Voting with compassion

You may have heard talk of the many issues on the Massachusetts ballot this election, whether or not you are registered to vote in this state. Question No. 1 is fairly boring and relates to the availability of auto repair information, while question No. 2 addresses an important issue, legalizing physician-assisted suicide. But it is the third that has been the most widely contested and discussed among college students. This issue, commonly known as “No. 3,” would make medical marijuana legal for Massachusetts citizens who have qualifying conditions. This year, legal0izing medical marijuana is also on the ballot in Arkansas, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and legalizing marijuana is on the ballot in Washington and Colorado.

So what does No. 3 actually entail? The ballot initiative states “there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients, physicians and healthcare professionals, personal caregivers for patients or medical marijuana treatment center agents for the medical use of marijuana.” Having failed once in Massachusetts’ House of Representatives and twice in its Senate in 2012, the legalization of medical marijuana is now being put to public vote. While opponents cite the proposal’s terms as vague, subjective or vulnerable to misuse, many believe that an overly strict law would inhibit doctors from providing the care they deem necessary.

The qualifying conditions for the prescription of marijuana include Parkinson’s Disease, AIDS and other debilitating illnesses. It is important to note that the initiative explicitly states that medical marijuana can be provided for “other conditions” as well. This blanket statement is an attempt to ensure that patients with new diseases or extenuating circumstances aren’t excluded from getting the form of care their doctors think they need, but leaves the potential law open to much interpretation. Contrary to this belief, proponents of the law claim that it is the strictest law proposed to date. It even carries harsh criminal penalties – for example, selling marijuana for nonmedical use would be punishable by up to five years in state prison and fraudulent purchases would be punishable by up to a six-month sentence in a correctional facility. The law would only allow for 35 dispensaries to be established in the first year, while California (a state known for its relaxed marijuana regulations) currently has roughly 1500 operational dispensaries. For proportional comparison, the population of Massachusetts is 6,587,536, while California’s is only roughly six times larger – 37,691,912.

While opinions still vary on the issue, recent polls indicate that Massachusetts voters generally support the proposal. A survey of 1115 Massachusetts voters conducted in August by Public Policy Polling showed that 58 percent of voters supported ballot question No. 3, while 27 percent opposed it and 15 percent remained undecided. Most of those who oppose the law cite that it will make marijuana more readily available on the black market and will increase illegal use among teenagers and young adults; most of those who support the law use recent medical developments to justify their opinion. And to us, these medical developments seem too significant to overlook.

Recent evidence has proven that cannabinoid molecules (such as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) can help in the treatment or toleration of the following diseases: ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s, Fragile X Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, autism and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Scientists around the world have proposed that cannabinoid molecules also have positive effects on alleviating many other diseases due to two of their fundamental properties: their ability to bind to harmful proteins that mitigate the spread of disease and their effects on the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system consists of two types of receptors (CB1 and CB2), which respond in a multitude of ways to the various cannabinoid molecules that pass through the human body. These molecules are classified under three different categories: endocannabinoids, produced naturally by humans; phytocannabinoids, produced by plants; and synthetic cannabinoids, produced artificially by humans. To give a sense of the grand scale of cannabinoid diversity, the standard cannabis plant produces 85 types of cannabinoids. Pharmaceutical companies are currently working to engineer both synthetic molecules and cannabis plants in order to be able to specifically produce certain cannabinoid molecules that facilitate the desired effects when ingested.

It is important to note that cannabinoids are not often psychoactive. This is why ingesting medical marijuana is wholly different from “getting high.” In fact, the endocannabinoid system plays a role in a multitude of biological systems – the reproductive system, nervous system, immune system and digestive system are just a few. By engineering cannabinoid molecules that only target these specific systems, scientists are able to supply medical marijuana users with medicine that provides the benefits of a healthy endocannabinoid system without causing the potentially negative side effects that many people naively associate with medical marijuana. Especially since medical marijuana can be ingested orally or injected rather than smoked, we believe that the health benefits of medical marijuana far outweigh the potential detriments.

As such, we wholeheartedly support the use of medical marijuana and we believe that No. 3 should undoubtedly be passed into law. This is because as citizens of the United States, we must be compassionate toward those in pain, and this should take precedence over legislators’ predetermined bias toward illegal drug use. Medical marijuana is entirely different from the illegal drugs on the market today and is often much less harmful than opiates or other synthetic chemicals commonly prescribed by doctors. There is simply too much evidence to ignore – keeping medical marijuana illegal is harming more people than it could possibly help.

Nina Horowitz ’14 is a biology and math double major from Armonk, N.Y. She lives in Wood. Carmen Linero ’16 is from Harrison, N.Y. She lives in West.

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