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         Pot, Profit, and Prohibition


A Virus in the Medical Cannabis Movement

February 15, 2002
Jay R. Cavanaugh, Ph.D. (RIP)

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A battle rages between the Bush Administration’s DEA and the medical cannabis
 community. The “compassionate” conservatives now stalking the halls of power in
 Washington demonize patients utilizing adjunctive therapy with medical cannabis
 while closing clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Federal Law and State Laws
 regarding medical cannabis conflict, and this disagreement taints all efforts to
 legitimately supply patients needs for medicine. What’s going on?

Anyone with common sense and an ability to read knows that cannabis is the most innocuous of the “abusable” drugs. Despite the demonstrated fact that cannabis causes virtually no societal or medical problems of note compared with tobacco, alcohol, hard drugs, and prescription medicines, it remains a banned drug even when it is used compassionately to provide relief to those sick and dying with cancer, AIDS, MS, and a host of chronic medical conditions. Cannabis remains banned as a medicine even though the DEA itself has commissioned studies that prove efficacy and a DEA Administrative Law Judge has ruled that Cannabis is improperly scheduled. 

The continued prohibition of cannabis is responsible for its inflated street price and the crime associated with those who are seeking an easy profit. Prohibition is the lifeblood that feeds greed. Make no mistake; the great harm to society comes not from Cannabis but from prohibition. Some of that greed and harm has infected the medical cannabis movement 
and may prove fatal unless checked. 

Some medical cannabis entrepreneurs, filled with self-rationalization, have sought to profit from compassion. Disabled patients on fixed incomes come to the cannabis “club” to find quality medicine selling for $15/gram, the same price as if they were seeking to “score” on the street from a dealer. Sure, the “club” is far more likely to give an indigent patient a break than a street dealer but how does this look? 
What does the “club” regularly provide a patient other than a reliable source for cannabis? Some clubs help with housing, employment, medical referrals, and so on but these “caregiving” services are often irregular and slipshod. A person not understanding medical cannabis has got to look at some of what goes on in the medical cannabis movement as a 
tragic fraud perpetrated on patients and the community. 

The excuse that Cannabis must be sold at street prices to prevent diversion doesn’t fool anyone. If patients are limited to the amount of medicine they need they are unlikely to have excess to sell to meet their rent payments. The excuse that some clubs have large overhead “expenses” simply isn’t believed any more than the claim of some “club” 
owners of poverty. 

This is why the DEA is focusing on “money laundering” and tax evasion. For the most part these charges are a smear on the medical cannabis movement but they only have to stick once for the public to think such practices routine. Tragically, some who manage “clubs” are being penalized and demonized for simply being incompetent business people. The DEA is going to let the Federal Courts sort out the profiteers from 
the bunglers. 

The government doesn’t dare arrest and charge legitimate cannabis patients. They know no jury is going to convict a seriously ill patient who is able to make a medical necessity defense. Even if the Courts deny such a defense (and they have) the public outcry over persecuting patients would be immense. No, the government will leave patients alone 
instead concentrating on those they believe to be engaged in drug dealing under the cover of “medical”. The government will only pursue cases where they believe that the defendants will fail to arouse the sympathy of the public. 

Of course, there is no reason that people providing legitimate services shouldn’t be reimbursed. Such services don’t even have to be nonprofit. After all, much of our health care is provided by for profit individuals and corporations. The problem arises from the murky status of medical 
cannabis and the potential profits that can be made by unscrupulous individuals. 

The vast majority of folks involved with medical cannabis are both honest and courageous. It is the very few “bad apples” in the barrel that threaten the credibility of the movement. We have a dilemma. Do we publicly criticize those we think dishonest and fracture our fragile movement or do we remain silent while the government uses the bad apple 
argument to destroy a compassionate and critically needed movement?

The real and honest answer is to focus on the actual problem. Stop the prohibition of medical cannabis and you leave the market place and health authorities to police medicine and services. Human nature unfortunately often includes the trait of greed. Let’s stop feeding and promoting greed. Legalize medical cannabis nationwide and legalize it 

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