The legality of medical marijuana possession is as hot a topic as exists in the discussion of possible drug decriminalization in the United States. Some agencies, both federal government and non-governmental advisors, urge continued vigorous prosecution of marijuana offenders because they see medical marijuana as both a gateway to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine and as a smokescreen for an effort to decriminalize marijuana for general use (Marshall, 2005). In contrast, various medical authorities and some state-level Attorney Generals have acknowledged that the use of medical marijuana is beneficial in treating chronic pain patients, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and other similar medical situations where ordinary prescribed pharmaceuticals are not working effectively for some patients (Koch, 1999). Both doctors and patients have pushed for clinical trials to determine the extent of beneficial effects for such patients from marijuana use. Second, one of the key issues in the debate has to do with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) and its apparent conflict with various state laws – most notably in early cases in California. This seems to be an issue of federal laws and rights versus states’ laws and rights (2005). Third, while America is currently in a 16 trillion dollar deficit, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is spending billions of dollars annually in an attempt to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana offenders defined by the CSA. In contrast to the DEA’s enforcement costs, as many as seventeen states are now gaining revenue from taxes imposed on the licensed and supervised sale of medicinal marijuana (ProCon.org, 2012).
Prior to 1970, only the 1937 Federal Marijuana Tax Act, which imposed a high tax on the growth and use of marijuana, placed any limits on marijuana (Marshall, 2005, p. 135). However, in 1970, Congress passed the CSA which immediately prohibited the possession of Marijuana. The CSA affected both the use of and medical research upon marijuana by categorizing: drugs into five “schedules” based on their medicinal value, potential danger and potential for abuse or addiction. Marijuana is listed in Schedule 1, which is reserved for drugs that have no recognized medical use and are considered highly dangerous and addictive, including heroin. As a Schedule 1 drug, marijuana cannot be legally possessed, prescribed or distributed under federal law (2005).
In 1972, President Nixon “declared war on drugs, and said this war would result in a drug-free world” (Famdale, 2012, p. 14). Supporters of the CSA often point to “public safety” as a main reason for their support for the criminalization of marijuana. In terms similar to those used to describe second hand smoke from tobacco use, the Mayo Clinic stated that “Burning marijuana smoke contains higher amounts of some cancer-causing chemicals than does tobacco smoke. Smoking marijuana increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx and lungs” (Marshall, 2005, p. 141). Calvina Ray, Drug Free America Foundation executive director, says the marijuana is an addictive and “dangerous drug. It’s a harmful drug. It’s currently classified as being illegal. We don’t see anything good that can come from legalizing it” (2005). In addition, there are those that say the push for legalized medicinal marijuana is a smoke screen for the legalization of marijuana for all users. The DEA states, “The campaign to allow marijuana to be used as medicine is a tactical maneuver in an overall strategy to completely legalize all drugs” (2005).
In 1998, federal agencies closed six marijuana dispensaries in Oakland, California, and both the California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association submitted a “friend of the court” brief to the “United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Collaborative.” The brief by the medical and nurses’ associations stated:
Neither federal prosecutors