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Can Medical Marijuana Save America?

The Economic Case for Medical Marijuana

English: Medical marijuana neon sign at a dispensary

What does medical marijuana have to do with America’s economic future, you ask?

More than you might think – if we can ever get beyond the obligatory bong jokes and adolescent snickering (seriously, most of the top YouTube videos about medical marijuana are heavy on the “marijuana” and really light on the “medical”).

This post is for grown-ups wiling to take a serious look at a serious subject – serious as cancer and Alzheimer’s, for example, and serious as severe chronic pain that’s currently being “treated” with dangerous opioid medications that are far more dangerous than marijuana.

Mismanagement of these and other chronic diseases may be the most pressing crisis in American healthcare. That’s because an estimated 75% of our healthcare spending is on chronic disease care.

So anything we can do to improve our poor performance when it comes to managing chronic diseases can only improve our spending trajectory on healthcare – a trajectory that virtually everyone agrees is leading us to bankruptcy as a nation, Obamacare or no Obamacare.

Our Bronze Healthcare Future

Obamacare’s certainly far from perfect. One Obamacare-hater weighed in on Amazon after (purportedly) reading my new eBook – Obamacare For Smarties – as my being a “cheerleader” for Obamacare. If you’ve read my posts, you know otherwise. But at least Obamacare attempts to enhance consumers’ rights in their healthcare.

The best Obamacare opponents can come up with are proposals to shift burgeoning healthcare costs onto the backs of consumers in the form of Medicare and other so-called “entitlement reforms”. Shifting these costs, however, does nothing to actually control them.

Medical bills already account for over 60% of personal bankruptcies in America – a fact that staggers the imagination of other developed countries. Of course, America’s only a partially developed country – a hybrid of immense wealth co-existing with urban and rural ghettos whose healthcare is often worse than that of developing countries.

America’s income gap continues to widen – now the widest it’s been since the Great Depression. And as it does, more formerly middle-class individuals and families will succumb to inferior healthcare driven by eroding health insurance that leaves them increasingly liable – with more high-deductible health insurance – for their initial medical bills.

This, in turn, means more of them will forego needed care, as has already been amply demonstrated with high-deductible coverage.

While Obamacare-haters will blame this on Obamacare, high-deductible health insurance isn’t something new with Obamacare. Unfortunately, it does too little to stem the tide that’s turning us into a nation of high-deductible “bronze” healthcare that’s somewhere between first-world and third-world healthcare.

Sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it?

You know what’s good for depression? Medical marijuana, at least in low doses.

And it may prove equally good for the financial depression that awaits us – the current modest economic rebound notwithstanding. There’s no way on earth our medical spending – even tempered as it’s been by our economic doldrums – can be sustained. For all the kvetching it produces, it’s still slated to double over the next decade, give or take a year or two.

How many families and businesses can afford a doubling of their current healthcare costs?

Obamacare To The Rescue?

Obamacare won’t solve this problem, as 75% of those declaring bankruptcy already have health insurance – mostly the high-deductible kind that more and more Americans are being forced to buy because it’s all they can afford.

This is fast taking on crisis proportions – not just for Washington, but for individuals and families across America.

So you’d think they’d be open-minded – our politicians – to anything that promises to help avert this impending disaster, to any lifeboat that might rescue those heading for this fiscal iceberg.

That’d be plenty rational, of course, but would also miss the mark of what drives politics in America – and it ain’t rationality.

Instead, we’re stuck resisting those who’d drive us back into the 19th century – completely by-passing the 20th. These mislabeled conservatives are, in truth, reactionaries who’d impose their Victorian notions on all things before us – including one of the few things that promises to help us stem our healthcare crisis: medical marijuana.

Here’s how.

Controlling Chronic Care

The following is excerpted from a report in Science Daily about research on the multi-faceted role that medical marijuana can play in better managing our biggest healthcare crisis – chronic medical conditions that consume three out of every four dollars we spend on healthcare in America.

“Cutting down on chronic medications…

“Israel is a world leader in medical cannabis research…The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, was first discovered there (as was the body’s) endocannabinoid system, which mimics the effects of cannabis and plays a role in appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory…

“In the Hadarim nursing home, 19 patients between the ages of 69 and 101 were treated with medical cannabis in the form of powder, oil, vapor, or smoke three times daily over the course of a year for conditions such as pain, lack of appetite, and muscle spasms and tremors…staff monitored participants for signs of improvement, as well as improvement in overall life quality, such as mood and ease in completing daily living activities…

“During the study, 17 patients achieved a healthy weight, gaining or losing pounds as needed. Muscle spasms, stiffness, tremors and pain reduced significantly. Almost all patients reported an increase in sleeping hours and a decrease in nightmares and PTSD-related flashbacks…

“There was a notable decline in…prescribed medications taken by patients, such as antipsychotics, Parkinson’s treatment, mood stabilizers, and pain relievers…drugs (with) severe side effects. By the end of the study, 72 percent of participants were able to reduce their drug intake by an average of 1.7 medications a day (emphasis added).”

