Ric Llewellyn

Friday, Jul 29 2011 09:48 PM

RIC LLEWELLYN: Is pot really good for whatever ails you?

By Ric Llewellyn

Recently I was notified that it was time for me to volunteer for jury duty. Although I have an opinion about jury duty, that's not what this column is about.

It's about the abuse of the compassionate dupes who passed Proposition 215 in 1996. That's right, I want some changes made to the law that authorizes anyone in the state who has a valid doctor's note to smoke pot with impunity.

I was in the pool for a jury that heard a drug case. The state charged that the defendants were growing pot for sale. The defense responded that they had medical marijuana cards.

Even though I wasn't chosen to serve on the jury I was intrigued by the prospects of the case. So I took the opportunity to observe part of the proceedings.

In essence, it appeared the defendants had grown and harvested one crop of plants, were cultivating another crop that was just maturing and had a third crop of seedlings that were being nurtured. But there was only a very small amount of processed marijuana in the house at the time of the arrests.

The defendants had doctors' notes. They argued that since no one really knows the potency of any batch of pot, the large sequential crops were just the right size for personal use. And, yes, they smoked it all themselves.

In mid-June another marijuana farming concern was busted north of town. Eight people -- with medical marijuana cards -- were openly farming more than 2,000 plants, law enforcement officials said. That's more than 300 plants each! But since no one really knows the potency of a batch of pot, that's just the right amount for personal use.

It seems like the Compassionate Use Act has become the Audacious Abuse Act. These two incidents led me to look at the law again. What a bunch of compassionate pushovers we were.

First, the law is too vague in its definition of what is "seriously ill" when it includes "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."

Second, it is too broad in its effect when it proposes to ensure no criminal sanctions for anyone who uses "marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician."

Third, it is too sweeping when it aims to absolve doctors from any responsibility to make a legitimate medical recommendation.

I do not doubt that getting high makes a person "feel better." Getting drunk makes some people "feel better" too. Some people run ultramarathons to "feel better."

Yet alcohol abuse and obsessive exercise behaviors would never be promoted for their "medical use."

The medical effectiveness of pot is still in dispute and demands rigorous investigation. But a broad experiment by laymen on "everything that ails you" is a ridiculous sham. We need medical limitations, not a free rein.

Users, growers and dealers have been pushing the envelope since 1996. The two incidents that inspired me to write illustrate how we have simply become enablers for abuse through our compassionate tolerance.

Medical use demands a clinical environment. Seedlings stacked and racked in the laundry room of a suburban residence belie a serious defect in California's approach to "medical" marijuana.

The perception that a note from a doctor authorizes patients and caregivers to farm pot is ludicrous yet apparently well accepted. Is that what we had in mind when we passed Proposition 215?

And these doctors. The immunity we provided physicians for making a pot recommendation was rash and irresponsible.

Clearly, it is only a recommendation. It has about the same significance as a recommendation to eat more fiber or to try a yoga class.

But unlike fiber and yoga I believe there is plenty of reckless recommending going on with pot. It's easy money with no business risk.

We need some legislative muscle to push physicians to embrace their medical ethics more strongly when it comes to pot recommendations.

The California Compassionate Use Act is too short, too vague, and too impotent to support a legitimate and effective policy. It's time to get reasonable about our compassion and ask our representatives to revise the law.

The concept of medical need has become corrupted; growers continue to test the legal limits of "personal use;" and there are even physicians who have subordinated their medical oath to their marijuana advocacy.

Was that the purpose of our compassion?

-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at rllewellyn@bakersfield.com.

Next week: Heather Ijames.

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