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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

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Potent medication or placebo, pot still polarizes

Fourteen states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and nearly 100 million Americans older than 12 have admitted to smoking it. Weed is more visible and available than ever these days, and thanks to the Internet, advocacy for its legalization has never been so vocal.

After the Ogden Memo was issued last year, in which President Barack Obama instructed federal prosecutors to stop pursuing drug cases against medical marijuana patients, many lobbying for marijuana legalization across the country began feeling as though this would be the first administration to address the issue seriously. After all, unlike Bill Clinton, Obama did inhale, and in his own words, has done so “frequently” in the past. Though he insists that a legalization-regulation-taxation trifecta wouldn’t help the still struggling economy, he has publicly supported the prescription of pot by physicians to treat certain ailments.

“There’s been no better time for reformers as far as who’s in power,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

But St. Pierre said it’s not likely that Obama, who has taken the lighthearted approach of smirking and making jokes when asked about the subject in town-hall meetings and interviews, will do much more with the issue prior to 2012 – not because he doesn’t want to or doesn’t believe the issue is important but because of the stigma firmly associated with it.

“The chuckles he responds with when he’s confronted, I think that’s gallows humor,” he said. “It’s someone who wants to do something about it, but damn well knows they can’t. He knows it’s important to a lot of people. But with the economy such as it is and the health care situation, I don’t see it happening.”

Addressing such a polarizing issue any further now, when there are so many pressing things on his plate, could cause a large base of voters to call his priorities into question, harming his chances at re-election.

St. Pierre insists that much of the opposition is driven by those with professional interest at stake and ignorant lawmakers who simply want to maintain the status quo. Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, said those in favor of maintaining the drug’s illegality take their stance for ethical reasons.

“It’s a gateway drug, it leads to the use of other illegal substances,” Johnson said. “There are studies that have shown it has harmful effects on humans. Just because something is widely used doesn’t mean it should be made legal.” 

But there are those who rely on marijuana for relief. Studies have explored its effectiveness as treatment for several diseases and disorders from epilepsy to insomnia, and medical users insist that there’s no prescription drug on the market that can provide them with the kind of relief they need quite like weed.

Dr. Neil Irick, a pain specialist at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, has issued prescriptions for Marinol to HIV/AIDS patients in the past. Marinol is a THC-based pill that has been on the market since 1985, and is supposed to produce similar effects to marijuana. He was unimpressed with its results and believes it to be inferior to similar drugs used for pain relief. Irick, who said he has never smoked marijuana, said he believes that those who feel smoking marijuana is more effective in treating their disorders than marketed prescription drugs are experiencing a placebo effect.

“These people have turned to marijuana for whatever reason, and it serves as a way for them to perceive the world differently,” he said. “They believe it offers them something that it doesn’t. So, they report effects that are greatly exaggerated because they want to believe its doing these things for them and they want to continue it.”

St. Pierre, on the other hand, points to the number of previous non-users who smoke marijuana strictly because of the relief it provides for diagnosed medical conditions.
“This is their Prozac, their pain-killer, their sleep-inducer, their appetite-regulator,” he said. “Everyone responds to medication differently. Some people find their greatest relief in smoking cannabis.”

Universally, the medical community decries the act of smoking anything, and if marijuana is going to make a run at being legalized on a larger scale from a medical standpoint, alternative pharmaceutical forms must be developed, ones that can deliver a consistent dosage of THC without the by-products that enter the body when it’s inhaled, according to St. Pierre. He said he believes this is going to happen, but until it does, there’s only one solution for dedicated marijuana users.

“There’s no question that smoking cannabis is the best and quickest way to get it into the body,” St. Pierre said. “Until there’s something better, people aren’t going to change.”

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