Legally Erasing Stigmas about Medical Marijuana

In 1996, Californians passed Proposition
215
, which made it possible to
possess, cultivate and use marijuana with a doctor’s note. Medical
marijuana dispensaries grew in number, and more patients utilized their
services, but not without fear of Drug Enforcement Agency Raids — a reality
stretching into this
year
. Recently,
patients have been offered consolation that medical marijuana usage
is being protected, and that the stigmas surrounding it — for medical
purposes and otherwise — are on a path to eradication.

On February 27, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Drug
Enforcement Agency would stop
raiding
medical marijuana
dispensaries in the 13 states–California included–where they are legal.
This followed San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s proposal for the
Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act–better known simply
as California
Assembly Bill 390
–which
would effectively legalize the sale and use of marijuana by anyone over
the age of 21 in California.

These landmark decisions and proposals signify the closure of a 13-year struggle
over two previous presidential administrations which took stances against medical marijuana, despite what individual
states ruled. Soon after voters voiced their preferences on Prop. 215,
the Clinton administration fought the law, winning a Supreme Court case
that granted the federal government power to shut down any non-profit
organizations that supplied medical marijuana. The administration also
unsuccessfully attempted to punish California doctors that recommended
medical marijuana to patients.

Under the Bush administration, federal agents began raiding medical marijuana dispensaries
and growers, using drug laws to persecute suppliers. DEA officials have
even written to dispensaries’ landlords threatening to forfeit their
property unless they give their tenants the boot. Bush may have been
a proponent of states’ rights, but only when they fit his agenda: During
this time, the administration was successful in shutting down 30 dispensaries
that were legal under state law.

Now, Holder’s announcement marks a partial victory for California — the full one which lies in the complete legalization of marijuana. Patients
may be able to use medical marijuana with more ease now, but it is not
until its full legalization that their use, and its acceptance, can
become widespread. Many cities in California still do not allow dispensaries.

As some skeptics say, maybe that’s for a good reason. Still, the Institute
of Medicine, run by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has concluded
that while marijuana is by no means a cure for any disease, it can curb nausea,
pain, anxiety and appetite loss. While studies are inconclusive (maybe
because the Bush administration did everything it could to block FDA-approved research), no adverse side effects have been proven
from moderate use.

California already has more than 120 legal medical marijuana dispensaries, 31 which are in Ammiano’s city of San Francisco.
In addition to aiding patients, these would help the money-lacking Golden
State considering that Ammiano’s proposal includes a $50 per ounce tax.
When dispensaries don’t have to recoup the costs of DEA raids, perhaps
they will even have more to spend on supplies for what will be a likely
increasing clientele. As an added bonus, any money raised from taxation
will — as the title of the bill connotes — support drug education and
awareness.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll unveiled that 41 percent of Americans
favor legalization. While that’s not quite a majority, it shows that
the times are a-changing, as the numbers were at 34 percent in a 2002
CNN/Time Poll.

With the current wave of government actions and proposals, those numbers
stand to increase even more in the future. Now is the ideal time — under
a new, more lax administration and a concrete, logically constructed
proposal — for California to stake its course again as a progressive
leader and trendsetter. Especially with the passage of California Assembly
Bill 390, California can eradicate the taboo from responsible marijuana
use, and benefit users and the state in the process.