In 1998, the people of Oregon passed Measure 67, known as the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. In its text is found the following phrase:
The people of the state of Oregon hereby find that [p]atients and doctors have found marijuana to be an effective treatment for suffering caused by debilitating medical conditions, and therefore, marijuana should be treated like other medicines.
If that is true, then the people of the state of Oregon have failed miserably, for marijuana is the only medicine in the state where providing more people with an effective treatment for suffering is considered “abuse”. No other medicine is treated that way.
The Albany Democrat-Herald warns, “The number of cardholders has boomed… to more than 54,000… It’s possible that every one of those cardholders is legitimately using the drug to treat issues such as chronic pain. But it seems far more likely that abuse of the program is one of the reasons fueling the program’s explosive growth.” The state’s largest paper, The Oregonian, intones, “The program was designed as a modest one, generating 500 new patients each year,” as if that were a fact.
In the 1998 election guide provided to voters on Measure 67, there were the usual arguments for and against the measure. Among the patients speaking out for the measure was Stormy Ray, a quadriplegic. She explained, “I am not alone. There are thousands of patients like me– people suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, and a host of other diseases or illnesses that threaten their lives.” The New England Journal of Medicine explained, “Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana.”
Opponents of medical marijuana like to pretend that we had only intended its use for cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma, and that we had used sympathy for those conditions to sneak everyone else in under the “difficult to prove” diagnosis of severe pain. As The Oregonian‘s editorial board recently opined:
As of Oct. 1, there were nearly 57,000 card-holders in the state’s medical marijuana program, of whom fewer than 4,000 combined suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS or glaucoma: three of the conditions most commonly cited by Measure 67′s supporters.
That seems to me like The Oregonian accepts the use of marijuana for cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma, so there are at least 3,929 legitimate patients. If the program were designed for 500 per year, there would be 6,500 to 7,000 legitimate patients now in The Oregonian‘s estimation.
So what do opponents make of the 15,211 patients with muscle spasms, like multiple sclerosis? Are those people “abusing” the medical marijuana program? How about the 1,425 patients with seizures, like epilepsy? Are they “faking it” just so they can get a medical marijuana card? Assuming those people would pass “legitimacy test”, we’re talking about 20,565 patients when we add them to the cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma patients. Back in 2008, The Oregonian was complaining when the registry went above 20,000!
The most frequently cited qualifying medical condition — and perhaps the most difficult to disprove — is severe pain, claimed by 55,400 of those roughly 57,000 card-holders (people can cite more than one condition).
This is a trick the opponents like to play where they fool you into thinking very few people are getting medical marijuana for “real conditions” and most are faking it with “severe pain”. Never mind that severe pain has to be indicated in chart notes by a medical doctor on three separate occasions within the past three years in order to qualify.
Sure, 55,400 patients – over 97% of the registry – are qualified for pain. But that little parenthetical note about citing more than one condition is important. If there are 56,939 patients and 55,400 cite pain, then there are at least 1,539 qualified who do not cite pain.
But there are 30,060 conditions qualified for other than pain, 15,211 for spasticity disorders alone. Do you think multiple sclerosis might cause some severe pain? How about cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma? If the non-pain patients are also claiming severe pain as a qualifying condition, then the fewest possible patients there could be qualifying under severe pain alone would be 26,879, or 47% of those in the program.
However, that’s not entirely fair. Someone with cancer, for instance, would probably indicate nausea and cachexia in addition to severe pain. So, if every non-pain patient were also claiming another condition in addition to severe pain, the most possible “pain only” patients would be 41,728, or 73% of those registered.
The scare tactic about how many pain patients there are is not the only absurdity – the idea that there are too many medical marijuana patients, period, is absurd, when you consider how many Oregonians could qualify for medical marijuana but do not register.
For cancer alone, Oregon’s State Cancer Registry indicates 19,861 diagnoses in the state. There are 5,231 living with HIV/AIDS. When you consider national estimates for diseases like Glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), Cerebral Palsy, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, Primary Lateral Sclerosis, and Epilepsy – which is just a partial list of some of the non-pain qualifying conditions – there are 224,980 Oregonians who could qualify and only 30,060 (at most) have registered.
Then there’s severe pain. According to the Institute of Medicine, Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education, 100 million Americans are burdened with chronic pain (a more stringent diagnosis than severe pain). That works out to over 1.2 million Oregonians who could benefit from medical cannabis, while only 55,400 have registered for medical marijuana.
What keeps these Oregonians from utilizing this “effective treatment for suffering caused by debilitating medical conditions”? Certainly start-up costs around $1,000 don’t encourage people to try medical marijuana. The federal prohibition doesn’t soothe any fears. But certainly the state’s major media toeing the law enforcement line on the myth of medical marijuana abuse isn’t helping.
When the medical marijuana program is treating only less than 6% of the potential conditions it could alleviate, it is an indictment of the state’s failure to protect and serve its most vulnerable citizens. It is a failure that can only be corrected by the legalization of marijuana for healthy people so there remains no legal, social and cultural barriers for the sick and disabled.