Connecticut must find balance on medical marijuana issue

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I recently came across an op-ed in the Hartford Courant written by Dr. Yifrah Kaminer on July 5.  He outlined his concerns and opinions about Connecticut’s medical marijuana program — including his opposition to a proposal to spend $60,000 to educate physicians and patients about medical marijuana.

As a board certified pediatrician who has been practicing for 38 years, I felt compelled to respond.

Although the positions of psychiatrist Kaminer and Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris seem at opposite ends of the medicinal marijuana debate, their disagreement can find a common ground… and it must.

Hartford resident Mark Twain said it best: “He had discovered a great law of human action — namely, that in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make that thing difficult to obtain.”

Dr. Kaminer knows at the heart of the medical profession is the statement, “Do no harm.” However, medical practice also encompasses the concepts of respect for a patient’s autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Do for the patient what will give him the most relief from pain and suffering.

Medical journals are filled with case studies to teach physicians how to recognize diseases and how to treat accordingly. Personal stories were the driving force for the passage of legislation in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Dr. Kaminer’s over 100 published articles establish his credibility to prove safety and efficacy. His work is a testimony to the importance of research to discover the value of different treatments. Clinical trials may tell us what is the cause and the effect in addiction, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and dependency. Presently, physicians acknowledge that genetics, personal biochemistry, and environment play significant roles.

Doctors and patients need information. How can that be obtained when our federal government refuses to re-classify marijuana to aid research, calm physicians who fear prosecution or loss of licensure, and guarantee that patients will be able to obtain a quality product?

It is hypocritical to claim that marijuana is solely harmful when the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) of approved DEA/FDA medications contains one paragraph about the indications for a product and significantly more information about that medication’s side effects. What cannot be ignored are the numerous personal stories of the benefits of medical marijuana providing relief to individuals and allowing those individuals to lead productive lives when other DEA/FDA drugs could not produce that patient outcome.

Jonathan Harris, a practicing attorney, has taken his charge seriously as Commissioner of The State Department of Consumer Protection. He values his state. He values his consumers. He values protection. He fulfills his job description with appropriate judicial, personal, and medical responsibility.  His actions are proof positive that he is as qualified a public figure as Dr. Kaminer is a caring physician.
With adherence to many of Commissioner Harris’s statements, I believe a number of issues can be solved creating a framework for medicinal marijuana legislation in the United States:

1) Expand the medicinal marijuana program. Patients seeking relief from their symptoms ought to be able to obtain a quality product without fear of contamination or prosecution. Physicians ought to have more information while explaining informed consent and state benefits vs risks, without fear of legal ramifications.

2) Stem the opioid epidemic. Marijuana can be used as an exit drug. (Harm Reduction Journal) We already use methadone for heroin addiction. Marijuana is not a “gateway drug” and is significantly less addictive than nicotine, alcohol, and even caffeine.

3) Encourage the research. Re-classify marijuana to benefit us all. Governors have petitioned Congress. The AMA and The Massachusetts Medical Society have urged Washington. The tipping point is on the horizon.

The challenge is to get in front of recreational marijuana. Create policies that work. Embracing the multiple possibilities of medicinal marijuana is an opportunity for conscientious physicians and responsible Connecticut officials.

This is not a case of right or wrong. Medical marijuana is the negotiated position between outright prohibition and legalized availability. Help the patient who is suffering and feels medical marijuana is alleviating symptoms.

Connecticut’s program ought to move forward with the cautions of Dr. Kaminer and as advocated by Commissioner Harris.

Dr. Eric Ruby is a pediatrician practicing in Taunton, Mass. He has been an active advocate for the research and the education of physicians and patients about medicinal marijuana. 

What do you think?

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