An Uphill Battle For Medical Marijuana
Earlier this month in Oakland, the Federal government raided a center for training in marijuana cultivation. At least half a million people in California use marijuana as a form of treatment for medical conditions, including glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic migraines, AIDS, and chemotherapy-related pain. One recent peer-reviewed study adds to a body of scientific literature that shows that cannabinoids (one of the main compounds in marijuana) can actually impede the progression of the HIV virus.
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, as well as fifteen other states and the District of Columbia, it is still illegal under federal law, and raids like the one in Oakland are a common occurrence.
Kris Hermes, the media contact at Americans for Safe Access, an organization that advocates for legal and accessible medical marijuana, told Dowser that the person who runs the training facility in Oakland, Richard Lee, “will continue to do what he’s doing and not be intimidated by these actions.” Lee has been a prominent activist in the battle to legalize medical pot. In 2010, he spent more than $1.5 million trying to pass Proposition 19, which would have legalized the drug in California. The bill received only 46 percent of the vote, and failed to pass.
“Local officials are tired of federal attacks disrupting their ability to implement state law,” said Hermes. This sentiment was on display on April 4th, when six San Francisco city officials read statements of support for their local medical marijuana program, on the steps of the City Hall, to a rally attended by hundreds.
And the Obama administration is not taking a friendly stance toward medical marijuana, explained Hermes. He told Dowser that President Obama has been “aggressive in going after people who implement state [marijuana] laws, in an unprecedented way.” Far more than George W. Bush did, Obama has ordered “swat-style raids” of distribution centers in nine out of sixteen medical marijuana states, Hermes explained.
Numerous medical and scientific organizations have, over the years, publicly declared their support for marijuana as a form of medical treatment and released studies supporting that claim. The list includes Washington DC’s prestigious Whitman-Walker Clinic, major health care provider Kaiser Permanente, leading integrative physician Dr. Andrew Weil, the American Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Notably, the most prominent medical organization in the U.S., the American Medical Association, is not on the list.
“Traditionally AMA has been opposed to medical marijuana for a number of reasons,” said Allen St-Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“[AMA members] are much older doctors who have no experience with medical marijuana, and they treat it like an anathema,” he explained. “But the American Medical Student Association, the student branch that represents the future doctors of this country and has about 18,500 members, does support medical marijuana.” The generational division stems from changing attitudes over time toward marijuana, said St-Pierre.
“The older doctors grew up under ‘reefer madness,’ while the younger ones are learning about medical marijuana in their colleges,” said St-Pierre. “Reefer madness” refers to a 1930s propaganda campaign that portrayed marijuana as a highly-addictive drug of the underclasses.
In Washington DC, where medical marijuana was first legalized in 1998 but only voted into law in 2009, around ten marijuana cultivation centers are set to open as soon as next month. Being a Federal District, the city is bound to find itself in some tricky situations once the growing begins. As the grow houses–one of which will be under the auspices of talk show host and health advocate Montell Williams–begin operation, mostly in the Northeast neighborhood of DC, it will be fascinating to observe the challenges they encounter and the means they go through to move past them.