View Point

Saturday, January 30, 1999

Medical use of
marijuana must
not be allowed

By Sandra Lacar


THE 1999 Legislature faces another round of challenges in the weeks ahead -- but few questions will have more serious future ramifications for the people of Hawaii than the possible legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, which Governor Cayetano has gone on the record as supporting.

Not only does this attempt at legalization fly in the face of thorough federal and scientific testing procedures, it subverts the safeguards of our established federal Food and Drug Administration approval process that carefully designates what substances are proven, effective, safe medical treatments.

Like all of us, the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii, without argument, favors responsive and compassionate care for those in need. But only when it is conducted in a reasonable and responsible way.

Remember, marijuana is not a benign substance. It contains more than 400 chemicals, some of which can cause cancer or affect brain functions like perception, learning, memory, emotions and motor coordination.

It is easy to say that those suffering from cancer, infectious diseases including AIDs, or severe neurological and ophthalmologic problems have little to lose and should be able to use marijuana as a medicine.

However, nationally recognized scientists, researchers, physicians and major medical and health organizations such as the American Medical Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Cancer Society agree that numerous studied and proven treatments are available in lieu of marijuana.

In fact, a synthetic form of the psychoactive component of marijuana, which helps control nausea and stimulate appetite (tetrahydrocannabinol or THC), has been approved by the FDA and is available for prescription as a pill.

But all of this masks what can realistically happen to each of us and to our families if a decision is made by our elected representatives in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

In 1997, the state Department of Health/Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division reported that 1,132 adults were treated for marijuana use compared to 582 in 1994; juvenile possession arrests also more than doubled during the same period.

More than 44 percent of 12th graders surveyed by the University of Hawaii admitted using marijuana. And a Department of Education survey conducted at all schools in the state showed 25 percent of all 11th graders had used marijuana in the previous 30 days. That's 3.1 percent higher than the national rate!

Legalizing marijuana for use as a medicine will only drive these figures up. Furthermore:

bullet No matter what proponents say, access to marijuana by the general public, including youngsters, will greatly increase.

bullet Law enforcement control of marijuana and related drug abuses will obviously become significantly more difficult.

bullet Doctors need only provide a professional opinion that marijuana is medically beneficial for a patient. Individual opinions can conflict with federal laws, are nearly impossible to regulate and are subject to all sorts of abuse.

bullet In the case of potential lawsuits, who is ultimately responsible? The doctors? Malpractice insurance carriers? Or the State of Hawaii and, ultimately, each of us as a taxpayer?

The legalization of marijuana as a medicine and the abandonment of our science-based FDA testing and approval process are irresponsible as long as proven, positive alternative treatments are in place.

The threat of increased substance abuse and the accompanying dangers to our youth, families and communities is very real. We hope our legislators understand that compassion starts with good common sense.

Sandra Lacar is executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii.

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