Medical marijuana: It’s the compassionate thing to do

As the debate heats up over Amendment 2, a measure before voters in November that would allow for the medical use of marijuana in Florida, the arguments from opponents show their belief that engaging in a reasoned, compassionate and constructive discourse is no longer an option for their side.

As the scientific consensus continues to tilt ever more in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, detractors have been forced to concede this plant’s extraordinary medicinal value and pivot toward employing a laundry list of scare tactics solely designed to elicit fear in the minds of Floridians.

Their primary strategy is to conflate the concepts of medical marijuana and outright legalization, alleging that one is basically analogous to the other. This is a spurious claim as it pertains to Amendment 2. The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that this measure would only grant access to qualified patients with debilitating conditions.

Their attempts at establishing parallels between Florida’s proposed amendment and marijuana laws in California and Colorado are also disingenuous. California does not have statewide regulations governing medical marijuana, something that Florida’s amendment specifically calls for, and Colorado allows for the recreational use of marijuana, which Amendment 2 explicitly rejects.

Opponents are also relying on fears about increased marijuana use among teens, something that I am sensitive to as the father of two teenage daughters. Recent evidence suggests this concern is simply unfounded. An article published in April in the Journal of Adolescent Health looking at over 20 years of data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “did not find increases in adolescent marijuana use related to legalization of medical marijuana.” It is just the latest in a series of studies that have arrived at that very same conclusion.

Claims that medical marijuana would lead to an increase in traffic accidents are equally baseless. A study recently published in the Journal of Law and Economics used 20 years’ worth of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conclude that not only have states with medical marijuana laws not seen an increase in traffic fatalities, they have experienced an 8- to 11-percent drop in their rates in the first full year of implementation.

Other concerns regarding marijuana’s potential involvement in the development of mental disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia also appear to be without merit. A recently released study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the VA Boston Healthcare system reveals that genetic predisposition is likely the underlying basis for cases of schizophrenia among cannabis users, not the use of the substance itself.

At a time when prescriptions of amphetamines for attention deficit disorder and benzodiazepines for anxiety rise by multiples of hundreds every few years, when TV commercials featuring butterflies assure viewers that drugs with a high risk for abuse and dependency can help them sleep “safely and effectively,” their demonization of marijuana seems particularly galling.

We may have much to learn about marijuana, but there are two things we can be confident of: Its addictive potential is relatively low and it has never led to a single death by overdose. We should be lucky enough to say the same for literally dozens of other medications often prescribed, even overprescribed, in our country today.

The case for Amendment 2 is really quite simple: Doctors should be allowed to recommend medical marijuana to their patients suffering from debilitating conditions without interference from politicians, and sick Floridians should not have to put their own freedom at risk in order to secure the medicine they need to dramatically improve their quality of life. It’s the compassionate thing to do.

Dr. Jeffrey D. Kamlet, M.D. is a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Diplomat of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He twice served as president of the Florida Society of Addiction Medicine.