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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : opinions : columns November 20, 2014

7/30/2012 9:59:00 PM
Guest Column: Medical marijuana program facts tell real story
Sheila Polk
Special to the Courier

Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) was narrowly passed by the voters in November 2010. The director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) states that we have a "model" program, and that the demographics of the card users show the "vast majority are legitimately accessing the system."

Do the facts really support these claims?

ADHS has issued 30,550 medical marijuana patient cards. Only 1,275 of the cards are for cancer; 27,330 of the cards are for self-defined chronic pain.

Interestingly, 74 percent of the patient cards have been issued to men; 26 percent to women. Forty-seven percent of the cards have been issued to users between the ages of 18 and 40.

Within about three weeks, ADHS will license 126 dispensaries in Arizona - each dispensary also can grow marijuana at a second off-site location.

Thirteen applications were received to operate dispensaries in north Tempe, the location of ASU.

There is no limit to the amount of marijuana a dispensary may grow or sell. Dispensaries are also permitted to sell marijuana to other dispensaries, and prepare and sell food products infused with marijuana.

While ADHS moves forward full speed ahead to license the cultivation of marijuana, the Department of Justice is moving just as fast to seize medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, asserting the supremacy of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

In California, the U.S. Attorney recently seized the Oakland and San Jose locations of the Harborside Health Center, adding to the list of dispensaries already shut down by the federal government in that state. It is only a matter of time before the dispensaries licensed by Arizona officials will be shut down by our U.S. Attorney.

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that federal law "shall be the supreme law of the land." Under this principle, state laws that conflict with federal law are preempted.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled, in Gonzales v. Raich, that state medical marijuana laws are preempted by the federal CSA. Although states may lawfully choose to exempt marijuana from state criminal liability, they cannot affirmatively authorize a use that federal law prohibits. Any use of marijuana remains a crime under federal law, as does the facilitation of those acts. There is no immunity in the CSA for Arizona officials for issuing medical marijuana licenses.

Is this really "medical" marijuana when 4 percent of the cards are for individuals with cancer and 88 percent for chronic pain? Does it make medical sense that 74 percent of the "patients" are men? Is our law really a model when it allows the cultivation of marijuana by dispensaries in unlimited amounts? Is it a model program when state officials license the use of marijuana directly in conflict with federal law?

Lastly, what kind of model program has one arm of the government licensing dispensaries while another arm of government is shutting them down?

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney and co-chair of MATForce, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012
Article comment by: Drew Desmond

The one major thing overlooked about marijuana is that it is not a chemical, it is a species of life. Whether one thinks it got here because of mother nature, or God Almighty--in no instance is the US Government wiser than the author of marijuana.

And here we are spending billions of dollars try to actively remove a species of life from its natural ecosystem. I don't have proof, because no environmental impact study has ever been done, but I bet that if it were studied, marijuana would be found to have a place in nature. For all we know, the pollen of MJ might make killer bees more docile.

So to all of you who are against MJ--Ms. Polk included--do you believe you're smarter than mother nature or do you believe you're wiser than God?

PS to religious people who might argue that the problem is not that God created it, but how man is using it: God knew man would smoke MJ BEFORE He ever created it and yet God, the One with the manifest wisdom, decided to create it anyway.

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Lyle

Just another note. When I was a boy about 6 or 7 we lived along side with black families in Kansas City. there was a black gentleman in his late 60s who would take us kids and our black friends into the woods to pick this strange weed and put it in gunny sacks. Non of us kids knew what it was BUT all of us made a quarter which was a lot of money to poor kids back then. NO one was hurt or shot at. As I became an adult I then knew what us boys were picking. and that is as close to the weed as I ever got. This took place in the mid 40s

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Lyle

The Government couldn't stop the people from drinking alcohol so they regulated it and made it legal to buy, sell and drink. and have laws against driving or drunk in public. We have bars all over the place where you can drink and drive home if you don't get stopped.
Stores in which you can by all you want. Why can't the same laws apply to marijuana and if you are caught in public, the same fines apply. I believe if a person wants to smoke some weed in their house its nobodies business not even the Government or police just don't go outside afterwards. I used to drink years ago but never wanted to try any marijuana.

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Article comment by: Local MD

Dear Sheila Polk,

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

With your logic, simply because a large number of doctors indiscriminately and often illegally prescribe addictive, habit forming pain medication, and a large number of "patients" abuse or turn around and sell said pain medication on the street - the pain medication itself should be illegal.

