The Obama administration has announced that federal agencies will no longer pursue criminal charges against people who use or supply medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
( Note: North Carolina is not among those 14 states. )
I have long wondered why marijuana cannot be legally used to relieve the pain and discomfort of cancer patients suffering debilitating nausea after chemotherapy. Why should marijuana be different from other prescription painkillers, many of which are dangerous and addictive and also subject to abuse?
Medicine has turned me off since childhood, when my mother plied me with foul-tasting potions to relieve the symptoms of head colds, a winter-long plague. I often wondered why she didn't catch on that these awful-tasting emulsions were not even alleviating the symptoms.
As I grew older, Mother declared that I was old enough to take medicine without supervision. I promptly poured the medicine spoonful by spoonful into the wood box in my bedroom, where it left a smelly residue discovered by a relative foraging for indoor firewood.
I once hid the castor oil in a nook in an antique dresser gracing our guest bedroom. I figured no one would find it in such a secret place, but that ploy didn't work either.
In adulthood my response to painkillers is mixed. I turned down a painkiller for a bone fracture in my foot. I figured that I would be just fine once I got home with my neatly Ace-bandaged foot. By midnight, I was climbing the walls with pain. But when I took a painkiller for pneumonia years later, my recovery was delayed several days because of Tylenol 3 side effects.
After a root canal, I was scared witless when the pharmacist asked for personal information required by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. I took one pill, then decided the pain wasn't bad enough to risk a DEA raid. After a biopsy left my tongue very sore indeed, I declined to fill the prescription for a painkiller. It was more fun to treat that pain with milkshakes.
Our perspective on many social ills is often shaped more by popular lore than by facts. Pain is very real and is to be taken seriously. Puffing away at pot hardly seems worth getting the feds' bloomers in a bunch when it might make life a little less miserable for someone really sick.
Marijuana, cocaine and heroin were rarely mentioned in my childhood. Instead, the focus was on illegal manufacture of alcoholic beverages. News of the day centered on discovery of the latest liquor still and arrest of its operators, many of whom were church-going teetotalers.
It took me years to understand that the reason law-enforcement people were so enthusiastic about nailing illegal liquor manufacturers had almost nothing to do with the health, welfare and moral well-being of the public. It was all about collecting taxes on non-tax-paid beverages.
Sadly for North Carolina farmers, two crops that grow abundantly here are hazardous to your health: tobacco and marijuana. One is already illegal, and the other is rapidly falling from grace.
Even the relatively conservative "Law and Order" TV series has turned a sympathetic eye on medical marijuana use. Lt. Van Buren, my favorite character in the series, recently turned to pot ( a gift from her husband ) because she was unable to eat as a result of chemotherapy. Naturally she was busted by her supervisor, but instead of decreeing disciplinary action, he shared advice on how to conceal the odor on clothing and body.
If opponents of legalizing medical marijuana are really serious about curbing drug abuse, maybe they should consider banning all powerful painkillers now legally prescribed for a multitude of painful ailments. That would level the playing field for everyone in pain.
Critics of the pot remedy argue that other drugs are available to treat post-chemo nausea. True, but they cost more.
November 13, 2009