Today, the debate on the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is still heating. In fact, this debate was traditionally the subject to the severe criticism from the part of the conservative part of the society. However, health care professionals and numerous researches () dedicated to the problem of the treatment of various diseases have revealed the positive effect of using marijuana for medical purposes in the treatment of patients. In such a situation, the public opinion is dubious in relation to marijuana since, on the one hand, marijuana is one of the most widely-used and available drugs, whereas, on the other hand, marijuana can be used in medicine for the treatment of patients. In such a way, health care professionals face legal and ethical dilemma for they have choose between the effective treatment of patients and the violation of existing laws. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that some states have already started to make their first efforts to legalize marijuana for medical purposes but this issue is still poorly regulated in terms of supply of marijuana to health care organizations and patients as well as in terms of the circulation of marijuana in the health care system at large. In such a situation, police often misconducts because law enforcement agents traditionally view marijuana as drug and they neglect the possibility of using marijuana for medical purposes. Hence, health care professionals prescribing marijuana and patients using marijuana to treat their health problems are traditionally suspects of the police and they may be involved in investigations concerning to drug dealing and consumption. Therefore, the legal regulations of using and prescribing marijuana for medical purposes are needed not only at the state but also at the federal level, along with the change of the public opinion in relation to marijuana use for medical purposes to prevent cases of misconduct from the part of the police.
Government and state marijuana laws
In fact, the current situation concerning the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is highly controversial. In actuality, the federal government formally opposes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia had laws enabling the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes under specific circumstances as of December 3I, 2000 (Pacula et al., 2002). In such a way, in spite of the opposition from the part of the federal government to legalize marijuana states still attempt to legalize marijuana for the medical use only. Hence, the controversy in the federal and state policy emerges and the contradiction in policy come into clashes with the contradiction in legal regulations and laws.
At the same time, some medical groups promote state laws that allow physicians to discuss the medicinal value of marijuana with their patients and recommend it as a therapy (e.g., American Medical Association, American Society of Addictive Medicine) (Pacula et al., 2002). In such a way, they attempt to start the public debate over marijuana use in the contemporary health care system for the treatment of patients. The main point is to discuss the issue and to make people change their mind and attitude to marijuana. In such a way, medical and public organization will be able to change not only the public attitude to marijuana in medicine but also the police attitude to marijuana and its application for medical purpose, while the change of the public opinion is likely to lead to legislative changes to legalize marijuana not only at the state level but also at the federal one.
However, other medical organizations support broader legislation that provides prescriptive access to medicinal marijuana (e.g., AIDS Action Council, American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians) (Pacula et al., 2002). These organizations are more persistent in their efforts to legalize marijuana and to provide health care professionals and patients with larger opportunities to use marijuana for medical purposes that will increase the effectiveness of treatment and ease the process of treatment for patients.
Nevertheless, the existing legislation and policies remain quite controversial. In this regard, it is possible to distinguish three main policy dimensions that influence the ultimate scope of the state laws that have been passed to date: (a) type of provision, (b) illnesses and symptoms covered, and (c) supply of marijuana (Pacula et al., 2002). Legislators should take into consideration these three dimensions while developing legislative changes to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. In fact, the three dimensions are subjects to heat debate because the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes raises the risk of its illegal use, while law enforcement agencies, including police, grow anxious about the risk of manipulations with new legislative norms and regulations. The latter means that there is a risk of misusing legislative changes for expanding access of the public to marijuana due to its legalization for medical purposes.
The experience of some states may be very helpful in terms of legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. In this respect, it is possibly to classify state legislation as having a physician prescription law if it (a) enables physicians to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes, (b) provides physicians with an affirmative defense from state prosecution for prescribing marijuana, or (c) provides physicians with an affirmative defense from state prosecution for discussing the medicinal value of marijuana with their patients (Pacula et al., 2002). The diversity of approaches to the legislation concerning the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes provides the federal government and legislators as well as the public with ample opportunities to elaborate legislative norms that are safe for the public health, prevent the illegal drug dealing, and provides health care professionals and patients with opportunities to use marijuana in treatment on the legal basis.
