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Colorado, Washington first to treat marijuana like alcohol

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 22:01

Alex

Echols

Marijuana

Getty Images

Washington and Colorado voters have approved recreational use of marijuana.

The debate on whether or not to legalize marijuana has been ongoing for years, though it has seemed to revive and gain steam since Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington made their states the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But in Oregon, a similar measure failed.

While supporters of Washington’s initiative said they hoped its passage would ultimately change federal law, which regards any possession or sale of marijuana as illegal, senior White House and Justice Department officials were considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine the voter-approved initiatives in those states.

Marijuana, whose botanical name is cannabis, has been used by humans for thousands of years. It was classified as an illegal drug by many countries in the 20th century. Over the past two decades, there has been a growing movement to legalize marijuana, primarily for medical purposes.

The medicinal properties and use of marijuana is one of the biggest points proponents of its legalization use to hammer home their stance.  Given some of the dramatic cases of medical transformation in some of its users, one would be inclined to agree or at least concede the point.

One such example is severely autistic, 11-year-old Alex Echols, of Oregon.  Alex suffers from Tuberous Sclerosis, a genetic disorder that causes unregulated growth in non-malignant tissue in organs.  The condition affects Alex’s brain and is believed to cause his regular self-directed outbursts of violence.  In YouTube videos that have made news headlines around the country, Alex can be seen pummeling himself with his fists, clawing at his face, and slamming his head agaiast the wall until he’s reduced to a bloody pulp.  

Alex tried using mood-altering drugs to regulate his behavior—unsuccessfully—until his family made the difficult choice to move Alex into a group home when he was eight years old.  When asked his feelings at the time, Mr. Echols, Alex’s father, said, “It was like we were throwing him away, like we were giving him to somebody else and saying, ‘Sorry buddy, you’re not part of the family anymore.’”

In 2009, when the family heard about a California woman using medical marijuana to treat her autistic son, the family decided to give it a shot.  The next year a doctor approved Alex’s marijuana and his father said the change in his son’s behavior has been dramatic.  “He went from being completely, yelling, screaming, bloodying his face, to within an hour, hour-and-a-half, he would be playing with toys, using his hands,” Mr. Echols said.

The home where Alex lives will not administer the marijuana so his family gives him a liquid form of the drug around three times a week.

His father believes medicating his son with marijuana is worth the risk.  “For us, the long-term side effects that are unknown for something that can’t kill him are a lot better than the long-term side effects of him beating himself bloody,” he said.

In light of evidence such as this, it is no wonder that medical marijuana use has surged in 16 states and the District of Columbia that allow its use. But states and cities are wrestling with the question of what medical marijuana is, or should be, a question only complicated by the fact that recreational use is now legal in two states.

As the first states to treat small amounts of marijuana like alcohol, Colorado and Washington are slated to become nationwide trial cases for drug legalization. As supporters and state officials prepare for a new frontier of legalized sales, they are also anxiously awaiting direction from the federal government, which still plans to treat the manufacture and sale of marijuana as federal crimes.

Proponents of legalized marijuana are hopeful the Justice Department yields. Despite some notorious arrests of medical marijuana patients and suppliers, the federal government has mostly allowed medical marijuana businesses to operate in Colorado, Washington and 16 other states.

While drug agents will probably not beat down doors to seize a small bag of the drug, they are likely to balk at allowing the state-regulated recreational marijuana shops allowed under the new laws, said Kevin A. Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration.

 

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