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Politics of pot

Image Source: LERABLOG

Count Gov. Bruce Rauner among those who are skeptical of medical marijuana as a cure-all.

With Illinois still in the implementation stage of its experiment medical marijuana, the jury remains out whether this Illinois experiment is a medical advance or just an anecdotally driven fraud on the public.

So kudos to Gov. Bruce Rauner for vetoing ill-considered legislation that would have added 11 more medical conditions that could be treated by smoking marijuana.

The conditions rejected are: anorexia nervosa, chronic post-operative pain, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, Neuro- Behcet's autoimmune disease, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, polycystic kidney disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome and superior canal dehiscence syndrome.

So far, roughly 3,000 people have been approved to use medical marijuana in connection with such diseases as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. Supporters have suggested that marijuana plays a positive role in assisting those who are in chronic pain.

Those in physical distress certainly deserve sympathy and whatever assistance society can provide. But the fact remains that claims that medical marijuana provides any real benefits are in serious dispute.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported earlier this year on the results of a Yale Medical School study that suggested the medical marijuana movement is really a pretext for the legalization of marijuana. If marijuana is to be legalized, the authors of the study concluded, "the medical community should be left out" of the debate.

In that context, Rauner is correct in his decision not to expand the list of medical conditions eligible for treatment by medical marijuana.

"The pilot program is moving forward, but remains in its early stage. Cultivation centers are just beginning to grow their crops, and the first dispensary was licensed at the end of August," Rauner said. "It is therefore premature to expand the pilot program — before any patient has been served and before we have had the chance to evaluate it."

As is common in this debate, medical marijuana supporters were quick to accuse Rauner of being indifferent to individuals with medical problems.

Noting that post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the conditions to be added to the list, one critic accused Rauner of acting in a disrespectful manner to military veterans who may suffer from that condition.

Sandy Champion, whose husband, Jim Champion, is an Illinois veteran who has multiple sclerosis and is a member of the medical cannabis advisory board, said Rauner showed "disrespect and disregard to all those who have fought for this country."

"They gave their lives, health and freedom to serve us and today our governor, who is the head of our state, let them down," she said.

That kind of personal attack is what many legislators fear. That's why they embrace anecdotal statements about the purported benefits of medical marijuana while ignoring more persuasive medical evidence.

But the Yale Medical School study is hard to refute. Researchers examined 14 studies involving more than 2,000 patients with a wide variety of ailments.

It found that medical marijuana offers moderate benefits to those suffering from multiple sclerosis and "low quality evidence" that it relieves nausea in patients receiving chemotherapy or stimulates appetites in individuals with HIV.

Researchers also found that marijuana has negative side effects, including damage to body organs like the liver and kidneys. Perhaps most disturbing, smoking marijuana aggravates the conditions of individuals suffering from psychiatric conditions.

What is more clear than the findings of medical professionals is the reactions of those who support medical marijuana. They cannot abide any suggestion that medical marijuana is not everything — and more — that its proponents claim it to be. They exhibit an almost religious faith in the virtues of marijuana as a medicine and characterize skeptics as almost demonic in their opposition.

But the politics of that approach — plus changing attitudes toward marijuana in general — have been proven effective time and again. Some states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized marijuana outright. Others, like California, have approved medical marijuana laws that are so loose one can get a prescription for almost any reason.

Illinois has chosen a middle ground, embracing medical marijuana in theory while at the same time trying to limit its use to people who have a malady it can ease. But trying to square political realities with those of modern medicine is proving hugely difficult, ultimately leaving proponents and opponents jeering at the legislative result.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by NEWS-GAZETTE
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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