Tomorrow I’m going to a town hall meeting to hear about the forthcoming implementation of DC’s medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana has never really taken off as a campaign movement in the UK in the same way as it has in the US, and I am quite ambivalent about it. Below are a few (as yet only partially formed) concerns about what it means  for the drug policy reform movement as a whole.

Cannabis as Medicine

I accept that marijuana does have medicinal value, and that access to legally prescribed marijuana eases the suffering of thousands of genuinely ill people but there is no denying that where there is medical marijuana, there is ‘gaming’ of the system and for some it is a way of getting high under the pretext of a ‘medical need’. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Is faux legalization better than no legalization?

Getting busted for smoking pot in the US can potentially be a far bigger deal than it generally is in the UK. Just as in the US, an angry policeman with a chip on his shoulder can screw up a person’s life in the UK if they’re caught having a toke, but getting busted generally doesn’t have the same negative impact.  I think it depends a lot on race, which sucks, but friends of mine attended some of the UK’s top universities despite having been expelled from their high schools for smoking pot. It didn’t impact on their ability to get student loans, or jobs, etc. If being able to buy pot under ‘medical’ pretenses stops young adults from screwing up their lives, then that’s probably a good thing. I guess my main issue comes from the implicit principle of the medical marijuana movement: it’s ok to take drugs as long as they’re medicine. Why isn’t it ok just to take drugs because they’re fun?

Medicine vs Hedonism

My belief that drugs should be legal (and regulated) comes from a basic libertarian principle that as a free (adult) individual, I should be able to decide what I do with my mind and body, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone around me. The role of government, in this instance, is to regulate my behavior to prevent me from causing harm to others. This philospohy translates into a harm reduction philosophy in relation to drug policy. How should access to drugs be regulated in order to minimize the harm that drug use causes to society? My understanding of society is global- I’m as concerned about the impact of my behavior on farmers in Bolivia as I am on the neighbors of my apartment building.

If you say that people should be able to legally access marijuana because it is medicinal, then I think that has implications not just for how other illicit drugs (i.e heroin and cocaine) are regulated, but also how currently legal drugs (i.e. alcohol and tobacco) are regulated too. I think it also has implications for other toxic patterns of behavior. There was an article yesterday which showed that parents in the Bay Area in San Francisco now see obesity as a bigger threat to the health of their kids than drugs. They’re quite possibly right. Should access to fast food be regulated?

During Prohibition, it was possible to be prescribed alcohol as medicine, and this was a commonly used pretext for getting round the law. When the Repeal movement started, many suggested that only beer and wine should be made legal, and that ‘liquors’ should remain illegal. I think there are analogies with the drug reform movement now.

My main concern is that if medical marijuana becomes accepted, it could actually make it harder for other drugs to be legalized, and I don’t think that’s the right trade-off.  Apart from the actual patients for whom medical marijuana is a valid and much needed medicine, on the whole pot smokers are not the real victims of the war on drugs. The reason that I think drug law reform is an urgent global priority is because of the impact that prohibition has on the people who are already fucked over by society because they’re poor.  Either they’ve been locked up for stealing because they can’t afford their drug habit and they can’t afford treatment, or they’ve been locked up for dealing because it’s the best way to make money given their circumstances, or their parents have been locked up for using or dealing, or their health has been fucked up because they can’t get access to clean needles, or they’ve been forced into working as drug mules, or their environment is being destroyed by illegal drug production, or  their country is tearing itself apart because drug trafficking is a major source of their GDP. Generally these are not problems if you have money, only if you are poor. Medical marijuana reform will not help any of these people.That is why I am ambivalent.