News / Health

California Debates Limits of Medical Marijuana

California Debates Limits of Medical Marijuanai
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April 22, 2013
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 under state law, but the drug remains illegal under U.S. federal law. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles that Californians are debating the limits of marijuana use and waiting for Washington to weigh in on the issue.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 under state law, but the drug remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

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Mike O'Sullivan
— In Oakland, California, the nation's largest dispensary of medical marijuana, Harborside Health Center, dispenses prepackaged marijuana and potted marijuana plants to a steady stream of users. Each has a doctor's recommendation for marijuana use and belongs to the members-only cooperative.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 under state law, but the drug remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

The marijuana dispensary, called the largest pot shop on the planet, pays millions of dollars each year in state and local taxes and has the backing of city officials. It also has paid millions in legal fees to fight efforts by federal officials to close it down. But co-founder Steve DeAngelo said the move has started toward nationwide legalization of marijuana.

“The real question is, how is it going to be legalized? What is this new industry going to look like? How are we going to regulate it?” he asked.

In Los Angeles, marijuana dispensaries have proliferated, and even supporters say things are out of control. A simple headache or insomnia can get a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana, and the city has 1,000 or more unregulated dispensaries.  

Los Angeles city council member Bill Rosendahl credits marijuana with helping him cope with debilitating cancer.  

He backs a proposal called Proposition D, one of three competing measures on the local election ballot in May. He said it would reduce Los Angeles dispensaries to 135, closing hundreds of others and imposing needed regulations on an industry that has helped him.

“I feel strong. I feel I have got a long life ahead of me, and I want to thank medicinal marijuana for making it happen,” said Rosendahl.

Polls show that 70 percent of Californians support medical marijuana. A narrow majority supports full legalization, which is now in place in Washington State and Colorado, but not in California. It is all illegal under federal law.  

Today's marijuana is potent, with more of the psychoactive agent THC, said psychologist Steve Freng, who works in Seattle with treatment programs for the federal government.

“Marijuana these days is not the marijuana that was out there when I was in high school and college. That was essentially Mexican ditch weed that, if you were lucky, was a 3 to 5 percent THC type of marijuana," he said.

Some of today's marijuana is 15 to 20 percent THC, and as with alcohol, there are problems with abuse and underage users.

Federal authorities continue to crack down on some dispensaries. Four were raided recently in Los Angeles. Marijuana fetches higher prices in states where it is illegal, and critics say the lack of regulation in Los Angeles has led to illegal shipments to other states from some dispensaries.

The debate among Californians is no longer about prohibition, though, said marijuana dispensary founder DeAngelo. He sees marijuana as a burgeoning industry, and has set up an investment network called Arcview Group to help finance it.

“It is no longer a question of whether or not cannabis is going to be legalized. It is not even a question of when, because we are in that moment right now,” he said.

DeAngelo said it is a question of how it will be legalized. The country is waiting to see how federal officials respond to that question.

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by: wangjian from: NV
April 23, 2013 3:01 PM
If people can not execute their purposes aboveboard, they need any excuse. Someone credits marijuana with helping him cope with debilitating cancer, which likes you say " heroin calms down my pain from arthritis, I feel relief, I feel happy, and I want to thank heroin for making it happen"
But if those advocators soon open their marijuana business after their laws passed, that make sense.


by: Duncan Wallace
April 23, 2013 7:20 AM
Migraines are not serious in O'Sullivans world? Really?? Chronic insomnia is just minor discomfort? Mr. O'Sullivan has obviously never suffered either condition. Mr. O'Sullivan seems to have missed the fact that the reason that people in California can get it for a "headache" is because the people who wrote the Compassionate Use Act would fight adding new medical conditions tooth and nail; they also understood that laymen would act just as Mr. Sullivan is acting, belittling those conditions as if they weren't serious.

But Mr. Sullivan should be aware that his complaints are almost certainly never going to be more than hot air in California. The only way to amend a law resulting from a citizen generated ballot initiative is with another citizen generated ballot initiative. Somebody is going to have to cough up a few million dollars just to get it on the ballot. And just to belie Mr. O'Sullivan's nonsense claim that people think the situation is out of control support for the Compassionate Use Act has grown from the 54% who voted in favor to pushing 80% today. So who's got a few million dollars to throw away on the pipe dream of repealing the CUA?

BTW, why do people like Mr. O'Sullivan never notice the felony convictions of pharmaceutical companies like Perdue Pharma, the almost $80 million fine paid by CVS for promoting the manufacture of street meth, Merck's almost $5 billion settlement for defrauding the FDA to get approval for Vioxx, but is still willing to act as if it's a systemic flaw when someone makes the unsupported claim that perhaps some 10 or 20 pounds pot that arrived in their State was somehow "medical merrywanna"?

Mr. O'Sullivan, you need to grow up.


by: Miles Monroe from: Huntington Beach, CA
April 22, 2013 4:04 PM
More gov't anti-cannabis propaganda, thinly veiled …

" … supporters say things are out of control." Really? Which "supporters" are those? Nobody willing to go on the record, apparently.

So what if "a simple headache or insomnia can get a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana"? Who besides a doctor should have ANY say in patient care?

We hear from a "psychologist who … works in treatment programs for the federal government"--no vested interest there, right?!--repeating the lie that the cannabis today is significantly more potent than in the past, an assertion that data collected by the DEA itself refutes. (We're sorry Dr. Freng couldn't get any of the good stuff in high school or college; he must not have hung out with the right people …)

If there really are "problems with abuse and underage users", then why not an INFORMED and OBJECTIVE discussion on treating these problems as a public health and not a criminal justice issue? Every country that has done so--Holland, Portugal, etc--has significantly lower rates of both juvenile and adult use of cannabis as well as "hard" drugs like heroin, meth, etc.

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