Marijuana is now legal to use for medical purposes in 28 states. Eight states have legalized its recreational use. But it is still illegal federally. That means:
- If you work for the federal government, you can’t use marijuana for any reason.
- If you work at a job regulated by the Federal Transportation and Safety board, such as truck driver, you can’t use marijuana. The same is true of many jobs in the healthcare field.
- Your prescription doesn’t exempt you from employer drug tests… they can legally fire you if you test positive for marijuana.
- You can’t use it if you live on federal property or in federally-assisted housing, such as Section 8.
- If you are in a legal marijuana business accepting credit card payments via most banks runs you afoul of federal banking laws. And, of course, you can’t take any business deductions on your federal taxes, since the IRS considers your business illegal.
In 2013, the Justice department released what came to be called the Cole memo that significantly altered the cannabis landscape. It made clear that the federal government was going to lay off cannabis in states where marijuana was legal, with the exception of 8 specific criteria. These are:
- Distribution to minors;
- Marijuana revenue going to criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels;
- Diverting marijuana from states where it is legal to other states;
- Running a marijuana business as a cover for an illegal business, such as illegal drugs;
- Violence or the use of firearms in connection with a marijuana business;
- Contributing to drugged driving or other adverse public health risks;
- Growing cannabis on public (federal) lands;
- Using marijuana products on federal property.
Of course, this could all change under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana.
Up until the late 1800s, cannabis farming was common, even encouraged. The fibrous cannabis plant, called hemp by most growers, was a terrific source for paper, rope and fabric. The word “canvas,” in fact, stems from the word “cannabis.”
According to some sources, the war against marijuana was spurred in the 1920s and 1930s by William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper empire, abetted by DuPont Chemical. Hearst had significant timber holdings and feared they would be devalued by a growing hemp-based paper industry; DuPont wanted people to use their newly created oil-based nylon products instead of hemp products.
“William Randolph Hearst hated minorities,” says one of his biographies, “and he used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity. Hearst especially hated Mexicans. Hearst papers portrayed Mexicans as lazy, degenerate, and violent, and as marijuana smokers and job stealers. The real motive behind this prejudice may well have been that Hearst had lost 800,000 acres of prime timberland in Mexico to the rebel Pancho Villa.” In fact, it is said that he ordered his newspapers to use the word “marijuana” rather than hemp or cannabis, because of the word’s Mexican connotation.
According to the DEA:
· “The Institute of Medicine conducted a comprehensive study in 1999 to assess the potential health benefits of marijuana and its constituent cannabinoids. The study concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for the treatment of any disease condition. In addition, there are more effective medications currently available.”
· Marijuana contributes to crime. “Nationwide, 40 percent of adult males tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest.”
· “According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.”
Given all this, then, why the Cole memo? Because, hundreds of thousands of people across the country are using marijuana for medical reasons, despite the DEA’s claims that it has no medicinal value.
That shouldn’t be surprising: my brother and sister-in-law take the cooking spice turmeric for muscle and stomach pain. The AMA may not acknowledge any medicinal value to it, but don’t try to take it away from my brother. He has told me of his wife waking up crying with leg cramps that go away within minutes of taking turmeric.
And there are, of course, literally hundreds of other ‘alternative’ health cures that users swear by, from laser light to okra, despite there being no scientific studies proving their efficacy.
On a trip to Oregon in 2010 I had occasion to visit with a medical marijuana user I’ll call John.
John suffered for years with arthritis and neuropathy in his feet. “Sometimes, when I get up in the morning and put my feet on the floor, I fall flat on my face,” he said. Before using marijuana, he took Vicodin nearly every day, but he got tired of living in a fog. “Plus, it’s expensive.” He was spending $60 to $70 a month on Vicodin before he got approved to grow and use marijuana.
