Constituent Schools Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer on Cannabis Policy

John Payne
September 16, 2013 | John Payne

Show-Me Cannabis supporter Ralph Ponzar contacted his congressman, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, and received the following response from the Luetkemeyer’s office:

Thank you for contacting me regarding laws governing marijuana. I appreciate your views on this issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.

For those that support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, I would like to point out that a similar prescription drug already exists. Marinol, a pharmaceutical offered in a pill form, contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive component of marijuana. In 1985 and 1992, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Marinol capsules for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and for the treatment associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS, respectively. Marinol underwent the rigorous FDA approval process and was determined to be safe and effective for treating ailments associated with specific diseases.

The FDA’s primary mission is to promote and protect public health by ensuring drugs are safe and effective before they may be sold to the public. Such an approval process is critical to the safety of this nation’s pharmaceuticals, and I am unwilling to provide one, or any, drug a “free-pass” to avoid the proper channels of gaining approval. States that have passed their own medical marijuana laws have bypassed the proper scientific research and approval process, of which I am not supportive. Additionally, I think it is important to remember that there are no FDA-approved medications that are smoked, as it is generally a poor way to deliver medicine and often contains harmful chemical and carcinogenic byproducts that can cause further health complications.

H.R.2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, would remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances, which defines substances as possessing “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” In fact, it would completely remove marijuana from any schedule of controlled substance, thus eliminating federal regulation of the drug. It would allow states to choose how they wished to tax, regulate and/or criminalize marijuana, while diminishing the federal government’s role in the management of marijuana imports from foreign countries and the prohibition of transportation of the drug from a state with marijuana legalization to a state with marijuana prohibition.

Essentially, marijuana would be treated like alcohol rather than heroin. While I am not saying marijuana is as addictive or harmful as heroin, I do believe its regulation should more closely mirror that of heroin rather than alcohol. First, like the FDA’s approval of THC in Marinol capsules, the FDA has approved the extraction of active ingredients from opium and heroin to be manufactured into commonly used pharmaceuticals, like morphine, codeine and oxycodone. These beneficial and safe pharmaceuticals are medically approved for use with a valid prescription from a physician, while heroin remains illegal.

Secondly, unlike alcohol, which includes labels identifying its strength and a proper testing mechanism that measures an individual’s blood alcohol content, marijuana has none of these safe guards or needed technology. For example, a law enforcement officer can easily administer a test to determine intoxication by blood alcohol content level, but no universally accepted test is available to determine the level of influence an individual is under after using marijuana.

While I appreciate your views on this issue, I must strongly disagree. I hope you understand where I am coming from and want you to know that I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

Ralph responded forcefully and thoroughly to the Congressman:

Dear Congressman Luetkemeyer,

I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my plea for your consideration. Respectfully, there are a number of things that I wish to say in response to what you have said.

The first is in regard to the prescription drug Marinol. While Marinol does contain THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, there are other components (dozens?) besides THC that act in combination with THC to provide relief. What I’ve heard and read about those with medical conditions, including cancer, is that cannabis is much more effective. A patient and his or her doctor should have more to say about this than what is currently allowed by the FDA and our gov’t. This country is founded on our right to choose, not to have that choice dictated to us.

Your comment that there are no FDA-approved medications that are smoked, I believe to be true. But that’s not a valid reason to prohibit cannabis. Cannabis does not have to be smoked. It can also be ingested. (As a sidebar, I gather cannabis is less harmful if smoked than tobacco. Why is tobacco legal and not cannabis?)

Concerning your comments about cannabis, alcohol, and heroin: it is not whether cannabis is more like alcohol or heroin, but whether alcohol is more like cannabis or heroin. It is alcohol that is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and injuries each year, not cannabis. It is alcohol that is addicting, not cannabis. You probably already know that there has not ever been a documented death due to cannabis.

Concerning labeling, it is precisely for this reason that cannabis should be legalized and regulated. If it were, people who used it would know what strength of cannabis they were getting. You also mentioned the federal gov’t’s diminishing influence in regulating it. It is precisely because it is illegal that the federal gov’t has lost control. Legalize it, and the federal gov’t will only have more control in it’s regulation. Also, cannabis is relatively untested because our gov’t has actively (to say the least) stood in the way of cannabis testing.

I know that the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry have spent a lot of time and resources espousing their concern for public safety. One thing that strikes me when I see all their ads on tv is that long list of possible side effects (quite often including death) that may be connected with whatever drug they are promoting. They present that long list at the end very rapidly (like the fine print in a contract), as if it is nothing of real concern. And I think, “Gee, they can’t say any of that about cannabis.”

Another thing that is very important for me has to do with “punishment to fit the crime” (so to speak). The prohibition of cannabis is based on the idea that it is dangerous, and that a person who uses cannabis may do something to harm another person. When someone uses cannabis, but harms no one, it is a great injustice to imprison that person for the “crime” of possessing cannabis. Have we forgotten what our prisons are for? In this view, our gov’t’s pursuit of it’s citizens guilty of this “crime” has been draconian. It doesn’t distinguish between honest, upright citizens, and hardened criminals. Just as bad, or worse, it refuses to admit there is a difference. This is a very large disconnect, and our gov’t is in denial.

The bottom line for me, though, has to do with who has the right to make that decision: the individual, or the gov’t. I believe in personal responsibility, and I believe our gov’t’s founding is based on each individual being personally responsible for their actions. I don’t believe in my right to choose being taken from me by the gov’t. I have the right to choose for myself as long as I am not harming anyone.

I strongly suggest that there is more to this issue than what the FDA says.

Anything more you can tell me concerning this urgent matter will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and attention.

Ralph A. Ponzar, Jr.

I commend Ralph on contacting his elected officials about our cannabis laws and speaking to the issue with facts and logic. I encourage all of you to go and do likewise. If you haven’t yet taken some time to contact your elected officials — or just haven’t contacted them recently — go here to identify them and find their contact information. Then, give them a call and send them an email simply stating that you are one of their constituents, and you believe in the legalization and regulation of cannabis.

And if they respond negatively — and you have the time — you can write a point-by-point refutation of their arguments like Ralph did here.