News Analysis: Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts recently became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana. Kris Hermes, spokesman for Safe Access Now, isn’t surprised. “It’s heartening that other states see the value in establishing these public health laws and protecting the people who need the drug that live in those states,” he says.

Hermes says marijuana is effective in treating many conditions and has benefited millions. Critics claim the drug is dangerous because, among other reasons, potency varies. Marijuana is an FDA Schedule I drug, which classifies it as having no legitimate use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse tightly controls marijuana research. “The research that’s conducted is heavily biased on the supposed negative effects of marijuana rather than its therapeutic benefits,” Hermes says.

Frustrated with federal resistance to medical marijuana, Safe Access Now filed suit against the Obama administration in 2011. A victory in federal court would loosen restrictions on marijuana, but some in the disability community oppose easier access. Prescription drug abuse is already a problem for people with disabilities, according to New Mobility contributor Mark E. Smith, who says marijuana would worsen the situation. Smith, 41, who has cerebral palsy, says people with disabilities are already at high risk for addiction. Smith’s blog, powerchairdiaries.com, often deals with addiction issues.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports the substance abuse rate for people with brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or mental illness is near 50 percent. Smith says we should be trying to lower the addiction rate for people with disabilities. “Let’s focus on eradicating drug abuse, not strive to offer more options for abuse,” he says. “I want myself and my peers healthy, not high.”

There is much to learn. Medical marijuana may provide valuable relief for some, but those benefits will be restrained until the federal government encourages marijuana research. For now, individuals with disabilities need to research the use of marijuana and its side effects carefully and decide what’s best for their situation.

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