Medical Cannabis a Pawn for Big Players

medical cannabis
In a world where the Prohibition saw excessive violence at times being used against bootleggers, followed by a period of adjustment once alcohol became legal and heavily taxed, it is perhaps easy to spot history repeating itself. Cannabis, formerly the subject of such propaganda films as Reefer Madness, has been accepted for medical use for a short time in the grand scheme of things, but is perhaps now becoming a pawn in the move towards legalization for recreational use by some of the biggest players: state governments.

It seems these days everyone is coming around. The CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, now not only recognizes that his former stance against the medical benefits of marijuana was wrong, but says it was irresponsible. He has done such an about face he has been perhaps instrumental in the fact that Georgia just passed Bill HB885, allowing the use of oral or pill form cannabis to treat people with any of a number of serious seizure disorders. Dr. Gupta mentions, in particular, one very young girl who no traditional pharmacological medicine could bring relief to, when cannabis did. She is not alone.

Dispensaries for medical cannabis and their clients have been big targets by governments, who formerly pawned off a patient’s rights to access and yet are suddenly players in a clear legalization bid. The state of Washington, for instance, recently decided to regulate the substance and will be opening its first stores this summer for the sale of legal marijuana for recreational use. It is not the first state to do so.

U.S. federal law still makes illegal the production, sale and possession of marijuana. However, state by state the decision whether or not to allow all three has been self-regulated. The federal government has not only not intervened, but last month the Obama administration issued new rules for banks wanting to have legitimate dealings with businesses involved in the sale of marijuana. As it is becoming more commonly accepted, this is unavoidable.

On the one hand, the federal government says a thing is illegal and on the other issues rules enabling banks to not break the law. As soon as the sale of cannabis for medical use became more common, states that formerly accepted the federal stance criminalizing marijuana by upholding its illegality of possession and recreational use have reacted by almost immediately putting measures in place to ensure they would not lose out on profits.

Medical dispensaries in Washington State, for instance, fear with legitimate reason that their businesses will be effectively shut down once state-licensed shops become the norm. It was decided that restructuring or newly overseeing existing dispensaries was less feasible than essentially starting from scratch. It had to happen fast so the new stores for recreational use could be opened in a timely fashion, i.e. so profits could start rolling out. In a bizarre turn of logic, salespeople at the new recreational-use stores will not be allowed to dispense advice to people looking to use the substance medically. From the standpoint of pharmacist versus street dealer, this makes a lot of sense. However, these stores are getting dealers off the street and are making governments the dealers.

As many states including Washington are simultaneously calling for individuals to be disallowed from growing their own medical cannabis unless they register (potentially affecting their jobs and private insurance), and also want to shut down big community gardens where growing is done, it is as if patients themselves are being pawned off in a move that is clearly playing only for a huge cash grab.

The state will issue licenses. The state will decide who can grow. The state will oversee the implementation of stores and of sales, and how these are carried out. The state, formerly so prohibitive of even the medical use of this natural substance, simultaneously stops prohibiting and starts making money—and ensures that no one else can, likely to the detriment of people with real medical needs.

In Colorado the process towards the same end happened more slowly and with more organization. State regulators enforced strict rules for medical cannabis long before legalization, so that by the time legalization happened medical dispensaries, already regulated, could be easily licensed.

Advocates worry that while trusted dispensaries become pawns in an unspoken chess game and likely close, choices of medical cannabis will be limited as the new players, i.e. government-approved stores, push strains with a higher THC content for bigger profits. Medical marijuana, ironically, has less of the “feel-good” THC that recreational marijuana has, but is grown with a greater amount of CBD, whose medical value is more effective against nausea, headaches and more. When individual states try to make stores more “uniform,” meeting a newly set out code, whose instructions will they be following? The state of Washington is following guidelines set out last summer by the biggest player of all, the federal government, who still maintains that the sale and possession of the drug, not to mention its production, are illegal.

Opinion by Julie Mahfood

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