In the U.S., medical and recreational marijuana use has been a topic of both public and political debates for decades. In recent years, however, multiple states began changing their legal systems to approve marijuana use, with states legalizing both or only one type of the two drug purposes. In 2014, New York became the twenty-third state to accept medical marijuana (MM) as a prescription option (McKinley, 2014). Thus, as the approval for the drug grows, it becomes vital to address the political, ethical, medical, and economic implications of this change.
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Studies exploring the use of MM find different results concerning the medication’s benefits and drawbacks (Compton, Han, Hughes, Jones, & Blanco, 2017; Hill, 2015). The representations of the legalization and public opinions also range from cautious and negative to supportive (Baker, 2014; Ferrigo & Assefa, 2014; Bruce, Brady, Foster, & Shattell, 2018). This change raises political concerns and requires the government to review its economy to adapt to the use of MM. Healthcare organizations and nurses should also reconsider patient recommendations to include MM education and control to protect patients from possible dangers. The evolving political stance on MM has an impact on all areas of healthcare services, including patient’s health concerns, drug-drug interactions, illicit marijuana use among minors, and economic challenges linked to prescribing MM.
“The Legalization of Medical Marijuana” Summary
In 2014, New York allowed its health care providers to suggest and recommend MM to patients. The Governor, Andrew Cuomo, “sighed the Compassionate Care Act,” which listed guidelines for MM prescription (Ferrigo & Assefa, 2014, para. 2). Twenty-two other states have accepted MM use in the previous years as well (“New York becomes 23rd state,” 2014). However, in New York, the laws differed from other states, as the Governor included only non-smokable forms of MM in the list of possible medications. He stated that by prohibiting smokable types of this drug, the government hopes to regulate illicit drug use levels (“New York becomes 23rd state,” 2014). Thus, New York medical professionals can prescribe MM in the form of oils, vaporizer bases, pills, and other edibles or tinctures (McKinley, 2014).
The range of conditions for which patients can ask for an MM prescription is also limited in the state. For example, physicians can determine that patients qualify for MM if the latter have AIDS, epilepsy, cancer, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Parkinson’s disease, IBD (irritable bowel disease), and other serious illnesses (Hill, 2015; McKinley, 2014). Patients that have one or several issues from this list can use MM for symptom relief. Therefore, MM therapy is usually utilized to treat chronic pain, anxiety, seizures, and muscle spasms (Bruce et al, 2018). In other states, physicians also determine whether the patient needs MM for other health-related problems on an individual basis (Hill, 2015). Cannabinoids have benefits and drawbacks which scientists continue to research at present. Potential risks include memory problems, motor coordination issues, paranoid ideations, and addiction (Hill, 2015). On the other hand, MM has been proven to alleviate or relieve symptoms of chronic pain, nausea, anxiety, and seizures (Koppel et al., 2014).
The representation of the legal process highlighted the history of previous legislations and reported on the benefits and dangers of marijuana use. As McKinley (2014) notes, the bill for MM legalization passed with 49 positive and ten negative votes. The researched articles point out the differences between New York’s act and the decisions of other states, showing that the restriction of smokable MM distinguishes his region from the others (“New York becomes 23rd state,” 2014). McKinley (2014) mentions that the program can be stopped at any time, which may signify that MM legalization is viewed as a change that directly affects illicit drug use in the country.
On the other hand, CNN presents the bill through the personal viewpoint of Missy Miller and her son, Oliver, who suffers from seizures almost every day (Ferrigo & Assefa, 2014). The woman is a proponent of the new legislature, and her position presents the implementation as vital to her son’s health. Overall, the majority of newspapers show a neutral view of the law changes. This conclusion is supported in the research by Kim and Kim (2018) who find that positive and negative opinions were not as prevalent in media as a two-sided and unbiased discussion.
The public opinion, however, ranges much more significantly than the presented media coverage. The first notable example is the mentioned case of Missy Miller and her family. She had a favorable view of this legal change because she believed that it would help her child’s health. Other positive reactions and overall acceptance of MM can be seen among people using marijuana for their chronic conditions. For instance, in the study by Bruce et al. (2018), the authors reveal that people are satisfied with their MM treatment more than they were with other medications. These participants noted that their quality of life improved significantly after being allowed to receive MM prescriptions. However, these people’s opinions of MM were shaped by their personal experiences and not the media.
People with negative reactions, as a contrast, base their arguments on the statement mentioned in one of the articles, inquiring whether MM legalization will increase illicit drug use among minors and adults. For example, Baker (2014) states that the change in the legal use of MM does not account for many harmful or not well-researched outcomes of using marijuana as a therapeutic measure. The author highlights the side effects of MM, although admitting that other drugs have similar influences on people’s health. The survey of minors shows that their views on marijuana use did not become more positive after legalization (“Monitoring the Future survey, “2017). Thus, it is possible that the media’s neutral representation did not have a strong negative effect on marijuana, presenting the issue as a medical advancement.
