The Daily Herald
By Alexander E. Sharp | Guest Columnist
Published: 6/2/2010 12:00 AM
If a member of your family, a close friend or even a neighbor whom you did not know very well were in severe pain, wouldn’t you want to do what you could to help relieve their suffering? Of course you would – as a matter of compassion and mercy.
Marijuana provides relief not available in any other way to sufferers of chronic and severe pain from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. I have met those for whom this is true. In some cases, the relief from pain has saved their lives – literally.
Some who oppose medical marijuana fear that it will lead young people to increased use. But 14 states have already approved this measure, including Washington, Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Colorado, California, Rhode Island, Michigan and, most recently, New Jersey. In the 11 states where follow-up studies have been carried out – by state and federal agencies – the teen use of marijuana has actually declined.
Will legalizing medical marijuana lead to out-of-control adult recreation and profit? The oversights proposed upfront for Illinois ensure that will not happen here. We have learned from the experience of California and Colorado, which approved medical marijuana by ballot initiative with no regulation written into their laws.
Patients will be required to register with the Illinois Department of Public Health. A doctor must testify in writing to “debilitating medical condition” and to “bona fide physician-patient relationship.” The quantity of cannabis per patient over two months is limited to 2 ounces derived from no more than three mature plants. Dispensaries must have a license renewed annually. Personnel are subject to background checks. Indeed, the regulations on these dispensaries are in some ways stricter than those governing Illinois pharmacies.
Social change often takes time. But the American public already sees the need to change policies governing the use of medical marijuana. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 81 percent of Americans “support legalizing marijuana for medical use.” The Academy of HIV Medicine, the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association all support allowing the medical use of marijuana.
Yes, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet classified marijuana as an approved drug. But this is a “Catch-22” argument. By declaring marijuana “illegal” the federal government has stymied the research that could demonstrate its medicinal value. The FDA has already approved legal painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax that are far more addictive than marijuana and can even cause death through overdose.
Some feel that we should oppose its pain-relieving use because marijuana is illegal. The answer, of course, is to do exactly what the current legislative proposal in Illinois and the 14 other states have already done. That is exactly what states have the opportunity to do in our federal system of government.
The criminal element will gain no advantage here. Under the proposed legislation, those desperately needing relief from pain will be able to do so legally rather than going underground.
With marijuana, as with all drugs, the answer is education. We agree with groups such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America on the critical importance for all of us, especially parents, to teach young people the dangers of abusing drugs.
At the same time, let us not lose sight of the opportunity we have right now to make medical marijuana available to relieve pain and suffering. It is time to look intelligently at the legislation. Let’s give compassion and mercy a chance, not to mention common sense.
• The Rev. Alexander E. Sharp is executive director of Chicago-based Protestants for the Common Good, an Illinois faith-based advocacy organization.