In such a context, it is important to place emphasis on the medical necessity to prescribe marijuana. The medical necessity to prescribe marijuana may be traced not only from health care studies but also from some legal cases, such as Jenks v. State of Florida (I 3). In this case, the Florida First District Court of Appeals held that medical necessity hinges upon three elements: (a) the circumstances that precipitated the unlawful act must not have been intentionally contrived, (b) there must not be any legal alternative to reach the same ends, and (c) the illegal act must be weighed in direct opposition to the circumstances that precipitated it (Pacula et al., 2002). In such a way, the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes should be clearly defined and there should be no room for misinterpretation to prevent the risk of police misconduct.
Medical marijuana and police misconduct
In actuality, cases of police misconduct are quite frequent in relation to marijuana use, especially in the states, where state legislators attempted to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. At the same time, the existing legislation raises substantial problems for the effective use of marijuana in the treatment of patients. At any rate, laws that do not specify a source for medical marijuana create a problem for patients: they implicitly encourage patients to obtain marijuana through illegal channels (Pacula et al., 2002). Hence, police often puts patients under a risk or detaining and further investigation, when they purchase marijuana illegally, although patients are not aware of legal opportunities to obtain marijuana. In fact, the lack of legal way to obtain marijuana or, to put it more precisely, the lack of information about these legal ways, often pushes patients to illegal actions and they purchase marijuana illegally.
Therefore, marijuana is not available for citizens and police conducts aggressive policies not only against patients but also against health care professionals, using marijuana in the treatment of patients. In this regard, police misconducts but justifies such misconduct by the struggle with drug dealing. Drugs are illegal and marijuana is a drug that creates the ground for police misconducts, especially in those states, where marijuana is legalized for medical purposes.
In this respect, police misconduct is the result of the contradiction between federal and state laws leave large room for police misconduct and errors. In fact, the split in federal and state legislation puts police officers in an extremely difficult position because they cannot ignore federal laws, on the one hand, but they also have to respect state laws, on the other. As a result, as marijuana is banned or, at least not legalized, at the federal level the use of marijuana in medicine turns out to be illegal. However, the local legislation provides opportunities for using marijuana for medical purposes only that actually admits the use of marijuana in medicine.
At the same time, police officers have difficulties with distinguishing legal use of marijuana for medical purposes from illegal drug dealing and using. At this point, policy makers should understand that police officers are not health care professionals and they cannot always distinguish clearly whether marijuana is truly used for medical purposes, namely for treatment of patients, or marijuana is used illegally, whereas its presumably medical use is only a coverage for illegal drug dealing. The legal regulations of marijuana use for medical purposes raises the problem of the adequate interpretation of existing legal norms by police officers to prevent their misconduct.
Furthermore, the existing legislation is still imperfect and wide gaps between federal and state laws and legal norms increase the risk of police misconduct. The legal gaps open the room for police misconduct. In such a way, police officers often misconduct because of their unawareness and lack of adequate information on the legal use of marijuana in their state.
In addition, police is under the permanent public pressure and the lack of agreement in the public on the problem of the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes increases the risk of police misconduct even more. What is meant here is the fact that police officers are vulnerable to the impact of the public opinion and the public. They have their own opinion and attitude to marijuana use and, therefore, having different legal grounds in regulation of marijuana use, they may implement the existing regulations respectively to their personal views that naturally leads to police misconduct. To put it more precisely, police officers standing on the conservative ground tend to prevent any efforts of marijuana use, even if the state legislation admits such a possibility. They may conduct investigation and push on health care professionals to the extent that health care professionals would rather refuse from using marijuana in the treatment of their patients than prescribe marijuana to their patients and have problems with police after that.
Ethical issues of marijuana legalization and medical use
In such a context, it is obvious that police misconduct in relation of marijuana use for medical purposes raises not only legal but also ethical issues. To put it more precisely, actions of police officers in relation to health care professionals prescribing marijuana for their patients as well as in relation to patients purchasing and using marijuana for medical purposes are justified by moral and ethical concerns. For instance, health care professionals can prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from such serious diseases as AIDS, for instance, and marijuana can help them to ease their physical condition. Naturally, police officers can take into consideration circumstances, in which patients have to take marijuana, while taking the decision of undertaking any legal action in relation the health care professional, who prescribed marijuana, and in relation to the patient, who purchased and used marijuana.