Why aren't you pushing for that?

Of course people are abusing the MM system and of course many are hoping this is the crack in the dam towards outright legalization.

Doesn't change the fact MM has a benefit and can be responsibly used by those needing it.

The voters legalized prescribed use. Regulate it and get those doctors and users that abuse the system. That's your job - not to politicize and grandstand and try to ignore the voters will.

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Article comment by: To Something to Think About

What is a "paternal" twin? Did the father carry the twins?

Also, fraternal twins do not share identical DNA but identical twins do.

Your study is invalid.

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2012
Article comment by: R J

Alcohol kills more people and destroys more lives than all other drugs combined. Alcohol should be illegal......not ganja.

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2012
Article comment by: Grow the Indian Hemp seed everywhere

Like virtually every Revolutionary farmer, George Washington grew prodigious quantities of hemp. It was a profitable cash crop, easy to grow, with scant demands for cultivation, watering or fertilizing.
Early American farmers used cannabis for cloth, rope, sails, paper and much more. At various times its cultivation was mandatory. Kansas was virtually carpeted with it during World War Two. In today’s conversion to a Solartopian economy, the cellulose of its stems and leaves, and the oil from its seeds, could be essential for green ethanol and bio-diesel fuels.
Washington, Jefferson, and Madison would be astonished to hear that hemp is illegal. These early chief executives would certainly have told President Obama that a re-legalized cannabis crop would mean billions of dollars in desperately needed farm revenue throughout the United States.
In one of his meticulous agricultural journals, dated 1765, Washington regrets being late to separate his male hemp plants from his females. For a master farmer like George, there would be little reason to do this except to make the females ripe for smoking.
George Washington once said, “make the most of the Indian hemp seed, sow it everywhere”.

Our current "war on drugs" would have had George Washington and the founding fathers labeled as criminals! Drug laws were unconstitutionally passed in 1914 and then in the 70s. This "war on drugs" is really "a war on civil liberties".

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2012
Article comment by: to barney=

quote= "People are dopey enough when normal, think when their using!"

If you're going to call people "dopey", at least get your grammar correct! Their is the possessive of they. They're equates to they are.

Now go back to your cave Mr. Rubble!

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Lyle Sentiss~Response to 7 to 1 TvD.

Great.! Good news Tom. There is money to be made on drug rehab at the rate of 7 to 1 return. Perfect.

Tell you what. YOU pay for it and YOU keep the 'profit' all for yourself. I really don't want a thing to do with all the fixed up druggies, glaze eyed (temporarily) ex-meth freaks, daytime tweakers, glue sniffers, paint can huffers, and dry drunks wandering around out there courtesy of AA babblers who are just as weak and dysfunctional as anyone else in the sanctioned group-grope.

There's a deal even a lefty could love. Just think, 700% profit and it is all yours...OMG it is like money for nuthin' and your chicks for free.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: @ something to think about

I question what exactly it is I'm suppose to believe about what you said. First, how did these 3 doctors "prove" the depression was directly linked to MJ use? The best psychologists in the world don't even understand fully how depression works to begin with. So did these yokel psychologists have a genius revelation about how seratonin receptors, dopamine recptors, synapsises in the brain ect...work in a normal person vs a depressed person then conduct a large enough study to prove MJ affects the depressed brain differently than depression in non-users? What about the control group of non-depressed MJ users and non-users, and how their brains worked vs. Depressed Mj users and depressed non users? Did they factor in all the potential nutritional deficiencies and traumatic life events one twin experienced over the other? And most importantly of all, were these doctors or psychologists? Doctors don't diagnose depression. This sound like either an urban myth or speculation to scare the depressed MJ user out of using anymore to me.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Funny Stuff

Something more to think about. I grew up with triplets. All boys. Two of them were partiers, smoked pot, but both turned out to be physicians like their dad. The third one never smoked pot, never drank, dropped out of college, and never quite got it. What does this prove? Nothing! Something to think about indeed.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Von Deck

@Lyle: Well, I do have good news. When the government spends money on drug treatment, it doesn't cost you a penny. In fact it's the opposite. The Rand Corporation determined in a study that when the government spends one dollar on drug treament, it gets a 7 dollar return. So, instead of minus one it's actually a plus six. Just a thought.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: My Own

