A case for medical marijuana

The legalization of marijuana has been a controversial issue in the U.S. for many years. Almost always the discussion focuses on recreational marijuana. However, what many forget is that, under Federal law, medical marijuana is still illegal. The fact of the matter is that state law is always subservient to federal law.

The idea that federal law overrides state law is defended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ position on the substance’s use (medically and recreationally). According to the New York Times, Sessions asked the Senate to scale back rules preventing the Justice Department from overruling state laws, and allow it to press charges against honest citizens simply trying to maintain their health and livelihoods. While his initiative is opposed to by both Democrats and Republicans, Sessions has not backed down. Sessions has been very clear about his position on marijuana: he has no room for it in any of its forms. This indicates his black and white perception of the issue.

There are 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This number does not include the two non-states that followed the same path: the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. To further point out how this will affect Americans of multiple political backgrounds, note that West Virginia, which went for Trump by nearly 42 points, legalized medical cannabis through its Republican legislature, and the bill was signed by Jim Justice, their Democratic Governor. In November of last year, Pennsylvania and Ohio’s primarily GOP legislators legalized medical marijuana. This issue now affects more than half the states, with an estimated 200 million Americans living in states with legalized marijuana. To put this into perspective, there are 326 million people in the U.S. according to the most recent census data. That means 61.3 percent of the American people live in states that have legal marijuana. Harvard’s Medical School has stated that approximately 20 million people used medicinal marijuana in 2016, with 7.5 percent of the users being aged 12 or above.

If so many people face the consequences of this issue, we would expect the crackdown on the substance to be for good reason, right? Unfortunately this is not the case. The issue of medical marijuana is still a big controversy, in both the public eye and in the medical field. However, we know that non-THC-based medicinal Cannabis has some compelling benefits. Initial research shows that Cannabinol can be used to treat ailments like drug-resistant epilepsy, anxiety, some substance use disorders, schizophrenia and psychosis. These benefits could well be just the tip of the iceberg. Although research on the value of Cannabis as a medicine is hard to conduct, current research suggests it can help a lot of people without many risks. That only applies to non-THC-based Cannabis, which would still be against the law if Attorney General Sessions has his way.

The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical research institution, describes a number of ailments that Cannabis can be used to treat — if deemed appropriate by a doctor. The Clinic says it can be used to treat ALS, anorexia caused by HIV or AIDs, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, nausea, and even Tourette’s syndrome. These benefits are too numerous to ignore. If readers are skeptical about the benefits of marijuana being used as a medicine, I understand. There are many areas of its use that are up for discussion and further research. However, prohibiting its use based on the recommendation of medical professionals in controlled dosages does nothing to address the more mysterious elements of its use. We should not have some ideologue tell medical professionals how to best treat their patients, especially when the research clearly shows there are some benefits to be had.

The legal consequences of using marijuana for medical purposes can be extreme. Currently, medical Cannabis is a Schedule One substance, meaning it’s a felony to have the substance in any form. If a person is caught with marijuana they can face felony charges. If the person is convicted, this can be a problem not just because of a prison sentence; they could lose their right to vote in four states. Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia all deny felons the right to vote. Say what you will about recreational use, but there is absolutely no reason to deny sick people their constitutional rights over what is strictly a matter of personal health.

Simply put, medical marijuana affects millions of people and treats numerous dangerous ailments. Continuing the prohibition of this substance will result in numerous sick people being denied the right to vote. We as a nation can do far better for our sick people. I can’t say the medical use of marijuana will solve all diseases. I admit it comes with some risks. But the job of medical professionals is to address this question. We must legalize medicinal Cannabis if we truly wish to help people.

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in public administration at the University of Illinois, Springfield. His new work can be found on The Progressive American substack.

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