While the marijuana plant has known medical value, that does not mean smoked or ingested raw marijuana is medicine. Just as patients don’t smoke opium or inject heroin for morphine’s medical benefits, they should not smoke marijuana for such reasons.
A pill, Marinol, based on marijuana’s active ingredient, is available by prescription at US pharmacies today. Nearly two dozen countries have approved a new oral spray comprised of marijuana extract. The spray, Sativex, produced in Britain, does not get you high, contains levels of ingredients rarely found in street-grade marijuana, and has proven its effectiveness for relieving cancer pain and muscle spasticity. It will be available in the US soon, and in the meantime, the federal government should start a research program to allow medications like this one to be used by qualified patients under physician supervision.
The point is not to deny patients a medication to help them, but to prevent smoked or eaten marijuana from becoming a smokescreen for recreational use, or from being misused. Patients should be able to access a medication that is both scientifically approved and obtainable at a pharmacy – not “medical marijuana lollipops” at stores that feature bouncers, bongs, and a neon green cross on the door.