What is the difference between recreational and medical marijuana? Technically nothing. A cannabis flower's utility as medicine or recreation is determined solely by the user, but in the era of legalization and commerce the distinction matters.
Ask your local state government and you will get a variety of answers. I spent 18 months living in the state of Utah, where I had to smuggle my cannabis from nearby states to treat my Crohn's Disease. In the eyes of the Utah state legislature, only severely epileptic patients deserve access to cannabis medicines, and even then they must be so low in THC they can arbitrarily be defined as industrial hemp.
Further, under Utah state law patients are still required to smuggle their medicine from out of state, and there is no legal production and distribution system within Utah's borders for the newly legalized medicine.
Most states have highly restrictive medical marijuana laws
Utah is, unfortunately, the rule not the exception. National cannabis laws are a patchwork of unscientifically-based assumptions made mostly by anti-cannabis legislators worried about the havoc that will be wreaked on society should people secure legal access to a drug they already obtain on the black market.
Ask an old school California activist like Dennis Peron, who spearheaded Proposition 215 in 1996, and he will tell you all use of cannabis is medical. Period. Peron is wary of the new legalization laws sweeping the nation.
While some may scoff at that notion, there is plenty of basic science to back it up.
Whether or not the user is treating a diagnosed condition with cannabis, their choice to use it in place of a more toxic medication or recreational drug is a proven healthful choice.
Relatively benign drugs, like aspirin, are even more dangerous than cannabis. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal complications and even death if too much is ingested. On that same note, a healthy person who chooses a joint over a beer is also making a positive health decision. Around 22,000 Americans die a year from overconsumption of alcohol. Cannabis still claims zero lives annually and remains one of the most non-toxic substances humans consume.
Patients should have freedom to make healthy choices
As more states legalize adult use or "recreational" cannabis, state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs have come under attack. In an attempt to sell legalization to anti-cannabis voters, legalization advocates have emphasized the financial rewards over harm reduction or freedom. Good old-fashioned American capitalism driving legalization should come as no surprise in today's world, although the arguments for freedom and liberty should be more powerful drivers for American voters on both sides of the aisle.
And, does there even need to be a distinction between medical and recreational? It seems drawing lines in the sand may cause more harm than good. In the case of American states in the era of legalization, it is no longer the user's right to determine the utility of their use, but the government's. If the government thinks you are just wanting to have a good time they can excise 20 percent or more in tax. This incentivizes states to classify more peoples' use as recreational rather than medical.
Most states with medical cannabis have a list of conditions for which recommendations are approved. These usually include the most serious and common fatal and chronic illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disorders and epilepsy. When it comes to mental disorders, diseases so obscure they don't fit on the list or the right to use cannabis in place of "as needed" drugs like aspirin, state governments have determined that this use is recreational, not medical.
Even in legal states, patients are losing access to doctors
In Oregon, Washington and Colorado state legislators have been quite concerned about who still can have access to lower-priced tax-free medical cannabis. This has led to a "decoupling" of patients from their caregivers and many patients being told they no longer qualify as medical.
Why? Because the argument for American greed is winning over the argument for American liberty. As we move towards a federal solution, we should emphasize the conservative and liberal held views that freedom means autonomy over one's body and the medications they choose to use to treat whatever it is that ails them. It is un-American to allow the state to determine the best medical care for patients, rather than the doctors and patients themselves.
The heart of Proposition 215, the first medical cannabis initiative to pass in California in 1996, was freedom. Unlike subsequent medical cannabis bills that would pass in other states in the years after, Prop 215 was vague and created no regulatory structure. Instead, it simply said a person has the right to use cannabis for any condition for which a doctor sees fit.
The lack of an approved list of conditions is one of the biggest criticisms of Proposition 215. If any condition qualifies, essentially anyone can access California's massive industry. Legislators in other states point to this as what they - as responsible politicians - will not do.
Governments, not doctors, dictating care options for patients
It's time to view this as what it is - the government, not doctors, determining the best route of medical care for patients. Prop 215 was about allowing doctors and patients the right to determine what works best for them, even if it is a safe non-toxic substance that happens to be federally illegal thanks to 80 years of lies and propaganda.
Further, the state of California never addressed the legislation and the commerce that would arise around it. There is no state medical cannabis program in California yet; just an industry thriving in a messy patchwork of regulations and bans among the state's many diverse regions.
The critics, however, were never cannabis supporters. The critics were those who voted against it in the first place. If the majority of citizens agree with the law that was passed, why do they sit back while bureaucrats and businessmen redefine personal use for them? It's time to stop appeasing the opposition, they are the minority.
As we dive into the 2016 election season, pro-cannabis voters and concerned patients need to recognize their power. We are the majority. And, more importantly, as free people - especially Americans - we must make a choice: liberty or greed?
Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, journalist, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in a wide variety of print and digital publications, including Cannabis Now Magazine, Alternet, SFGate.com, SF Examiner's Evergreen, Skunk Magazine, Reset.,me, Ladybud Magazine and Opposing Views. She has a Bachelor's in Journalism from San Francisco State University and a Master's in Business Administration from Mills College.