Guest Post: Lessons I learned from Montana’s Medical Marijuana Movement


Written by: ScienceNerd

I have never been particularly politically active, but the de facto repeal of Montana’s Medical Marijuana Program by the 2011 legislature got me fired up.  Adding insult to injury was the defeat of I-124.  What events or attitudes on the part of supporters and those opposed led to the defeat of our MMJ program?  Why did a program with the initial support of 60%+ of the population of Montana go down so decisively?

We can all agree that it is a multi-faceted issue involving diverse attitudes and motivations.  We have the vested interest of the judicial and correctional systems and the prison industrial complex which derive income from the illegality of cannabis.  Then there’s the ignorance of legislators like Rep. David Howard, who contend that “Marijuana Kills!”, and rely on fear in order to stay in power.  We can’t neglect to mention the “Think of the Children” faction lead by the good Cherrie Brady and Church Ladies Inc.  The aspect I would like to focus on, however, is how we defeated ourselves.

At the height of the movement there were some 30,000 people in Montana with medical marijuana cards.  Thousands of cultivators and supportive businesses accommodated the cardholders.  In my view, it was the perfect example of the free market acting as it should.  Growers were in competition with each other to produce the best product at the lowest price, yet stay viable as a business.  You could see the results.  MMJ was available readily, and the price was cut in half from the black market price.  Businesses were popping up and thriving.  And yet, I heard members of the MMJ community talking about the “greed” of the growers.  These people apparently wanted access to marijuana, didn’t want to grow their own, but didn’t want the growers to make a good profit either.  So what if the growers might face life in prison for conducting their business.  In the eyes of these entitled individuals, that was no excuse for wanting to have a profitable business and not selling it dirt cheap. In my opinion, profitable small businesses contribute to affordability and quality of the product, and ensure a constant supply.  Yet members of the MMJ community were angered by those who sought to make a sustainable business with a profit.

When Patients For Reform Not Repeal was formed, I was amazed at what they were able to accomplish.  To obtain the number of signatures they gathered was a feat that should be admired by all of us, and gratitude should go out to those that made it happen.  And yet, even within that group, there was fighting and posturing.  The good of the cause was threatened by some who felt they weren’t appreciated enough or didn’t like how the organization was being run.  The same could be said of the MTCIA.  These people are solely responsible for the fact that those who cannot grow have access to their medicine now.   The service they have done to the community is HUGE.  And yet they are attacked on all sides by their alleged supporters.

One aspect of the MMJ movement that I was not at all prepared for was the resistance by many in the movement to modern medicine.  Some of the most vocal proponents were also vocal proponents of alternative medicine, and vocal opponents of modern medicine, doctors and medications.  I think the choice one makes when it comes to the philosophy of medicine one practices is a personal thing, and that all choices should be respected.  I, personally, use both alternative and modern medical approaches to health issues and decide which I think is appropriate for the particular issue.  But many in the MMJ movement came in fighting both FOR the use as marijuana as medicine and AGAINST modern medicine at the same time.  They wanted marijuana to be accepted as a medicine when it hadn’t undergone the rigorous testing and evaluations that other approved medicines have been subjected to.  In the next breath they denounced accepted medicines and medical research, and even discounted medical theories that have long been proven and accepted by the scientific community and general population.  I can’t list how many times I heard “Look at the science,” from people who didn’t believe in vaccines, antibiotics or cancer treatments.  I think this ruined much of the credibility for the movement in the portion of the populace that is not involved in the movement but that had formerly been in favor of medical marijuana.

The way medicine works in America today is that drugs go through a rigorous process to be approved to be used as prescribed medicine.  Usually cell studies are followed by studies in animals that are followed by studies in humans.  It is estimated that it takes at least $1.3 billion and an average of 12 years to bring a new drug to market.  Much of this money is spent figuring out exactly what diseases and conditions the drug works on and what the effective doses are.  Routes of administration are investigated and the most efficient ways determined.  The fact is that not enough of these studies have been done yet with MMJ.  There are a lot of promising pilot studies, but the details have not been worked out.  Legalization of MMJ has helped a lot, but not enough time has passed to do all that needs to be done.  The only way marijuana will enter mainstream medicine will be via the approach of the makers of Marinol and Sativex .  They have spent billions of dollars to do the studies with the purified components that they can deliver in a constant dose each and every time.   In my opinion, this will never be done with the whole plant product because it is too variable, too expensive and too scientifically difficult. Smoking as a delivery route is problematic in the medical community because there is probable harm associated with it.  While I am quite sure that marijuana has medicinal properties, the extent of the properties and the appropriate dosages are still being determined.

I think that the way to get marijuana into our society in a mainstream way is not to fight modern medicine and Big Pharma, but to fight for the basic rights we have as American citizens to do what we want with our bodies as long as it hurts no one else.  We need to fight for full-out legalization.  We deserve to have the choice of marijuana as both a medical and a recreational substance.  Legal marijuana will benefit not just those who use it medicinally, but the millions of us who just plain like to relax with it too. And if we are to win this fight, we need to do it selflessly and without the need for gratitude.  Let’s do it for ourselves!

 

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