Experience here in America bears out the Israeli’s favorable experience with medical marijuana, as evidenced by this clip from the Associated Press.

And this interview with a charming older doctor with many years of experience prescribing medical marijuana is worth watching for insight into the cultural biases and ignorance that still suppress rational use of this medicine even in Oregon, a state that pioneered its use for medical purposes.

And there’s an emerging role for medical marijuana in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease – a condition expected to reach epidemic proportions as Baby Boomers age and for which there are no effective treatments otherwise available. Perhaps our fear of this dreaded disease will be what’s needed to overcome the remaining resistance to medical marijuana entering the medical mainstream.

Victorian Mindset – And Corporate Profits –
Suppressing Medical Marijuana

The political opposition to legalizing medical marijuana stems mostly from Republican office-holders (see “A plea for medical marijuana” in Related Articles below). This, despite the fact that their beloved Israel is at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement.

This may reflect their usual knee-jerk reaction to anything they associate with hippies and the drug culture, or it may reflect a Victorian culture that compels them to resist modernity in all its forms.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that increased demand for medical marijuana would devastate pharmaceutical company profits, especially for those that produce pain medications. The doctor in the above video about Oregon’s experience estimates that 70% of their use of medical marijuana is for extreme pain.

Pain management is a complex problem that’s defied effective solutions. But the politics of pain in America have an unseemly dark side that includes political donations to Republicans in key states considering medical marijuana laws.

Bipartisan Intransigence

But it’s not just Republicans holding back this potential “miracle drug” – maybe as miraculous for our economy as for patients in desperate need of safer pain medications than the opioids that are the current medical mainstay.

Even under a Democratic Administration, the IRS continues its onerous treatment of medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized medical marijuana by refusing to allow them to deduct ordinary business expenses like rent and utilities, as do other small businesses.

One of the leading medical marijuana dispensaries in California is facing possible bankruptcy because the IRS won’t allow them to treat ordinary business expenses like payroll and rent as tax-deductible expenses, like other businesses can.

This leaves them being taxed on their gross rather than net revenues, an untenable business proposition that will further deter capital investment in an industry the federal government should be encouraging, not crippling with such narrow-minded regulation (click here for more on this).

While congressional action is required to amend the IRS rules governing this, the FDA could act on its own to recategorize marijuana from its current ludicrous categorization as more harmful than heroin. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge about either street or prescription drugs considers this ridiculous, yet it persists in this supposedly enlightened day.

The result is a schitzophrenic situation in which medical marijuana is legal under some state laws  – 20 states plus the District of Columbia at this writing – but illegal under federal law because the feds insist on mischaracterizing marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin, which it clearly is not.

Evidence-Deprived Regulation

I’m all for reasonable government regulation of healthcare, but it needs to be evidence-based – meaning based in some kind of factual reality. When the FDA and IRS are tethered to antiquated Victorian beliefs long-refuted by scientific evidence, then their regulations are reduced to mere folly.

Consider our current reality in which the FDA is loosening access for opioid medications proven to be highly addictive – far more so than marijuana – and responsible for many thousands of deaths annually, while continuing to restrict access to marijuana, whose death toll is effectively zero.

This is obviously nonsensical yet it persists in deference to supposedly moral concerns that, in truth, are inherently immoral by depriving millions of Americans of desperately needed pain relief. And the purveyors of this misguided moralism are the very ones who despise “political correctness” they perceive only in their liberal opponents.

Yet what do we call it when our government remains in servitude to this vocal minority while millions of Americans suffer needlessly in pain?

And what does it tell you when the people most opposed to legalizing medical marijuana are the same ones protesting the nominee for U.S. Surgeon General because he had the nerve, as a public health professional, to question our country’s lax gun laws?

Their objection to medical marijuana is rooted in their resentment of harmless hippies getting high on pot – yet to be proven to cause a single death – yet they crush any objection to hapless regulation of guns proven to kill thousands of Americans every year.

These purveyors of real human tragedy can spare us the moralizing, thanks anyway.

We simply can’t afford to keep coddling these ancient prejudices by sacrificing perhaps our best shot at getting control over a big chunk of our healthcare spending.

It’s time to “stand our ground” and demand more evidence-based government policies regarding medical marijuana.

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