Sometimes (well, often) I worry about where the United States is heading.
Right-wing crazies, science deniers, government-haters, and religious zealots are doing their best to prevent this country from solving our many pressing problems. But in the midst of this negativity there are some encouraging signs of progress.
Same sex marriage, along with gay rights, is on the verge of being universally accepted. Global warming is starting to be recognized as a major threat by more and more people. Even opponents of the Affordable Care Act are having a tough time denying its benefits.
And marijuana is rapidly losing its undeserved reputation as the Demon Weed. Here in Oregon, cannabis is now legal for both medical and recreational use (OK, after July 1 for the latter).
Watching physician Sanjay Gupta's CNN special, "Weed 3," last night, was highly encouraging. It was way more positive about medical marijuana than Gupta's previous reporting.
I see signs of a revolution everywhere.
I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country. I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it. I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first. I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.
Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone. In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.
I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school. A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery.
I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month. We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?
It sure seems like medical marijuana is almost at the same cultural acceptance level as same-sex marriage. The debate on that issue is almost over. Now religious dogmatists are fighting over niceties, such as their supposed right to deny business services to same-sex couples.
Evidence for medical marijuana's effectiveness in treating various health problems should accumulate much more rapidly now, given what Gupta said in his newest special.
Roadblocks to federally sponsored medical marijuana research are disappearing. Interest in cannabis among medical professionals and patients is strong. Gupta showed people with post-traumatic stress, Alzheimer's, chronic pain, cancer, and other problems who are getting great results from medical marijuana.
The next step in societal acceptance is legalizing recreational marijuana.
Watching the Weed 3 special, I kept thinking, "If pot makes patients less anxious, enhances their happiness, centers them in the present moment, relieves discomfort, helps protect the brain, and fights cancer, then why the heck shouldn't it be legal for all adults?"
Especially since marijuana has few (maybe no) dangerous side effects, especially if consumed via a vaporizer -- which eliminates potentially harmful smoke. Pot is way safer than prescription drugs, as Gupta emphasized.
This pertains to a debate that began soon after my state legalized recreational marijuana last year: should Oregon end its medical marijuana program?
I tend toward "No," but can see decent arguments on both sides of the question.
While there isn't a sharp divide between "recreational" and "medical" users -- the psychological and physical benefits of cannabis accrue to both -- in general they have different needs and desires. The people who staff Oregon's current medical marijuana dispensaries are knowledgeable about the marijuana strains and potencies that are most suitable for patients with various health problems.
Requiring medical marijuana patients to buy their cannabis in stores that serve everybody, both recreational and medical users, seemingly would be a step backward for them. Medical marijuana patients might even need to pay the $35 per ounce tax that will be charged recreational buyers.
I suspect that the Oregon legislature will hold off on ending the medical marijuana program. One of the provisions of Measure 91, the 2014 legalization initiative, was that this program would be unaffected.
So it makes sense to leave it alone for now, maybe with just a little tinkering around the edges. However, at some point I can see Oregon's medical marijuana program being terminated after the production and sale of recreational marijuana is firmly established in this state.
Free enterprise should come up with ways to serve all varieties of marijuana consumers, just as coffee drinkers have a wide variety of buying choices ranging from artisanal coffee houses to mass market mini-marts.
Some pot stores would feature "We feel your pain; specialists in medical marijuana" advertising, while others would tout "Get your buzz on!"
There will be bumps in the road, both in Oregon and nationally, as legal marijuana for all adult consumers becomes common. But it seems pretty clear that these won't stop progress toward pot being as socially acceptable as beer and wine in the near future.