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I Thought My Suburban Pot Secret Was Safe ... Then the DEA Crackdowns Started

A journalist dives into understanding medical marijuana laws by growing some pot himself.

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That perception became sharply focused the more I learned about marijuana’s potential as a valid therapeutic tool in treating everything from cancer to nausea. The government’s rabid insistence that medical marijuana is as real as the tooth fairy is simply wrong. The National Institute of Cancer sees promise in its ability to attack tumors. It’s been known for decades to battle chemo-induced nausea better than oral drugs that have the obvious drawback of being vomited up before they can take effect. MS patients have used it to ease the spasticity in their muscles. Cannabinoids — marijuana’s unique ingredients that interact with specific receptors in the brain — have anti-inflammatory effects and can relieve pain. Importantly, cannabinoid receptors aren’t found in the parts of the brain that regulate breathing, which could be one of the reasons no one has ever died of an overdose, making marijuana safer than many foods we eat.

Delving further, I found that one of my own relatives, a cousin who had lost a battle with mesothelioma, had used marijuana to cope with chemotherapy. She lived in New York, where her caring friends and family members had no choice but to deal in the criminal underground to get it, while in nearly a third of the states (most of them in the West) patients could shop with dignity at their choice of dispensaries. That perfectly healthy people who’ve faked their way into the system can do so too is — to me, at least — a small price to pay for those patients to safely obtain the relief they need. It’s certainly not an abomination worthy of the crackdown that has resulted.

Medical marijuana laws are not perfect. They can indeed be easy for healthy people to abuse. Without the involvement of regulators early in the process of developing systems for sale and distribution, which requires a state government more willing to address the issue than simply by plugging its ears and covering its eyes, hoping it will go away, chaos can result. Cops and politicians are going gray overnight with impotence and confusion, usually causing them to overreact and unleash the hounds. Chronically strait-laced citizens who will never believe anyone but the government on this issue see them as evidence of moral meltdown.

But one of the unintended consequences of these laws is that it forces more reasonable folks who might never have given much thought to the issue of medical marijuana — people like me, in other words — to take the effort to sort through the hype. It sounds trite to herald my enlightenment as something newsworthy when so many have figured out long ago what an indefensible failure the war on marijuana has been and that it’s morally repugnant to continue it in the face of mounting evidence of its credibility as a medical substance. But the truth is, without medical marijuana laws and all of their attendant upheaval, I never would have been interested enough to grow my own and embark on my own process of discovery. I may never have seen the light.

In that regard, federal drug cultivation laws were the best ones I’ve ever broken.


Greg Campbell’s new book is called ”Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry.” He is the author of “Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History,” “Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones” (the source material for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the same name) and “The Road to Kosovo: A Balkan Diary.”

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