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Medical Marijuana Sales Reach A New “High”

Published: March 26, 2011

Time Magazine reported some statistics this week that many people, particularly those in the Bible Belt or who lean heavily to the right on the political scale, will find shocking. Personally, I was underwhelmed by these recent numbers, probably due to my long hair and California upbringing. I am talking about sales of medical marijuana. Time reported that the annual sales of medical marijuana have reached $1.7 billion dollars, only slightly underperforming the $1.9 billion dollar a year sales of the most popular pharmaceutical in America, Viagra. These numbers come from Ted Rose, whose company, See Change LLC, published the report. Rose stated that he expects the annual sales of medical marijuana to reach $8.9 billion in five years. While I appreciate Mr. Rose’s enthusiasm, I find that in our current social and political climate, those numbers are a bit inflated.

Medical marijuana faces several challenges that it would need to overcome before an $8.9 billion per year industry would form. The primary roadblock is the fact that marijuana is illegal, which makes the previously reported numbers all the more impressive. The fact remains that while 15 states and (ironically) Washington D.C. have passed propositions allowing citizens to posses a limited amount of marijuana with the proper licensing, possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. State’s propositions are only ongoing because the federal government has looked the other way, and decided (rightfully so) that cracking down on state legalized marijuana is very, very low on the federal government’s list of priorities right now (we are currently involved in 3 wars, remember?).

The reason, or more likely the justification, of the illegal nature of marijuana is the claim of marijuana having a “gateway drug” effect. This often cited effect is an allusion to the fact that people who abuse “hard” drugs such as heroin, meth, or cocaine often started their rumpus by abusing marijuana. The evidence to prove this is mostly anecdotal but, as any college freshman will tell you, ultimately true. There are, however two flaws with this logic. The first I think is the most obvious: just because most hard drug abusers previously abused marijuana does not mean that marijuana causes people to become drug addicts. Addiction is a complex syndrome caused by a number of interweaving genetic and environmental factors, which we won’t be addressing in this blog. Simply smoking marijuana doesn’t cause people to become hard drug addicts any more than eating a cheeseburger causes a person to become obese. The second flaw in calling marijuana a gateway drug is the dismissal of alcohol and tobacco. Anecdotally, I can say that most people I know who use or used marijuana, began using alcohol or tobacco first. The fact that marijuana, and not alcohol, is labeled as a gateway drug is simply asinine. Note for the record, I am not claiming one way or another as to what I believe should be the legal status of marijuana, I am simply stating that the reasoning that many people use to justify marijuana’s illegal nature is flawed. Marijuana simply is not a “gateway” drug.

Despite the federally illegal nature of marijuana, 15 states and one important district have allowed the use of a limited amount of marijuana for medical purposes. This legislation implies that marijuana has some clinical applications, which indeed it does. The question then remains: are there enough clinical applications to sustain and $8.9 billion dollar industry, as Mr. Rose suggests? Probably not. There are, however, enough clinical applications of marijuana to make it the subject of my next blog.

Chris Sprott is a contributor to the Sacramento Men’s Health blog. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Dr. Doug DeSalles or the Sacramento Doctors’ Clinic for Men, and in no way should be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. As always, if there are any questions, comments, or concerns email them to DougDeSallesMD@gmail.com, post on our Facebook wall at http://www.facebook.com/SacramentoMensHealth, or leave a comment on this page.