I have a friend of mine whom I will call Bret.
Bret is a 32 year old North Dakotan who in 2010 was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal disorder that greatly limited his life. At the time of diagnosis, Bret was employed full time and living a pretty normal life. Within a year, Bret was forced to quit his job, apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. His daily pain level was extraordinarily high and his physician prescribed large amounts of narcotics in order to assist him with the pain. The narcotics caused him nausea, vomiting, constipation and drowsiness. The really sad part is that the narcotics did not work very well, and he was always in pain. The combination of his pain and the side effects of the medication caused him to withdraw from society. Bret’s marriage was very much on the rocks.
One day at a support group meeting, Bret was talking to another attendee about alternative treatments, and that attendee offered Bret a non-traditional treatment plan that finally worked.
Today, Bret is fully employed and off of all forms of government assistance. He is a home owner, very active in his local community, and once again happily married. Now understand Bret’s condition has not went away, in fact, he will live with it the rest of his life. Every night after work, his pain level is between an 8-9. So Bret is forced to use his treatment plan daily.
However, in the state of North Dakota, Bret is a criminal. His alternative treatment plan is marijuana.
It is beyond comprehension that the laws in the state of North Dakota tell Bret that he must choose between a life of pain and social isolation on legal narcotics or a life of productivity while using an illegal drug.
It is time for legalized marijuana in North Dakota.
First off, we must all understand the reason that marijuana is illegal has nothing to do with science. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, has pointed out, Marijuana is less addictive than many legal prescription drugs, and even less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Marijuana has also been proven by science to be an effective treatment for a variety of health conditions, including pain, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, even 94 years before marijuana was made illegal in the United States by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, The Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery, stated:
“The resin of the cannabis Indica is in general use as an intoxicating agent from the furthermost confines of India to Algiers. If this resin be swallowed, almost invariably the inebriation is of the most cheerful kind, causing the person to sing and dance, to eat food with great relish, and to seek aphrodisiac enjoyment. The intoxication lasts about three hours, when sleep supervenes; it is not followed by nausea or sickness, nor by any symptoms, except slight giddiness, worth recording.”
However, by the turn of the 20th Century, the American public became very afraid of the drug. This fear did not come from the scientific community, but was based on something much uglier, Racism.
Newspapers all over America ran stories about a weed from Mexico, which caused Mexicans, African-Americans, Jazz Musicians, Native Americans and even some underclass whites to go into violent rages. A powerful member of California’s State Board of Pharmacy, Henry J. Finger, in a 1911 letter wrote about these people, “They are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast; the fear is now that it is not being confined to the [Native Americans] alone but that they are initiating our whites into this habit.”
These early PR campaigns worked. I mean really, who wants violent and crazed Jazz Musicians in your community? By the 1960’s Marijuana had taken root in the counter culture movement, and Conservative politicians dug their heals in against the drug. By 1969, When Merle Haggard wrote “Okie From Muskogee” about what Sarah Palin may call the “Real America”, smoking marijuana was seen by conservatives as being un-American. Haggard’s philosophy was so popular with conservative California Governor and future President and Conservative icon Ronald Reagan that Reagan expunged Haggard’s criminal record.
In the early 1970’s, President Richard Nixon appointed a group of anti-drug warriors to prove the harmful effects of Marijuana and allow it to be controlled as a Schedule 1 narcotic with no approved medical uses. To the shock of Nixon, the group came back recommending the use of Marijuana not be a criminal offence. However, according to the once secret Nixon tapes, Nixon overruled his committee and declared an all out “War”on the drug (how is that war working out?).
Again, science had nothing to do with Nixon’s reasons. It was politics and bigotry. Nixon claimed Marijuana was part of the culture war that was destroying the United States. Nixon said, “Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general, these are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff; they’re trying to destroy us.”
Over 40 years later, Bret is a criminal because of politics and bigotry. Luckily, other states around the country have had the integrity to stand up to this foolishness. Currently, 23 states and DC have legal Marijuana for medical reasons. Seventeen states and DC have decriminalized small amounts of Marijuana. In addition, Colorado and Washington have legalized and regulated Marijuana for recreational use.
There have been some limited efforts in North Dakota to legalize Marijuana for medical reasons. That effort was led by Democratic state Rep. Steve Zaiser and was derailed by the Petition Fraud committed by NDSU Football players.
Now I like Rep. Ziaiser a lot, however, he is perhaps the most liberal member of a very conservative North Dakota Legislature. If we are going to change our Marijuana laws in the state of North Dakota, we are going to need leadership from the right side of the political spectrum. It is going to take group of elected officials with R’s and D’s next to their name to have the integrity to realize that Bret should not be a criminal and the intelligence to realize that the Marijuana laws in this country should go the way of Jim Crow laws.
Unfortunately, looking at the current makeup of the North Dakota Legislature, I am not going to hold my breath.