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Marijuana Industry Welcomes Regulation


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Marijuana industry welcomes regulation




(Thiscommentary was written by Michael Elliott, Esq., executive director of theMedical Marijuana Industry Group (MMIG), the largest medical marijuana tradeassociation in Colorado, and Norton Arbelaez, JD, MMIG’s board chair.)


Staff Sergeant Mary McNeely joined the military, went to Iraq and served hercountry with honor. While there, she was injured in a car bombing.


Upon returning to Colorado Springs, physicians at the Veteran’sAdministration prescribed her narcotic pain medications to treat her variousinjuries. Nonetheless, her health kept deteriorating. The drugs did noteffectively treat her pain, made her irritable, nauseous and unable tofunction. She grew distant from her daughter and husband.


Through Colorado’s medical marijuana system, she discovered that cannabiscontrolled her pain and nausea with minimal side-effects. As a result, she wasable to stop taking several high-risk prescription drugs including percocet andvicodin. Medical marijuana allowed her to regain a semblance of a normal life.


Colorado’s medical marijuana program is here for Mary and the tens ofthousands of patients like her. While neither pariah nor panacea, medicalcannabis provides substantial relief to the sick and injured, and is void ofmany toxic side-effects common to prescription drugs. Regulated and taxed,medical cannabis also improves public safety and provides Colorado with asorely needed source of revenue and jobs.


Cannabis Indica has been used as medicine for thousands of years.For most of American history, the United States Pharmacopeia recommended it forconditions as diverse as asthma, nervous disorders and insomnia. In 1937, amidpropaganda steeped in institutional prejudice, all uses of cannabis wereoutlawed by the federal government.


In light of failed attempts at national reform, Colorado voters approved astate constitutional amendment allowing for medical marijuana in 2000.Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana,encompassing about one-third of all Americans. Conservative estimates forecastas many as 25 states will have adopted medical marijuana laws by 2014. Asreflected by an October 2010 Gallup poll in which 70 percent of Americans favormaking medical cannabis legally available, Colorado’s regulated model reflectsa national trend.


In 2010 and 2011, the Colorado General Assembly, in a bipartisan effort,codified the licensing, regulation and taxation of medical marijuana businesses.These regulations created a closed-loop system that requires local and statelicensing, establishes “good moral character” standards for ownership andemployment, and mandates rules for security and surveillance aimed ateliminating illicit activity. Nationwide, Colorado has the most comprehensiveand effective medical marijuana regulatory framework.


In Colorado, regulated medical cannabis has provided medicine to 473HIV/AIDS patients, 9,771 patients suffering from severe nausea, 14,112 patientssuffering from muscle spasms, 75,424 patients suffering from severe or chronicpain, and 2,181 patients with cancer. Despite all the accusations of abusesurrounding this issue, less than 2 percent of Colorado’s population areregistered patients. According to state statistics, the average age of amedical marijuana patient in Colorado is 42.


As medical marijuana becomes more accepted, its medicinal uses become moreapparent. Recent studies have shown the potential of cannabis to treatpremenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cordinjuries, alcohol abuse, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, depression,Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sickle-celldisease, sleep apnea, anorexia nervosa and many forms of cancer. With so muchpotential, it’s not surprising that the federally funded National Institute ofHealth currently holds U.S. Patent 6,630,507 B1 for “Cannabinoids as Antioxidantsand Neuroprotectants.”


In addition to providing a mechanism for safe and legal access, regulatedmedical cannabis is a net positive for the state. It contributes to deferredprosecution and incarceration, as well as providing a source of revenue in hardbudgetary times.


In total, Colorado medical marijuana businesses have paid approximately $20million in local, state and federal taxes, and another $9 million in licensingand application fees. With regard to jobs, some estimates indicate that themedical cannabis industry has created upwards of 20,000 new jobs, as well as aboom in ancillary businesses such as real-estate, accounting, carpentry,engineering, plumbing, law, medicine and security.


With regard to health and safety, a recent University of Colorado study indicates that stateswhich pass medical marijuana laws see on average a 9 percent reduction intraffic fatalities. In addition, a 20-yearstudy documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association(January 2012) indicates that smoking cannabis on an occasional basis does notappear to produce adverse effects on lung function. Moreover, the increase incriminality predicted by opponents of regulated medical marijuana has simplynot materialized.


Though much has been made of the supposed link between medical marijuana andteen use, new research by CU professor Daniel Rees finds no evidencethat medical marijuana laws are related to the use of marijuana by minors.Other studies show that, on average, teen usage decreases after states passmedical marijuana laws.


Regardless, regulation remains the most effective way to limit unauthorizedaccess and abuse. After all, street dealers do not check IDs. The mostcomprehensive solution likely involves education and prevention initiatives,restrictions on advertising and increased penalties for illicit diversion tominors.


Though Colorado Attorney General John Suthers opposes the state’s medicalmarijuana program, consider the alternative – the continuation of a failedpolicy that criminalizes patients and subsidizes a violent black marketoperating clandestinely out of homes and public lands. This emboldened blackmarket would pose an immediate threat to public safety and further strain ourstate’s limited resources.


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has issued recommendations to U.S.Attorneys to use their prosecutorial discretion, in light of limited resources,to focus on those individuals and organizations who are not in “unambiguouscompliance with state law.”


Meanwhile, in Colorado, the democratic process has made regulated medicalcannabis the law of the land, and it is the duty of our state officials and ourchief executive to implement the Colorado Medical Marijuana Code.


Patients and providers hold hope that with time the institutional resistancefrom the federal government and certain state elected officials will bereoriented to conform with the interests of patients, economic realities, andthe values of justice, dignity, and tolerance.


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