There is a creeping contention that legalization has made medical marijuana less important or less relevant. None of this is true.
In Colorado, America’s first home for marijuana legalization and possibly one of the most permissive atmospheres for marijuana on the planet, medical cannabis is having a tough time.
In June, shunning the desires of parents with autistic children camped outside his office, Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill passed by the state Legislature that would have added autism to the list of conditions qualifying someone for legal medical cannabis access.
As with nearly every other condition for which marijuana has been shown to provide relief, the proof that cannabis can “treat” autism is almost entirely anecdotal. There are clinical trials underway in Israel, and pushes to fund similar studies in the United States. Still, what literature there is in America does note several instances where cannabis products seemed to improve symptoms.
Medical cannabis can easily be stuck forever in circular logic — if it’s not researched, it’s “not medical,” but if it’s not legal, it can’t be researched.
Bad Presidential Precedent
Recognizing the faulty thought pattern inherent to the situation — plus repeated insistence from parents, who went ahead and gave their children cannabis out of desperation, that it in fact works — doctors in other states like New Jersey have signaled their approval to allow people with Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s, and other brain afflictions not unlike autism to have cannabis as an available treatment option.
This is an ongoing issue in a delicate balance. As Leafly reported, only five states allow autistic people to legally access full-plant cannabis medications — and Colorado will not be added to that list anytime soon. Citing “concerns” from the “medical community” — which includes some mainstream doctors who have opposed medical marijuana at nearly every turn — Hickenlooper also echoed his own obvious reservations towards marijuana.
“If we sign that bill we end up, without question, in some way encouraging more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems,” he said, according to The Denver Post.
Hickenlooper has presidential aspirations, and some see his continuing reluctance to embrace cannabis — he opposed marijuana legalization way back in 2012, you may recall, and was telling reporters as recently as 2014 that legalization was “reckless,” and that if he “could wave a magic wand” and make it go away, he could — as a way to shore up his law-and-order credentials with on-the-fence moderates and conservatives.
But in the meantime, he is causing problems for medical cannabis’s continued existence and its necessary progress in the mainstream medical community — which is still in the very early stages, let’s not forget! — and is setting bad precedent other elected officials who would prefer cannabis remain illegal in any context (or, barring that, very hard to obtain) will almost certainly follow.
An Over-the-counter Counterargument
Only 93,000 people in Colorado are registered marijuana patients. This should not be interpreted to mean that medical marijuana is not popular or does not exist — just that most people for whom cannabis provides relief would just as soon not bother with a doctor’s visit before a trip to the dispensary.
Anyone who buys basic medical supplies can surely understand this — just as they can surely understand why it’s silly to require a physician’s note before a purchase of Advil or over-the-counter cough medication, and that the fact that a doctor’s review was not necessary is somehow sign that the cold or headache tonics are somehow “not medical.” Yet that’s the argument you often hear, that somehow medical marijuana is going away or losing its grip. This may be true in terms of overall sales, but that cannot then be distorted to prop up bunk arguments that medical cannabis is “going away” or in any other way invalid.
Marijuana legalization sounds great for anyone involved in marijuana, but it’s not a given. Far from it: In Washington, cannabis patients were left scrambling for supply and emptying their wallets when they could find it thanks to the state’s legalization bill, which was slanted heavily towards regulating an adult-use market. Fair enough — legalization is good, and in most cases, it should be regulated — but it cannot be at the expense or hindrance of medical.
The good news is that most voters in most places get this. Look at Oklahoma, where, according to former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Colorado’s legalization was causing untold problems. There, voters just approved what the Washington Post called “one of the most progressive” medical-cannabis laws in the country! That’s good! But, as Hickenlooper’s attitude in a marijuana-friendly place shows, it’s far from a given. Medical cannabis is real, necessary, and important. We need to remember that, and remind everyone else who can’t or won’t.