Among the most influential groups in Washington, DC, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has contributed significantly to the success of the legalization of marijuana in Alaska and Colorado. Now, it plans to replicate the reform in other five states by 2016, with the goal of ending forever the prohibition.
1 - What are the main reasons for opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana?
A major reason marijuana prohibition continues to exist is simple inertia; it’s been illegal for so long, and it is easier to leave things the way they are than it is to change them. Other arguments you hear in favor of prohibition are that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to harder substances like heroin and methamphetamine, it is highly addictive, that legalization will bring a dangerous wave of “stoned drivers,” that it will normalize and spread marijuana use among teenagers, and believe it or not some people still believe in Reefer Madness-like ‘marijuana psychosis.’ Of these arguments, the only valid concern is driving under the influence, but there are ways to counteract that which do not involve mass incarceration. All the other arguments listed are invalid, having been proved false many times over.
2 - Could you explain, to a non-specialist reader, the difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana?
Different types of marijuana will produce different effects. First you have Cannabis sativa, which tends toward an energetic effect, Cannabis sativa which tends toward lethargy, and hybrids, which are a mix of indicas and sativas (the percentages of indica/sativa in any hybrid can vary greatly.) From there, different strains of marijuana will produce different effects for the user. Some strains have excellent pain-numbing properties for cancer patients, while others help alleviate anxiety and depression.
It’s a common misconception that THC = marijuana; THC is only the psychoactive ingredient—the “high”—but marijuana contains dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these cannabinoids. It’s cannabinoids which provide the medical aspect of medical marijuana, as different ones produce different effects. Most famously, the cannabinoid CBD has been shown to have powerful anti-seizure properties, even though it does not produce a high. CBG-dominant strains are typically used for glaucoma patients and others with inflammatory diseases; CBG also does not produce a high.
Medical marijuana patients will select their strain based on its specific effects, and how those may help their condition. Depending on their condition and the strain they treat it with, medical patients might have little or no THC in their marijuana. Recreational marijuana users, simply pursuing an intoxicating effect, go for high-THC strains; for them, any medical benefits the strain might have are secondary. For medical patients, those medical benefits are the primary concern.
3 - How is it possible to still consider marijuana a dangerous drug because its medical uses are widely recognized?
That’s a complicated question with no clear answer. History is a part of it; for a very long time in the United States marijuana has had many powerful stigmas attached to it. It’s been scapegoated as making Latino immigrants and black Americans “sex crazed maniacs,” it’s been blamed for regular concerns of a degrading youth culture, it’s been blamed for causing disrespect toward authority, and more. The overwhelming trend is that marijuana’s perceived danger is all based on misinformation. But that is changing, albeit slowly.
When it first came out Reefer Madness was seen as a realistic depiction of the dangers of “marihuana.” Now, seventy laters later, it is a legendary example of prohibitionist excess and laughably ridiculous propaganda. More and more people recognize marijuana’s medical benefits, or at least it’s lack of life-destroying side effects. While marijuana use has been common for a long time, the internet’s global reach is a new avenue to learn and spread the facts. The interconnectedness made possible by the internet have been a powerful tool in pressuring prohibition to fall.
4 - Is It 'true that marijuana can prevent and cure cancer?
Based on what we know now, no. It is important to remember that the field of marijuana science is relatively young. The United States spent many decades cracking down on anything and everything marijuana-related, and successfully pressuring its friends and allies to do the same. Only now has science begun to learn about what it has to offer. As I mentioned earlier marijuana contains dozens to hundreds of cannabinoids. The name “cannabinoid” does not come from “cannabis” but from the endocannabinoid system, which is part of your body’s nervous system. The endocannabinoid system was itself only discovered in the mid-1990s, and we are slowly finding out that it affects a wide range of bodily functions and behaviors. It is clear, though, that a functional endocannabinoid system is essential to good health.
Currently marijuana is only used to treat the symptoms of cancer. However, some preliminary studies have suggested that THC and other cannabinoids can be used in concert with other therapies, usually radiation, to reduce tumor size. Most recently a study on mice showed that therapy with both radiation and THC shrunk their aggressive brain tumors greatly, in several cases by 90%. Results like these are extremely promising and highlight the importance of this research. As we discover more cannabinoids and how they work on our central nervous system there will likely be new insights into marijuana as medicine, but we are a very, very long way off from replacing chemotherapy with a round of THC injections.
5 - July 29 was presented to the Italian parliament a bill which would allow the sale, consumption and cultivation of recreational and therapeutic marijuana, a hybrid of the Spanish model of cannabis social clubs and the Dutch coffee shop. What do you think? Do you have any advice?
MPP supports responsible legalization of recreational and medical marijuana. We believe medical patients should have safe and legal access to the medicines that treat their various ailments, and we also believe that recreational users should be able to safely and legally enjoy an intoxicant far less harmful by any metric than alcohol or tobacco. We believe that problem marijuana users should have access to non-coercive, harm-reducing treatments—not prison. We believe that criminalizing marijuana only compounds unnecessary problems. Since MPP focuses on the United States we are not familiar with the specifics of the Italian bill, but we hope the Italian people and parliament will consider the issue carefully and make a wise decision. One thing we can say is that in our own travels and efforts, we have learned that the truth is a powerful tool in delivering justice.
Sincerely, Bobby Lewis
Marijuana Policy Project
P.O. Box 77492, Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20013
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