Policy Analysis: Legislation of Medical Marijuana

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Problem Analysis

The question of medical marijuana has been one of the most debatable recently. The problem of marijuana prohibition is that sick patients do not have legal access to the treatment that is the most effective for them. In particular, for many people, marijuana is the only medicine that can reduce pain or symptoms of their illnesses without significant side effects. For example, medical marijuana is effective against symptoms of such serious diseases as cancer, glaucoma or aids. Its advantage over synthetic painkillers is that it has natural background.

Legislature towards medical marijuana varies across the states. Thus, twenty-three states and the District Columbia adopted laws that permit manufacturing and using of medical marijuana (Harper, Strumpf, & Kaufman, 2012). However, this made use of marijuana legal only under state law, whereas federal law still prohibits this treatment option. As a result, sick people from the rest of the states do not have legal access to medical marijuana. Patients and health care specialists from the states where medical marijuana is legalized also can have problems from the side of federal law enforcement.

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In fact, legislation of marijuana has quite a long history. The support of legislation towards marijuana first increased in the 1960s-1970s, when the number of its users among middle-class Americans grew. For example, the federal punishment for marijuana was eased by the Drug Abuse Prevention Act (1970) and eleven states allowed possession. The attitude towards marijuana changed in the late 1980s. Many states modified their laws about marijuana, making them stricter. Only in the mid of 1990s, some states returned to the policy of easing of drug laws. Opponents of easing drug laws explain their position by the fact that marijuana is an intoxicant that requires more control than alcohol, so it is more dangerous for society and that one widely used legal intoxicant is enough for the US (Harper, Strumpf, & Kaufman, 2012).

As for the history of using marijuana for medical purposes, now it is believed that it is effective for easing pain as well as reducing vomiting and nausea during taking chemotherapy. It is also useful for increasing appetite in patients that suffer from AIDS. In 1966, scientists created TNC (active ingredient of marijuana), which was permitted for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the mid 1980s. It is possible to buy it by prescription. However, it is called differently (e.g. Marinol or Cesamet) and is sold in pills. Despite the easiness of buying these substitutes of natural marijuana, some experts admit that it is less effective and more expensive than the herb. Besides, marijuana contains one more ingredient called CDB, which serves as an antioxidant and also treats inflammation and reduces the negative effects of TNC on human psychics (Harper, Strumpf, & Kaufman, 2012).  

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine performed the research on medical marijuana and proved its effectiveness in reducing negative side effects from treating AIDS and cancer. At the same time, the researchers admitted that the herb has a toxic smoke, so they offered to continue studies in order to find alternative ways of delivering. For example, they suggested to check whether bronchial inhalers could be used for these this purpose. However, further research found that smoked marijuana is more effective for reducing pain than its other kinds.

Despite all positive findings about medical marijuana, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has taken a negative position towards its legalization. They explain their negative approach by the high probability of selling marijuana for non-medical purpose. In addition to this, FDA reported in 2006 that marijuana did not have any proven usage in the US (Morris, TenEyck, Barnes, & Kovandzic, 2014). Despite the opposition, supporters of medical marijuana have created distribution channels for it to help patients that really need the following medicine and continue to fight for its legalization.

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Inferring of the Issue Statement

Lawmakers of Louisiana decided to respond the trends in the country concerning marijuana and started considering the bill allowing the use of medical marijuana. In particular, Representative Dalton Honore introduced House Bill 6 (HB6) on February 6 this year. The bill was read by title, under the rules and sent to the Committee on Health and Welfare on April 13. The bill offers creating a program to provide medical marijuana to some groups of patients, which is not permitted by federal law. In particular, the Bill allows to prescribe medical marijuana to patients that are over twenty-one years old and have such medical conditions as epilepsy, glaucoma, sclerosis, terminal cancer and grave nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Proposed legislation permits manufacturing of marijuana and opening facilities for its distribution. The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will be issuing licenses for these activities. According to the bill, license for distribution will cost $5,000, whereas producers of marijuana will have to pay $10, 000. Renewal of licenses will cost half of the initial fees. In addition, the bill offers founding the Therapeutic Marijuana Utilization Review Board. This Board will consist of governmental officials, who will be responsible for observing and regulating medical marijuana industry in Louisiana. If lawmakers accept HB6, it will go into effect from the beginning of the next year.

