Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws giving their residents access to medical marijuana.
Delaware should become the 16th.
It is an unfortunate reality that because California's medical marijuana law was so loosely crafted it has been co-opted by members of a Golden State sub-culture as a means to easily obtain marijuana.
It's also true that Delaware's proposed law is a far better, far tighter piece of legislation than the one on the books in California. States like Vermont and New Mexico have learned from that failure, passing effective medical marijuana laws that our proposed statute emulates. Sponsored by state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, Senate Bill 17 limits the number of dispensaries, requires strict controls on their operation, and specifically defines what medical patients are eligible to get the substance and which doctors may write recommendations for its use.
Additionally, SB 17 bars growing marijuana at home and prohibits its marketing -- unlike pharmaceuticals, which are collectively promoted via direct-to-consumer advertising costing $2.5 billion annually.
Critics of medical marijuana are suspicious because they believe that pharmaceuticals such as Marinol provide all the benefits of marijuana without its intoxicating effects. The assumption is that people seeking medical marijuana spurn these alternatives because they're only interested in getting high.
While some alternatives are available via prescription, marijuana has 85 active components. Substitutes do not have this complete complement of constituent parts and lack the complex relationship that has proven relevant to its therapeutic value. Just as generic drugs sometimes do not work as well as the medications they mimic, so too is the case with marijuana replacements.
Marijuana has been proven to be effective in treating nausea and seizures and managing chronic pain. Ironically, it's often used to deal with the side effects of drugs administered to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS. At a press conference to unveil Senate Bill 17, numerous Delawareans stepped forth to tell their firsthand accounts of how marijuana was the only substance capable of moderating the debilitating effects of the vital medication they need to save, or in the most tragic cases, simply prolong their lives.
As if dealing with a devastating illness was not burden enough, Delaware patients who use marijuana for its medical benefits risk arrest and prosecution. They are forced to illegally buy marijuana, often through intermediaries, without knowing its source and hoping it does not contain potentially life-threatening contaminates.
Much of the resistance to medical marijuana is born out of distorted perceptions. Some of these misgivings are raised by the need to create a method of distribution outside of the channel used to disperse prescription drugs, but this need is because of the federal government's archaic Schedule 1 classification. There would be far less controversy over medical marijuana if doctors could write a prescription that patients could fill at their local pharmacy, but that simple solution is not available to the states because of the overriding federal law.
Repeated polling shows strong support for making marijuana available for those that have a legitimate medical need for it. Backers include two former U.S. Surgeons General, the American Nurses Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Public Health Association, the Presbyterian Church, and the United Methodist Church. A survey I conducted in my own district revealed that about three-quarters of respondents endorsed the concept.
Medical marijuana is not a panacea. Like prescription drugs, it will only be beneficial for a subset of the patients who take it. However, both scientific studies and thousands of testimonials provide ample evidence it will provide relief to some people who are in dire need of it and who are not being helped by available pharmaceuticals.
Senate Bill 17 is not a perfect piece of legislation. I have some concerns about the protocol for establishing dispensaries as well as some other aspects of the measure. However, I don't think we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I'm co-sponsoring the bill because I think there is an opportunity to make it even better before it's enacted and because, as a cancer survivor who has endured chemotherapy, I have a personal understanding of the value this option could have for some patients.
Unreasonable fear and false preconceptions should not stand as barriers to denying a treatment that holds the promise of improving the quality-of-life for hundreds of sick Delawareans.
The First State should become the next state to legalize the legitimate use of medical marijuana.
By NICK MANOLAKOS
Feb. 11, 2011
Delaware, it's time to make medical marijuana legal