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Legally Erasing Stigmas about Medical Marijuana

by Indy, published

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.

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