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Legalizing Medical Marijuana Argumentative Essay


This paper provides a clear justification and corresponding recommendation to legalize medical marijuana. An increasing number of states have been legalizing medical marijuana and for substantiated reasons. Although it remains a federal crime to possess or distribute marijuana, even in the context of physician’s recommendations and prescription, state laws differ on the issue. Meanwhile, the federal government has taken a back seat to states in areas of enforcement (Marijuana Policy Project, 2018). There is growing reason to believe that this is especially important as it pertains to looking out for Americans’ health and wellbeing. In 2016, Act 16 of the Pennsylvania (PA) General Assembly granted rights to medical marijuana organizations to operate in the “public interest” (Pennsylvania General Assembly, 2016).

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When one considers the potential benefits of medical marijuana, especially when it comes to mitigating chronic pain, it becomes evident that medical marijuana truly does represent a viable means to better deliver quality, viable healthcare. But this point is particularly valid in the context of a growing opioid epidemic. By looking at the issue of medical marijuana, including its benefits to combat a crisis, it becomes clearly recommendable to allow states to legalize it.

Marijuana and the Public Interest
There is evidence to suggest that recreational marijuana use can lead to detrimental health consequences (Pacula & Sevigny, 2014). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that marijuana should not be looked at as an entirely curative or beneficial substance that does no harm. However, it has demonstrated benefits when it comes to treating issues such as chronic pain (McKinney & Schor, 2014). Moreover, physicians have found it to be useful for other medical purposes, such as helping to alleviate pain and nausea for those who must endure chemotherapy, underscoring its potential viability for physicians to prescribe for certain reasons. As Act 16 of the Pennsylvania (PA) General Assembly suggests, there is in fact legitimacy to medical marijuana serving the public interests, at least in certain contexts. This is true even though it is accurate as well to point out that marijuana can have negative impacts—whether it relates to the negative health consequences of smoking it or legitimate concerns that its intoxicating effects could cause problems (i.e. if people were to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence).

The Extenuating Benefits of Medical Marijuana with Respect to the Opioid Epidemic
That said, the benefits of medical marijuana are not merely limited to the substance’s medical properties. In fact, it can potentially help to play a major role in addressing a major societal issue. Since 2000, opioid abuse and resulting fatalities have been on the rise (Rudd, Aleshire, Zibbell, & Matthew Gladden, 2016). Specifically, “the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids” (Rudd, Aleshire, Zibbell, & Matthew Gladden, 2016, p. 1323). Heroin is a significant culprit, but in many cases opioid abuse and deaths are related to prescription medications (Saha et al., 2016). Additionally, the rising levels of opioid abuse is not limited to those who hold opioid prescriptions, or who have in the past (Tetrault & Butner, 2015). In fact, it is common for overdoses and death to occur with both those who hold opioid prescriptions, those become dependent as a result of prescriptions, as well as those who pursue opioids recreationally—while the prevalence of opioids as prescription therapies increases availability for all of these types of users (Madadi, Hildebrandt, Lauwers, & Koren, G. (2013). Clearly, the over-prescription of opioids has had a major impact on all sorts of people. It has facilitated addiction and exacerbated what is being regarded as an opioid crisis or epidemic (Huang, Keyes, & Li, 2018). In this vein, it is important not to underestimate the “unintended consequences of increases in prescribing of opioid analgesics” (Brady, Giglio, Keyes, DiMaggio, & Li, 2017, p. 24). Overall, “overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers (OPR), also known as opioid analgesics, have increased and now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011, p. 1487). This illustrates that the opioid epidemic truly is incredibly severe, and that it must be addressed. One of the ways to deal with this increasing problem may seem counterintuitive for some people. After all, it would involve combating a major drug problem with legalizing the use (in certain contexts) of another oft illicit substance: marijuana.

Specifically, there is reason to believe that legalizing medical marijuana for use to treat chronic pain would provide an alternative to opioid prescribing that could mitigate addiction and correspondingly save lives (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, & Barry, 2014). By comparing states that have already legalized medical marijuana with those that have not, it has come to light that marijuana legalization as a means to treat chronic pain correlates to reduced opioid addiction (McKinney & Schor, 2014). It also correlates to decreases in opioid-related deaths (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, & Barry, 2014). Specifically, a 2014 study found that “states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws” (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, & Barry, 2014, p. 1668). Obviously, these findings are extraordinarily relevant. They underscore the importance of legalizing medical marijuana, especially for the treatment of chronic pain, as it is a viable, safer alternative to opioid prescriptions.

