Over the past decade, many advocates have pushed for using the term ‘adult use’ instead of ‘recreational.’ I see their point, and it is a good one. But it makes even more sense to use the term ‘over the counter medicine’ when referring to cannabis that is legally available to the general public.
The recent budget bill from Congress extends protection to state cannabis programs – but only for ‘medical marijuana.’ Declaring the general sale of cannabis to be ‘over the counter medical’ might afford some protection. And it would be more compassionate and efficient than systems that impose roadblocks on the availability to patients.
When my mother had cancer, she had to jump through hoops to get a patient card under the new Illinois medical marijuana program. It started with multiple visits to the doctor, fingerprinting and a background check, a few hundred dollars in total for the application, and then her forms disappeared into the bowels of the state bureaucracy for a few months… while she was dying of cancer. If she had a prescription for opiates or benzodiazepines, it would have been filled in 15 minutes at any pharmacy. But many state programs are designed to discourage patients from using cannabis – and often, that policy steers them to less effective, more hazardous prescriptions.
I can walk into any pharmacy in my hometown and buy antihistamines over the counter. It is known that some people use these for purposes other than allergies or colds – antihistamines that cross the blood brain barrier can cause sedation, they reduce anxiety, and some people simply like the feeling they get from taking that medicine. I have heard of people taking them for hedonistic reasons – for fun. Yet they are still available as over the counter medicines, for the sake of those who really need the antihistamine. Because it is still medicine, regardless of whether some use it unwisely.
Decongestants are another over the counter medicine that are sometimes used for unapproved purposes. Pseudoephedrine is a strong stimulant, it is chemically related to amphetamine. Some college students use pseudoephedrine to stay up late and write papers. Some people use it manufacture methamphetamine. Society responded by limiting each customer to a box or two of these pills at any one time, but it is still available over the counter because people with colds and sinus issues benefit from easy access to those decongestant medicines.
It has been said that locks are designed for honest people – the burglar is going to look for a way to break in, but the honest person respects the barrier. The same thing is true of the elaborate medical marijuana programs that some states have created. People who wish to use cannabis for simple relaxation (which may or may not be medical) or for the fact that it makes them feel good simply go to the guy they know and buy it from the underground market. And law abiding citizens either pay extra money and delay their use of cannabis as a medicine, or they give up because the disincentives are too large. This is fundamentally wrong.
The state patient card model and prescription model are not suitable for medical cannabis. An elderly person with arthritis who wants to try a topical cream with cannabis should not be required to undergo special medical exams (typically not covered by insurance) and fill out forms and pay money to the state and wait for weeks or months for permission to buy that cream. They should be able to simply buy it, if and when they desire. The real risks from cannabis are relatively small, they are on par with antihistamines and decongestants, which are readily and easily available. Cannabis should also be treated as an over the counter medicine.