WASHINGTON (BP) -- An oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses contradictory terms, like "larger half" or "jumbo shrimp." The term also applies to the phrase "medical marijuana." There is very little medicinal about marijuana. Yet, each year more states are legalizing its use for all sorts of medical purposes.
Connecticut recently became the 17th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. At least 19 states considered a medical marijuana law in 2012 and six others are still considering legislation.
Don't be taken in. Marijuana is a dangerous drug with countless negative effects. The rush to decriminalization in the name of pain control or mental health cannot be justified.
Most people who use marijuana to relieve severe pain combine it with stronger pain relievers because marijuana is not effective enough by itself. Furthermore, marijuana's pain-relieving ingredient has been available by prescription for years. A person can purchase Marinol -- right now -- with a doctor's prescription.
The use of marijuana as a means to improve one's mental health also is not justifiable. People dealing with depression need the regular care of a trained professional. If they require drugs, there are plenty of proven mood-altering ones available that do not introduce as many potential and likely problems as marijuana.
Smoking marijuana medicinally threatens to make bad situations worse for many users. Marijuana introduces multiple toxic chemicals into the systems of people whose bodies are already weakened from their ailments.
Not only might these toxic chemicals interfere with the healing process, but users also risk developing additional problems. Medical marijuana puts the user at higher risk for cancer, psychosis, strokes, respiratory damage and heart attack.
These risks must be weighed to determine marijuana's actual value, even for a limited range of carefully monitored applications like treating glaucoma or enhancing appetite.
Part of the reason we have not had more success ending rampant illicit drug abuse in our nation is the fact that so many states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Such counterproductive policies are the equivalent of drilling holes in the bottom of your boat while you are frantically trying to bail water.
In fact, if you take a closer look, you will see that most states currently debating legalizing the use of marijuana for recreation first legalized it for medicinal use. Medical marijuana is the Trojan horse of recreational marijuana.
Now, I am all for people finding relief from pain and illness. One of my grandmothers died from a terrible form of bone cancer. Cancer killed my father and at least one of his two brothers. Their deaths were slow and painful.
If I thought marijuana would do more for someone in the same situation than the multitude of drugs already available, I would likely be making a much different argument here. But the plain fact of the matter is that there are better and safer drugs. Marijuana is not the solution. It merely adds more problems.
Instead of making drug use easier, we should redouble our efforts to warn people of the dangers of drug use, develop more effective rehabilitation programs for those who are convicted of drug possession, and increase our prosecution of those who supply the drugs.
We are in a battle for the lives of millions of people. They deserve our best efforts, not our surrender or thoughtless compassion. Let's call medical marijuana what it is -- an oxymoron.
Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. To listen to this commentary, visit http://erlc.com/audio/20120803-duke-oxymoron.mp3. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).