The real side effect of medical marijuana

  • Ray Ring


My father died from an addiction to a dangerous drug when I was 13. The pushers who sold it to him remain in business, and the federal and state governments seem to like that fact. I'm not bitter, but whenever I hear the arguments against medical marijuana in Western states, I'm struck by the hypocrisy.

Cigarettes infected my father with lung cancer. At the end, in 1962, he was a walking skeleton, home from the hospital to die in his own bed. Of course he bore some responsibility, because inhaling smoke isn't a good idea. But while he was a heavy user during the 1950s and early 1960s, the tobacco corporations knew their products were lethal and addictive. They covered up that research and resisted attempts to warn smokers of the risks.

These days the tobacco pushers are doing well. They've developed hundreds of additives to make their cigarettes more potent and addicting, expanding sales in other countries while keeping about 45 million people in this country hooked. The federal government has given growers more than $1 billion in subsidies since 1995, and the feds and state governments impose taxes on tobacco sales that bring in revenue while not being high enough to drive the pushers out of business.

State governments also promote other dangerous vices such as alcohol use and gambling. They levy taxes that don't suppress those industries, and sell lottery tickets and licenses to run liquor stores, casinos and other gambling operations. Their regulations, including various smoking bans, merely nibble around the edges, while they allow or encourage people to become addicts to tobacco, booze and gambling. In rough numbers, every year 80,000 people in the United States die from excessive alcohol use, 450,000 die from tobacco use and millions suffer the consequences of being pathological gamblers.

Meanwhile, 16 states and the District of Columbia have OK'd medical marijuana, and nine of those states are in the West, ranging from Alaska to Arizona. The state programs are usually created by popular ballot measures, since there's widespread agreement that marijuana is an effective treatment for ailments associated with chemotherapy, seizures, insomnia and chronic pain. Yet medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and recently the Obama administration has unleashed federal agents to crack down on growers and patients. Some state governments also resist the spirit of the people's medical marijuana laws.

In my state of Montana, 62 percent of the voters approved medical marijuana in a 2004 ballot measure, and about 30,000 Montanans are registered to use it. But earlier this year, the Montana Legislature, controlled by conservative Republicans, overreacted to looseness in the program  -- more than half of the users, or patients, for example, are young people supposedly getting marijuana for chronic pain. First the Legislature passed an outright repeal of medical marijuana, but after Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a repeal, state legislators passed a second hostile bill under the guise of reform, and the governor let it become law without his signature.

The Republican "reform" aims for a 90 percent reduction in the number of Montana medical marijuana patients. They'll either have to grow their own or get it for free from someone who's volunteering to grow it for no more than three patients. The reform also makes it more difficult to get approval for treatment of chronic pain.

Montana medical marijuana advocates are trying to fight back. They've persuaded a judge to block aspects of the legislative restrictions, though the state attorney general is appealing that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. Medical marijuana advocates are also circulating petitions, trying to gather enough signatures to block the reform altogether, or at least take the issue to the voters again. But they're running short of money and their efforts might fall short.

It's worth noting that when Montana's Legislature was about to begin this year's session, the governor said he was tired of the heavy boozing that occurs around every session. He said many legislators, their staffers and lobbyists are "the biggest boozers," and cited statistics that show liquor sales in Helena, the capital city, increase by 24 percent during the sessions. Then shortly after this session began, the chairman of the Republican Senate Judiciary Committee was arrested for drinking while driving. The Legislature also gave casinos permission to attract more customers with bigger bingo prizes and new video games, and it squelched a proposal for a higher tax on cigarettes.

It's not just that the arguments against medical marijuana seem weak and unconvincing; hardest of all to swallow is our hypocrisy.

Ray Ring is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is the magazine's senior editor in Bozeman, Montana.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Aug 27, 2011 11:23 PM
Thank you Ray, excellent article. I hope you get this published in all the major Montana newspapers this week to educate the public. We only have until the last week of September to get our signatures for the Petition put in. Great article!!!
Kaj Jackson
Kaj Jackson
Aug 30, 2011 03:32 PM
Great article Ray. Just one correction; demographic statistics from the state show that the age groups are about equal. That means there are 10,000 patients under age 30 and only about 60% of them are solely "chronic pain" patients.
martin weiss
martin weiss
Aug 30, 2011 05:56 PM
"It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says 'you toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle." [Lincoln-Douglas debates, 15 October 1858]
"Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes." Abraham Lincoln
The hypocrisy you cite is valid. But there a multitude of other incentives. First, of course, alcohol is cool. It makes one incompetent and unthinking, often violent and criminal. Pot makes you think. That's dangerous. Second, hemp was a potential competitor with Standard Oil after the GOP threw Teddy out for busting monopolies. Hemp will grow on marginal land unsuitable for food crops. It would provide a vegetable diesel fuel superior to petroleum-derived fuels in many ways. Then, there is the drug cartel drug-money banks and the private-for-profit prison system synergistic complex. A constraint on appetites has been historically employed to generate wealth. A constraint on thinking is fairly new. Constraints on monopolistic domination really started after the Civil War elevated corporations at the same time as Lincoln invented greenbacks. Lincoln warned us:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed." Abraham Lincoln
So, medical marijuana is just a symptom of the real disease.
Incidently, after the Feds sent in sixteen thousand troops to quash the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington became the largest distiller in the country. The whole point of Enlightenment legislation like the Constitution was that princes, merchant or other wise, could not rule. Today a federal prisoner is worth fifty g's to his guards. The only union the GOP supports is the prison guards' union. So, yeah, hemp could even replace all the plastic in the Pacific Gyre with edible and degradable material, cut pollution from petro-diesel, and start a new political movement like Civil Rights and antiwar in the 60's. Pot's a dangerous drug to those who profit from mind control. But curiously popular among successful criminal organizations.
martin weiss
martin weiss
Aug 30, 2011 06:12 PM
Here's an idea for Bernie Sanders:
Make mind control illegal. Good luck. I imagine the Pope will have something to say about that, along with the Chinese, North Korean, and other nation-states behaving like cornered animals. That's the great value of these democratic small d forums. Take Kyenne, for example. She took my thinking about roadkill to another order of magnitude. I stand instructed.