At the same time, the use of marijuana for medical purposes may be viewed not only as legal or illegal act but also it may be viewed as the manifestation of alternative medicine. In actuality, 40% of the public is using some form of alternative medicine, which reflects the changing needs and values in our culture today (Clark, 2000). Therefore, a considerable part of the public admits alternative medicine and treats it as a possible alternative to conventional medicine. In such a context, marijuana may be viewed as another manifestation of alternative medicine. As alternative medicine, marijuana can gain a large number of supporters that can contribute to its legalization and, what is more, it can prevent police misconduct. To put it more precisely, if police officers perceived marijuana as alternative medicine, then they would not view marijuana use in medicine as an illegal act.
In such a context, it is worth mentioning the fact that alternative therapy that is gaining prominence is the medical use of marijuana for treating pain, nausea, and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and severe weight loss associated with AIDS. Medical marijuana can be both a treatment in itself, and it can be used to help patients withstand the effects of accepted treatments that can possibly lead to a cure or amelioration of their condition (Clark, 2000).
Hence, the ethical dilemma at the center of the public debate focuses on whether the Federal ban on the use of medical marijuana violates the physician-patient relationship (Clark, 2000). Obviously, marijuana can be helpful in the treatment of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases. However, the legal ban prevent health care professionals from providing their patient with the remedy that can ease their sufferings and increase the overall effectiveness of treatment.
The current situation in regard to the legalization of marijuana for legal purposes is still highly controversial and needs considerable changes. In this respect, it is possible to suggest several recommendations that can improve the situation and minimize the risk of police misconduct. First of all, it is important to raise the public debate on the legalization of marijuana for medical use on a qualitatively new level. The public debate should not just shape the public opinion but it should have clear and concise legal consequences. What is meant here is the fact that legislators at both federal and state level should accept the public opinion and elaborate the legislation regulating the use of marijuana in medicine respectively to the public opinion. In this regard, the opinion of health care professionals should be particularly important and they should be involved in the elaboration of legislation regulating or banning marijuana use in medicine. At the same time, police officers and representatives of other law enforcement agencies should also obtain detailed information on any legislative changes, especially in case of legalization of marijuana for medical use.
The public debate and the elaboration of new legislation in relation to marijuana use in medicine should involve the development and implementation of promotional programs that explain the impact of marijuana on patients’ health. Promotional programs disseminating messages for or against marijuana consumption need to vary their appeals to reach both individuals under attitudinal control based on beliefs about the characteristics of the drug and those most concerned with the normative beliefs of important others in their social environment. Promotional programs stressing solely social appeals or drug-attribute concerns are unlikely to reach both audience segments effective (Bearden & Woodside, 1978).
The harmonization and balancing federal and state laws in relation to marijuana use for medical purposes are essential to prevent police misconduct (Belenko, 2000). If police officers have clear and concise legal norms, which do not contradict to each other at federal and state level, they would naturally have no opportunity for misconduct. Instead, they will have to execute existing legal regulations properly.
Furthermore, police officers should obtain detailed information and recommendations on the application of legal norms concerning the legal use of marijuana in medicine and patients’ treatment. In fact, police misconduct is often the result of the lack of information about marijuana use in medicine that leads to situations, when police officers believe marijuana is used illegally in cases of patients’ treatment involving the use of marijuana.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is an important issue that needs adequate and effective solutions. From the health care perspective, marijuana should be legalized for medical use only. Many states have already implemented legal changes to lay the legal foundation for medical use of marijuana in the treatment of patients. However, federal laws still ban the use of marijuana. Such contradictions in federal and state legislation open the way for police misconduct, when police officers fail to interpret adequately cases of using marijuana in the treatment of patients. Along with legal misinterpretations, police officers also face a number of ethical issues dealing with the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Therefore, the problem of legalization of marijuana for medical purposes needs its solution to prevent police misconduct and to provide the effective treatment for patients.
Belenko, S. R. (2000). Drugs and Drug Policy in America. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Clark, P.A. (2000). “The Ethics of Medical Marijuana: Government Restrictions vs. Medical Necessity.” Journal of Public Health Policy, 21(1), p.40-60.
Bearden, W.O. & A.G. Woodside. (1978). “Normative and Attitudinal Control as Moderating Influences on Marijuana Use.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 19(2), p.199-204.
Pacula, R.L. et al. (2002). “State Medical Marijuana Laws: Understanding the Laws and Their Limitations.” Journal of Public Health Policy, 23(4), p.413-439.