Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The medical marijuana debate (Aug. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Former U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., said in March of 2004 that, "the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day." John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, disagrees. in March of 2002, he stated that "smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception, and judgment. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents."Two opposing viewpoints -- one hotly debated topic. Medical marijuana. They’re both right. Marijuana can relieve pain and symptoms of several illnesses, and it does do some damage to the human body when smoked. But cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs also do damage to the human body. Prescription drugs and alcohol can impair judgement and can lead to workplace and auto accidents as well. The difference is that prescription drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are all drugs that, when obtained properly, are not illegal.Interestingly enough, the two recreational drugs which are more popular than marijuana in America are tobacco and alcohol. What’s important to define in this debate is that those who support the use of marijuana for medical purposes do not necessarily support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use as well. These should be treated as two separate arguments. Legalization for recreational use has far too large a negative impact on society to consider; but legalization for medical purposes only, with strict guidelines and enforcement policies, could be as beneficial or even more beneficial as many other drugs currently being used in the market today.Certainly, no one has a problem with a person taking OxyContin or similar pain medications if prescribed by a doctor, even though patients can become addicted to those types of narcotics. Why is marijuana, which has yet to be proven as addictive, viewed as any different?For over 4,000 years, the cannabis plant (marijuana) had been used medicinally by a variety of cultures around the world. It was even used as medicine in the United States until 1937, when a new tax fee led to its discontinued use. In 1972, marijuana was officially placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that the government considered it to have “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Marijuana's schedule can be changed by Congress, the DEA, or the courts, however. And Congress has voted on several bills to legalize the medical use of marijuana. None of those bills were passed. The argument most often used is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has five criteria for reclassifying marijuana's schedule, and they believe that marijuana has not met those criteria. No federal court so far has ordered marijuana to be rescheduled. As a further setback to the cause, in June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that federal laws against marijuana, including its medical use, are valid. Many people in the general public seem to disagree. In a proposition put before the people of California, 56 percent of voters approved of legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. In 2002, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration began to confiscate the drug from medical users because marijuana still remains illegal under federal law. In a token move, the Investigative New Drug (IND) program of the FDA was extended by court order in 1978 to permit over a dozen patients to receive and use government-grown marijuana. Although the program was closed to new patients in 1991, the seven remaining patients each continue to receive about 300 marijuana cigarettes per month through the U.S. government. The big question is why this program hasn’t reached a conclusion as to the benefits or lack of benefits of medical marijuana after being in existence for over fifteen years.In their defense, the government has authorized a few research studies into the health effects of medical marijuana, but, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to date, still has not approved marijuana as a medicine, citing the fact that it has not gone through rigorous clinical testing like other new drugs must. Proponents state that marijuana is not a "new" drug, and it should be "grandfathered" into legality. The reason it has not gone through FDA mandated testing because the government has blocked such efforts. It seems fair that the federal government and the FDA can declare marijuana unsafe for medical use through a clinical trial like any other drug, but they refuse to do so. Perhaps they are afraid to go forward with such a trial in the fear that the drug will actually pass the trials. In the meantime, it’s a shame that so many chronic pain sufferers and terminally ill patients will continue to suffer while the government does nothing to make a final decision on the possible usefulness of marijuana to treat these patients. Medical marijuana deserves a fair trial like any other medicinal drug.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

In a global economy, buying American cars is more important than ever (Sept. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

My wife and I bought a new car recently, and every time we’re in the market for a new car, we have the same discussion. I usually say we should look at all of the cars available and judge them on their pricing and merits, and she says we should only buy American. Part of the reason I look at foreign cars over and over again is because of the prestige and allure they seem to hold -- although I’m not sure why. I think many Americans buy foreign cars for that reason, because of some perceived superiority in design or style.We have owned six cars together by my estimate in the 12 years that we’ve been married, and all of them are or were American cars. Some of them were good cars, others not so great. But isn’t that true of all products? I’m sure there are some good Japanese cars, and some clunkers.I’m a big fan of capitalism. Let the consumer vote for the automobile that he or she likes with their dollars. This will force the car companies to push the envelope, delivering the automobile with the most desirable features and the highest level of performance. If that product happens to be a foreign car, then so be it.Despite this logic, we have yet to buy a foreign car, though. And I don’t think we ever will. When we shop for Volvos and Volkswagens, we feel guilty. Having grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in a suburb of Detroit, everyone drove American cars, and almost everyone’s mother or father worked for one of the big three auto-makers. As kids, we figured that only rich people and folks who lived on the east or west coast drove foreign cars. My wife, the lifelong pro-union Democrat, had it driven into her head that she shouldn’t be found dead in a BMW.But are we making this decision with our heads or our hearts? Shouldn’t we buy the product that best fits our needs, our pocketbooks, and our safety? This could describe a foreign car or an American car, depending on our budgets and the type of car we desire. In terms of the merits of foreign vs. American cars, it's not all that clear anymore which is which. Toyotas are built in Kentucky, Hondas in Ohio, and Mercedes-Benzes in Alabama. Chrysler is owned by Germans and General Motors makes cars in Canada and Mexico. Is an automobile assembled in the U.S. with more than 50% of its parts built in another country still an American car?But we’re not really talking about where the cars or their component parts are made. An American car is one that is made by an American company, regardless of where they buy their parts or assemble the vehicles. The world economy is becoming more and more trans-global every day, and it’s only expected that auto companies will seek out the most economical ways to build their products with the least expensive labor and overhead costs.We can’t knock the auto companies for trying to stay in business by minimizing their costs. Sure, it hurts when people lose their jobs, but what do we expect them to do? American car companies cannot remain competitive with foreign car companies and continue to eat the high costs of production here in the U.S. They must out-source or die.Which is why we should continue to buy American cars. We haven’t had a trade surplus in this country since 1975, and the current trade deficit continues to grow as we gobble up foreign imported goods at an alarming rate, hurting domestic industries which manufacture or produce the same goods. The government hasn’t discouraged the trade deficit much because the influx of cheaper goods helps to stem inflation.So what is the answer? How do we buy the least expensive goods while still supporting American businesses, American industry, and American jobs. Unfortunately, that’s a hard nut to crack.When it comes down to it, there are plenty of quality American automobiles to choose from, and many are affordable, safe, and economical to drive. There isn’t any reason to run to the European or Japanese car-makers to find something that we produce right here at home.I agree, we should still use healthy competition to make the big three work harder to get our car buying dollar, but we can force them to compete amongst each other, rather than with foreign car makers, and in the process, support our own economy. With the tough economic times we face in this country, now is the time to buy American, and contribute to a stronger, more self-reliant United States of America. At the same time, we must also challenge American businesses to produce a superior product worthy of our loyalty. Cean Burgeson can be reached at: