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Throughout the history of agriculture, the marijuana plant, also known as cannabis or hemp has been extensively used as a source of medicine, fiber, and intoxicant. In the ancient folklore and writings of China and India, the earliest known descriptions of cannabis are evident. According to historians, marijuana was mostly used a ritual intoxicant and later on, it found significance in folk medicine. The practice of smoking of marijuana has only appeared recently. There has been a lot of literature on the medicinal properties of marijuana which physicians in ancient China and India discovered in their practice. However, it was only in 1860 that physicians in America reported the success of marijuana in treating pain, gonorrhea, chronic cough, and several other conditions. This report triggered demand for marijuana-based medications and various pharmaceutical companies embarked on the production of reliable and potent drugs from cannabis plant (Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy, 2000).
The widespread use of marijuana continued to the 1960s and the U.S government had to take measures to prevent abuse. This was the main purpose of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. This Act classified drugs with the likelihood of being abused into three criteria: the possibility of the drug being abused, usefulness as a medicine, and the psychological and physical consequences of its abuse. Marijuana fell under Schedule I which is the most restrictive. However, this law has been challenged by individual states and some state laws on substance abuse have removed some restrictions on marijuana. Though illegal, marijuana continues to be regularly used by millions of Americans both for medical and recreational purposes (Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy, 2000).
The fact is that medical marijuana has been incorporated in certain drugs that physicians prescribe to patients with particular health conditions that under various state laws, qualifies these patients to use medical marijuana. One such drug is called Marinol. The drug is manufactured in the form of a pill and researchers have embarked on studies to unravel the various delivery methods of the drug. Marinol contains the active ingredient; synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is known to relieve vomiting and nausea. It has also found use in enhancing appetite in patients with HIV/AIDS and for treating cancer patients (Carter, Rosenthal, & Gieringer, 2008, p. 32). In order to justify the classification of marijuana under Schedule I, successive governments in the U.S have leaned on the argument that marijuana has no acceptable medical use.
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In October 2009, the U.S Justice System gave the announcement that users of marijuana for medical reasons will not be pursued by federal prosecutors as long as they adhere to state laws. The same would apply for distributors of medical marijuana. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana though there are strict conditions to be observed. In these states, not everybody who is ill qualifies since there are specific medical conditions that have been stipulated by the laws. In most of these states, the common health problems for which the use of marijuana is allowed include chronic pain especially nerve pain as a result of diabetes, hepatitis and AIDS, movement disorders and muscle spasticity such as multiple sclerosis, and for the enhancement of appetite (Roger, 2009).
In Alaska, patients with documentation from their physician indicating potential benefit for their conditions from the use of marijuana are not penalized for cultivation, possession or use of medical marijuana. In Arizona, patients with documents indicating that they have been diagnosed with a debilitating condition that can improve with the use of medical marijuana are given access to marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries that have been registered. Similar conditions apply for California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington. In all the states, patients who qualify for the use of medical marijuana have to ensure they do not go beyond the specified quantity of marijuana or number of marijuana plants that they are allowed to cultivate (Roger, 2009).
Despite efforts to enforce laws restricting its cultivation, marijuana remains a major cash crop in the U.S as it ranked the fourth largest in 1997 with some states having it as the top cash crop. The government spends about $10 billion every year in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of marijuana. Growers of the plant are driven by the huge revenues obtained from the sale of their produce. For instance, in 1997, the amount of saleable marijuana harvested by U.S marijuana growers was 5.5 million pounds. On the retail market, this quantity was worth $25.2 billion while it brought farmers $15.1 billion in returns (Gettman & Armentano, 1998).
The estimates of 2006 reveal a growing trend in the cultivation of marijuana as a cash crop. When compared to other crops in terms of production values from 2003 to 2005, the $35.8 billion for marijuana makes it the largest cash crop in the U.S. In 12 states, it ranks first and in 30 states, it is among the three top cash crops grown. In 39 states, marijuana is among the top five cash crops grown. The 12 states where marijuana ranks as the top cash crop are: Oregon, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maine, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Connecticut (Gettman, Marijuana Production in the United States (2006), 2006).