Prop 19 is the focus of a lot of attention, as California voters prepare to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana. To me, this issue isn’t only about recreational users like middle-class college students who want to enjoy their weed without harassment. It’s also about folks who are medically ill, as well as about people of color who are prosecuted for marijuana use and shackled with the consequences at way higher rates than users who are white. It’s about addressing a justice system that’s broken and creating peace for those who suffer as a result.
But don’t take it from me – here’s an opinion piece written by my dad, a medical doctor, after researching the subject.
I was going to try to make this all official, all “blogger Maisha Z. Johnson brings you the expert opinion of Dr. Ian R. Johnson,” but let’s be real – here’s your Editor’s Note, from the perspective of someone who was raised by the guy: When I was growing up, he sure wouldn’t say anything in support of marijuana. It’s only recently that he’s been doing some research, and has shifted his opinion based on his findings. Another note: word has it that the polls have shifted since this piece was written, with support for Prop 19 falling behind.
Click the "Read More" tab for the piece.
By Ian Johnson, M.D.
On November 2, 2010, California voters will cast their ballots for or against Proposition 19. This proposition will allow for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. A recent Field Poll shows 49% of voters in favor of the proposition while 42% are opposed to it. Regardless of the outcome, the Obama Administration has made it clear that recreational use of marijuana remains a federal crime and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) fully intends to “vigorously enforce” all laws against such use. Clearly, something will have to give between the state and the feds if the Prop 19 initiative passes and becomes a California state law.
The DOJ principal argument against the initiative is that such a measure would complicate their investigation and prosecution of the trafficking of other more dangerous drugs. Attorney General Eric Holder has written that “If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts…”. He further wrote that “Proposition 19 … would provide a significant impediment to…joint efforts by law enforcement to target drug traffickers who frequently distribute marijuana alongside cocaine and other controlled substances.” Apparently, the DOJ perceives marijuana to be inextricably linked to these other drugs. The DOJ’s view on this matter appears to be shortsighted. It seems to speak more to ineptitude and intellectual laziness within the DOJ than it does to the perceived dangers of marijuana. Besides, since when are Americans denied a civil right simply because granting that right would make it tougher for some governmental agency to do its work? Could the DOJ’s stance perhaps be reflective of a cowering intra-agency attitude that marijuana will not be legalized under their watch?
An exercise of rational thought is all that is needed to eradicate the prevailing shortsightedness and unfounded fears within the DOJ. First of all, the legalization of marijuana would allow for its non-criminal supply and hence significant extraction from the hands of the drug cartels. This will take care of the DOJ’s principal objection to its legalization. Next, let’s look at the harms which are allegedly attributed to marijuana use. When we earnestly do so, we see that there is absolutely no credible evidence to show that marijuana is the cause of many of the biological or societal ills that are alleged to its use. Some of these alleged ill effects include: the killing of brain cells, the impairment of our immune system and the gateway to other drugs and crime.
Let’s now take a look at what’s on tierra firma. There exists considerable actual, as well as anecdotal, evidence of marijuana’s clinical efficacy in many disease states. This is the supposed basis for the legalization of medical marijuana in California. Doctors and patients have found marijuana to be clinically efficacious in the management and treatment of conditions such as AIDS, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and much more. Cannabinoids receptors have been discovered in the brain. Some scientists believe that research on these receptors could potentially lead to greater understanding of memory formation and therefore has implications for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Of course, recreational use and medical use of marijuana are two entirely different things. So why should Californians not be satisfied with just the legally sanctioned medical use of marijuana? Why pursue the legalization for recreational use? One answer is that the federal government may have already inadvertently allowed for such use. As it turns out, the DOJ has either been schizophrenic or else intellectually dishonest in its approach to marijuana regulation. The Drug Enforcement Agency has scheduled marijuana in the class of drugs which have no currently accepted medical use in the United States. Since these drugs therefore cannot be used for medical purposes, then by what rationale is the federal government turning a blind eye to (i.e. allowing for) marijuana use by patients in California? In order for the federal government to in effect “sanction” the use of marijuana for medical purposes, they would have to break their own law. Since they cannot do so, they instead simply “wink” at those who use marijuana, medically and recreationally. Thus, by default, they do allow for the recreational use of marijuana and their restrictive marijuana law becomes a charade. The people of California now have an imminent opportunity to advocate for the end to this ridiculous charade. A yes vote on Proposition 19 would be a huge first step.