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Drug Diversion and Abuse: Medical Marijuana: Miracle or Scam?

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Tuesday, July 13, 2010   [ Request Print ]

It remains debatable whether medical marijuana is a legitimate treatment for the chronically ill, and if its availability in some states causes more harm than good.


As you may have noticed from previous columns, I am a firm pain-patient advocate, as is our organization, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. My mother-in-law lived with us for several years until her recent death. She was a severe chronic pain patient for decades, so I saw firsthand the agony of pain for the patient as well as the stress and anxiety of the caregiver—my father-in-law. Such an experience gives a person an eye-opening perspective on pain management and the positive role pharmaceuticals play in helping to control that pain.

I am in favor of innovative pursuits in the medical arena and applaud the pharmaceutical industry when they invest millions of dollars in pursuit of a better product, or in the invention of a miracle drug to cure or reduce the complications with various diseases. Untold numbers of people are alive today, or enjoyed greatly extended life spans, due to the work of these companies.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been around for a long time—decades, actually. I know this because one of my family members was a grassroots member in our area of the country. He never had glaucoma, or cancer, or any pain issues, he just liked to get high on “weed.”

As I write this article, the Los Angeles Police Department is starting to crack down on the many marijuana storefronts that apparently are either not following the law for medical marijuana in California, or just decided this was a good opportunity to legally become traffickers in the substance. I have seen estimates that only about 7% of the businesses are legitimate medical marijuana entrepreneurs.

I happened to meet a state law enforcement official from Montana last month. Montana recently passed a medical marijuana law, and I was curious about how he felt it was working. He told me that the incidences of impaired drivers high only on tetrahydrocannabinol (the main psychoactive substance in marijuana), with no alcohol, had risen over 1000% since the law had passed. They estimated that about 2% of their retail shops were operating legitimate businesses.

He went on to tell me about physicians coming from out of state and setting up sessions open to the public at Montana hotels. Hundreds of people lined up to get the diagnosis from these physicians that they were in need of medical marijuana, and all for only $250 to $350 per person! It seemed your specific medical problem was not nearly as important as your cash or valid credit card.

Through my job and side endeavors, I have gotten to know some of the finest physicians in the world. Those I have asked do not recommend smoking marijuana for any disease and feel that there is ample relief available from existing pharmaceuticals in virtually all cases. They would also be reluctant to recommend any delivery system that involves inhaling smoke deep into your lungs—a smoke that has been determined to be even more harmful than that of standard cigarettes.

My thought is that we have the best physicians, scientists, and pharmacists in the world, along with the best health care. If marijuana were truly the panacea that it is touted to be by a minority of people, it would be manufactured to the same standards as pharmaceuticals and sold through a prescription in our pharmacies, not through storefronts that are really just “head shops.”

It appears to me that the overwhelming majority of individuals who want marijuana legalized are using the medical marijuana ruse to endorse the recreational use of the substance. Federal law continues to prohibit marijuana possession, as do most of the states. It will be interesting to see if the states that legalized medical marijuana will repeal those laws at some point, or provide strict oversight in the coming years.


Cmdr Burke is commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad. Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.
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