Marijuana has been criminalized by the federal government since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. More recently, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, claiming it to have a high potential for abuse and having no medicinal use recognized by the United States.1 Despite this prohibition, Washington D.C. joined the ranks of thirteen states to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. These state laws are in direct contradiction of federal law banning any use of the drug for any reason. What is most striking about Washington D.C.’s legalization of medicinal use, is D.C. being a figure head for the federal government. Most major branches of the government have some sort of presence there.

Currently, an individual may be written a prescription under these state laws, and still be violating federal laws. This leaves patients to decide between their health and comfort or to follow the federal prohibition. Most of the individuals who would be eligible for a prescription for marijuana are terminally ill patients suffering from cancer or HIV. Adding to the complexity of the issue was a statement by President Obama, assuring those who grow medical marijuana in accordance with state law or who use it with a valid prescription will not see federal agents at their doorsteps. In all of the aforementioned states, recreational use of marijuana remains illegal.

It is important that the federal government respond to this contradiction between state and federal law. A reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a lower level of restriction would be highly advisable. It is apparent that many states and scientists how found marijuana to have significant medicinal use, making the Schedule I classification outdated. There are many drugs already made and prescribed by the pharmaceutical industry that are highly addictive and potentially dangerous (opiate based drugs such as Morphine and Oxycontin). A refusal to reclassify marijuana would be seen as nothing more than politics and big business lobbying. This federal reclassification would then give each state the right to decide whether medicinal marijuana would be socially acceptable among its own citizens.

Allowing further research and funding to the subject will remove the underground and criminal element currently involved with the study and production of marijuana. Quality and purity standards would be enforced, giving reasonable assurance that prescribed marijuana is not tainted by other hazardous chemicals or materials. Allowing science to research marijuana and its benefits and consequences, the government can then make an educated decision on its health effects and risks.

Another option would be to make a public statement issuing a cease and desist order to anyone producing, distributing or using medicinal marijuana. After a brief period of time, begin to investigate and prosecute the violators. This would give the people involved adequate time to shut down operations or risk federal charges. This option may be widely criticized if some of those arrested include the patients suffering from life-threatening or dehabilitating pain. It will be hard for juries to convict and send to prison someone of a seemingly victimless crime that has been widely used despite the laws against it.

Critics will argue that any relaxing of current drug laws will be seen as a validation for the recreational use of these drugs and make it easier for children to obtain. Perhaps for a more dangerous substance, but marijuana is both widely available and the most heavily used illicit drug available. Its legal status has not stopped the availability of the drug or hindered its potential market. If anything, it guarantees the safety of those who would use the marijuana as it will come from government approved providers who must adhere to strict safety and quality standards.

Claims that there are already drugs that can help treat the same symptoms as marijuana are also invalid. Scientists, doctors and patients appear to disagree. If currently available pharmaceutical drugs were sufficient, then patients would use them and doctors would prescribe them. The fact that these people are willing to come in direct violation of federal law give a degree shows that the currently available prescription drugs are not sufficient.

It is imprudent to allow this gray area to continue. Legal paradoxes of this magnitude should be immediately corrected before the courts and legal system are inundated with individuals who can (and will) cost millions of dollars by appealing their court cases. Since the populations of thirteen states and now Washington D.C. have expressed defiance to the current federal laws, the safest course of action would be to reclassify marijuana to allow for scientists to research in controlled environments the affects of marijuana and its possible uses, and to allow each state to determine whether its medicinal use is socially acceptable.



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