Legal and Ethical Issues of Medical Marijuana
The debate over legalizing the use of marijuana is rooted in real world concerns such as crime, violence and public health. It is also a problem rooted in conflicting values. Thus, while the courts and law enforcement authorities continue to crack down on marijuana use, they also have to contend with a growing public acceptance of marijuana use. This paper examines both sides of the debate to legalize marijuana, focusing on the issue of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The first part of the paper evaluates the arguments of those who favor keeping marijuana illegal, focusing on arguments of the gateway drug concept and the health dangers of marijuana use. The second part of the paper looks at the arguments for legalizing marijuana, especially for medicinal purposes. The paper gives special attention to the ethical and legal arguments of both sides. In the conclusion, the paper suggests a compromise position the controlled legalization of medicinal marijuana. This position addresses the most valid concerns of those who favor the drug's legalization while continuing to protect people from its harmful effects. Anti-Marijuana arguments
Critics charge that the current drive to legalize medical marijuana is simply a ploy to legalize all marijuana use. Marijuana supporters are thus advancing a personal agenda, cloaking it under a blanket of seeming compassion. No significant benefits
Many experts argue that there is no scientific proof that marijuana has significant health benefits. While there are hypotheses that compounds found in marijuana may have medicinal potential, there is no medical proof that smoking the plant in its crude form is an efficient way to deliver these compounds into the body (McDonough 2000). In fact, many physicians and patients who have tried to smoke marijuana in its crude form found the experience difficult and unpleasant. Scientists attribute this as a side-effect of inhaling smoke, which irritates the lungs. Even Lester Grinspoon, an advocate of medical marijuana, cites the ill effects of marijuana smoke, saying "the lungs are not made to inhale anything but fresh air" (cited in McDonough, 2000). Harmful effects
Other scientists believe that not only is marijuana ineffective, it could also be harmful. First, marijuana is a very addictive drug. The effects of marijuana on the brain are similar to the effects of drugs like nicotine and heroin. Marijuana triggers the release of dopamine, pleasure-inducing chemicals, in the brain. Over time, sustained marijuana use leads a person to become dependent on the drug (Wickelgren 2002). These addictive effects are underscored by the fact that people who try to stop using marijuana often go through a strong withdrawal stage. Neuropharmacologists have observed that addicted people who try to stop using marijuana experience a surge in their corticotrophin-release factor (CRF) levels, leading to stress and anxiety (Wickelgren 2002). People who thus use marijuana for medical purposes thus run the risk of addiction and fluctuating chemical levels. They are also exposed to several other toxins. For example, it is a sad irony that cancer patients who use the drug for nausea are exposed to carcinogens in marijuana smoke, which is roughly 30 times more potent that cigarette smoke. While the good effects for AIDS patients are unproven, scientists question the wisdom of exposing a patient with a compromised immune system to a potentially harmful substance. Given its known carcinogenic qualities, marijuana could exacerbate lung infections and even introduce AIDS-related illnesses like Kaposi's sarcoma (Barr 1999). Marijuana activists also generally gloss over the fact that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the active ingredient in marijuana has been synthesized into a legal prescription drug since 1986. For almost 15 years, physicians have actually been able to prescribe the active ingredient...
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