Med­i­cal cannabis will bring ben­e­fits to many

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - Carly Wed­ding, Bryan­town

Come Septem­ber, Mary­lan­ders can fi­nally reap the ben­e­fits of the statewide med­i­cal cannabis pro­gram, which vot­ers ap­proved in 2013. Thanks to a hun­dred years’ worth of drug war pro­pa­ganda, some peo­ple are ap­pre­hen­sive about this new pro­gram. Dis­pelling th­ese myths is the best way to as­suage any lingering fears from con­cerned cit­i­zens.

Many cul­tures uti­lized cannabis for cen­turies prior to the Amer­i­can drug war. Africans used it for di­ar­rhea, dysen­tery, malaria, rheuma­tism, and ty­phus. Latin Amer­i­cans and Caribbeans brewed cannabis tea to help with colic, men­strual cramps, and sleep dis­or­ders. Even in the United States, physi­cians treated pa­tients for epilepsy, nau­sea, pain, and spasms with a cannabis tinc­ture.

Cannabis fell out of fa­vor in the first quar­ter of the 20th cen­tury when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­flated the “drug prob­lem” with African-Amer­i­cans and Mex­i­cans, two par­tic­u­larly de­spised groups in Amer­ica who hap­pened to pre­fer smoked cannabis over patent medicines. Harry Anslinger of the Fed­eral Bureau of Nar­cotics helped per­pet­u­ate th­ese myths, claim­ing that cannabis “made black men for­get the ap­pro­pri­ate racial bar­ri­ers and un­leashed their lust for white women.”

The New York Times joined the cru­sade as well, run­ning head­lines like “KILLS SIX IN A HOS­PI­TAL: Mex­i­can, Crazed by Mar­i­huana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife” and “MEX­I­CAN FAM­ILY GO IN­SANE: Five Said to Have Been Stricken by Eat­ing Mar­i­huana.” The mass moral panic in­duced by this cli­mate even­tu­ally led to the Mar­i­huana Tax Act of 1937, which re­quired peo­ple to pur­chase a stamp in or­der to pos­sess cannabis — a stamp the gov­ern­ment sim­ply re­fused to is­sue.

Tak­ing a page from Anslinger, Richard Nixon used sim­i­lar tac­tics dur­ing his pres­i­dency. His ad­min­is­tra­tion couldn’t pun­ish peo­ple for want­ing civil rights or for protest­ing the war, but they could pe­nal­ize peo­ple for pos­sess­ing cannabis, con­sid­ered a fed­eral crime un­der the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act of 1970.

The 1980s saw Just Say No, an anti-drug cam­paign spear­headed by a woman with a painkiller ad­dic­tion her­self. Since the 1990s, how­ever, Amer­i­cans have be­come in­creas­ingly aware of the truth be­hind mar­i­juana, which ac­counts for its par­tial le­gal­ity in 26 states to­day. While in­di­vid­ual states have loos­ened up on their mar­i­juana laws, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­mains strin­gent.

Which is a shame. Twen­ti­eth-cen­tury drug laws have barred mil­lions of Amer­i­cans from learn­ing about and uti­liz­ing the in­fi­nite ben­e­fits of cannabis. The plant could be es­pe­cially use­ful now, with the coun­try in the midst of an opi­ate epi­demic. A 2014 study pub­lished by the Journal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion found that opi­ate over­doses de­creased by 25 per­cent in states with le­gal cannabis. Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene, 418 peo­ple died from pre­scrip­tion opi­oid over­doses in 2016. Ap­ply­ing that 25 per­cent fig­ure to Mary­land, a med­i­cal cannabis pro­gram could have saved the lives of at least 104 peo­ple, if not more.

Mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion does far more harm than the drug it­self. It’s time to stop say­ing no and start mak­ing sense.

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