reclassify cannabis, reiterating its position that marijuana has no accepted medical use and remains a dangerous drug. The DEA has said that there is a lack of safety data and that the drug has a high potential for abuse.

It’s a typical bureaucratic catch-22. The government has declared marijuana to be among the most dangerous of controlled substances so few can access it for studies to determine its value, and the federal government uses the lack of established evidence of its value to justify its classification. Meanwhile, several states have had years of experience in medicinal legalization with apparently few ill effects, which is at least indirect evidence that the DEA has misclassified marijuana, but no one wants to take the politically risky step of reducing control over weed. Meanwhile, people like Carole have to live in states like Colorado in order to make their own decisions over access and effectiveness.

I’m not a fan of marijuana, and I do worry about the moral signal that legalizing recreational use sends, but at least so far it hasn’t had any worse impact than alcohol. We should at least study the impact of marijuana so that we can have an informed debate.

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