By SEBASTIAN BARAJAS
Green is the color of progress, but it’s marijuana not money that is ushering in change.
Marijuana may provide tomorrow’s medicine of choice for those with chronic illness, and the economic change that Arizona needs to turn a new leaf.
America has a sordid past with cannabis.
When the United States was a much younger country, farmers were encouraged to plant hemp for production of cloth and other material. Marijuana was a staple trade plant during the Civil War era and a respected medicine during the Industrial Age.
However, it was mysteriously outlawed in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act.
Today, as Colorado and Washington experiment with legal regulation, cannabis shows promise as both a growing economic venture and as a medicinal treatment.
Medical marijuana dispensaries have emerged in more than 20 states, and physician-journalists like Sanjay Gupta have explored the plant’s medicinal benefits.
Though the legality and effectiveness of medicinal treatment remain under a political microscope, some patients consider marijuana an alternative to prescription drugs.
Highly debated points include health factors and side effects.
Many people opposed to marijuana think long-term effects should be considered before society takes steps to formally regulate cannabis for the masses.
The American Medical Association took an avid stance against medical marijuana in 2013, saying cannabis is a dangerous drug and a public health concern. The AMA opposes legalizing the sale of cannabis.
Dr. Stuart Gitlow, chair-elect of the AMA, believes hard science will prevail over frivolity.
“We can only hope that the public will listen to science – not ‘big marijuana’ interests who stand to gain millions of dollars from increased addiction rates,” Gitlow said in a news article.
In Arizona, medical marijuana has been legal since 2010. Patients can obtain treatment through a doctor’s recommendation and a state fee of $150. Tucson has 10 medical marijuana dispensaries.
Many patients turn to the Downtown Dispensary, where manager Michelle Sweetapple, 29, is proud to be an advocate of legal weed.
“It’s harder to come off of pharmaceuticals, and they have a longer term effect on your body,” Sweetapple said. “The difference is you can’t overdose on marijuana. You would pass out before that could even happen.”
An article posted on an addiction website, projectknow.com, also says no one in the United States has ever overdosed with cannabis alone.
Debate over medical marijuana includes discussion of the long-term effects of prescription medicine. Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s syndrome, an inflammatory bowel disease, I can tell you first-hand that relief and treatment is limited.
Legal treatments include the prescription medication Humira. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Humira can cause respiratory infection. In extreme cases, it may cause sepsis or cancer.
Many states have approved the use of cannabis as an alternative for treating Crohn’s and other serious diseases.
Side effects may include light-headedness, euphoria and a case of the munchies.
Granted, pharmaceutical companies would have stiffer competition if cannabis treatment were legal, but is that reason enough to hold off on legalization?
A 35-year-old Pima Community College game design student who calls himself Aaron doesn’t think so.
Aaron suffers from ailments like neuropathy and venous reflex disease, which affect the function of nerves and lower body blood flow. Aaron has been a certified medical cannabis patient for three years in Arizona.
“I’ve been educated in the use of marijuana medically for a while now and I self-medicated before it was legal,” Aaron said.
“I went to get my first certification in California after I had to have a vein removed,” he said.
“In California, it’s easier to get a card and sometimes it’s frivolous, but the doctor said I had to get one.”
Aaron believes marijuana will be legalized soon because of the shift in perception of cannabis for medical treatments.
Back at Downtown Dispensary, Sweetapple said her patients can range in age from 7 to 90. They seek treatment for numerous conditions.
“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” Sweetapple said. “You have recreational smokers and people who medicate themselves. You have people who have never touched it in their lives who literally just use it for medicinal purposes.”
With a history of bad policy-making and debacles like Senate bills 1070 and 1062, medical marijuana is the only progressive action Arizona has going for it.
Some may argue it’s a seed worth looking after.