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Will the Culture of “Recreational” Use Jeopardize Medical Marijuana?

A hand reaches out to a tall stalk of a flowering cannabis plant.


Will the Culture of “Recreational” Use Jeopardize Medical Marijuana?

Photo by Gracie Malley/Staff

In 1996, California became the first American state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Since then, 20 states and the nation’s capital have passed medical marijuana laws. Two of those states, Washington and Colorado, have also legalized marijuana for what is commonly referred to as “recreational use,” but is more properly called “adult use.” Thus the lines are drawn between two paradigms and create very different rules, tax rates and cultural perceptions.

One of the primary differences between the two approaches is the range of administration options available. States with medical marijuana laws typically permit physicians to issue patients a recommendation for the use of cannabis as a medicine. During the patient’s consultation, the physician generally discusses variable methods of ingestion based on the patient’s medical history and symptoms.

“Medical” routes of administration can include sublingual tinctures, topical applications, capsules or cannabis in edible form. Adult use legalization, or “recreational” while a huge step forward, may reduce the availability of alternative methods of ingestion by focusing solely on providing cannabis in typical smoking form.

The emergence of adult-use legalization and its incredible revenue potential has ensured that what was once called a job in this industry can now be considered a career. No sister state will sit idly by while its sibling reaps the benefits of cannabis taxation and economical infusion.

Meanwhile, the profit potential is not limited to adult-use states; many biotech and biopharmaceutical firms are beginning to take advantage of marijuana legalization. GW Pharmaceuticals, for example, has developed a cannabis mouth spray called Sativex used to treat neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis. The potential for ancillary markets to capitalize on the marijuana market is huge.  From private to public companies, everyone including the government, wants a piece of the Americannabis Pie.

While a strong new industry is a welcome development in times of recession, these huge potential profits risk jeopardizing the ethics built behind the medicinal use of cannabis and the compassionate care movement.

Parents of children suffering from daily epileptic seizures are sprinting to places like Colorado get safe access to cannabinoid-based medicines. There remains a large group of the population that need and will continue to need cannabis as a medicine.

As we enter the era of adult-use recreational legalization, all advocates must ensure that progress does not diminish or hinder access to patients for medical necessity. Regardless of whether future regulation moves in the medical or recreational direction, both industries can be cultivated, grown and prosperous while leaving the fields of organized crime barren.

Whether your marijuana grows from the recommendation of a physician, your closet or on the shelf of your local grocer, the road to marijuana legalization is no longer the road less traveled. The cannabis industry will continue to grow and it’s a matter of time before other states begin to legislatively migrate to where the grass is greener.

What do you think? Does recreational cannabis jeopardize medical cannabis?

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