Over the Hill

Impartial research on marijuana is needed

Special to The TribuneMarch 20, 2014 

Phil Dirkx

It was just a small item on Page A7 in The Tribune on Tuesday. The headline said, “Marijuana study wins federal backing.”

I thought, “It’s about time.”

The study is to see if marijuana can help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. I was glad to see the federal government cooperating in any marijuana research. Such authoritative science could be the foundation for future marijuana laws that would be accepted and obeyed.

It also reminded me of Alice. I used to visit her house when I was a small boy in the early 1930s. Her husband, Roy, owned and operated a dairy. We lived on the next farm down the road.

The dairy’s office was a corner of one room in Alice and Roy’s farmhouse. My mother worked there a few days each month, mainly typing the bills for the dairy’s customers. She took me with her and Alice kept me amused while Mother worked.

Alice had severe asthma. She would frequently retreat to her bedroom to “burn some powders,” and inhale the smoke to relieve her symptoms. It gave her house a distinct smell I’ve never forgotten.

The next time I encountered that smell was in the 1960s at a parents’ meeting at the Winifred Pifer Elementary School in Paso Robles. A police officer was warning us about illegal drugs that were circulating in the community. He burned some marijuana so we could smell the smoke.

It was the same smell I remembered from Alice’s house. I also smelled it a few times later during concerts at the Mid-State Fair.

When I was a teenager in the 1940s I never saw marijuana, but I heard about it. I worked on a door-to-door magazine sales crew. We crew members talked knowingly about jazz musicians smoking marijuana, but it was all hearsay. If we’d had some, though, I probably would’ve smoked it.

I suspect many of our marijuana laws were written by people who knew as little about marijuana as our magazine crew did. I also wonder if any of today’s new medical marijuana laws are written by scientists. Smoking marijuana may make patients feel good, but does it harm their lungs?

So I was glad to read that federal health officials will finally let researchers at the University of Arizona buy marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But, and this is a big but, the largest share of the money for that Arizona study comes from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The article said that association “supports legalization of marijuana and other drugs.”

And that raises doubts about the study’s impartiality. We need research that’s unquestionably above suspicion. That’s the only way we’ll ever clear the air on marijuana.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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