On the street, what do they call it now, "weed?" Over the years it's been known as grass, reefer, Mary Jane, pot, and if put in a big cigar, a blunt.
Marijuana use starts early, between 12 and 17 years old. Usually because of peer pressure or curiosity, kids will try it, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
For the past 40 years, many young people have thought that smoking pot was no big deal. You take it for fun, to relax, chill out. Many parents of today's kids, who may have used the drug when they were young, don't want their children to use. But they have convinced themselves that "weed" is relatively "safe" and certainly not as bad as heroin and cocaine. Those drugs, they say, can make you a homeless junkie.
But straight up people, marijuana is illegal. You can go to jail.
If there were any doubt how much our federal government is against marijuana, there was a sharp reminder from the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The "Supremes," as I like to call them, ruled 6-3 that the federal government's anti-drug laws take precedence over state laws. That means federal drug agents can prosecute people who take marijuana to relieve pain and disease.
People with, say, cancer or AIDS receive treatments that often leave them suffering miserable side effects -- persistent nausea, vomiting and debilitating pain. When it was shown in the '90s that smoking marijuana could alleviate those symptoms, a movement began to make marijuana legal if prescribed by a doctor for medical purposes.
Oregon was the first of 10 states to pass laws allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. But the Supreme Court has in effect overruled those states.
The sick people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes are devastated. They don't know what to do now.
What is marijuana? It is a drug made from the dried leaves and flowering tops of a plant called hemp. Scientific name? Cannabis sativa. There is a chemical in the plant that alters the mind. It is called "delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol" or THC for short. It acts on several areas of the brain involved with memory, concentration, perception and movement. According to medical research, when a person inhales marijuana smoke, 2,000 chemicals are distributed by the lungs throughout the body.
It is not harmless. In high doses, marijuana can cause hallucinations, impaired memory, disorientation and delusions. You hear "don't drink and drive." But it should also be stated, "don't do drugs and drive." Marijuana is a sure enough drug.
But let's get back to the medicinal use of marijuana. One of the plaintiffs, arguing that the Supreme Court should allow patients like her to smoke marijuana, is 48-year-old Diane Monson from Oroville, Calif. She was using to relieve the severe back pain she gets from a degenerative disease of the spine.
After the court ruling, Monson was quoted as saying. "I'm going to have to be prepared to be arrested." She strongly suggests she will not stop using the drug.
With 28 million Americans using marijuana primarily for personal recreational use, should the sick, disabled and dying be subject to the same penalties of the law? Should they be arrested, have their marijuana plants destroyed, pay large fines?
Medicinal marijuana users say it is time for Congress to act. It could change the law and allow states to enact their own laws about the use of marijuana. But there is a political dilemma. Few members of Congress would be willing to vote for a bill that would allow pot smoking, even for the terminally ill. They fear such a vote would come back to haunt them at election time. Any hopes of those who want marijuana legalized like alcohol seem to be further away than ever.
The Supreme Court and the Congress are worried that drug traffickers would take advantage and acquire phony prescriptions to sell to healthy people, further spreading the use of marijuana. There are always clever criminals who figure out ways to skirt the law. They do it now.
Smoking weed is not a simple thing. If it can kill the pain of cancer patients, you know it must be powerful. The big question is whether federal drug agents will actually go after people using marijuana as a pain reliever. The risk of getting arrested may be worth it for the sick and dying, but not for the young and healthy.