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Who Should Hold the Keys?

In an article this month in the Star-Tribune, the possibility of a legislative push for medical marijuana is discussed. The issue is dead for this year, but might rise again in 2014. But the interesting bit is a question that doesn’t come up much in the debate: Who should hold the authority?

In other words, should police agencies have control over marijuana, since it is illegal under federal and state laws, or is cannabis really a medicinal, under the purview of medical personnel instead?

Obviously, we currently have many addictive and dangerous substances in the pharmacies. They are controlled by requiring a doctor’s prescription to get them. Police do not become involved unless the chain of custody is broken and the medication gets into the black market. So the argument makes sense if you agree that there is a legitimate medical use for marijuana, but there’s the rub.

The most recent district court ruling, out of Washington DC, addressed this issue and said the current understanding and categorization of marijuana as having “no medical use” is a valid one, at least for now. As long as the FDA keeps marijuana off the federally approved formulary, physicians aren’t allowed to treat it like other medications that have federal approval.

Still, the argument does make some sense. For a select population that obtains some relief when they use marijuana, it might very well be a matter for doctors instead of prosecutors. But there’s a huge market beyond this. Currently, all marijuana sold and used in Minnesota is, by definition, black market and illegal. Carving out a population that should be permitted to use it will shift some, but hardly most of the illicit use. The parallel with prescription narcotics doesn’t quite work when addicts have an alternative in heroin and when most of the other narcotics users are legitimate (through Rx pain relievers).

Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, there remains a two-tiered system: legit and illicit, with doctors overseeing the former and police the latter.


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