A Physician’s Response to the Dangers of Decriminalizing Marijuana

I am Dr. Robert Townsend, President of Denali Healthcare, a Mt. Pleasant Pain Management office.  I read with some interest the ‘Guest Voice’ Article on the ‘Dangers of decriminalization’ by Michael Covarrubias.  Despite my concern about retribution I felt the need to respond to the outrageous claims made in the article.

It seems that drug enforcement officers such as Mr. Covarrubias  have a script for these articles.  I’d like to respond to several of their ‘talking points’ about the evils of medical marijuana.

Big Cannabis has duped the voters

A common theme used by those with a vested interest in the ‘War on Drugs’ is that there is a hidden hand at work- Big Cannabis.  Big Cannabis is a ‘tool’ of the drug cartels and a danger to truth, justice and the American Way.  They talk about the ‘intent’ of the voters to help terminal patients.  They talk about marijuana financing heroin and cocaine.  Big Cannabis duped the voters to promote their criminal activity and profits.

The truth of the matter is the voters are not as stupid as they would like us to believe.  They knew EXACTLY what they were voting for.  My 75 year old mother wanted to help cancer patients AND those with chronic pain when she voted for the Act.  I suspect many others did as well.  As for financing drug cartels, marijuana does not do that.  The fact that marijuana is illegal and people are forced to buy it from criminals does.  Fortunately, we have medical marijuana in this state, so people can grow it themselves or buy it from their licensed caregivers.

It is true that the majority of Medical Marijuana Patients in Michigan are suffering from Chronic pain.  It is true that a relatively small number have cancer.  I’ve already discussed this in the ‘Forgotten Patient’ and discussed possible causes and strategies to address this problem.  I also discussed the obvious creative bookkeeping on the part of the state of picking one condition per patient — cancer and nausea is probably just counted as nausea in those statistics.

Marijuana Patients are Poor Parents

All this nonsense about children being kicked out of their bedrooms so people can grow marijuana is designed not to show the danger to children, but to show their marijuana smoking parents are incapable of caring for them properly.  Good parents would never do such a thing, so ‘weed’ smoking parents must by definition be bad.  We see this angle constantly being exploited by CPS, vindictive ex-spouses, and the courts, despite the protections built right into the Act to prevent such assumptions.  Sen Rick Jones is even attempting to ram through a bill forcing parents to choose between children and medicine to formalize the mindset.

Children and College Kids

A common theme is to associate marijuana use with children- in fact implying children are the ‘target’ of marijuana use. Actual state statistics show that of 130,000 medical marijuana patients in this state, only 44 are minors. Having certified about 1/3 of them, I can assure you that most will not live long enough to be adults and all are gravely ill. They are exactly the ‘terminally ill’ patients the voters were ‘duped’ by ‘Big Cannabis’ about, yet because the image of a toddler with a bong is what you are trying to project, you conveniently leave out the ‘duped voter’ angle.  In my practice the average age is 51 with well documented medical conditions.  Fewer than 17% are under the age of 30.

Cannabis is Different Now… and Dangerous

Is the cannabis of today different than the cannabis of the 60’s and 70’s?  Yes.  So are our cars, cell phones, microwaves, and taste in television shows.  Come to think of it, I do not own one pair of plaid bell bottoms either. Does that mean it is bad?  No, it means it is refined (but I do miss the bell bottoms).  Just as we no longer bleed patients in medicine, things change and improve as we work with them.  The cannabis of today is refined to perform certain functions and have certain properties.  In many cases it is clearly more ‘medical’ than what was available 40 years ago.

Your study suggests that there is nanogram levels of THC on the surfaces of homes of medical marijuana patients (yet you cannot measure the quantity of THC in a brownie), and that somehow this is so dangerous that you need to wear protective gear as if you were cleaning up a meth lab (note the association of cannabis with meth to control the mindset of the reader).  Yet THC is harmless, and in fact there are literally thousands of studies showing medical benefit.  Meth is not.  Unlike cannabis, cocaine is legal, far more dangerous and addictive, and is schedule 2 and available for medical use. I wonder what the risk of even nanogram levels of marijuana on a coffee table will have any adverse effect with transdermal absorption.  But if you are worried, please feel free to wear your bunny suit.

Worried about the ‘chemicals’ in marijuana? You should see what is in COFFEE

Cannabis Hurts Performance and Makes You Stupid

Last I checked, cannabis was not used as a performance enhancing drug.  We all know how it hurts athletic performance in people like Michael Phelps.  You would be amazed at how many very smart people at companies like Microsoft or Google actually use cannabis yet still manage to muddle along and turn their companies into Fortune 500 operations.  Personally, I think more youthful IQ points are lost playing XBox than hitting water pipes.

Cannabis is a Gateway Drug

Mr. Covarrubias discussed his interviews with college students and how they claimed cannabis was the cause of their woes.  Let’s get this clear.  He wasn’t interviewing them for a term paper, or a newspaper story.  He was ARRESTING them.  They were sitting there, in handcuffs, facing a charge that likely would ruin their lives- impacting their employment, student loans, even military service.  I am sure they told the authority figure with the badge anything he wanted to hear.

The gateway drug for heroin is prescription pain killers– more than 51% started their habit at the doctor’s office.  The vast majority of people get their first exposure to ‘illegal’ drugs with alcohol and underage drinking.  Far more heroin addicts started off drinking milk (as one Senator in Washington put it) than with cannabis.

We are Not as Naive as You Think We Are

In closing, as a citizen, a voter and a member of the medical community, I wish to personally thank Mr. Covarrubias and his brother law-enforcement officers for the job they do keeping us safe from dangerous drugs.  I just want to very clearly tell him that Marijuana is NOT one of them.  The major adverse side effect of marijuana is exposure to the criminal justice system.  Currently more than 70% of all drug arrests are for marijuana (the VAST majority for simple possession or use).  Is the cost to society- incarceration, limited future employment, reduced education access, etc due to the LEGAL consequences justified by the potential damage to society from the effects of marijuana decriminalization?  I, for one, don’t think so.

Drug enforcement officers in Washington state are complaining recent legalization has reduced their ‘funding’ (read seizure revenue) by, yes you guessed it, 70%.  Law enforcement is not a for profit business (Unless ‘Big LEO’ duped the voters into thinking drug task forces were only to track down meth labs).  It is clearly being used as one as far as the drug task force enforcement of marijuana laws go.  

I can, as I am sure many readers do as well, understand why those involved in the ‘War on Drugs’ would rather not see legalization occur.  But just as the ‘weed’ the the 70’s evolved into the medical cannabis of today, the 1930’s Reefer Madness mindset of those ‘Drug Warriors’ needs to evolve as well.  We are the people of Michigan, the ones that voted for the Act.  We are not as naive as you seem to think we are.  We just don’t buy your anti-marijuana propaganda.

Dr. Robert Townsend is President of Denali Healthcare in Mt. Pleasant, a pain management clinic.  He uses cannabis certifications as a tool to reduce the use of more dangerous narcotic pain medicine.  He is not a card holder and has never personally used marijuana.

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