Florida needs to legalize medical marijuana

Barack Obama’s administration has made it clear that the federal government will no longer waste time and money stopping medical marijuana use, despite the 2005 Supreme Court decision which gave it power to do so.

Fourteen states have already legalized the drug for medical purposes, but Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the U.S. will not waste resources on policing it.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana,” Holder said.

The relaxation of federal drug enforcement is a welcome shift, opening doors for Florida to become the next state to legalize medical marijuana to maximize patients’ clinical well-being and personal freedom.

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is a viable treatment option for many diseases. In November 2009, the American Medical Association reported reduction of neuropathic pain, improvement of appetite in patients undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from AIDS and relief of spasms in multiple sclerosis patients.

Other studies show that marijuana can be used to inhibit lung, breast and brain cancers. Medical marijuana may also slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, which could prove good for many Florida seniors. The U.S. government even holds a patent for medical marijuana use in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

“Marijuana’s (illegal) status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it’s been a major obstacle to needed research,” Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a news release.

Some say medical marijuana can be harmful when smoked, but the development of smokeless-marijuana vaporizers may lift this concern.

Others argue that regardless of proven benefits medical marijuana has, there is a potential for abuse. They claim that it can be over-prescribed by health care practitioners.

However, Florida could regulate medical marijuana use, and licensing could be limited to cases of medical necessity. There is always a chance of federal intervention of substance abuse, so Florida should approach regulation economically and effectively.

Even if medical marijuana is over-prescribed, the adverse effects are minimal. According to a 2007 study published in The Lancet, marijuana has less potential for dependence or physical harm than alcohol.

Fully legalizing medical marijuana would not be a radical move. There is already a legal precedent for it in Florida. The 1991 case Jenks v. Florida shows the medical necessity for cannabis outweighs the argument for it remaining illegal.

Florida lawmakers should introduce legislation in support of medical marijuana as soon as possible so Florida can join the 14 other states – about a quarter of the U.S. population, according to stopthedrugwar.org – allowing medical marijuana use. Florida’s patients deserve it.

Neil Manimala is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences.