Marijuana as Medicine, Part 1 - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

Marijuana as Medicine, Part 1

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DENVER, Colo. (KATV) - Next week, Arkansas voters will be asked to say yes or no to legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Arkansas could become the first southern state to say yes to marijuana as medicine.

Colorado on the other hand is one of the pioneers when it comes to the licensing, regulating and taxing of medical marijuana.

"These are taller because they are a different strain than these?  Or are these further along in development?"

Kayvon Khalatbari does his best to answer questions about his marijuana growing farm, one of more than 800 licensed to operate in Colorado.

If voters approve Issue Five, grow farms like these will exist in Arkansas and be legal in the eyes of the state…if not in the eyes of the federal government.

These plants are 11 days from harvest.  One of them…a hybrid called bio-diesel…has been judged the 10th most potent strain available.

"Generally this is what people use most often," explains Khalatbari as he shows us jars of various strains of marijuana product.  "They'll smoke it. They'll vaporize it."

Ten minutes away from his grow facility, Khalatbari sells marijuana to card carrying customers.

"Denver Relief" is a dispensary, one of hundreds in Colorado that serve the more than 100,000 people who have a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana to treat a disease, a condition or chronic pain.

An 1/8 of an ounce will run you $30 to $40 dollars…tax included.

"In addition to the bud that most people are familiar with as being marijuana, what are some other ways that people can take medical marijuana?"

"The second most popular is probably the edibles," says Khalatbari.

You can purchase pot-laced Pringles.  Nutter butters.  Gummy bears.  There are Buddha brownies and Mile High chocolate bars.  Or buy a THC infused beverage, mouth spray…even topical cream.

Prices average about $16 dollars for every 250 milligrams of THC.

"People are using marijuana regardless," says Khalatbari.  "Put it in a regulated system where we can tax it, where schools can make money off of it, our local authorities can make money off of it and people can come in a place that is safe like this where they don't have to worry about the bad parts of drug dealing."

Even though voters here in Colorado passed medical marijuana 12 years ago, it really wasn't until three years ago that people started using pot to treat pain and other problems in great numbers.

There are a number of reasons why.

Colorado started slow…with very few patients, growers or sellers.

Arkansas plans to do the same thing is issue five passes, licensing only about 30 non-profit dispensaries.

But over time Colorado citizens became more comfortable with the idea of using marijuana as medicine.

Lawsuits were resolved, restrictions were lifted and new laws were written.

And at the federal level, a new president indicated a desire to make federal enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority in states where the drug was legal for medical use.

The Colorado Green Rush was soon in full bloom.

In the shadow of Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs now has four marijuana dispensaries for every one Starbucks.

"If you vote and allow medicinal marijuana in your state it is opening Pandora's Box," warns Lt. Ernie Martinez.   "A Pandora's Box full of residual crime that is continuing to happen in our cities in Colorado."

Lt. Ernie Martinez is President of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. 

Lt. Martinez says the problems caused by making marijuana more readily available and more socially acceptable far outweigh the benefit to patients.

Fellow lawman Tom Gorman agrees.  Gorman serves as Director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

"We're seeing an increased us in youth…and that is a major concern of ours," says Gorman.  "In the last two or three years that we've had it, expulsions in schools have gone up. Drug violations have gone up. The Colorado Department of Education tells us that 8th, 10th and 12th graders daily use of marijuana has increased substantially."

Gorman believes it is far too easy to get a doctor's recommendation for marijuana.

He says 94 percent of card-carrying Coloradans aren't suffering from Aids or cancer or Alzheimer's.

They cite chronic pain.

"They're scamming the system is what they are doing," says Gorman.  "I mean what they're doing is basically de facto legalization. I go to a doctor…I give him $90 or $100 and I get a recommendation."

"You could have chronic pain from a hangnail," argues Lt. Martinez.  "And it could be legal to have a doctor recommend marijuana for you for that. So…it's a very ambiguous, general catch-all term."

The Arkansas initiative lists qualifying medical conditions like cancer, HIV, Hepatitis C, Alzheimer's disease and others.

But it also allows for "intractable pain."

"Most people use it for pain but there are thousands and thousands of patients that have AIDS and cancer and wasting disease and MS and seizures and muscle spasms and arthritis…glaucoma," says Khalatbari.

But does marijuana as a medicine actually work?

Friday night in part two you will hear from two Colorado doctors and from a man who treats his multiple sclerosis symptoms with marijuana.

Air date:  November 1st, 2012

Click here to read Part 2 of Marijuana as Medicine.