The Medical Cannabis Debate Is Really About Medical Choice

Learning that a friend or family member is using medical cannabis is no longer surprising. More than three-dozen states, along with the District of Columbia, have legal medical cannabis programs in place. And yet, the debate over medical cannabis continues. That debate is more about medical choice than anything else.

Americans have long held to the freedom to determine one’s own medical care in every respect. To a certain degree, that freedom is codified in federal and state laws. For example, people have a right to refuse medical treatment at their choosing. They can refuse even if that means risking death.

Unfortunately, medical choice does not work in both directions. We can choose to refuse treatment even though doing so can kill us, but we cannot opt to receive some treatments that are not approved by the FDA. That makes no sense. Still, that is how our system works. It is the very reason the medical cannabis debate exists.

                   A Schedule I Substance

The fact that cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law is no secret. It was put on the schedule because of its known psychoactive effects and the mistaken belief that it offers no medical benefits. But now that we know of certain conditions that can be effectively treated by cannabis, it is time to reschedule the plant and its active compounds.

Because Washington has not done that, doctors still cannot prescribe cannabis. All they can do is recommend it in states that allow it. That is the case in Utah. Doctors, podiatrists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can all recommend cannabis for certain qualifying conditions. It is up to patients and their medical providers to determine how to actually use the drug.

The owners of cannabis pharmacy Beehive Farmacy in Salt Lake City say that the system works well enough that patients can get by. Yet those patients still have to justify using cannabis by getting a doctor’s recommendation and obtaining a state medical cannabis card.

                   Not Allowed in Some States

Despite the strict nature of Utah’s medical cannabis program, users in the state have it easier than their counterparts in states where medical cannabis is still illegal. At least they can legally use the drug without fear of prosecution. Consumers in other states must still buy their cannabis illegally. They always run the risk of being caught and prosecuted.

Strangely enough, those same patients have the freedom to use opioid painkillers prescribed by their doctors. Scientific evidence and real-life addiction data clearly demonstrate that opioids are far more dangerous than cannabis. Yet we give patients and doctors the freedom to choose opioids when these are appropriate.

                   Largely Unknown COVID Vaccines

If that disturbs you, it gets even better. Take the many COVID vaccines now on the market. None of them were put through the multi-year process normally required to get a new drug to market. They were approved on an emergency basis.

We have no idea what the long-term effects of those vaccines are. Still, the FDA has decided to give consumers the freedom to choose whether to get them. We have gone so far, in some segments of society, as to vilify people who choose not to get vaccinated.

If people should have the right to choose a COVID vaccine of which we know so little, why shouldn’t they have the right to choose medical cannabis as well? That is really what the debate is all about. It is about who ultimately gets to make our medical choices. Will it be individual patients, or will it be government regulators and bureaucrats?

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