The Right to Get High

On July 14th, Missouri governor Jay Nixon signed into law House Bill 2238, which legalizes medicinal use of certain cannabis extracts. Missouri joins 10 other states which have passed similar laws in the past year, following the much publicized case of Charlotte Figi.

Charlotte is a young girl who suffers from an extreme (and extremely rare) form of epilepsy. When no other treatments worked for her, her family turned to medical marijuana. They tracked down growers who had developed a special strain, rich in cannabidiol (also known as CBD) and almost entirely free of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient. It was named “Charlotte’s Web,” in her honor. The idea was that Charlotte could treat her condition without getting high.

And it worked. Really well. She went from having about 300 seizures every week, to having a few episodes per month.

In the wake of a massive wave of media coverage, lawmakers in many states rushed to get bills passed which legalize these THC-free treatments. And many supporters of legalization will say that this is a good thing. A step in the right direction – albeit a small one.

But there’s a problem with this kind of legislation.

Of the millions of medical marijuana patients nationwide, less than 10 percent are being treated for epilepsy. And in most cases, states are only approving hemp oil for treatment of seizures. That means more than 90 percent of patients who could benefit from medicinal marijuana are still excluded.

And in Missouri, even those patients suffering from seizure disorders must try at least 3 other treatments first, before they can be approved for hemp oil. Drugs like Zarontin, which can cause nausea and vomiting, and Felbatol, which can cause weight loss, insomnia, depression and occasionally bone marrow and liver failure.

Why subject patients to these kind of risks, when hemp oil extracts are more effective, all natural, and far less harmful?

And why deny treatment to millions of people suffering from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and even psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety?

Most of all – why not go ahead and legalize the whole plant?

CBD is just one of more than 80 cannabinoids found in marijuana, many of which have potential medicinal value – including THC, which is known to suppress nausea and vomiting, to stimulate appetite and combat weight loss and wasting disorders. It is even available in pill form (the synthetic extract Marinol).

And yet the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic; a dangerous drug, with no known medicinal application. Why?

Because it gets you high.

That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? It gets you high – and we can’t have that. For the past 100 years our society has been cracking down on drugs and intoxicants, in a relentless effort to prevent individuals from getting high. Even though it’s the most natural thing in the world. If there is an impulse which absolutely all of us share in common, it is the desire to feel good.

In one way or another, we all want to escape once in a while. To relax, unwind and just be free of the stress and frustration and boredom of daily life. For many people, that means having a cold beer or a glass of wine. Others exercise, or go dancing, or practice yoga or meditation. Then there’s cigarettes, coffee, energy drinks, sex, all sorts of medications, prescription and otherwise.

Then there are people who like to smoke pot – and they are persecuted as criminals, arrested and thrown in jail.

Alcohol causes thousands of accidents and fatalities each year in the United States alone. Pain killers like hydrocodone (Vicodin) are extremely habit-forming, and cause more than 16,000 deaths per year – yet they are the number one most prescribed drug in the nation. Psychiatric drugs can be addictive, and can even worsen the symptoms they are supposed to eliminate. Ritalin and Adderall are prescribed to thousands of underage kids to regulate their mood and behavior, even though they sometimes lead to dependence, psychosis, heart attack and stroke.

These are dangerous drugs, with harmful side effects, and a definite cost to society. And yet they are perfectly legal.

So why so much fuss about pot? An herb that not only has tremendous medicinal value, but also makes you feel wonderful – without the risk of addiction or overdose. Why are lawmakers still waging this war to keep us from getting stoned?

Maybe it isn’t addiction and overdose that they’re worried about. Maybe it’s something else…

Maybe they are so concerned with politics and re-election that they’re afraid to piss off the uptight, conservative Christian right. Or maybe it’s because they receive so much of their campaign funding from giant pharmaceutical companies – which of course are opposed to any natural treatment that may cut into their drug profits.

Maybe the whole system is rigged to make money off of drug offenders – from the seizure of their property and assets, to court costs and attorney fees, to the privately owned prisons which are profiting from the inmates that they house – and they don’t want to rock the boat.

Maybe it’s the fact that the cannabis stimulates creativity, curiosity, introspection and abstract thinking. Maybe they don’t want people getting high and exploring their own consciousness. Maybe they don’t want us asking questions, challenging authority and societal conventions, and thinking for ourselves.


I’m glad that epilepsy patients are getting access to effective treatments (well, some of them anyway). It’s not much, but it’s progress.

But there are still millions of sick people who are being denied access to effective treatment because lawmakers are afraid they might get high. And innocent people are still being arrested everyday – losing their freedom, their property, their jobs, losing custody of their kids – all over a plant. A medicine.

Enough is enough. We can’t keep on believing the myths about marijuana. It isn’t a narcotic. It isn’t dangerous – at least, not nearly as dangerous as alcohol and other legal substances. Pot smokers are not criminals. If there is no victim, then there is no crime.

It’s time we recognized that every responsible adult has the God-given right to get high.

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