A doctor, a lawyer and a business owner — all are are hardworking people, all people who find value, in one way or another, with marijuana use.

The business owner uses it to mellow out. She’s never stolen to support a pot habit and can function normally with or without it.

The doctor is world renowned, and, while he doesn’t think recreational marijuana should be legalized, he does believe that it has medicinal benefits.

The lawyer has seen lives ruined and law enforcement resources wasted over the prosecution of marijuana crimes.

As the battle about whether to decriminalize or offer limited legalization of pot wages on across the country, those who believe it could provide benefits are standing up to be counted.

The doctor

Prompted by an anonymous letter from a 76-year-old woman who expounded the benefits she reaped from medical marijuana, Dr. Cyril Wecht recently published a column in support of legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes only.

The forensic pathologist with degrees in medicine and law doesn’t believe in decriminalization or recreational legalization of pot, because of its psychotropic effects.

But, from a medical standpoint, Wecht said he believes that marijuana does help people.

Wecht said this is especially true for those who suffer from irreversible neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, metastatic cancer, certain seizure disorders and other similar conditions.

“There’s no question,” Wecht said. “They definitely get some benefit.” From a pharmacological perspective, he said, doctors and researchers should be asking themselves, “Is this a drug that we want to consider for people to use?”

Out of more than 18,000 autopsies Wecht has personally conducted and some 38,000 he consulted on or reviewed, he said there were no deaths caused by marijuana.

“Marijuana is not dangerous,” Wecht said, but the same cannot be said for the FDA-approved drugs that are currently being prescribed and abused.

Last year, Wecht said, he performed 409 autopsies, 350 of which were for county coroners in Fayette, Greene, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties. “More than 200 were acute combined drug toxicity,” said Wecht.

On average, he said, those people had a deadly cocktail of four or five different drugs in their systems, some prescribed and some illicit.

The continued wariness of the federal government to consider the benefits of marijuana while continuing to add new, potentially more dangerous and addictive drugs to the market troubled Wecht.

“Mr. FDA, how about getting off your hypocritical ass?” he said.

“If the argument that is made is that you need these drugs because (patients) suffer from pain, let’s use the same argument now for marijuana,” Wecht said. “Those who are dying, why would you want to deprive them?”

“There is no rational, logical reason.”

The businesswoman

“The biggest problem with pot is the possibility of getting in trouble.”

One Fayette County business owner, who asked not to be named out of fear of legal repercussions, said marijuana has helped her in multiple ways over the course of smoking it for decades, and it’s troubling to think she could be prosecuted for something she considers benign.

“Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed or stressed, I can take a couple of puffs, and everything doesn’t seem so serious,” she said. It’s not that smoking cannabis helps her escape problems, she said, it just helps relieve the anxiety that accompanies life’s troubles.

Having heard criticism that legalizing pot would lead to a nation of lazy stoners, the 43-year-old pointed out that she is the mother of two happy, healthy children, one of whom recently graduated from college, and that she’s been running a successful business in a health-related field for three years.

The level of impairment she described was nothing like the effects of alcohol. She said she can function normally, but calmer, with marijuana. However, with alcohol, there’s a chance she could drink to a point where she’s not in control of herself.

She said she’s never blacked out or forgotten events while smoking pot, nor has she ever had a hangover. She has also never missed work, abused or neglected her children, committed any crimes, or hurt another person while under the influence cannabis.

She also said she has never considered robbing anyone or stealing for the money to buy pot. “People who smoke pot are usually willing to help. When you’re out, a friend will usually offer to smoke with you. It encourages people to socialize,” she said.

Although she has a prescription for Xanax to control episodes of anxiety, she said she uses those sparingly. “I’d much rather smoke than take Xanax, because I can’t take it in the daytime and function properly. It makes me want to go to bed.”

As for claims that marijuana is addictive, this user noted that there are times when she’s been out of weed or needed to stop smoking because of a cold or the flu, and not smoking led to nothing more serious than a lack of appetite and mild irritability.

By contrast, giving up cigarettes was much tougher. She recalled terrible withdrawal symptoms when she quit tobacco. Similarly, she had a prescription for the anti-anxiety drug klonopin previously, and she said, “When I stopped taking it, I was an emotional mess. I can stop smoking pot, and I just get too busy to think about it.”

In fact, she said she stopped drinking coffee a couple of weeks ago on the advice of her chiropractor, who suggested the coffee may be contributing to her neck and shoulder pain. Going without coffee is more of a struggle, she said, than going without weed.

She said she’s tried other, harder drugs, not because she tried pot first but because she had access to the other drugs through friends and was curious. “I do not use any other recreational drugs anymore. They were messing up my life — financially, socially and with my family.”

She added, “That’s never happened with pot.”

“To me,” she said, “the biggest side effects I’ve ever encountered are red eyes, dry mouth and increased appetite. That’s better than the side effects that come with all the prescription drugs.”

The lawyer

Patrick Nightingale, attorney and executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said he disagrees with the gateway argument often cited by those who do not support legalization.

To debunk that myth, Nightingale said, “We don’t need to look much further than what’s going on today.” If marijuana leads to use of hard drugs, he reasoned, states that have made medical marijuana legal, decriminalized its use or fully legalized recreational use as well as medical, would be seeing spikes in addiction to other drugs.

“Two-thirds of current addicts are saying they got hooked because of a prescription,” Nightingale said. “You really want a gateway? There you go.” Furthermore, he added that many addicts report they began with other addictive but legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.

Responding to concerns that some marijuana proponents have regarding the weight borne by the legal system in prosecuting smokers, Nightingale said, “It’s not an overwhelming burden on the criminal justice system.” The jails are not actually full of people charged with simple possession, he said.

That’s not to say that the courts couldn’t save money if cannabis were at least decriminalized. Nightingale said there is a cost to the system when police charge a user, because the officer will at least have to go to a preliminary hearing. There are costs associated at the magisterial and common pleas court levels with the filing of documents, and costs associated with hiring a lawyer or attaining a public defender. Many of those cases end in pleas, Nightingale said, often resulting in probation, which requires supervision and testing costs.

The greater burden then is on the user, Nightingale said. “Now you have a criminal conviction. Try getting a job at McDonald’s with a drug conviction on your jacket.”

Nightingale said he hopes law enforcement re-focuses its efforts on crimes that harm the community.

“The resources spent on cannabis prohibition have been a total waste,” he said. “People’s lives have been ruined.”

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