This writer has changed horses. I have been in the stable for awhile – uncertain of the future direction. The recent documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN provided a compass with true north as the central bearing. Marijuana is probably not as devastating as we once thought. Note the qualified ‘probably not as devastating’. Uncertainty remains.
Check out Doctor Gupta.
Well – there it is – the data gathering process continues and the findings continue to point to marijuana as relatively safe. Qualified again! I cannot help it. My personal evidence is anecdotal at best – but profoundly moving.
Marijuana is defined as a Schedule One substance in the Controlled Substances Act. Three characteristics must be present for this qualification:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
This qualification could be applied to the Big Gulp of coco-cola at the convenience store. Sadly, marijuana has a higher abuse classification than many of the prescription medications presently being abused across America. My opinion of marijuana was formed by personal experience (over forty years past) and by intense contact with people exiting the Missouri State Correctional System. I grant the anecdotal nature – but story is always important in understanding any human endeavor.
I will cite but one example. I taught Relapse Prevention at Missouri Probation and Parole. The class was two hours each week and new parolees were required to attend the eight week course. My first class was attended by an African-American male 48 years old. (Is it necessary to qualify African-American? Does this change the bias?). William had served four years on a seven year sentence for possession with the intent of distribution of marijuana. The merits of that charge and sentence belong in another story.
William told his story. He is a mechanic who owned his own garage. Two bays and he stayed busy with regular customers. But William liked marijuana. Over time William opened his shop later each day and closed earlier. Eventually he worked on automobiles for about three hours – from 9:00 am to about noon – the remainder of the day was sitting in the shade with some friends, smoking marijuana and enjoying the cool summer breeze. William was not making enough money with his mechanic business and began selling marijuana on the side to both finance his own use and to make up the shortfall in his business. In my opinion William did not have a criminal bone in his body.
The “intent to sell”, or “intent to distribute” is a classification dependent on the amount of drugs one has in one’s possession. If there are more drugs that a person might reasonably use for self then the conclusion is intent to distribute. Over time we have come to think of “Intent to distribute” as the more pejorative “drug pusher”. A “drug pusher” is one who actively seeks customers hoping to get them addicted and thus establish a customer base – he ‘pushes’ his drugs on unwitting victims. William sold marijuana to his friends who frequented his shop.
William’s is a common story. Abuse of marijuana deflates ambition. William worked fewer hours. Money became tight. As an outsider looking in we might think William should have smoked less and worked more – and there is the problem with marijuana. I struggle getting past the logical or reasonable solution to William’s problem. Thus I have agreed with others who find marijuana harmful to individuals and society.
But I had other clients. Young men and women who cared not for marijuana, preferring the opiates disguised as painkillers. I listened to their stories about the commission of felonies to pay for their drugs. One told me he stole his grandmother’s wedding rings and sold them for drug money. Another stole his brother’s lawn mower. Anything for drugs. I attended their funerals. I grieved with their families. Their deaths steeled my resolve to fight the war on addiction.
A new reality is emerging. Understanding the dangers of marijuana in a proper relationship to other narcotics is gaining ground. William never overdosed and he never stole anything but time to finance his drug use. William never participated in a the death of another when the drug deal when bad. Marijuana is not the same creature as heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine. Opiate based pain killers are a scourge to society – but they have medical application so they receive a less harsh rating on the Narcotic schedule.
Evidence is mounting that marijuana has medical use. Even the idea of recreational use of marijuana is gaining popularity. The same rules of constraint with alcohol is a more reasonable approach to legal and social regulation of marijuana. I say these words with a heavy heart for I have also worked with people convicted of felony manslaughter for killing someone while driving under the influence.
These are serious issues and must be taken seriously by all. I have often erred on the side of more legal and social control – probably out of fear of that which I did not completely understand. The other side of the coin is clear – William was not a criminal who deserved four years in prison. There are many people afflicted with cancer or chronic pain who do not deserve to suffer because of unfounded fear of marijuana. Marijuana should be removed as a Schedule One Narcotic and laws governing the use of marijuana should be changed accordingly.