The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 12, 2006

Medical Marijuana

Under current federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I drug. This means that, according to federal law, marijuana has no legitimate medical uses.

Many marijuana users, however, believe marijuana is efficacious in relieving nausea, pain, and muscle spasms. They also believe marijuana alleviates symptoms of glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and migraine headaches, among other ailments.

Those who defend current law claim there is no proof—in the form of appropriate double-blind studies—that marijuana is efficacious in treating various medical conditions.

This claim is roughly accurate, but disingenuous. The absence of scientific evidence results from barriers to marijuana research erected by federal drug enforcement authorities. And the scientific studies that do exist (typically from other countries) support the claim that marijuana has valid medical uses. In addition, abundant anecdotal evidence makes the claims of medical value at least deserving of careful scientific assessment.

It seems odd to many people that drug enforcement authorities oppose medical marijuana; they view this as a separate issue from legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Yet on this point the drug warriors are correct: legalizing medical marijuana would amount to de facto legalization of all use, since the number of ailments for which marijuana can be prescribed is broad. Without an enormous increase in enforcement resources and invasive oversight of physician prescribing practices, authorities could not prevent diversion of “medical” marijuana to other uses.

The drug warriors are correct on one other point: medical marijuana advocates are being disingenuous when they claim the campaign for medical marijuana is just about helping the sick. Most advocates of medical marijuana realize this amounts to back door legalization. And so do many people who listen to the debate between drug warriors and medical marijuana advocates. So these advocates discredit their own cause when they hide behind the medical marijuana shield.

In my view, legalizing marijuana is the right policy. But the effective way to advocate for this policy is by addressing the issue head on, not by focusing on medical marijuana.


At 11:30 PM, Blogger Chris said...

According to a Penn & Teller "Bullshit!" episode their are 8? people in the country that have marijuana supplied to them for medical purposed giving lie to the Schedule I classification. And according to the show the federal government actually supplies them with the drug.

Of course, hyporitical legislation isn't exactly new territory.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger daksya said...

legalizing medical marijuana would amount to de facto legalization of all use, since the number of ailments for which marijuana can be prescribed is broad.

Care to back this up? Most consumers of marijuana are under the age of 30. What 'medical condition' could they have that would make them all plausible candidates for prescription? The feds control Sched II use by having production quotas, like for amphetamines. Medical marijuana doesn't translate to a free market.

In my view, legalizing marijuana is the right policy. But the effective way to advocate for this policy is by addressing the issue head on, not by focusing on medical marijuana.

The number of potential legitimate users of medical marijuana is dwarfed by the number of recreational users. So, if every patient is a MMJ advocate, and 1 out of 20 recreational users are also MMJ advocates, it will look like the MMJ movement is a backdoor tactic. This is an effect of scale, not legitimacy.

In any case, your advice is bizarre, since the political possibility of legal recreational use is distant. Does that mean that legitimate MMJ candidates should suffer in the meantime?

At 1:06 PM, Blogger anomdebus said...

I disagree about me being disingenuous at least. If anything, I think that MMJ is detrimental to a generalized liberalization movement. What MMJ does is take the most sympathetic argument from the legalizers litany and all you have left are people who like to get high to one degree or another (or agree people should have that option).
People will also start to identify MJ with M (medicine). Just because your doctor can prescribe you opiates does not make it seem less dangerous to the public at large for recreational purposes. Although there is probably a black market around these substances, so there is with schedule 1 drugs. From a personal perspective, schedule 1 drugs are easier to get than schedule 2 if you don't know how to scam a doctor (I don't know if that will make it easier than schedule 1, just easier than the black market). Otherwise you are dependent on those few who will scam a doctor.
The choice is this: do you argue primarily for everyone to toke up with very little chance of success, or do you allow sick people some relief where there is a much better chance of success? That, in the end is why I will advocate more for the latter than the former, though I think the former makes as much sense.

At 2:32 AM, Blogger Al Brown said...

If you have any rights at all, you have the right to your own body. What you put it in it is your business alone.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Aiden-PTBO-Marijuana said...

As Blair Longley the leader of the Canadian Marijuana Party says- medical marijuana is a bad compromise with a bad government. We would prefer it was completely legalized so you wouldn't have to go through the precription red tape nonsense. Unless it was covered under your drug benefit plan of course.

But having said that MMJ is an important movement because it demostrates how pot is helpful rather than harmful. Canada has a crappy MMJ program - 1100 Users while Cali has 100,000. I have met several people who owe their lives to marijuana and need it despratly for health reasons.

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