N.J.’s Ex-Top Cop: Expanded Medical Marijuana Program Is Legalization In Sheep’s Clothing

Photo Credit: Aristide Economopoulos

Anecdote and science often go at odds when assessing marijuana’s therapeutic effectiveness upon a whole host of disorders ranging from cancer and multiple sclerosis to headaches, muscle aches and worry.

In the April 2015 issue of Prevention Magazine, there were mixed reviews from top doctors when medical marijuana was graded as a treatment for 14 common and serious disorders. Smoking or eating marijuana to alleviate chronic pain, anxiety, weight loss, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, lupus, glaucoma and PTSD got low scores, while relief from nausea, nerve pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Crohn’s disease got higher marks.

Scholarly squabbles over marijuana’s medical value highlight the need for more aggressive and federally-sanctioned medical research. If one is to harvest the medical value from the more than 100 organic cannabinoids identified in the source plant, those particular compounds need to be isolated, put to the rigor and scrutiny of laboratory testing and clinical trials, receive FDA approval and scheduled by the DEA for medical use.

Contradictions among medical evaluations and assured outcomes should not be ignored as we begin to deliberate a number of bills in the New Jersey Legislature that hail marijuana as our deliverance from all economic, social and physiological anguish. Nor should we fall prey to the predilections of a national marijuana lobby and its state political arm.

Credible state medical marijuana programs can destroy their own legitimacy by expanding into ubiquitous complaints that end up as crafty schemes to license larger and larger populations to smoke marijuana. After California markedly expanded its medical marijuana program in 1996 to include a broad list of superficial afflictions, the average patient was a male who hailed from a very healthy age group under the age of 30. Eighty percent of marijuana scripts were written for pain, with other reasons being sleep improvement and relaxation, muscle spasms, anxiety, headaches and nausea.

As seen in the states with expanded medical marijuana programs, significant numbers of patients tend to their ills through smoking. Inhaling marijuana is a delivery system that carries its own risks, treating its patient not only to the implied benefit of THC, but also imparting an unhealthy concoction of pesticides, residual solvents, molds and other contaminants.

Unhealthy lung exposure is further aggravated by the ritual of smoking marijuana, through deeper and longer inhalations. Patients who smoke medical marijuana should understand that treating the symptom may not outweigh the risks to the host.

Baby boomers will recall America’s love affair with cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. Assured that tobacco was neither toxic nor addictive, carefree consumers smoked themselves straight onto the obituary pages, ending up as a pile of integers in the actuarial plots of today’s leading causes of death.

Similar declarations and slick advertising about smoked marijuana are reaching the eyes and ears of today’s centennials, the same adolescents and teens whose parents have banned tobacco from their homes and herded smokers outside their workplaces in the dead of winter.

Passage of New Jersey’s current proposal for medical expansion will open the door to the everyday complaints of general pain, nausea, headaches and anxiety. Medical marijuana does not sit on an empty shelf.

Thanks to the labors of the medical and pharmaceutical research communities, patients have access to more than 400 federally-approved over-the-counter and prescribed medications for acute and chronic pain, at least 350 medications for nausea and upwards of 185 medications to alleviate anxiety disorders.

Part of the Assembly bill to expand the medical marijuana program in New Jersey focuses upon the availability and access to edible marijuana products. Stocking medical marijuana display cases with edibles is shrewd marketing.

Offering edibles also expands the population of users by overcoming the social stigma, odor and outright prohibition of smoking or inhaling marijuana in public. Replacing a dislike for smoking medical marijuana with a familiarly-packaged confection or refreshment supercharged with THC disguises the risk and can itself become a slippery slope leading occasional medical users to habitually consume, encourages adolescent use and adds to the already observed impacts of overdoses, juvenile poisonings and driving while drugged.

Curiosity and debate should give inspiration to continued medical and pharmaceutical research into the valid therapeutic relationship of marijuana’s cannabinoids to the human condition.

Supersizing an already established New Jersey medical marijuana program with a slew of stock infirmities can bring about unintended consequences, unlicensed dispensaries, the use of banned pesticides and other chemicals to stimulate growth, swings in THC potency and inaccurate labeling that mislead or imperil patients and other off-the-books malpractices abetted by an over-the-counter cash and carry business.

Lawmakers should take a higher road and not throw open the door to expanding marijuana use as a household remedy for everyday aches and pains. Looking over the heads of patients at dollar signs and tax perks while neglecting the failures seen in other states to fix racial arrest disparities and curb adolescent use, political pundits are letting in the Trojan Horse to full recreational use by pushing the promise of an elixir from the soapbox of the state Legislature and governor’s office.