There are some phone calls you just never forget. It was Good Friday morning in 1995. This woman called the NORML office in Washington, wanting information about medical marijuana. Her elderly father was undergoing chemotherapy and the pharmaceutical antiemetics had stopped working, as often happens, and he was vomiting uncontrollably.
One of the nurses pulled her aside and whispered to her, “This happened to my father and marijuana really helped.” My caller said she was astonished, so she asked another nurse who said, “It works for some people.”
So she naturally asked the oncologist. He snapped, “It’s illegal and I don’t want to discuss it.” And he walked away.
However, her father was suffering so much that she had to do something, so she asked around and found that marijuana was really easy to get. She gave some to her father and he stopped vomiting and could sleep.
I said, “That’s wonderful. So how can I help you?”
She responded, “I just want to be sure not to give him an overdose.” I reassured her that wasn’t possible and wished her well.
The other thing that I cannot forget is that she told me she was calling from Baltimore, in sight of Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote the words, “Land of the Free and home of the Brave.”
Over the decades that I have been involved in the marijuana legalization movement, that is one of the most common stories that I have heard. A friend told me that if he did not have marijuana to get him through the chemotherapy, he would have chosen to die, rather than suffering the violent vomiting. Other people have told me that their doctors simply winked and suggested that they smoke before their chemotherapy. I suspect that most of us past a certain age know people with similar stories.
In any case, this is not about treating or curing some obscure disease. It is simply about immediately alleviating something violently obvious and tragically common. It is hard to imagine that there is any doctor anywhere in America who has not known about this since medical school. And yet…
Last year, Mississippi was one of several states where the people voted overwhelmingly for the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana. Mississippi citizens were actually given a choice between initiatives because law enforcement tried to confuse voters and put up a second initiative “65A”. The voters were not confused.
According to Ballotpedia.org:
“Voting for Initiative 65 supported approving the medical marijuana amendment as provided by Initiative 65, which was designed to allow medical marijuana treatment for more than 20 specified qualifying conditions, allow individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at one time, and tax marijuana sales at the current state sales tax rate of 7%.
“Voting for Alternative 65A supported approving the legislature’s alternative medical marijuana amendment, which was designed to restrict smoking marijuana to terminally ill patients; require pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products and treatment oversight by licensed physicians, nurses, and pharmacists; and leave tax rates, possession limits, and certain other details to be set by the legislature.
“Since there were more votes for “either” than for “neither” in the first question, the version that received majority approval in the second question — Initiative 65 — was enacted since it also received approval from at least 40% of the ballots cast at the election.”
Initiative 65A would have been unworkable, which is why it was written. Initiative 65 got 73.7% of the vote. The people clearly knew what they were voting for … and against.
Last month, outrageously, both the national American Medical Association and the Mississippi Medical Association filed suit to overturn the will of the people of Mississippi.
Their lawyers came up with what may or may not be a good legal argument about ballot requirements and they should have let it go with that. Instead, they degraded themselves and the medical profession with appalling quackery:
“Both physician organizations oppose legalizing cannabis. AMA policy says that “cannabis for medicinal use should not be legalized thorough the state legislative, ballot imitative or referendum process.” And the brief tells the court that is “for good reasons.”
“While it is possible there may be beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana, numerous evidence-based studies demonstrate that significant deleterious effects abound,” the brief tells the court, going on to say that “without question, the public health risks are immense:”
- Drug abuse and addiction.
- Change in brain function.
- Lung disease.
- Intoxication and impaired driving.
- Developmental interference.
- Impaired cognition.
- Psychological illness.
- Cardiovascular abnormalities.
- Negative social functioning effects.
The brief tells the court a “massive amount of future systemic research and controlled-trials” are needed to study the safety and efficacy of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Initiative burdens physicians
Physicians would be in “quite the pinch” under Initiative 65, the brief tells the court. Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under federal law and has no accepted medical use.
“Yet physicians will be expected by their patients (though perhaps not required by Initiative 65) to sign off on certifications to receive their supply. Perhaps no liability will lie under state law, but what about federal law?” the brief says.”
Not to overburden the intellectual capacities of either the AMA or its state chapter, it is 2021 and Mississippi is a part of the United States where there are already more than 30 states with legal medical marijuana, many of which were passed by initiatives because their state legislatures lacked the courage to do so. Moreover, the U.S. shares the continent with Canada and Mexico which have legalized medical marijuana.
The AMA raises the specter of doctors being in legal liability:
“Physicians would be in ‘quite the pinch’ under Initiative 65, the brief tells the court. Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under federal law and has no accepted medical use.
“Yet physicians will be expected by their patients (though perhaps not required by Initiative 65) to sign off on certifications to receive their supply. Perhaps no liability will lie under state law, but what about federal law?” the brief says.
The first medical marijuana initiative, California’s Prop. 215, has been on the books since 1996, and no doctors have been sued or prosecuted for providing legal cover for patients.
Finally, the American people have not been voting on medical science, but on criminal law and individual freedom. For that, we don’t need the approval of the cowardly quacks who have ignored the suffering of their patients for decades.
I think of the real heroes on the frontlines in our ICUs, risking their lives to save us all, and I think of the AMA and its quackery and I need a powerful antiemetic.
Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of What Will Happen If You Consume CBD And Alcohol Together?
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.