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New Study Gives New Ammunition In Debate About Legalizing Medical Marijuana

23 States Have Allowed Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana sign
Photo: Google/cc

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association finds fewer people die from prescription painkillers in states that have legalized medical marijuana, and supporters point to it as one more reason to allow the drug. However, the Wisconsin Medical Society remains opposed to the idea.

Medical marijuana proposals in Wisconsin haven’t usually gone far, but an epidemic of lethal overdoses from painkillers across the country has focused new attention on a study comparing death rates in states with and without medical marijuana. Overdose rates are going up nationwide, but the study shows they rose more slowly in states that allow medical marijuana.

Dr. Michael Miller is an Oconomowoc physician who has practiced addiction medicine for the past 30 years and a member of the American Medical Society’s Council on Science and Public Health.

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“This particular article is a fascinating article,” Miller said. “And the authors go to great lengths to point out that they have not identified causality, but findings extremely interesting and deserve further study.”

He said medical marijuana is bad because it usually involves smoking, and unlike the drugs that doctors prescribe, it’s hasn’t gone through rigorous testing and gotten approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Medical marijuana laws are a way to make marijuana more available to the general public,” Miller said.

Gary Storck, with the pro-marijuana group called Is My Medicine Legal Yet, said the study featured in JAMA suggests medical marijuana could be an alternative to prescription painkillers.

“It’s great to have this finding out there because it shows cannabis is not a gateway to harder drugs, but it’s a gateway back from harder drugs,” Storck said.

Twenty-three states currently allow medical marijuana. Wisconsin doesn’t, but with a very limited exception: It’s now legal to use a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children. It’s in a form that doesn’t have a psychoactive effect.