Mickey Martin is the author of Medical Marijuana 101 and a vocal activist in the cannabis community. He will be hosting the Massachusetts Cannabis Knowledge Forum September 28th-30th, and he’ll be answering questions in this column.
This is the age old question … Who is sick enough to use cannabis?
Cannabis is certainly not for everyone, but there are a number of conditions for which cannabis can be beneficial. Massachusetts law requires you have a “debilitating medical condition” to qualify for medical cannabis, defined as:
Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS), when such diseases are debilitating, and other debilitating conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s certifying physician.
The list of illnesses is lacking in many areas, as cannabis has been proven effective for a wide range of conditions not specifically listed; but the last sentence allows for physicians to use their best judgment and recommend cannabis for conditions they see fit.
This is great news for many patients who suffer from real pain, nausea, restlessness, and gastrointestinal issues. It allows them to make the case to their physician, to use cannabis safely without fear of punishment, and to access the program even if they might not be on their death bed.
A host of opposition will tell you this is an open door for abuse.
I was on hand on August 2nd at Cape Cod Community College when one time congressman and Project SAM Board Chairman, Patrick Kennedy, tried to use this phrase from the regulations to drum up fear amongst the drug prevention and law enforcement crowd at a presentation on why the Massachusetts cannabis law is basically going to ruin the world. Luckily, representatives from the MA Department of Public Health, a patient whom cannabis had benefited, and myself, were there to tell Kennedy he was misleading people with his hyperbole.
It is dumbfounding to listen to prohibitionists act as if medical cannabis is some huge danger.
We live in a society where people are prescribed a host of toxic and tranquilizing medicines for any number of minimal medical conditions.
Depressed? Have some Paxil. Anxious? Take some Ativan. Pain? Try these Vicodin. Still in pain? Try these Oxycontin. Can’t sleep? Hit some Ambien (Not you Kennedy). Penis won’t get hard? Try this Cialis.
But God forbid we allow a person to use plant-based cannabis to feel better unless they are being read their last rites, and have exhausted all other deadly and addicting options from Big Pharma.
The truth is that cannabis can be helpful to a large number of people for conditions, which may not be life threatening, but are still very debilitating.
The definition of debilitating in the MA medical cannabis regulations is as follows:
Debilitating means causing weakness, cachexia, wasting syndrome, intractable pain, or nausea, or impairing strength or ability, and progressing to such an extent that one or more of a patient’s major life activities is substantially limited.
So if you have a condition that impairs your strength and/or ability, which limits your life activity, then you can qualify for medical cannabis. I can easily see how migraine headaches, back pain, arthritis, anxiety, and sleeplessness all can impair strength and ability.
As rigid as the regulations sound on paper, they actually leave the physician a lot of room to make a professional assessment of your situation and decide if cannabis is a good option for you. This is very positive.
The bottom line for me is “Does cannabis relieve your condition and give you a better quality of life?”
If the answer is “Yes” then you should be able to qualify as a patient. One should not have to be concerned that their condition is not serious or debilitating enough.
If you have a health issue (which most people walking the planet certainly do), and cannabis provides quality relief for you where you might take another chemical-based toxic and/or addicting medicine, then you should be allowed to use cannabis as an alternative. I do not care if it is Tylenol you are taking. That stuff will kill you and destroy your liver. If you can use medical cannabis to find comparable, or a more effective method of treating your symptoms, then who are we as a society to tell you not to?
When people can grow a plant to make themselves feel better, or if they want to access their medical cannabis in a safe, clean, well-lit dispensary where the medicine is tested for safety and quality, then they should be able to.
We should not try to restrict who can, and who cannot, access cannabis through the program based on some false image of what is “sick enough” being put forth by those who support prohibition.
An adult should be able to have an honest discussion about how cannabis improves their life and limits their debilitating condition with a licensed physician who agrees that cannabis use is good for them, and that should be enough. If we are okay with licensed physicians being able to prescribe deadly and dangerous drugs to anyone and everyone, then why would we challenge their ability to decide if a natural plant alternative is a good option? We shouldn’t.
The good news is that because of decriminalization of up to an ounce in MA, you also have the option of using cannabis as a medicine without ever seeing a doctor. Most cannabis doctors are charging $200 for a recommendation, and a ticket for cannabis is usually only about $100. There seems to be plenty of cannabis around Massachusetts already.
So it is entirely possible that you may decide that being subject to the whole medical cannabis program is more of a cost and hassle than it is worth. I am sure many will, as the regulations will outweigh the benefits of the program for a lot of people.
But many will find that the program is a great option.
For those who want to grow a few plants under a hardship cultivation; or those who need their meds tested for safety; or those who enjoy choosing from a variety of cannabis over whatever their guy might have this week, the program can certainly be a benefit.
The Department of Public Health has done a good job of laying out the framework for the program. Overzealous enforcement of the rules based on a chorus of criticism from those who are simply misinformed would be unfortunate. But I am hopeful that the program, which was overwhelmingly supported by voters in November, will be implemented fairly, with the doctors being able to recommend cannabis to patients who can benefit from it, regardless of whether or not they are terminally ill.
Cannabis is safe, and if it makes your condition better, then you can qualify to be a medical cannabis patient.
Visit www.CannabisKnowledgeForum.com for more details on the program.