Marijuana vending machines debut in California

You don't hear a lot from me about the issue of medical marijuana. The reason is simple: It's become less of a health issue, and more of a political football. And my support of this issue has been one of the biggest bones of contention between my readers and me. But regardless of where you stand on this issue, one thing is for sure: it's high time that the government clarify the distinction between the use of legally prescribed medical marijuana and use of illegal marijuana bought on the street or, as it turns out, from a vending machine.

Lots of nutty news comes out of California, but this is the nuttiest to date. First, it was announced that the California State Supreme Court ruled that employers had the right to fire medical marijuana users. Less than a week later, a story broke that 24-hour medical marijuana vending machines can now be accessed at three locations within the city of Los Angeles.

Make sense? Of course not.

The California Supreme Court ruling is the latest glaring example of the legal gray zone that marijuana has entered. California is one of the 12 states where medical marijuana is legal. But there's a reason that, legally, the court almost HAD to rule that companies can terminate medical marijuana users: even though California law allows the use of medical marijuana, this use is prohibited by federal drug statutes, which override the state laws.

California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar explained the court's 5-2 ruling by saying, "Under California law, an employer may require pre-employment drug test and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions."

But what if the drug in question isn't illegal for you? Well, that seems not to matter. If the federal government says it's illegal, you don't have a legal leg to stand on.

Obviously, the court decision is a massive setback for the medical marijuana movement. In spite of the fact that the state permits the medicinal use of the drug, the federal law will always take precedence. Unfortunately, it's people in pain that are falling through the cracks of this argument.

The case that brought about this ruling hinges on back-pain sufferer Gary Ross, who began using marijuana for back pain based on the recommendation of his physician. But two years later, Ross was offered a job at Raging Wire Telecommunications, which required a drug test. Naturally, Ross failed the drug test. In spite of the fact that Ross made it clear that he was a medical user of marijuana and not prone to casual drug use, RagingWire still withdrew their job offer. And, in case you can't guess what happened next, Ross sued the company because they were not making "reasonable accommodations for his disability."

Now while I support the medical use of marijuana, even I have to say that I can't dredge up quite as much sympathy for a medical marijuana user with "back pain" as I can for a medical marijuana user that's a chemo patient. And I'm sure that a similar thought occurred to the human resources department of RagingWire Telecommunications.

Which brings us to the issue of the medical marijuana vending machine

The medical marijuana lobby: Pro patient or pro partying?

Does this seem like an idea that could only come out of California or what? The inventor and owner of this controversial machine, Vincent Mehdizadeh, says "convenient access, lower prices, safety, and anonymity" are among the chief benefits. Mehdizadeh calls his patented machine the PVM - prescription vending machine. Unlike most vending machines, this one is actually armored to protect the contents.

Naturally, this device has piqued the interest of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which vows to inspect the machines to see if any federal laws are being violated. Because the feds don't officially recognize the medical marijuana laws in California, government agencies can treat any form of marijuana distribution - for any purpose - like any other federal drug violation.

Confused? Well, you're not alone. And it comes down to politics, not medicine as I said earlier. If you ask me, both sides are wrong.

On the one hand, you have the federal government which - with typical government inflexibility - refuses to acknowledge the health benefits of marijuana. Of course, they do have some well-founded reasons for this: in spite of all the hullabaloo, there has been very little scientific research done on this substance. And while medical marijuana has been proven to be helpful for specific medical conditions such as nerve pain and glaucoma, it's hard to make the case for national legalization based on that fact alone.

On the other hand, you have the medical marijuana lobbyists, such as the Compassionate Coalition who seem to put the concern of suffering patients first and foremost. But along with this organization are others that seem more concerned with the good times that can be had from the anesthetic uses of the drug. The marijuana vending machines that I read about were located in various "dispensaries," one of which was described as being festooned with posters of reggae star Bob Marley; another of these locations was named the "Timothy Leary Medical Dispensary" after the infamous psychedelic drug guru. This doesn't exactly paint the image of the suffering patient seeking relief. Instead, this reeks of "head shop" politics, where anything that's pro-marijuana is a blow against "The System." Believe me, this nonsense was tiresome enough the first time around in the 1960s, and I've little desire to re-live those misguided times.

As long as the federal government remains unbending in its "war against drugs" stance, and the medical marijuana users allow their ranks to be infiltrated by juvenile neo-hippies with a political agenda, medical marijuana is doomed to be seen as a way to circumvent the drug laws. And the patients who could benefit from this herb will continue to be the ones who pay the price.