Legalize It: Marijuana Gaining Acceptance in U.S.

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A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles.
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Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent comments calling for reform of long mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders have opened a floodgate of mixed reactions. His comments have also fast-tracked arguments about legalization of marijuana.

Holder’s comments, coupled with CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s recent reversal of his objections to medical marijuana have reignited the national conversation about the controversial drug. In some quarters it appears the cultural attitude toward marijuana is shifting in favor of legalization, particularly for medical use.

A cadre of experts from the scientific community are adding credibility to the uphill battle to legalize the drug for medicinal use. Chief among them is Sunil Aggarwal, M.D., Ph.D., a resident in physical medicine and rehab. Aggarwal’s support of cannabis was bolstered by his own study of 176 patients who suffered chronic pain and were treated with cannabis.

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“For 139 of them, I did a retrospective, and the bottom line is a wide variety of chronic pain syndromes were being well-managed using cannabis,” Aggarwal said. “In several cases there was a reduction of other drugs to manage chronic pain, or a reduction in dosages of these drugs. Nobody showed any adverse effects from this drug.”

Aggarwal, who has become a high profile voice in the fight to legalize cannabis for the treatment of pain, says other countries are way ahead of the United States on this issue.

“If you look across Western Europe, South America and even India, there is widespread use,” said Aggarwal. “It has been legal in parts of this world for a long time. We are catching up to the recognition of its uses that has long been known elsewhere. Ultimately we need a sound public health policy for both medicinal usage and as a relaxant for social usage of cannabis.”

One problem is the historical stigma the drug carries that is hard to overcome via state and federal laws. Even today, when some states have legalized marijuana, individuals who operate cannabis-related businesses meet up with roadblocks, said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group that represents nearly 300 cannabis-related businesses at the federal level.

“I think it’s safe to say that things like Gupta’s change of heart and Holder’s statements are reflective of a broader shift in the public’s view of marijuana,” Aldworth said. “Through polling we know that the vast majority of Americans believe patients should have access to medical marijuana, and that a slim majority of Americans support adults being able to choose whether or not they would like to use it. Once we realize that, it is not too far a step to say that marijuana should be provided by licensed, responsible businesses.”