Social and Political Concerns, Historical Change, and Economics Considerations
The main concern that the legalization of MM poses is the access of marijuana to minors. According to Compton et al. (2017), patients who use MM appropriately – cannabinoids are utilized by individuals with poor health and disabled adults. Pacula, Powell, Heaton, and Sevigny (2015) also analyze the effect of MM legalization on illicit drug use and find that the impact of MM policies is rarely significant for recreational use statistics. The statistics also indicate a decrease in recreational marijuana use among youth, although the number of states with MM legalization grows (“Monitoring the Future survey,” 2017). Such changes in history suggest that the relationship between government policies and marijuana rates will continue to move towards MM acceptance. Furthermore, recreational marijuana use may also be considered by other states, although this discussion is much more limited by various health-related factors.
Currently, insurance companies do not cover MM, although some FDA-approved medications with cannabis are covered on an individual basis (Hill, 2015). The government of New York puts a 7% tax on MM of gross receipts (Stringer, 2018). Thus, this option may not be accessible to all persons, especially if their economic status does not allow them to purchase medications that are not covered by insurance. Uninsured people may also struggle to find affordable MM. However, the legalization of MM creates new opportunities for the government to lower the rates of opioid addictions, thus increasing the legality of transactions for people using MM for pain management (Stringer, 2018).
Nursing Profession and Health Care Policy
As MM becomes incorporated into the states’ health care structure, it is necessary for all medical workers to educate themselves on the issue and aspects of prescribing marijuana. The legalization of MM means that patients may ask nurses about MM and the possibility of getting access to this treatment option. Therefore, healthcare provider’s role in this discussion is to provide all information to their clients, including possible problems and dangers of using MM. For example, as research of MM-related health outcomes continues to show different results, the need for nurses to ensure that patients receive proper care also remains high (Baker, 2014). On the other hand, it is also vital for healthcare professionals to improve the quality of care by proposing regulations for marijuana production and contents.
The state of health care policy will continue to change due to the new legislation as well. For example, the requirements for patients to receive MM may alter if the research will find other illnesses that may benefit from marijuana therapy. Nonetheless, the main difference may be based on the fact that more trials of assessing marijuana’s effectiveness will be possible. Nurse activists’ role in this process is to contribute their knowledge and experience of working with patients who experience chronic pain and other problems that can be currently treated with MM (Compton et al., 2017). Also, medical specialists should advocate for patients’ health and safety and the need to impose certain standards on marijuana as a medication to lower the risk of addiction and similar side effects. It should be noted that MM is often used by patients as a complementary or alternative therapy (Bruce et al., 2018). Thus, nurses should research MM about other drugs as well as marijuana’s effect on surgical procedures, diagnostic tests, and other care-related activities.
In 2014, the legalization of MM in New York contributed to the debate about the benefits and dangers of marijuana. The main social concern that minors will get access to the drug was studied by many scholars, who found that the political change should not significantly affect illicit marijuana use if the states are adequately equipped to protect legal MM dispensaries and ensure that prescriptions are issued to people who need them. Similar to other medications, MM has its advantages and risks; it alleviates pain and helps patients with seizures and sleep problems. However, it may cause addiction and mood instability, raising concerns among healthcare providers. Overall, the legal decision can promote rigorous studies of MM that will show whether this drug is effective in substituting other medications.
Baker, D. E. (2014). Legalization of recreational and medical marijuana: What we don’t know. Hospital Pharmacy, 49(4), 319-320.
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Bruce, D., Brady, J. P., Foster, E., & Shattell, M. (2018). Preferences for medical marijuana over prescription medications among persons living with chronic conditions: Alternative, complementary, and tapering uses. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(2), 146-153.
Compton, W. M., Han, B., Hughes, A., Jones, C. M., & Blanco, C. (2017). Use of marijuana for medical purposes among adults in the United States. JAMA, 317(2), 209-211.
Ferrigo, L., & Assefa, H. (2014). New York legalizes medical marijuana. CNN. Web.
Hill, K. P. (2015). Medical marijuana for treatment of chronic pain and other medical and psychiatric problems: A clinical review. JAMA, 313(24), 2474-2483.
Kim, H., & Kim, S. H. (2018). Framing marijuana: How US newspapers frame marijuana legalization stories (1995–2014). Preventive Medicine Reports, 11, 196-201.
Koppel, B. S., Brust, J. C., Fife, T., Bronstein, J., Youssof, S., Gronseth, G., & Gloss, D. (2014). Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders. Neurology, 82(17), 1556-1563.
McKinley, J. (2014). New York Senate passes bill on medical marijuana. The New York Times. Web.
New York becomes 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana. (2014). NBC New York. Web.
Pacula, R. L., Powell, D., Heaton, P., & Sevigny, E. L. (2015). Assessing the effects of medical marijuana laws on marijuana use: The devil is in the details. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 34(1), 7-31.
Stringer, S. M. (2018). Estimated tax revenues from marijuana legalization in New York. Web.