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Kenneth Burner: Take a cautious approach toward marijuana

AS the West Virginia director of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, I take great interest in the ensuing debate about medical marijuana in our state and the trends across the United States for outright legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Since I joined the West Virginia State Police in 1973, our Legislature has taken a very cautious and common sense approach to the simple possession of marijuana. Possession of less than 15 grams was viewed as a citable offence, with the caveat that if the person in question had no further violations for six months, the offence was expunged from their record.

Our legislators have historically taken a conservative approach toward law making, and have always taken a stance of protecting the inalienable rights of our citizens.

While medical marijuana is quite an emotional topic of conversation, shouldn't we step back and take a cautious approach to this subject as well? Let's look at the facts as we know them now.

First, we all have great empathy for people who are inflicted by serious or terminal diseases like AIDS, glaucoma, cancer or multiple sclerosis, and yet in the states where smoked marijuana for medical reasons is legal, less than 5 percent of the users of medical marijuana fit these criteria. The average user is in his 30s and 40s, has a history of drug abuse, no chronic illness, and reports pain or headache.  

Possession and use of marijuana is still against federal and West Virginia law. It is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in that there is currently no FDA-approved product of whole, raw marijuana, smoked, eaten or vaporized. However, we have available Schedule III products based on marijuana, such as Marinol, which is a THC pill. Others, like Sativex are being developed.

Secondly, there is medical value within marijuana, but that doesn't make smoked or ingested marijuana medicine. Opium has medical value, but we deliver it in a purified and quantified dosage unit of morphine, we don't smoke heroin to treat pain.  Further research must be conducted to determine which compounds in marijuana have medicinal value, and how they can be delivered safely.

If all of the talk about medical marijuana is truly about helping people, a common sense approach about scientifically developing an FDA approved and sanctioned medicine seems in order. If this is just a thinly veiled attempt to totally legalize marijuana for recreational use, then there are many more issues to deal with outside of the scope of this letter.

The North-American Indians had an ecological philosophy concerning tribal decisions. That philosophy was that any decision made, should be made with the thought of how it would affect the seventh generation. This is a time frame of about 140 years. I think that this ancient wisdom would do well to be applied by our legislators in important policy decisions such as this.

Kenneth Burner is a retired state policeman and W.Va. deputy director of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.



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