Delaware has relaxed some of its marijuana laws.
Were not to the point of four states and the District of Columbia, which have legalized recreational pot use. But, like nearly half the states in our country, Delaware is taking a pragmatic approach to cannabis.
The federal government, on the other hand, has not budged when it comes to decriminalizing marijuana.
And thats a problem for medical marijuana patients in Delaware. Quite simply, no matter what state lawmakers do to make marijuana available to those who desperately need its pain-relieving qualities, the threat of federal intervention and punishment looms constantly.
The same cannot be said for alcohol, which causes some 88,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Fatalities due to marijuana use are more difficult to discern. Overdose deaths are unheard of. States that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen a spike in fatal accidents in which drivers test positive for pot. But its not entirely clear if marijuana impaired the driver and led to the crash.
According to a fascinating Scientific American piece by David Downs, the federal governments strict approach to marijuana is based not on science, but on a history of racism and a research Catch-22. Federal agencies can’t study marijuanas pros and cons because they cant secure federal funding to do so.
In the meantime, some $18 million in federal tax dollars are spent every year just to eradicate pot plants. And the human toll is vast. According to FBI data, police in 2014 made some 700,000 marijuana arrests in the United States.
Meanwhile, doctors across the country are seeing their patients benefit from cannabis every day.
Consider this from Downs:
A 2014 Medscape survey of roughly 1,500 doctors found 56 percent supported legalizing medical cannabis nationally, with 82 percent support among responding oncologists.
Those opinions mean little or nothing to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which last month refused to move marijuana out of the most restricted drug category.
According to NPR, DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg gave “enormous weight” to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
Federal officials say they are allowing researchers access to more marijuana so that they may develop what the feds would consider legitimate medical formulations.
In the meantime, though, hospitals have to tiptoe when dispensing cannabis for pain relief for fear of upsetting the feds. How does that help the thousands of patients for whom cannabis is a proven pain remedy?
We are by no means advocating a free-for-all when it comes to marijuana. It may not be as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco, but, like any other drug, it must be used responsibly.
Perhaps the federal government could more sensibly regulate such use instead of continuing to demonize it.