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July 16, 2013 10:51 AM Why I Always Put “Medical Marijuana” in Scare Quotes

By Mark Kleiman

Yes, cannabis has medical value for some people. And yes, the sustained effort of the federal government to make medical cannabis research as difficult as possible is a national disgrace.

And then, on the other hand, there’s this, from a report of the Colorado State Auditor:

As of October 2012, a total of 903 physicians had recommended medical marijuana for the 108,000 patients holding valid red cards. Twelve physicians recommended medical marijuana for 50 percent of those patients, including one physician with more than 8,400 patients on the Registry.
Some physicians have recommended what appear to be higher-than-reasonable amounts of medical marijuana. In one case, a physician recommended 501 plants for a patient. In another case, a physician recommended 75 ounces of useable marijuana for the patient.

Do the arithmetic on 8400 patients for one physician. Assume a 50 40-hour workweeks and zero time spent on administrative tasks. That’s a little bit less than 15 minutes per customer. Medical practice? No. Just dope dealing.

Three percent of all the adults in Colorado have “red cards.” And the folks cultivating 500 plants or buying 75 ounces aren’t just supplying themselves.

There are places where “medical marijuana” is not a joke in rather poor taste: pretty much any state east of the Rockies. But in California and Colorado the odor of fraud is as strong as the odor of skunkweed.

The strategy of using quasi-medical legalization as a means of normalizing consumption and moving the political acceptability of full commercial legalization has been a great success; apparently most voters either have short memories (of when they were being assured that “medical marijuana” was all about the patients and had nothing to do with full-on legalization) or don’t mind being bullshat in a good cause. And I’m not unhappy with the outcome. Nor am I naive about political tactics: Bismarck was right about laws and sausages.

Still, the whole deal – and especially the role of the “kush docs” – makes me a little sick to my stomach.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.
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