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According to the studies, Louisiana voters support a new policy towards marijuana use. Thus, LSU State Survey demonstrates that 79% are for permitting medical marijuana. In August of 2013, the support of medical marijuana was smaller (Goidel, Davis, Climek, Means, & Hostetter, 2014). In particular, Public Policy Polling survey determined that only 65% were for new policy changes.  Besides, this survey found that about a half of voters preferred citing people for marijuana possession. Imprisonment was believed to be too severe punishment for this kind of crime. Moreover, 53% of Louisianans believed that the state authorities had to permit the selling of marijuana like alcohol (with same age limit and certain system of regulation and taxation) (Goidel et al., 2014). Despite the support of the population, changing of policy concerning marijuana will not be easy. Last year, state Senator Fred Mills offered the bill about allowing medical marijuana, but it was not supported by the panel (vote 6-2). The opposition of new policy includes Louisiana Sheriff’s Association and Louisiana District Attorney Association. In fact, they always have the most significant influence during voting for policies that refer to criminal justice. If one of these groups is against some bill, it almost does not have chances to receive the support of the committee. Experts explain the conservative position of both associations by politics. They are afraid of getting the image of being too soft on illegal issues. It is particularly important for officials from rural areas of Louisiana, where an attorney and sheriff are considered to be leaders. Rural communities trust them and when groups of sheriffs and attorneys are against a bill, it works as a signal for people that authorities still protect their safety. Both associations usually make a consensus position, which is supported by all their members. This helps to save the influence of the lobbying group.

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Besides, attorney group insists on waiting for approval of a form of medical marijuana from the side of the Federal Drug Association. However, the problem is that it is difficult to predict when the approval could be obtained because FDA is large organization. Therefore, further talks with the association are necessary. Apart from that, the new policy gained certain support from other officials. For example, Gov. Bobby Jindal informed about his positive attitude towards medical marijuana in case if it is carefully regulated and observed.

Another problem with adopting the new drug law is that not all lawmakers see the difference between legalizing of using marijuana for medical purposes and complete legalizing of the drug. For instance, during discussing this policy in 2014, attorney Buddy Caldwell explained his negative position to the policy by the fact that drugs, particularly marijuana were present in eighty-five percent of the rapes and murders that he persecuted. Later, he admitted that would have supported the bill if he had known about its medical focus.

On the other hand, even if lawmakers support the bill, it will not mean full resolution of the issue. In fact, medical marijuana was authorized for patients with cancer and glaucoma in 1991 but lawmakers did not create legal ways of receiving the drug. Therefore, the legislature was not implemented. A similar situation happened to bills adopted in 1978 and 1981. The opposition of marijuana laws is so strong within state authorities that Louisiana is considered one of the strictest toward marijuana users. Punishment for first-offense possession is imprisonment for up to six months. At the same time, the punishment for this kind of crime includes the problem of racial discrimination. According to the researches, black and white Americans consume almost equally, but Afro-American 3.1 times more likely to be sent to jail for marijuana possession (Goidel et al., 2014). In 2010, lawmakers adopted new legislation towards punishment for the crime. People accused of marijuana possession secondly, had to pay minimum $250 and spend 48 hours in jail. Such severe policy concerning marijuana possession resulted in the fact that 1,370 citizens are not in jail due to this crime (TenEyck, Barnes & Kovandzic, 2014).

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Therefore, this time lawmakers should not only legalize the use of medical marijuana but also the design guidelines for implementation of the new legislature. In particular, hospitals need clear explanations of the ways in which they can give the medicine to their patients. This would make new policy really effective and innovative.

Policy Options and Alternatives with Comparisons

Authorizing of the use of medical marijuana has only one alternative and it is keeping the current policy. However, this approach is not effective anymore and it does not respond the reality and public opinion. Moreover, there are no serious debates about authorizing of the use of marijuana in Louisiana itself. On the other hand, there is a strong demand of public to change the punishment for marijuana possession, which is also reflects the values of the modern justice system. In addition, severe penalties do not affect the amount of marijuana use. For some people, stiff punishment works as an additional reason for trying marijuana because forbidden things often attract people more than allowed ones especially it refers to youth.

