The real story on medical marijuana AZSun / Carolyn Short & Ed Gogek / 09,24,2010 Arizona will vote on medical marijuana this November, and while backers of the initiative insist it's only for serious illnesses, a look at states with similar laws tells us otherwise. According to the Billings Gazette, only 3 percent of Montana's medical marijuana patients have cancer, glaucoma or AIDS -- the serious illnesses the law was meant for. In California, it's only 2 percent. Instead, 90 percent get their marijuana for pain, and that pain can be anything, from a sprained ankle to a skateboarding injury. It's rarely anything serious. One woman got marijuana because her high heels hurt. Pain is also easily faked and impossible to disprove. Doctors are supposed to screen out drug abusers. Most do their best. But in California, Colorado and Montana, a handful of doctors decided to get rich off marijuana, and they write almost all the marijuana prescriptions. They see patients one time only, for as little as 5 minutes, handing out marijuana cards to anyone with $150. That should be illegal, but medical marijuana laws protect them. The result: Any drug abuser can lie and, for a fee, an unscrupulous doctor will give him a card to smoke pot legally. That's where 97 percent of the marijuana goes. In San Diego, three-fourths of medical marijuana patients are under age 40, and 12 percent are under 21. In Boulder, Colo., the marijuana dispensaries are all on college campuses. It's not about serious illness. They're just using people with cancer to play on our sympathies. It's really a bait and switch thay will effectively legalize pot. Prop 203 could have been written to prevent drug abuse. New Mexico's law insists on second opinions for easy to fake diagnoses like pain. Colorado will soon require long-standing doctor-patient relationships, not just five minutes. But Arizona's proposition includes neither of these protections. That's hardly surprising. The Marijuana Policy Project wrote Prop 203, and their stated aim is legalization. Of course, they didn't fix the loopholes. They even added one. Proposition 203 says people can't be charged with DUI or lose their jobs for small amounts of marijuana in their blood streams, but there's no definition of small amounts. So expect their lawyers to fight us for years over legal blood levels. Until then, pot smokers can drive stoned with impunity. Surgeons, teachers and truck drivers can go to work high and can't be fired. Most people are also surprised to learn that the American Cancer Society, the American Glaucoma Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society all oppose medical marijuana. They say other medicines that work equally well are much safer. These organizations represent the illnesses medical marijuana supposedly treats, and even they say marijuana isn't medicine. These legitimate medical groups base their decisions on a complete review of all the research. Pro-marijuana groups, on the other hand, pick out tidbits that support their argument, quoting just one study or one person's story. They want us to see pot as medicine, despite what the science actually says. They also want us to think pot is harmless, and it's definitely not. Marijuana causes DUIs and fatal car wrecks. One study found regular pot-smokers 9.5 times more likely to be in serious or fatal car wrecks. Deadly car crashes involving marijuana skyrocketed in Montana when medical marijuana became law. However, these laws hit teenagers the hardest. In a 2006 ranking of states by how many teenagers smoked pot during the past month, five of the top ten states and all of the top three had medical marijuana laws. That's because these laws make pot more available, and send a message that it's safe for everyday use. If Prop 203 passes, more teenagers will smoke pot, and they'll smoke it more often. Research shows that teens who smoke pot regularly have trouble learning, get worse grades, are less likely to finish school, and as adults, earn less money. No parent wants this.The belief that legalization would stop crime is also wrong. Almost all crime is caused by drugs and alcohol, but only 20 percent is from gang wars and illegal sales, and that's the only crime legalization will eliminate. Sixty percent of crime is people who are drunk or high doing stupid and violent things. This includes domestic violence and child abuse. The other 20 percent is addicts and alcoholics who can't hold jobs so they steal, not just to buy drugs, but to live. So 80 percent of addiction-related crime will continue even if drugs are legalized. In fact, it will get worse. Alcohol is the biggest cause of crime because it's legal and widely available. Legalizing drugs would make them more available, more people would get addicted, and crime would increase. Pot would contribute, too. Although occasional users are rarely a problem, addicted pot-smokers have much higher rates of crime and violence, just like with every other addictive drug. An don't believe the innocents in prison stories. Almost everyone in prison on a marijuana charge pleaded down from something more serious. November's ballot will say "medical marijuana" for "debilitating medical conditions," but that's only 3 percent of the story. The real effect of Proposition 203 will be more drug abuse, more crime, more deadly car wrecks and more teenagers smoking pot. That won't be on the ballot, but it should be on every voter's mind. Carolyn Short is chairperson of Keep Arizona Drug Free; their website is KeepAZDrugFree.com. Ed Gogek, M.D., is an addiction psychiatrist whose website is stop203.com.