When you follow the reporting on marijuana reform issues every day for three years, you get a feel for the way reporters and editors can slant a story. Today the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program went online… literally, as in, the only way you can apply for the program is online, they do not accept paper applications, phone calls, or walk-ins. This is quite a significant development as it is the only medical marijuana state of fifteen that has a mandatory online registration.
The Associated Press and reporter Amanda Lee Meyers reported that as their lede (the opening paragraph in a news report that gives you the who, what, where, when, and how) and follow-up paragraphs:
Arizonans to begin applying for medical marijuana today
(Arizona Capitol-Times / AP) Arizona’s medical marijuana program is hitting a milestone Thursday as patients start turning in applications for the drug to help treat cancer and other diseases in what officials believe is the only completely electronic application system in the country.
Since the application for a medical marijuana card is electronic, anyone hoping to apply in person or by phone with the Arizona Department of Health Services will be turned away. And if there are any kinks in the online system, they also will need to report the problem online.
Think of what you take away from those – treating cancer and diseases, only online system.
The shorter version of the AP story is showing up in other news outlets:
Arizonans to begin applying for medical marijuana
(San Jose Mercury News) PHOENIX—Medical marijuana is online in Arizona.
Beginning Thursday morning, patients can begin applying to get the drug to help treat cancer and other diseases.
Same basic info – treat cancer and diseases, online system.
For the Arizona Republic, however, the lede of the story isn’t about the opening of the country’s first e-medical marijuana state program. It’s a piece by Mary K. Reinhart warning of the impending hordes of pot zombies roaming the streets of Phoenix in search of sttrraaiinns… sttrraaiinns!!!
Arizona’s medical-marijuana law takes effect
Health officials are concerned about certification mills
(Arizona Republic) Arizona’s medical-marijuana law takes effect today, but patients already have been lining up to pay hundreds of dollars in some cases for pot recommendations from clinics that opened in recent weeks for just that purpose.
Health officials are concerned that so-called certification mills could quickly turn a medical program into a recreational one, but they have limited recourse.
The “pot zombies” is a shorthand reference for the frame employed by prohibitionists to portray medical marijuana as rife with abuse. You hear it in their “only 3% of medical pot users have cancer and AIDS” rhetoric and when they complain about “all those young healthy men” who are seen frequenting dispensaries. You also hear it when they use the word “pot”. Check those first two excerpts above and you’ll find “marijuana” and “drug”, but not “pot”. (To be fair, the Capitol-Times and the Republic stories both use the word “pot” four times in the entirety of the articles, but three of those in the Capitol-Times story are references to “pot shops”.)
Consider for a moment that we aren’t talking about cannabis. Suppose Astra-Zeneca comes out with a brand new pill, let’s call it Curezitol. Curezitol can treat symptoms of nausea, pain, spasticity, seizures, glaucoma, wasting, anxiety, depression, loss of libido, inflammation, digestion, lesions, cancers, infections, and more. Curezitol’s common side effects are red eyes, dry mouth, and euphoria and its rare worst side effects are anxiety or panic, paranoia, and racing heart. Curezitol is non-habit-forming with low risk of dependence and absolutely non-toxic. Best of all, Astra-Zeneca sells Curezitol in pill form for a very reasonable price or they’ll sell you a Home Curezitol Kit and you can manufacture your own Curezitol for pennies on the dollar.
Would Curezitol not quickly become the most popular and best-selling prescription on the market? Would doctors not get flooded with requests from patients for a prescription for Curezitol? So why is it so shocking when a medical marijuana state provides a legal way for people to use cannabis and that state’s registry grows into the tens of thousands?
The “pot zombies” frame depends on the demonization of the non-medical cannabis user. It maintains the idea of cannabis as “medicine of last resort”, a drug so dangerous and unpredictable that we must try all manner of addictive and toxic pharmaceuticals first… and then only if none of them have the desired effect do we dare allow people to try this inconsistent, impure, smoked herb… and then only for those suffering the most wretched agony and soon to meet the Grim Reaper!
The way we flip the frame is portraying cannabis as “medicine of first resort”. If I suffer from pain, why wouldn’t I take safer non-toxic cannabis instead of addictive toxic opiates? If I suffer from insomnia, why wouldn’t I wind down with some relaxing cannabis instead of an Ambien that could lead to sleep-driving? If I’m puking from nausea, why wouldn’t I inhale cannabis smoke or vapor instead of trying to swallow and keep down a pill and wait 45 minutes for it to take effect? With so few and such mild side effects, low risk of dependence, and non-toxicity, why wouldn’t cannabis be the first thing we try for a whole host of ailments?
Reinhart’s story in the Arizona Republic makes only a passing reference to “The online-only application” and the rest of the entire story is scare quotes from the DHS Director Will Humble warning about “a handful of physicians writing casual recommendations [exploding] the program.” The director of the Arizona Medical Board says doctors are “arriving at the answer before they’ve even met the patient.” An owner of a chain of brick-and-mortar clinics complains carpetbagging clinics are “putting doctors in a hotel room and not even giving you a physical.”
The other re-framing is to pivot on the idea of the “abuse” itself as “compliance”. Large numbers of patients on a registry are a sign of a program successfully serving people who are eager to be compliant with the law. Many of these patients are people who have been illegally using cannabis medically for years and now they are coming above ground. Former clandestine cannabis users are now registering with the state and complying with the law. Money they used to spend in untaxed and unregulated markets are now providing revenue and new jobs through specialty clinics and a dispensary industry.
Might someone who is purely a “recreational” cannabis user end up with a medical marijuana card? Certainly, as there is no bureaucratic system that cannot be gamed. But Arizona’s law is not California’s law and has within it strict regulations regarding qualifying conditions that must be documented in medical records. The rare exception who games the system will still be a current cannabis consumer who has visited a doctor, registered with the state, paid fees, and taken his underground purchases to a taxed and regulated market. He will have agreed to a 2.5 ounce possession limit that would only have been a likely misdemeanor with probation and a drug treatment sentence anyway, so now our law enforcement and judicial system would be burdened with him.
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