In addition, imprisonment not only ruins lives of individuals, but also causes additional financial losses for the state. Instead of working and paying taxes, marijuana users stay in prison doing nothing. Easing of punishment is clearly reasonable only for those people that have not hurt anybody. Penalties for putting others in danger should be severe. For example, people that drive under the impact of the drug should get punished. Otherwise, they would repeat their behavior again and again, which eventually would result into hurting others. One more problem with imprisonment is that jails are already overcrowded with people that did not do any harm to others. Therefore, the new policy is necessary. For example, instead of prison, people with marijuana addiction should be provided with medical assistance.

Easing of current policy toward marijuana use does not require significant resources. However, it is able to bring more money to the budget. For example, imprisonment could be replaced by fines. Expanding of medical assistance for people with marijuana addiction may require more finances. Nevertheless, the main outcome of this policy is that it would become realistic, efficient and just. Medical attention to addicted people has more chances to reduce marijuana possession than jail. In fact, Sen. Morrel’s SB241 has been already profiled. This legislature states for reducing penalties for marijuana possession, but the last activities with it were performed in 2013. This demonstrates that the policy does not have enough support among the state authorities. Thus, it would be quite difficult to change the position of officials, especially the ones that belong to Association of Attorneys and Association of the Sheriffs. As it has been explained earlier, they are afraid of public opinion. In the case with medical marijuana, it would be easier to explain the positive position, but passing a bill about reducing penalties for marijuana possession would arise more misunderstanding. The only solution is further pressure of public on politicians through media, protests etc. This could eventually persuade them to change their out-of-date position. Officials that design new laws should also be more active in supporting their ideas.

Policy Conclusions and Recommendations for a Solution(s)

In Louisiana, there are currently two policy issues concerning marijuana. First, many patients need marijuana for medical purposes, particularly for reducing pain and suffering from chemotherapy, AIDS etc. Despite adopting the bill about legalizing medical marijuana in 1991, it is illegal to distribute it due to the absence of the legislature for the bill’s implementation. Second, Louisiana has very severe penalties for marijuana possession in comparison with other states. This has led to imprisonment of hundreds of people, which is not efficient and does not respond to the public opinion and the priorities of the justice system.

The decision about the ways of changing policy towards marijuana includes few considerations. First, the main criterion is the effectiveness of a solution. In the case of legalizing of medical marijuana, it is necessary to evaluate positive and negative sides of the action. If medical marijuana is legalized, thousands of sick people will get the effective painkiller and anti-inflammatory. Moreover, for some patients, marijuana is the only medicine they can take without suffering from side effects. Negative side of legalizing medical marijuana is that it could be used in non-medical purpose. Second, public opinion is important. Thus, most of inhabitants support legalizing of medical marijuana and this support has been increasing over time. Third, the economic effects are important. The legalizing of marijuana would allow receiving more to the budget in the result of giving licenses companies wanting to produce or distribute the medicine. Now, people manage to find marijuana, but through illegal distributors, which results in losses for the budget. Finally, policy needs to be fair. Allowing using marijuana for treating severe medical conditions respond this consideration. As for easing penalties for marijuana possession, it is effective, fair, has support among voters and can bring additional money to the budget. Therefore, both initiatives need to be implemented in Louisiana. In addition, they do not have sustainable alternatives. Keeping current policy is not effective and is not supported by voters.

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On the other hand, the legalizing of marijuana requires developing clear implementation strategy. In particular, lawmakers should provide careful control, which includes detailed instructions for doctors when to prescribe marijuana and how to avoid its using of marijuana for non-medical purposes. For example, patients could stimulate symptoms for receiving the medicine. Reducing of penalties for marijuana possession should be followed by medical assistance to marijuana-addicted. Besides, informational campaigns are necessary for explaining the difference between legalizing of use of medical marijuana and complete legalizing of marijuana.

The new policy would make the legislature of Louisiana more effective, fair and acceptable within public. However, new course of actions has some limitations. For example, there is some probability that marijuana use would increase due to easing legislature for its receiving and reducing penalties for its possession. Nevertheless, some people support the new policy, including legalizing the use of medical marijuana and easing penalties for marijuana possession.