Take a 44 yr old male who has a job that requires him to be on his feet for 10-12 hours a day. He participates in saving lives and saving YOUR loved ones everyday all day-giving them a better quality of life and you more time with them. He has dedicated his life to his profession and many in this county should be on your knees thanking him for giving you more time on Earth. This man originally hurt his back 20 years ago. He has had 2 back surgeries and is still in constant pain. His options are 1. Undergo a 3rd back surgery, which the surgeon admits will most likely make it impossible for him to work again. 2. Go to work everyday under the influence of a high dose of narcotic pain killers that have been prescribed by his doctor (you know the ones: don't drive, don't make any decisions, etc) or 3. Get his MMC, grow his own so he knows exactly what is in it, take his alternative pain reliever at night so he has pain relief the following day but no "high" like he gets from the narcotics that he would normally take LEGALLY in the morning before he goes to work. Those that see marijuana as a "drug" only are uneducated and need to do some real research. If you want to take away this great option for chronic pain relief you should also take a LONG, HARD look at banning prescribed narcotics and alcohol. These cause many more deaths and problems in society and if you took those away those that are able to work would be giving their entire pay checks to pay for someone elses disability. You also have obviously never suffered chronic pain or taken any part of making another persons life better...don't judge. It's not your place to judge. That belongs job belongs to God only and I pray that you never have chronic pain and that you step out of your little world and do something good and kind for someone in your community.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Does my vote count for nothing?

I "self-report" chronic pain for well-documented disease. I've also been accused of being "drug-averse" because I refuse to take prescription narcotic medication that causes severe nausea and leaves me with all the vitality, stockiness and zest for living of a fallen, sodden pine needle.

I'm haunted by images of loved ones who devolved into pain and withering before fading into death. I still believe MM could have made their last seasons on earth less burdensome.

So I voted, for the third time in a row, for MM in Arizona. Of course I worried that the powers-that-be would do all they could to keep patients from legally accessing marijuana for medical use. My worry was obviously well-founded.

We who are law-abiding are the ones being harmed by leaders bent on blocking the will of the voters. Drug abusers will continue to use marijuana recreationally, irrespective of this or any other law. But I will never even try it, unless and until it is unquestionably legal. "Law-abiding" runs deep with me.

Still I wonder, have conservative officials forgotten that the majority of those who vote in our state are, in fact, Republican? This so-called "liberal" law passing in a "red" state can only mean that many conservatives support MM. Republicans also vote in disproportionately high numbers in all elections, and particularly so in Yavapai County.

We conservative advocates of MM, then, are crucial pillars of support for Republican candidates. With apologies to Oldsmobile, this IS your father's MMJ Law. Do my eyes deceive, or is our appreciable political sway actually being dismissed as readily as our suffering?

Votes are supposed to represent the collective voice of the people. Except, of course, in the case of medical marijuana in Arizona. It's all so ironic, isn't it, especially considering that our nation is wont to sacrifice the very lives of those who serve our country so that those in other countries can be "free" to vote?

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Barney D

Its not the drug that has the bad name.
It's the (people) that use and abuse it that gives it a bad name!
People are dopey enough when normal, think when their using!

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: tell it like it is

is shiela polk taking elliot ness.s role . the federal goverment and state goverments tried to control the making and sale of alcohol to no avail. now federal law allows the sale of alcohol and they have placed a heavy tax on this sale. and there are counties in some of these united states that have prohibited or severly controled the sale of alcohol. i believe more people have died of alcoholism than there has been reported of dying from marijuana. take look at the number of people that have been killed from alcohol related traffic accidents. yet our politicians have done little or nothing in controlling the sale of alcohol. grow it sell it tax it and use the revenue to lower our national debt

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Lyle Sentiss

I have never used marijuana, or any drug, for that matter, still the question at hand is not about use of this herb. Medical Marijuana, indeed the marijuana controversey itself, including naturopathic medicine, is all about freedom.

Every creature on the earth with eye brows, prolly every mammal, has a desire to ease pain, feel better, and be free. Without exception.

Moreover, if a loved one is in need of marijuana, medical or otherwise, who is the government to say no?

The movers and shakers of government, from earliest times until present day, all seem to develop and interest and burning desire to control everyone else. To accomplish this they always resort to fear mongering, laws, rules, prisons, and weapons to enforce their status quo opinion.

The war on drugs has been poorly fought and lost, simply because we never really went to war. We did not shoot down a single drug plane we did not torpedo a even one drug carrying ship we did not publicly execute 'traitors' to the drug war as they were our neighbors and kids not once did we track down and assassinate any foreign drug supplier in the drug factories in Mexico or poppy fields of Afghanistan.


