Light Up, If You Dare
by Gary Rotstein, (17 Jul 2006) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pennsylvania
No Butts About It
Cigarette-smokers and marijuana-smokers may have nothing more in common than the occasional need to borrow matches, but they're on the same side in California today: the outside.
San Diego has just joined 35 other California cities with ordinances prohibiting anyone from lighting up on the beach. Aside from secondhand smoking concerns, they're fed up with butt litter. San Diego has nothing on San Francisco, of course. A year ago, the city by the bay adopted the most restrictive outdoor smoking ban anywhere in the United States. Violators are presumably put on public display, padlocked in stocks in Golden Gate Park.
Though San Francisco has long been a haven for leftist-leaning types ( who are, coincidentally enough, often pot smokers ), marijuana advocates also find themselves on the defensive there. The city's Planning Commission voted Thursday to deny a permit for medicinal marijuana sales near the Fisherman's Wharf tourist district. California legalized marijuana sales for pain treatment in 1996 to those with doctor's recommendations ( 10 other non-Pennsylvania states have since followed suit ), but cities may restrict where the outlets are located.
Potheads Go Home
The 20 or more marijuana outlets operating in San Francisco are under tighter new city regulations that could make things less groovy for them. Neighbors of cannabis clubs have complained that some people with so-called medical needs purchase the marijuana just to resell it, and so the outlets draw an unsavory element, not to mention ill-groomed Cheech and Chong impersonators.
"The nature of pot clubs right now brings an element that's not appropriate," one Fisherman's Wharf area resident told the San Francisco Planning Commission. "This is a family neighborhood -- it's not right for such an adult-oriented and, to a great degree, counter-culture environment." The obvious solution would be for all those darned families to move out, so the pot-smokers and proprietors could have their space to do what they want, but no one ever seems to be so practical at such meetings.
Hard To Think Straight
California calls its 1996 medicinal marijuana law the Compassionate Use Act, intended to benefit people with cancer and AIDS rather than young stoners. If that's true, the federal government is -- shockingly -- very short on compassion.
Federal law, upheld by U.S. Supreme Court rulings, makes no distinction between medical use of marijuana and using it to become goofy/reckless/murderous/( insert your own favored adjective here, depending on your personal beliefs about the drug ). Federal authorities can prosecute medical marijuana patients even if users believe they're doing what's permitted under state law, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency sometimes does so, but mostly doesn't. The inconsistency makes things a little confusing or dizzying or any of those other effects rumored to take place when someone is undergoing "reefer madness."
Some cities in California have set up regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries with various degrees of restriction, some have prohibited them to conform with federal law, and others have enacted moratoriums while awaiting some potential agreement among state and federal authorities. "It's a fascinating kind of game that's being played out," Hastings College law professor Marsha Cohen told the Contra Costa Times, describing a "shadow medical system" surrounding medical marijuana.
Clearing Nothing Up
Just to add to the confusion, private researchers and the government lack consensus on either marijuana's potential harm or potential benefits.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that aside from potential cognitive and motor effects, cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may be promoted by marijuana smoke. Considering the deep inhalation, the institute says, "puff for puff, smoking marijuana may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco does."
But an extensive UCLA study released last month addressing that very issue found no correlation. Heavy pot users among the baby boomers surveyed had no elevated cancer risk, while people who smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day had a 20-fold increased risk of lung cancer.
At the same time, advocates of medicinal marijuana contend it helps certain patients, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said this year there were "no sound scientific studies" to support that, even though a 1999 government panel found marijuana "moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting."
So there you have it, a muddled, hazy, picture of a substance that may or may not be legal and which may or may not hurt or help you, depending on your condition. Consider it just one more public service of The Morning File.