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Shady Alleys

I once knew a woman who grew marijuana in a small pot next to her kitchen sink. She was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer and smoked cannabis to ease the nausea, vomiting, pain, and fatigue caused by the treatment. After her cancer had gone into remission, she continued to smoke, even though she was no longer experiencing side effects from chemo. She had become addicted and frequently smoked it in front of her children. As a teenager, I believe that the legalization of marijuana for medical use will send the wrong message. Allowing an illegal and harmful drug as a medical option may encourage young adults to think that marijuana is safe for recreational use. The Food and Drug Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and lack accepted medical use.

It has been proven that marijuana not only damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system, but it interferes with memory, perception, and judgment. The fact that the drug contains cancer-causing compounds raises more questions about the value of its use; it is ironic that a cancer patient would smoke a cancer-causing drug when there are many legal and less-dangerous prescription drugs available.

The FDA says it will continue to be receptive to scientifically based research into the medicinal uses of botanical marijuana. However, because medical marijuana's purpose is to relieve symptoms, it may not be a high priority for approval.

I have noticed a tremendous amount of people pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana via websites, government petitions, and advertisements in periodicals, including the San Diego Reader. Why are so many people committing such a great amount of their time and resources trying to legalize a single herb for symptom relief? What is their true agenda? Their time would be much better spent encouraging the research and development of drugs that can cure and prevent the diseases that cause such symptoms in the first place.

With so many people working to legalize medical marijuana, what is next for California? The legalization of heroin for medical use? Some may claim it alleviates symptoms of their disease. -- Erin Bradley, Rancho Bernardo H.S.

They had me on a morphine drip and, boy, was I happy. Two years ago, I dislocated my left knee in gym class, and the only thing that kept me from chewing my throbbing leg off like a trapped fox was the painkiller. That's why I cannot dismiss the arguments of activists for medical marijuana.

Lawyers, judges, and even doctors cannot judge the pain a person experiences. Only the sufferer knows the extent of their pain. It is not right for lawmakers to decide whether marijuana can be used for medicine; the choice must be given to users who are being advised by responsible doctors. But there must be guidelines for use.

Medical marijuana users should not be allowed to grow their own plants. I am not allowed to manufacture Prozac in my bedroom, so it should not be legal for medical marijuana users to grow their own medicine. To retain the medical label, marijuana should be prescribed and distributed like any other pharmaceutical, through a pharmacy. The main roadblock for this policy: medical marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Some people argue that legalizing medical marijuana nationwide would encourage impressionable adolescents to try the drug. I go to high school; believe me, laws are not discouraging anyone determined to get high from getting marijuana. Many teen users see the law as a fun hurdle to jump. Activists for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use hear this and argue, "Then why not legalize marijuana altogether?" A drawback to legalizing marijuana -- besides the increase in irresponsible teenagers taking a mind-numbing drug -- is that parents who tell their children to "just say no" will no longer be backed up by the law.

My knee is fine now; I was in a brace for only three weeks. But there are responsible people who are in chronic pain and may never be healthy again. Medical marijuana can ease that pain. Many Americans do not sanction cruel and unusual punishment, so why should the ill be allowed to suffer? -- Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, Valhalla H.S.

Marijuana is often associated with delinquents and deals in shady alleys. Many people, especially parents, are convinced that marijuana is a "gateway" drug that leads to further narcotic use. However, as grounded as this stereotype claims to be, it is not relevant in the case of medical marijuana. The effective use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been proven by prominent research groups and endorsed by national organizations such as the American Cancer Society. California's Compassionate Use Act allows patients with a doctor's approval to grow, smoke, or acquire the drug for medical needs. The law paved the way for the drug to be used to relieve painful effects of multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, diabetes, and chemotherapy. Opponents of medical marijuana need to face reality and put aside pre-conceived notions of "that hippie drug."

