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On Cannabis & Proposition 19

by Kit O’Connell

My friend Michael Watts of Michael’s Rant recently asked me to write something for his blog about the use of cannabis (marijuana) and the upcoming vote in California over Proposition 19. Without naming names, I am aware that he recently witnessed the effect this drug had on a loved one of his with a chronic pain condition. As a basically healthy person who does not partake, I think he was surprised at how effective it was in alleviating his friend’s discomfort. Since I am fairly outspoken about the effectiveness of cannabis on my Fibromyalgia, I am happy to write a bit more about it here.

Writing about this is a bit of a daunting task however — I have spent much of my adult life educating myself about the drug war in general and cannabis in particular, since it is both illegal where I live and the most effective, sustainable treatment I have found for my illness. It’s hard to know where to begin, assuming I am writing for a novice. Do I talk about the potential health benefits it has for people with scores of illnesses? The ways in which its risks have been inflated out of proportion by the agents of the drug war? Should I give examples of how other countries have fared in the wake of decriminalization? Complain about the hypocrisy of the Obama Administration‘s continued use of the Justice Department and the DEA to oppose state-level marijuana laws?

I will start, instead, by talking a little about how it has helped me and why I wish I could legally make use of it. My condition, Fibromyalgia, is poorly understood but causes intense, chronic pain as well as related issues like difficulty sleeping. At one time — when I had a shiny, private health plan — I took as many as 6 different pharmaceutical drugs multiple times a day. Each one had its own side effects which, when mingled with my already debilitating condition, made my life even worse. I had prescriptions to help me deal with the side effects of other prescriptions! Worst of all, people with Fibromyalgia seem to develop a rapid tolerance to many pharmaceuticals — especially painkillers — so eventually I’d be feeling just the side effects and not the benefits at all.

By contrast, cannabis creates minimal tolerance, and what tolerance it does create goes away quickly after a break. Though I am rarely completely pain free, a few tokes can on many days make the difference between productiveness or a day spent laying in bed in pain. While I can’t pretend that I do not enjoy the more recreational side effects — certainly they are far more pleasant than the ones I suffer from pharmaceuticals — with regular use in moderation I find that I am not ‘too stoned’ to function. Though I don’t have concrete scientific evidence to back it up, I believe that my body is using cannabis to supplement for the painkilling effects of its own endogenous cannabinoids, and therefore there is less available to create the euphoric “high” that purely recreational users experience.

Which brings us to the topic of recreational vs. medicinal use. Many people, especially those against legalization, argue that the medical marijuana issue is a false one, designed to draw attention away from the real goal of legalization. I agree — I believe that everyone should have the right to decide what substances to put in their bodies without fear of arrest, especially when it comes to a substance that is arguably safer than alcohol. While it certainly has negative potential just like any mind-altering substance, I have seen cannabis bring people closer together, open minds to new ideas, and aid in the creation of beautiful art. The truth is that I believe almost everyone is potentially a medical user, whether for chronic health conditions or everyday aches and pains — let’s not forget to point out that once upon a time cannabis was part of every doctor’s pharamacopia and could be easily obtained in tincture from neighborhood drugstores.

Proposition 19 builds on the publicity created by California’s successful (though federally persecuted) medical marijuana program by actively legalizing possession and sale under certain conditions. Since I can’t afford to move to California, I don’t think I’ll ever benefit from it directly except on my rare visits to the state. However I applaud this proposition as a step in the right direction, as a first step in reclaiming our society from the harmful effects of the drug war. If Proposition 19 passes, I believe the people of California will see an economic benefit, a reduction in crime and the percentage of the state population in prison, and a less stressed police force who will be freed from pursuing harmless drug users instead of real criminals.

There are many sources for information on the drug war and cannabis on the Internet — some of them linked above in this article — but I wanted to close by pointing readers to Firedoglake‘s Just Say Now, a new transpartisan alliance dedicated to supporting efforts toward saner drug policies throughout the United States.

I hope this brief introduction has offered some new ideas or information; I am happy to answer questions in my comments.