My turn By Patricia Quinn Putting the cart before the horse

| 04 Feb 2014 | 09:15

NPR reported last week that “fifty-four percent (of New York voters) are opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use.” That's up from 26 percent approval in a Quinnipiac study published in June.

Yet Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned in his address that he is allowing hospitals to try using it with people who need to “manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses.”

The facts surrounding marijuana legalization have been murky, making it difficult for families and educators to understand legislative changes which will impact their communities.

Marinol, a derivative of marihuana, has FDA approval since 1985. Prescribed now for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and to treat appetite loss associated with weight loss in people with AIDS, Marinol is a safer, schedule 3 rating for potential abuse than the crude form Cuomo is permitting 20 hospitals to pilot test.

There are eight other pharmaceuticals derived from marijuana to treat inflammation, hypertension, memory, appetite, pain and bladder control.

In the states that have legal medical marijuana, this has referred to the crude plant leaf and bud form that can be smoked or ingested.

The demographics of patients getting this were studied in October 2013 by the University of Michigan, (as reported in the New Republic by Robb, 2014): “Lifetime marijuana use was reported in 96 percent, and this rose to 99 percent of returning customers. Sixty-eight percent had abused opiod prescription meds and 86 percent sought marijuana for pain problems, which is highly subjective."

Allegations of pot’s efficacy for various uses are also murky. While it allegedly increases appetite for those with HIV/AIDS, studies have shown it suppresses immune function, and increases infectious disease vulnerability.

Pulmonary hazards of smoking pot are compared with tobacco.

Also, studies do not conclusively support any benefit for those with MS.

The pros
Fewer Lives Ruined by Arrest Records & Incarcerations: The FBI web site posts the number of marijuana arrests since 1996 to 2012 at 12,318,682.

• Since drug arrests have escalated since the creation of the DEA in the 1960s, the numbers of people impacted by marijuana arrests is astronomical.

This is why one of the groups lobbying for legal status are parents, who are also among the fastest growing demographic groups using marijuana themselves.

• There are billions to be made. Many reports speculate, the two industries best positioned to develop pot-based products—tobacco and pharmaceuticals—are also making plans to determine how they might capitalize on what (2010) estimates to be a $40-billion-a-year market once the gap between federal and state regulations is closed.

• In the mean time, small companies willing to take the legal gamble of cultivating and selling without federal permission are dominating the business.

The cons
• Banks are adverse to opening accounts for these federally unapproved businesses. While Attorney General Holder is trying to intervene on the new entrepreneurs’ behalf, “Piles of cash accumulate in back rooms and safes, making the businesses, their employees and their customers a target for robberies. Businesses often have no access to business loans or regular lines of credit. Many say they struggle to even keep a checking account open to pay their employees or electricity bills.” (N.Y. Times Jan. 23, 2014)

• Prices are not going down. In Colorado, according to NBC News on Wednesday, “On the first day of legal weed sales, Gillette (from NORML) said she found retailers selling top-shelf marijuana to recreational users at prices close to $400 per ounce, not including taxes.

For comparison, medical marijuana users, who’ve been able to buy weed from Colorado dispensaries since 2010, are currently paying around $250 an ounce plus taxes, she said.

• There is generally a lack of oversight over purity. The primary worry from Portland to Berkeley is the lack of safe production standards for commercially grown, crude marijuana which has no regulatory bodies overseeing its safe production and potency levels, such as the FDA or USDA.

This is one of the conditions of the federal government that are being put into place now, but enforcement is not guaranteed.

• While marijuana testing labs are a growth market, no universal standard for testing has emerged. This is essential for edible marijuana products, especially with the higher quantity of psychoactive substance in the product that are being marketed now.

This designation would have been a good prerequisite to legalization. It would have guaranteed the rigorous testing and standardization that we have come to expect from the FDA in the last 100 years.

Who supports, who does not
The following support the pill form of pot: The American Academy of Opthamology, American Glaucoma Society, the National Eye Institute and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, among many others.

National medical organizations who disapprove of “medical” marijuana include the AMA, American Cancer Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, National MS Society.

Patricia Quinn, MS, LCAT, CASAC, is the director of Prevention Services at the Warwick Valley Community Center.