He was affiliated with an organization called Oregon Green Freedom, who helped him get started growing a marijuana strain called “Agent Orange.” Under Oregon law he was allowed to possess 18 juvenile plants and 6 mature plants. He grew it organically. “I’ve tasted some that was grown in containers indoors, and you can taste the Miracle-Gro,” he said. I didn’t ask whether he could taste the horse manure he fertilizes his plants with.
John puts about two ounces of marijuana buds in a quart of glycerin, and lets it steep in the sun on the window sill for a couple months. Only the buds are used. “The rest of the plant just becomes compost.”
I asked about getting high. He said, “Buds harvested early are better for pain relief; a later harvest produces more of a high. So I harvest early.”
He used about a tablespoon a day of the tincture to control the pain of the arthritis and neuropathy. It had also helped him with the nausea of chemotherapy the previous year when he had cancer. The tincture takes about 30 minutes to work. Would smoking it work faster? “It might, but smoked marijuana tends to go to your head. I need it to go to my feet.”
Furthermore, “as a Christian,” he said, “there are certain Bible principles I need to comply with for the sake of my conscience.” What principles? He listed them: “‘Cleanse yourselves of every defilement of the flesh.’ (2 Corinthians 7:1) Smoking pot would ‘defile’ my hair, my clothes, and my home.” He is also aware of 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Bad company corrupts good character." So he has to be careful marijuana use doesn’t bring him into company with those who link marijuana-smoking with unchristian conduct, especially the illicit drug community.
The principle of 2 Timothy 4:5, “You should keep a clear mind in every situation,” certainly rules out recreational drug use, but can’t really be applied to medical usage, or else Christians would have to avoid all pain remediation. But what about addiction? Romans 6:16 does say, after all, “You become the slave of whatever you choose to obey.” John said that was not a problem; for him, at least, his marijuana tincture was not addictive. “Vicodin, that was really addictive.”
Still, John acknowledges, it is a controversial matter. There is a significant stigma attached to marijuana use, and he doesn’t want to be seen as a “stoner.” When he recently requested approval for additional privileges in his congregation, a lengthy discussion ensued. Even though he had the approval of the state of Oregon, he was technically breaking federal law, making the principle at Romans 13:1 about obeying the governmental authorities a matter for his conscience to deal with. He also, at the request of the congregation, stopped supplying marijuana to other legal users who lack their own growing space – a practice allowed under the Oregon program – because he didn’t want to feel responsible if they misused it.
A few months before our interview he took a road trip across the U.S. and had to leave the tincture at home. His user I.D. card is only valid in Oregon. So he had to pull out the Vicodan. “Which is ironic,” he said. Why? Because, he said, he knows how soon he’s safe to drive after taking the tincture, but he feels less sure of his abilities after taking Vicodan.
Speaking of driving: Since he has to carry the I.D. card at all times, if he were involved in an accident, he would be pretty much automatically at fault. A police officer seeing the card would likely send him for a urine test, which he would fail even if he hadn’t used the tincture in several days.
I asked about John on my recent trip to Oregon. His neuropathy is now gone, and he’s stopped using his tincture. I doubt if anyone has ever cured neuropathy with Vicodin.
One of my preconceptions before talking to John was that people are making up symptoms to legally get stoned. John said there is probably some of that, but, in Oregon at least, in 2010 it required a two-year medical history, as well as a lot of other hoops to jump through, to get on the program. “I doubt if too many people would go to the trouble.”
There has been relatively little research into the efficacy of marijuana. However, that is in part due to the fact that it is illegal. If you are a scientist wanting to research the medical benefits of marijuana, for decades there was only one legal source: A government-managed plot of about 500 plants at the University of Mississippi. Only recently has the government recognized the silliness of this, and begun to make it easier for scientists to study marijuana. It is widely believed that ‘street marijuana’ is considerably more potent than the strain grown at the university; also, that different strains have different medicinal uses.
With the growth of alternative health products, and the growing movement to legalize marijuana, if you don’t currently know someone who has considered using marijuana medicinally, you likely will in the near future.
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