California’s experience is instructive.
With the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, that state authorized patients with doctor-issued identification cards to grow or possess specific amounts of marijuana for medical use.
Sadly, that system has been widely abused. Storefront pot dispensaries with names like OMG Collective or Happy Meds resemble hippie crash pads more than pharmacies. Other so-called clinics hand out the ID cards for cash. One TV station sent healthy undercover agents into one such clinic; they walked
out with pot cards for such ailments as hair loss, dry skin and, in one
preposterous case, pain from wearing high heels.
“I don’t have to talk to you, dude!” a pipe-puffing, alleged doctor told reporters outside one such clinic.
While any legal drug can be abused, the current system governing the approval and distribution of pharmaceuticals at least has some safeguards.
To be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a drug must undergo several phases of rigorously monitored, double-blind clinical trials where patient populations of increasing size are either given the experimental drug or a harmless placebo.
Results are then compared between the two groups, and data is published in scientific journals and reviewed by federal authorities. Only after a drug is certified as safe and effective can it be prescribed by physicians.
Even then, drugs can only be sold through licensed pharmacies, with ever-increasing levels of scrutiny for those drugs with the potential for addiction and abuse.
If medical marijuana is ever made legal, it should undergo that same multistage testing process and be dispensed through normal pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription. While there have been some clinical trials concerning the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive ingredient in pot) in a number of illnesses, there is no conclusive evidence that it is widely effective or better than existing medications.
For example, one of the conditions cited in the proposed Oklahoma bill is Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition. As a lifelong Crohn’s patient, I know that it is treated with anti-inflammatory medications and drugs that dial down the immune system since Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease.
Getting stoned might help you forget you have it, but pot is unlikely to offer any meaningful therapeutic value. In fact, a bad case of the munchies could make your Crohn’s worse.
If pot is a drug, let’s test and evaluate it scientifically. Then, and only then, it should be made available in pill or liquid form through legitimate medical channels. Any other approach is too open to abuse.
Brake was chief writer for former Gov. Frank Keating and former U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin.