News: Toking the Cure

Medical marijuana's isn't about five hippies and a dog

Oliver Meinerding



It was the prospect of his father's impending death that made State Sen. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) consider the medicinal value of marijuana.

"I was there when the doctor said, 'You have six months, Mr. Hagan,' " he says.

His father's pain and suffering is also what made Hagan bristle when he was late for a meeting and State Sen. Robert Spada (R-North Royalton), assistant majority floor leader, inquired, "What were you doing — smoking a joint?"

That kind of attitude is nothing new to Hagan, who first proposed legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2003. Determined not to let ignorance stand in the way, he's proposed it again, as Senate Bill 74.

"To them, those kinds of things are just off-the-cuff and indicate preconceived notions about what this bill is all about," he says. "Shame on him and shame on them. I think we have a wonderful opportunity to explain what this is all about and its true intent."

'We have some clout'
Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is well versed in the medical marijuana laws in place in 10 states. Hagan's bill is very limited in scope, he says.

"This is a bill that is very specific in identifying who the qualified patients are and who will have access to marijuana," Armentano says.

"And then it's very specific on stating how much marijuana they can legally possess and be compliant with the state law."

Polls show 70 to 80 percent of Americans support the legalization of medicinal marijuana. Mary Jane Borden, business manager for Drug Sense, is one of them. A pharmaceutical employee for nine years, Borden says information about one of the most beneficial therapies available, marijuana, isn't being disseminated.

"Doctors are not going to take the lead on this," she says. "This is about patients. We've got to stand up and say, 'This works for me, Doctor.' "

But patients don't always have access to information beyond what drug companies make available, according to Borden. That's where the Ohio Patient Network (OPN) comes in. She helped form the group in 2001. OPN's purpose is to coordinate information between patients, medical professionals and attorneys as well as to educate the public in support of the compassionate use of cannabis.

"It's not about five hippies and a dog," Borden says. "We have some political clout. These are people who actually go down and talk to their legislators. If they do it enough, they eventually get noticed."

Groups against the legalization of marijuana under any circumstances are equally vocal — and their support reaches into the state's highest political offices. Gov. Bob Taft's office refers to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services (ODADAS) for its position.

"To date, there is little data from clinical trials to support or refute claims that smoked marijuana has any medical benefits," says an ODADAS statement. "The American Medical Association does not recognize the efficacy of medical marijuana."

Rhonda Ramsey Molina, executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati, shares the state's distaste for marijuana in smoked form. She says common practice is to take the beneficial components of plants and put them in pills.

"And that's the same thing with marijuana," she says. "There are derivatives, there are parts of the plant that can be derived and put into pill form that may have medicinal value."

Marinol, a synthetic form of THC (delta9-tetrahyrdocannabinol) — the psychoactive ingredient in pot — is the most popular drug derived from marijuana. It's approved for use as an anti-nauseant and an appetite stimulant. Doctors also prescribe it for other conditions, such as depression and muscle spasticity.

John Precup of Manchester has multiple sclerosis. He has a prescription for Marinol, but he doesn't consider it very effective.

"When I'm sick and puking, it's hard to keep a pill down very long, so it doesn't have a chance to get in my system," he says.

When Precup first became ill, his doctors had no idea what was causing the extreme dizziness that landed him in the hospital for a week.

"I couldn't eat, I couldn't even keep water down," he says. "I lost 18 pounds in two weeks. I tried Compazine and Antivert, but they didn't work. I was in fear for my life. I know pot gives you the munchies. When I first tried it, I was actually able to eat."

His experience made Precup a believer in the medical use of marijuana. He was one of the founders of OPN and now serves as its president.

'You can't OD'
Hagan's father spent the last six months of his life surrounded by his family, and he wasn't in pain — because he was unconscious most of the time.

"If the medical field just pumps morphine into cancer patients, they basically are oblivious in the last few months of their life," Hagan says. "If I had known about it, I would have suggested that we could have looked at marijuana. After the death and after thinking about it, after you anguish over seeing a loved one go like that, you start thinking about those kind of things."

Under federal law, using marijuana in any form is illegal. State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) gives this as the reason for his opposition to SB 74.

"I would have no problem with considering this but for the fact that federal law makes it absolutely illegal," he says. "For us to legitimize under state law what remains under complete ban at the federal level would only expose doctors and their patients to a false sense of security that what they were doing is legal."

Undermining that law is the larger motivation behind medical marijuana, according to Molina.

"That's what part of this medical marijuana push is about," she says. "Let's get it out there and start showing it out there and start showing that smoking marijuana is valuable, it has medicinal benefits, and begin to normalize it and get it in mainstream society — and we can't afford to go there."

Precup resents the assumption that he's smoking just to get high. For him, it's the only medication that has worked effectively and consistently throughout the 19-year course of his illness. Precup says he's been prescribed a muscle relaxant that causes liver damage and could lead to a coma.

"You can't OD on marijuana," he says.

The question of whether medical marijuana is beneficial won't be determined until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes a ruling. That can happen only when the requirements for FDA approval are met.

Even though more than 100 medical institutions have acknowledged the medicinal potential of smoking marijuana, no studies can be conducted in this country because of federal law.

Caught in the middle are the sick. ©

Decide For Yourself
The issues related to medical marijuana are numerous and complicated. Both sides have legitimate arguments supporting their beliefs and can be equally dismissive of the other side. A larger point raised by this debate is the question of drug policy in America. Here are some resources that provide information about both sides of the issue.

· Senate Bill 74,

Oliver Meinerding



It was the prospect of his father's impending death that made State Sen. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) consider the medicinal value of marijuana.

"I was there when the doctor said, 'You have six months, Mr. Hagan,' " he says.

His father's pain and suffering is also what made Hagan bristle when he was late for a meeting and State Sen. Robert Spada (R-North Royalton), assistant majority floor leader, inquired, "What were you doing — smoking a joint?"

That kind of attitude is nothing new to Hagan, who first proposed legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2003. Determined not to let ignorance stand in the way, he's proposed it again, as Senate Bill 74.

"To them, those kinds of things are just off-the-cuff and indicate preconceived notions about what this bill is all about," he says. "Shame on him and shame on them. I think we have a wonderful opportunity to explain what this is all about and its true intent."

'We have some clout'
Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is well versed in the medical marijuana laws in place in 10 states. Hagan's bill is very limited in scope, he says.

"This is a bill that is very specific in identifying who the qualified patients are and who will have access to marijuana," Armentano says.

"And then it's very specific on stating how much marijuana they can legally possess and be compliant with the state law."

Polls show 70 to 80 percent of Americans support the legalization of medicinal marijuana. Mary Jane Borden, business manager for Drug Sense, is one of them. A pharmaceutical employee for nine years, Borden says information about one of the most beneficial therapies available, marijuana, isn't being disseminated.

"Doctors are not going to take the lead on this," she says. "This is about patients. We've got to stand up and say, 'This works for me, Doctor.' "

But patients don't always have access to information beyond what drug companies make available, according to Borden. That's where the Ohio Patient Network (OPN) comes in. She helped form the group in 2001. OPN's purpose is to coordinate information between patients, medical professionals and attorneys as well as to educate the public in support of the compassionate use of cannabis.

"It's not about five hippies and a dog," Borden says. "We have some political clout. These are people who actually go down and talk to their legislators. If they do it enough, they eventually get noticed."

Groups against the legalization of marijuana under any circumstances are equally vocal — and their support reaches into the state's highest political offices. Gov. Bob Taft's office refers to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services (ODADAS) for its position.

"To date, there is little data from clinical trials to support or refute claims that smoked marijuana has any medical benefits," says an ODADAS statement. "The American Medical Association does not recognize the efficacy of medical marijuana."

Rhonda Ramsey Molina, executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati, shares the state's distaste for marijuana in smoked form. She says common practice is to take the beneficial components of plants and put them in pills.

"And that's the same thing with marijuana," she says. "There are derivatives, there are parts of the plant that can be derived and put into pill form that may have medicinal value."

Marinol, a synthetic form of THC (delta9-tetrahyrdocannabinol) — the psychoactive ingredient in pot — is the most popular drug derived from marijuana. It's approved for use as an anti-nauseant and an appetite stimulant. Doctors also prescribe it for other conditions, such as depression and muscle spasticity.

John Precup of Manchester has multiple sclerosis. He has a prescription for Marinol, but he doesn't consider it very effective.

"When I'm sick and puking, it's hard to keep a pill down very long, so it doesn't have a chance to get in my system," he says.

When Precup first became ill, his doctors had no idea what was causing the extreme dizziness that landed him in the hospital for a week.

"I couldn't eat, I couldn't even keep water down," he says. "I lost 18 pounds in two weeks. I tried Compazine and Antivert, but they didn't work. I was in fear for my life. I know pot gives you the munchies. When I first tried it, I was actually able to eat."

His experience made Precup a believer in the medical use of marijuana. He was one of the founders of OPN and now serves as its president.

'You can't OD'
Hagan's father spent the last six months of his life surrounded by his family, and he wasn't in pain — because he was unconscious most of the time.

"If the medical field just pumps morphine into cancer patients, they basically are oblivious in the last few months of their life," Hagan says. "If I had known about it, I would have suggested that we could have looked at marijuana. After the death and after thinking about it, after you anguish over seeing a loved one go like that, you start thinking about those kind of things."

Under federal law, using marijuana in any form is illegal. State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) gives this as the reason for his opposition to SB 74.

"I would have no problem with considering this but for the fact that federal law makes it absolutely illegal," he says. "For us to legitimize under state law what remains under complete ban at the federal level would only expose doctors and their patients to a false sense of security that what they were doing is legal."

Undermining that law is the larger motivation behind medical marijuana, according to Molina.

"That's what part of this medical marijuana push is about," she says. "Let's get it out there and start showing it out there and start showing that smoking marijuana is valuable, it has medicinal benefits, and begin to normalize it and get it in mainstream society — and we can't afford to go there."

Precup resents the assumption that he's smoking just to get high. For him, it's the only medication that has worked effectively and consistently throughout the 19-year course of his illness. Precup says he's been prescribed a muscle relaxant that causes liver damage and could lead to a coma.

"You can't OD on marijuana," he says.

The question of whether medical marijuana is beneficial won't be determined until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes a ruling. That can happen only when the requirements for FDA approval are met.

Even though more than 100 medical institutions have acknowledged the medicinal potential of smoking marijuana, no studies can be conducted in this country because of federal law.

Caught in the middle are the sick. ©

Decide For Yourself
The issues related to medical marijuana are numerous and complicated. Both sides have legitimate arguments supporting their beliefs and can be equally dismissive of the other side. A larger point raised by this debate is the question of drug policy in America. Here are some resources that provide information about both sides of the issue.

· Senate Bill 74, www.legislature.state.oh.us/ bills.cfm?ID=126_SB_74

The bill would regulate the use of marijuana by requiring a physician to conduct an assessment and provide a statement verifying that a patient would benefit from marijuana therapy. The doctor would be required to provide a patient with information about the benefits and possible risks before a patient would apply to the Ohio Department of Health's patient registry. The application would begin a verification process that would result in the issuance of an identification card. Qualifying illnesses would include HIV/AIDS and other wasting diseases, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasticity, cancer, cachexia, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, Crohn's disease, nausea and chronic pain.

· The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, www.norml.org

· Ohio Patient Network, www.ohiopatient.net/action/ index.htm

The OPN Web site provides a variety of information and resources about medical marijuana, including templates for letters to send to elected officials and suggestions of ways you can get involved.

· Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, www.odadas.state.oh.us/gd/_gd_templates/pages/gdpagedefault.aspx?page=1

The mission of ODADAS is to "provide nationally recognized leadership in establishing, brokering and marketing quality alcohol and other drug addiction prevention and treatment services accessible to all Ohioans within a system that promotes innovation, accountability and value."

· Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati, www.drugfreecincinnati.org

· Drug Sense, www.drugsense.org

This Web site, with information and resources that examine drug policy, cuts through the rhetoric and sound bites used by advocates and provides an intelligent perspective on drugs, their impact on humanity and a reality-based discussion.

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