Medical Marijuana and Medical Professional Empowerment
That said, this is not to suggest entirely replacing opioids with medical marijuana. After all, there are many situations in which medical marijuana simply may not be appropriate for treating chronic pain or other issues, with opioids being a much more appropriate choice. But those sorts of decisions are best left to physicians and others who have developed enough medical expertise to obtain prescriptive authority. In this light, legalizing medical marijuana could be a way to empower medical professionals, giving them another tool in their belt, so to speak, to treat their patients. It may not be appropriate for governments to interfere in what medical professionals deem to be the most appropriate treatments for patients. But this is especially true when the decisions they make could go an extraordinarily long way towards mitigating a major health epidemic. As awareness of the opioid epidemic—and the over-prescription of opioids continues to grow—it is important not to straddle medical prescriptions so that they are left with little choice but to continue to prescribe less appropriate medications.

Act 16 of the Pennsylvania (PA) General Assembly represents an effort to address this problem. By allowing for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana by licensed organizations, it simultaneously empowers medical professionals and looks out for greater public interests. More states should follow suit, not only with Pennsylvania but other twenty-eight states that have legalized medical marijuana, in order to provide patients with greater access to useful medication and to mitigate over-prescription of opioids along with their corresponding dangerous and even deadly impacts. Removing the stigma surrounding medical marijuana will help. But as the evidence clearly indicates, there is a scientific basis for legalizing medical marijuana. As the facts become more widely known, it is reasonable to think that more states (and even the federal government) will see why legalizing medical marijuana is so advisable. Overall, my recommendation, based on sound evidence, is to legalize medical marijuana.

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Bachhuber, M. A., Saloner, B., Cunningham, C. O., & Barry, C. L. (2014). Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA internal medicine, 174(10), 1668-1673.
Brady, J. E., Giglio, R., Keyes, K. M., DiMaggio, C., & Li, G. (2017). Risk markers for fatal and non-fatal prescription drug overdose: a meta-analysis. Injury epidemiology, 4(1), 24.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. (2011). Vital signs: overdoses of prescription opioid pain relievers-United States, 1999-2008. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 60(43), 1487.
Huang, X., Keyes, K. M., & Li, G. (2018). Increasing Prescription Opioid and Heroin Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999–2014: An Age–Period–Cohort Analysis. American journal of public health, 108(1), 131-136.
Madadi, P., Hildebrandt, D., Lauwers, A. E., & Koren, G. (2013). Characteristics of opioid-users whose death was related to opioid-toxicity: a population-based study in Ontario, Canada. PLoS one, 8(4), e60600.
Marijuana Policy Project. (2018). Federal enforcement policy on state marijuana laws. Retrieved from https://www.mpp.org/federal/federal-enforcement-policy-on-state-marijuana-laws/
McKinney, N., & Schor, J. (2014). Effect of Medical Cannabis Laws on Overdose Deaths: States with medicinal marijuana witness a decline in opioid overdoses. Natural Medicine Journal, 6 (11).
Pacula, R. L., & Sevigny, E. L. (2014). Marijuana liberalization policies: Why we can’t learn much from policy still in motion. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33, 212- 221. doi:10.1002/pam.21726
Pennsylvania General Assembly (2016). “2016 Act 16.” Retrieved from 16http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/uconsCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&yr=2016 &sessInd=0&smthLwInd=0&act=016&chpt=6
Rudd, R. A., Aleshire, N., Zibbell, J. E., & Matthew Gladden, R. (2016). Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths—United States, 2000–2014. American Journal of Transplantation, 16(4), 1323-1327.
Saha, T. D., Kerridge, B. T., Goldstein, R. B., Chou, S. P., Zhang, H., Jung, J., … & Hasin, D. S. (2016). Nonmedical prescription opioid use and DSM-5 nonmedical prescription opioid use disorder in the United States. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 77(6), 772.
Tetrault, J. M., & Butner, J. L. (2015). Focus: addiction: non-medical prescription opioid use and prescription opioid use disorder: a review. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 227.

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