Some people fear that abuse will increase if medical marijuana is entirely legalized. However, many people forget that doctors already prescribe more addictive and potentially lethal drugs to patients, including attention deficit disorder drugs such as Ritalin and pain relievers such as morphine and Vicodin. An overdose on any of these drugs can lead to death; in contrast, smoking marijuana cannot. The claim that marijuana is more addictive than morphine or Ritalin (which is becoming popular among teenagers) is ludicrous. Furthermore, marijuana's legalization as a medical drug has not led to an increase in teen usage.

According to the California Student Survey, teen marijuana use in California continued to rise steadily from 1990 to 1996 but began falling immediately after the first medical marijuana law was passed in 1996. Even Drug Enforcement Agency chief administrative law judge Francis L. Young ruled in 1988, "In strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating ten raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death."

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed marijuana in Schedule I, defining it "as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision." However, research since then has proven otherwise. Moreover, 35 states have passed legislation that authorizes its medical benefits. -- Jennie Matusova, La Jolla H.S.

I believe there are good uses for marijuana. Look at all of the victims of multiple sclerosis or leukemia; their pain is constant. I believe that with the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, it would help ease some of the pain that these people go through. I believe that it should be used for medicine only. Being in high school, I see the many students who come to school high every day. I have to admit that seeing it is funny, but sad, too. Many of these kids don't realize what they are putting their bodies through! With the legalization of this drug, can you imagine how many other teens will be subjected to it? Even kids like me, who don't even wish to try it.... What I am trying to say is, we can all be tempted. Marijuana's legalization would definitely send the wrong message to us teens. Doctors should be the only ones allowed to distribute this drug. I feel that the state should not even attempt to override federal law on this issue.

If this drug were legalized, I don't think that it would necessarily open the door for other drugs because most of the other ones have way more devastating effects. I shudder to think about having those drugs sold in open markets. Can you imagine buying crystal meth at a local Wal-Mart or Target? -- Lee Ann Gonzales, Monte Vista H.S.

Doctors argue that there are several legal prescription drugs that provide effective relief from pain. Most of these medications have brutal side effects (especially in the level prescribed by doctors) not the least of which is addiction. The effects of marijuana, conversely, are usually likened to those of cigarettes -- plus the hallucinogenic effects. But let's forget about the patients because it isn't about them. It's about state-versus-federal powers, which is as old as the Constitution; it's about the moral stigma that lawmakers associate with marijuana and the notion of the nation's doctors functioning as street-drug vendors. The biggest issue, though, is about marijuana becoming legal as a recreational drug after it's become legal as a medication. There's little question about people in pain who need relief, but lawmakers are more worried about the message this will send.

What might that message be? That the criminalization of marijuana, like Prohibition, is truly failing? Well, it may be. As it stands, the small fines for possession, ease of acquisition, and the number of casual users constitute a neglect of the laws against it.

At some point, the more liberal states will begin making concessions to the legalization campaign. Eventually most (if not all) of the states will follow. The challenges of enforcing current laws will be a factor, but it will become a money matter, like everything else. If there is a demand, someone will fill it, and whether gangsters or governments reap the benefits depends on the Capitol. -- Robert Burton, Helix H.S.

I believe that marijuana should be legalized for people who need it. Some people will claim to have health problems just so they can obtain medical marijuana, so, the law will be broken no matter what. The lifting of Prohibition in 1933 didn't lead to the acceptance of other drugs. I don't believe the legalization of marijuana would lead to the legalization of other drugs. Teens will try marijuana even if it isn't legal.

Since 1996, 11 states have legalized medical marijuana. I find it very strange that doctors are currently allowed to prescribe cocaine and morphine but not marijuana. According to administrative law judge Francis L. Young, "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known...." Most people who smoke marijuana only smoke it once. Smaller than 1 percent of Americans develop a dependence on marijuana. Put into perspective, pot is less addictive than coffee. -- Natalie Venolia, Ramona H.S.

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