As a Libertarian I say let little Johnny coke himself into a permanent coma, this is his problem. Little Jane wants to use crack and prostitute herself out to pay for it...enjoy. If Mohammad wants to put heroin into his body, go for it. When Mr. Important, the bank regulator, turns psychotic from meth usage, put him in a private insane asylum and walk away.

Mostly, don't stand in the way of business booting anyone suspected of drug abuse even on the flimsiest of reasons. Drug test EVERYONE getting a government check from the president to the lowest ghetto welfare recipient...if they come out dirty: Fire 'em!

Alcohol is tightly controlled, and there are drunks everywhere. Thus having the DEA and police from the FBI down to Barney Fife chasing druggies is useless.

Put rules in place against public drug use, driving impaired, and having intoxicants in your body on the job, and let it go.

Just don't ask me to pay for the problem.


Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Something to think about

I know of two paternal twins. one uses marijuana, the other does not. The twin that was a frequent marijuana user suffers from severe depression as a direct result of his marijuana use.
It was proven by three seperate doctors.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: To: No side effects of being ignorant

To: No side effect of being ignorant,
Everything he stated is correct, I researched it.
It looks as if you may have exposed your intellect here.
I also have a doctor in my distant family, and can tell you that licensed doctors will not give advice except in consultation of an office.
That will explain the other side of your issue.
Any type of inhaled/ingested drug WILL carry side effects. You can deny it, but modern medicine proves you're wrong!
By the way, your intellect far exceeds any other poster on this editorial! LOL.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Carlos V

The same people who think there are no side effects of marijuana use seem to also be the ones that believe there are no side effects of obama as president!
I guess the drug has diluted their thought process.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Grow Your Own

Dispensaries aren't needed, they're just moneymakers for the investors. The stuff grows in dirt for goshsakes. It's not rocket science. If you can grow weeds you can grow weed. And there's nothing Sheila Polk can do to you if you have a card. Get after it!

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: No Side Effect Of being Ignorant

Please tell me why the brother of a doctor should be giving advice to the public? They shouldn't. Did you get your sister's permission to talk about her? You didn't. ANY doctor treating people with cancer or AIDS will tell you the benefits of MM. ANY ONE OF THEM. So the problems you list have NEVER been proven or shown in ANY study ANYWHERE on God's green earth. And it was God who put the plant on earth. And he intended man to use it. NOT for men to question it's use or value but to use it and enjoy it. You speak from ignorance, and I pity those that listen. How many drugs from the pharmaceutical industry have the same or even MORE serious side affects? Try EVERY ONE. Yet our government has no problems letting these billion dollar companies use the public for vetting their drugs. Why is MM so different?

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: SCHEDULE II DRUG

What will it take for the US Federal government to make marijuana a Schedule II drug and to allow marijuana dispensaries to operate?

-Assassination of all foreign drug cartel members?
-Repeal of laws allowing private prisons in the USA?
-A new microscope on the financial accounts of all politicians and bureaucrats in US government, watching to see who's getting paid by foreign drug cartels and by US private prison investors?

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Apply Reason

Thank you Sheila for your wisdom in pursuing this problem. Medical marijuana is a farce, a way for druggies to get it legally. Looks like all the potheads are out in force today. Arizona was sold a bill of goods. Thank you for your service.

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Article comment by: Arizwebfoot Prescott

You said, "Is this really "medical" marijuana when 4 percent of the cards are for individuals with cancer and 88 percent for chronic pain? Does it make medical sense that 74 percent of the "patients" are men? Is our law really a model when it allows the cultivation of marijuana by dispensaries in unlimited amounts? Is it a model program when state officials license the use of marijuana directly in conflict with federal law?"

I can combine the first two questions into one answer. Take a man, 39 years old, who has been a ditch digger for 20 years while his wife has been a secretary. Yeah, he's going to have chronic back pain and she is not.

The third question is really not worthy of much of an answer supply and demand.

The fourth question, did you know that the federal government DOES INDEED prescribe weed? For about two years now, the VA has regulations that allow for the dispensing of weed for a number of reasons in those states that allow marijuana.

Take a soldier or Marine who will forever have pain, (even phantom pain from missing limbs) that meds do not seem to work on. Are you saying that this American Hero should not be giving marijuana so that his quality of life is at least bearable?

Don't just look at the black and white of the law, look at the gray areas for that is where the real justice is.

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