Why I’m In Favor of Pot

When the debate about medical marijuana hits home, your attitude changes

I have never taken a side on or even taken much notice of the debate over medical marijuana.

I guess I have been skeptical about the national movement to make cannabis accessible for those who need it for chronic pain. Especially after seeing what has happened in California, where after 11 years seemingly anyone can get a bag of pot from a “store front” farmer. The pot sellers are making millions and those who want to smoke just to get high can get their fix. [SIGNUP]

My journalistic gut told me that although marijuana has been proven to help chronic pain, mood disorders and other ailments, the real push is by organizations like NORML, whose ultimate goal is to legalize pot.
In short I thought the argument was fueled by people who looked more like Cheech and Chong than C. Everett Koop.

But attitudes can change drastically when the debate hits home.
I recently read an article on Slate.com about a young mom in Rhode Island who was desperate to cut through red tape and bureaucracy to get medical marijuana for her 9-year-old son. When she boils the cannabis and extracts oil that she puts in cookies, her son calms down, becomes responsive, doesn’t hurt himself and can learn.

Her son is autistic.

My niece has two children who are autistic and through my work with AutismSpeaks I have met hundreds of parents, just like my niece and her husband, who would do anything to improve the lives and lots of their children.

Now instead of seeing Cheech and Chong, I see the face of a young mother in Rhode Island; I see my niece and her children; I see the faces of the parents I met just like them. Like I said, when the debate hits home, attitudes change.

Luckily, my niece lives in Sea Isle City and New Jersey is one of the 15 states in the country that have passed legislation allowing medical marijuana. Pennsylvania and Delaware currently have bills held up in the legislature.

The arguments against medical marijuana seem to have deep roots in the “Reefer Madness” mentality that warns us marijuana will lead to harder drugs. But in the case of AIDS patients, cancer patients and those suffering from mood disorders who currently use medical marijuana, marijuana is the alternative to harder drugs like Oxycontin and Xanax, drugs that can be much more addictive and dangerous.

There are dozens of legal drugs, both recreational and medicinal, with far less dangerous side effects than pot. Research shows that tobacco contributes 40 percent of all hospital illnesses and alcohol is a factor in more than half of the visits to the emergency room. And reported abuse of prescription drugs rose 163 percent between 1995 and 2002, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. That makes it the number-one drug problem in America.

We are hypocritical not to allow those who can benefit from medical marijuana the freedom to attain it easily and legally. Our attitudes about pot are based on a 1950s mentality and that needs to change in states like Pennsylvania and Delaware.

There is evidence that it is changing nationally. In a recent CNBC poll, 74 percent of those surveyed believe marijuana has real medical benefits and 60% percent believe medical marijuana should be legal.

And for those of you who can be as cynical as me: I have no more personal reason for wanting medical marijuana than to help those who need it, like my niece. I tried pot in college and, like Woody Allen, I found myself in the corner of the room balled up in a fetal position with a lobster bib on. I don’t like it and don’t use it.

But I do believe that if marijuana had been discovered today, sans the attitudes of the past, it would be hailed as a great herbal remedy and easily available.

I also believe that when parents of children with autism find out that medical marijuana might be of benefit to their children, there will be a wave of renewed pressure for the passage of legislation nationwide.
Legislators in Pennsylvania and Delaware should get ahead of the wave and pass medical marijuana legislation now.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post on Mondays and Thursdays.