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Column: Decriminalize Marijuana For Medical Testing

This story was written by Eric Kittleson, Daily Californian

UC Berkeley is famous (or infamous) for a few things. One would be deeply depressed nerds bawling over their latest midterm -- a stereotype I see a great deal (in the mirror). Another may be the amazing scientific research that goes on in the laboratories all around campus, or the infectious activist spirit, the large homeless population, a fantastic academic environment and last, but certainly not least, marijuana.

Yes, everyone from Berkeley has almost certainly come in contact with Cal's favorite plant somehow, most likely by walking down Telegraph Avenue. I never really enjoy it when I'm out for a stroll and the unmistakable smell mauls my nostrils, but in the end it's just another one of those lovable Berkeley quirks.

However, marijuana outside of Berkeley and similarly-- umm-- "mellow" towns is a tricky subject. Many people have a very negative association with the drug or just don't want to get caught up in the legalities involved. The federal government has a strong ban on any cannabis product, classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana can do severe damage to the human body, is highly addictive and does not have any medical purposes.

Funny how science disagrees with all three of those statements, as does the state of California. Under state law, marijuana is legally obtainable for a documented medical condition that may cause excessive pain, nausea and other uncomfortable effects. Right now many people in California with diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic back pain need marijuana to be able to function and are technically in violation of federal law because of it. Yay federalism and its effectiveness!

Another unpleasant side effect of the federal government's ban is the lack of testing that can be done with cannabis and its derivatives. New research in other countries has suggested that marijuana products can be applied to shrink tumors and even reduce neurological damage done by AIDS and Alzheimer's. Drugs derived from cannabis are in late clinical trials in Europe and one drug is already on the market in Canada, according to an article on The United States, however, is making far less headway with marijuana research. Now we Americans have to ask ourselves if an age-old stigma is blocking serious research into curing the diseases of potentially millions of people.

By now, some people may have a hippie warning siren going off in their head. Conservative fathers everywhere are putting my name on a blacklist in case I ever try to date their daughters, further reducing my chances with women. I assure you I'm not advocating any sort of mass legalization of marijuana -- that of course would have the horrible consequence of, well, nothing really.

But I digress. My main point is simply that we must decriminalize marijuana at least a little bit, just down to a level where we can legally test it for medical applications. You hear that, right-wing nut jobs? Just a little bit of decriminalization, that's all! The idea that THC/cannabis/marijuana has no medical purpose is absurd and consistently shot down by scientific studies across the globe. The negative effects of the drug, while definitely real, are also greatly exaggerated.

In fact, the history of cannabis products is much more based on political fear than any sort of objectivity or science. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against state medical marijuana laws in 2001, furthering the overkill of the War on Drugs declared in the 1980s under the Reagan and Bush (Sr.) administrations. This is why, in the eyes of the federal government, marijuana is lumped in with drugs like heroin and LSD. Some also feel that the criminalization of marijuana earlier in the 20th century emerged from racsm toward cannabis-smoking immigrants when they started to take jobs away from Americans during the Great Depression. Yet again, no one seems to care at all about facts, science or being rational.

Every day people in hospitals around the globe have to take morphine for pain, one of the most addictive substances known to mankind. This is accepted and legal, yet we can't put aside some hard feelings to try to develop an alternative drug for our ill? That's pretty uptight, man. If only we had some way to make you more relaxed.

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