The use of medical marijuana has been a controversial issue in the United States for a large part of the last decade. In 1994 a bill was passed through both house in California which would allow the medicinal use of marijuana in critically ill patients, however the bill was vetoed by Governor Wilson. The following year a similar bill was created which protected both the patient and the doctor whom prescribed the marijuana therapy, but again Wilson axed the bill when it landed on his desk. The supporters of medicinal marijuana changed their approach. The 1996 ballot contained Initiative Prop 215 which passed, leaving Wilson with his hands tied. Despite wide federal disapproval prop 215 has helped thousands of severally ill people face their dieses and comfort them in a time of agony and despair.
The marijuana plant has been used for thousands of years for a multiple of purposes. Hemp was used for making ropes, paper, clothing and curing or improving several different aliments. At first it was used to ease nausea and vomiting but as time passed scientists discovered more applications for it’s unique effect. It’s most common use is in the treatment of chemotherapy patients. An average chemotherapy patient will return home feeling violently ill and have a severely suppressed appetite. Marijuana is the most effective drug at making the nausea disappear and at bring back one’s appetite. It’s the same situation with people who suffer from HIV or AIDS. Marijuana allows the person to ingest food which contains the vitamins and minerals that will ultimately help them heal or in an HIV/AIDS case prolong their current health status. In people that suffer from Glaucoma, marijuana lowers the unbearable pressure that mounts in their eyes. Marijuana helps to relieve brain tumors and prevents any further loss of muscle coordination in Multiple Sclerosis patients along with temporarily relieving of urinary incontinence and helping them sleep more efficiently. Marijuana also helps with inflammation and prevents the destruction of joint tissue in arthritis patients. Migraine headaches, menstrual cramps and rare cases of phantom limb pain are all made more tolerable with the proper use of marijuana. There are five main therapeutic uses for marijuana: 1 analgesia (pain killer), 2 neuralgic / 3 movement disorders ( spasticity, MS and epilepsy), 4 Nausea/ vomiting ( associated with chemotherapy), 5 appetite stimulation and cachexia ( chemotherapy patients, anorexia and AIDS). These five therapeutic uses of marijuana were the foundation of prop 215.
Proposition 215 was passed in November of 1996 making it the first successful act that decriminalizes a class one controlled substance. To avoid possible dismal by Governor Wilson, the supporters of prop 215 decided to put it on the ballot as an initiative. Funds for the initiative came all most completely from private contributors, Peter Lewis from the Ohio Progressive Corporation donated $300,000, George Zimmer president and founder of The Men’s Warehouse passed on $160,000 while renowned philanthropist George Soros contributed nearly $350,000 to support prop 215. Along with a sum of over one million dollars to devote to the passing of prop 215, supporters collected 850,000 signatures form California residents who agreed with the bill. The exuberant amount of signatures was for effect more then function because they collected nearly double the required amount of 433,000. With their excessive supple of money the supporters kick off an extensive advertising campaign which consisted of TV and radio commercials along with billboards that conquered the highways. The ads manly consisted of people with cancer or aids that played to the hearts of the public evoking sympathy and understanding. Proposition 215 passed without much opposition.
Throughout California a doctor may recommend the usage of marijuana to a patient when there is no possible substitute and it will greatly improve the quality of the patients life by easing the suffering. The patient, the doctor and the primary caregiver are exempt form laws pertaining to the recommendation, use, cultivation and possession of marijuana. Proposition 215 is left fairly vague and undefined which has caused the government and the opponents to question the validity and motives behind prop 215 .
“Cancer, anorexia, aids, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any illness for which marijuana provides relief” this is just one statement out of prop 215 that denotes elusiveness and leaves it open to different interpretations. One could assumedly ask a doctor for a marijuana prescription for his back pain or tooth ache and by definition it falls under “any illness”. Ambiguities are prevalent throughout prop 215, it uses word like physician and caregiver. It does not define a physician as one who holds a degree in medicine which leave the door open for chiropractors and shaman like practitioners to be able to prescribe marijuana. This vagueness is clearly what gets prop 215 in trouble. It is questioned with great suspicion if the supporters meant to leave so many loop holes in their “quest” to provide the sick medical marijuana.
The reaction of the Clinton administration after prop 215 passed stated that prop 215 would not change the government’s stance on drug policies. While Barry McCaffrey, appointed drug czar, warned that the federal government would prosecute patients using medicinal marijuana along with the physicians who recommending it’s use. The government took a strong position against prop 215 basing it on the rational that marijuana is addictive and a gateway to other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It is theorized that the government took this stance not because they believed medicinal marijuana doesn’t have value but on grounds of looking “soft” on drugs which makes them look week and a target for criticism. iv The supporters of prop 215 struck back against the government in Contant v. McCaffrey.
On February 14, 1997 a private group of eight doctors and 7 patients, suffering from illnesses ranging from cancer and HIV/Aids to seizures, filed a suit in the federal district court against McCaffrey claiming that according to prop 215, the government could not prosecute physicians who recommend the use of medicinal marijuana. The foundation of their case was based the on the First Amendment rights to free speech. In which doctor- patient relations are protected. The plaintiffs consisted of eight doctors and seven patients that were currently suffering from cancer, HIV/Aids or seizures. Judge Smith, whom was presiding over the case came to several important decisions, based on the government reaction to prop 215 saying that they would prosecute physician who recommend the use of marijuana violated the First amendment protection of doctor-patient relationships. She then weighed the importance of marijuana to a patient against the social harm medicinal marijuana could possibly cause, including addiction, and distribution from patient to public. She came to the conclusion that the right to use marijuana by people with debilitating illnesses out weighed the government’s fears of a drug craze sweeping the country. Furthermore, the governments stance on prosecuting physicians would only hurt physician- patient relations which may cause unnecessary harm and threat to the patient. Contant v. McCaffrey was a landmark victory for the supporters of prop 215 and all of those that sympathize for people with debilitating illnesses In the end the plaintiffs were granted their preliminary injunction prohibiting the government from prosecuting physicians who recommend medicinal marijuana use as long as the physicians understand that they are liable for aiding and abetting if there is a violation of federal drug law or laws.