On marijuana and heroin, the State Legislature is wrestling with the same conundrum: How to make sure controlled substances are available for sick people who need them while limiting abuse of the drugs. The two substances present flip sides of that dilemma.
With marijuana, the challenge is to create a tightly regulated system to give sick people legal access to the illicit drug. Heroin belongs to a class of drugs already available for medical purposes in forms such as morphine and oxycodone. The challenge is to limit the collateral damage. The legislature and the governor shouldn’t allow important bills to legalize medical marijuana and combat the heroin epidemic to be derailed by disputes during the legislature’s end-of-session crunch.
With marijuana, there’s room for good faith negotiations on whether a maximum monthly supply of 21/2 ounces per patient is too much, and whether the list of 21 diseases that would qualify for medical marijuana should be pared down. And a proposal to force the legislature to revisit the law in five years could result in important fine-tuning based on experience. But medical marijuana in smokable form shouldn’t be completely banned for patients older than 21. Doctors should have the flexibility to prescribe the form best suited to meet the needs of individual patients.
The Assembly should be just as pragmatic in sifting through the 25 bills the Senate passed recently to combat the heroin epidemic. The most important of them would speed the resolution of disputes with insurers over coverage for drug treatment, enable parents to force minor children to undergo treatment, and limit opioid prescriptions for acute conditions to a 10-day supply. The legislature shouldn’t let election-yearwrangling distract it from these key initiatives.
None of these eleventh-hour disputes is enough to justify failing to help rescue people from heroin addiction, and to provide the relief from pain and nausea marijuana can provide for the sick and dying.