Recently the governor of the Green Mountain State, Vermont, vetoed a bill that would have legalized the possession of cannabis and authorized a commission that would set up a system to tax a regulate sales of the plant. He gave three reasons for doing so: he wants stricter penalties for selling to or consumption in front of minors, he wants stricter penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis, and he wants the commission in charge of creating the market to include more agencies in Vermont. This all sounds reasonable on the surface until you realize a few things: selling cannabis to minors is already illegal in the state and carries a five year penalty, driving under the influence of any substance is already punishable by up to two years in VT, and many other states have had no problem setting up commissions that focused exclusively on creating a legal cannabis market.
This is another glaring example of the absurd standards cannabis legislation is held to. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans support these initiatives; that researchers across the globe are discovering ways in which cannabis can treat a plethora medical symptoms; and that cannabis has a pristine safety record that stretches back literally millennia, the debate surrounding legalization unfailingly focuses on mitigating the “dangers” of cannabis. Proponents of cannabis, either in debate or when crafting legislation, often must concede that cannabis is harmful to public health. This results in ridiculously restrictive regulations that do nothing to enhance safety and only function as a means to limit access.
The truth is that legalizing cannabis would bring profound public health benefits. It’s time to change the tone and substance of the conversation. Here are several ways we, as a community of people who recognize the benefits of legal cannabis access, can make a more convincing case.
Reduction in the Use of Prescribed Narcotics
America is currently in the thralls of a heartbreaking epidemic of drug addiction and overdose. Some have described this as the worst public health emergency in US history. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50. Much of nationwide tragedy is the result of opioids and, to a lesser extent, narcotic sleep aids and anti-anxiety medication.
How cannabis addresses this problem is by functioning as a safe and effective alternative to these dangerous and addictive medications. Recent studies conclusively show that states that implement comprehensive medical cannabis programs see dramatic decreases in prescriptions of, hospitalizations related to, and overdoses from narcotic prescription drugs. Thirteen medical cannabis states have seen more than 30% reductions in overdose deaths!
Another way cannabis can address this problem is by helping those already addicted ease the symptoms of withdrawal, craving, and underlying pain. As a nation facing this horrifying epidemic we need to implement all the effective tools available.
Treatment of Diabetes and its Symptoms
Diabetes is the costliest and one of the most damaging diseases in the US. Dialysis alone costs nearly 1% of the federal budget. (Most patients on dialysis have suffered kidney failure due to diabetes). More than 29 million Americans have the disease and another 86 million are in danger of getting it. These numbers put an unsustainable strain our healthcare system.
What does this have to do with cannabis? A massive study from Harvard Medical School found that cannabis use correlates with better blood sugar control. A better understanding of this link could lead to revolutionary new treatments and be not only incredible to those suffering from diabetes but also society as a whole by bringing healthcare costs down significantly.
Cannabis has shown remarkable effectiveness in ameliorating treatment resistant neuropathy or nerve pain. This kind of pain is associated with many different conditions but most commonly with advanced diabetes. Neuropathic pain rarely responds to traditional pain medication but can cannabis can be very helpful.
Reduction in Alcohol and Tobacco
Though completely legal in all 50 states alcohol and tobacco are still the most deadly substances on the planet. There are no plans to ban these substances as it became massively unpopular last time it was tried. Over 80,000 people die each year from alcohol related deaths and over 400,000 die from tobacco. Throughout cannabis’ long history with mankind, it hasn’t killed a single person.
Cannabis addresses this problem by providing an alternative. Obviously cannabis will not replace all tobacco and alcohol use but even if it replaced a tiny fraction it would translate into thousands of lives saved each year. You may not see the correlation here but the alcohol industry certainly does.
As cannabis advocates we should no longer be fighting from our back foot. There’s no need to be shy or to qualify your support with conditions. Cannabis is safe. Cannabis saves lives. The data supports our cause.