Pubdate: Mon, 17 Sep 2001
Source: Home News Tribune (NJ)
Page: B1, B2
Copyright: 2001 Home News Tribune
Author: Tracy Ecclesine Ivie, correspondent
Note: Article included 4 photos
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Proponents of marijuana tout its medicinal value, but opponents call the 
claims a hoax

When it comes to marijuana as medicine, there's a lot of talk about 
compassion. There are compassionate buying clubs that grow marijuana for 
medical patients, compassionate laws and compassionate programs.

There's even the compassion question:

Is it more compassionate: a) to allow people who are very ill to use 
marijuana, under a doctor's care, or b) to keep it out of circulation 
because medical marijuana is a cruel hoax?

The jury could be out for a long time because opposing camps show no signs 
of backing down.

For Jim Miller of Toms River, who wants to use marijuana -- legally to help 
his wife Cheryl, time is running out. Cheryl, 55, who has advanced multiple 
sclerosis, can barely sit up, and is growing weaker every day.

Cheryl regularly suffers from spasticity, a painful tightening of the 
muscles that causes her legs to stiffen up so much Jim can barely move her.

She has a prescription for Marinol, an FDA-approved version of marijuana, 
but marijuana works much better than Marinol when it comes to easing her 
pain, according to Jim. Her range of motion is unbelievably different using 
marijuana, says Jim, who also believes marijuana makes his wife more alert.

When Cheryl was at a rehabilitation center a while back, she was almost 
thrown out of the program because it took three people to pick her up, he 
says. That was before Jim slipped her marijuana brownies -- he didn't 
reveal the ingredients to the staff. These days, if Cheryl has marijuana, 
it's usually combined with butter because she doesn't smoke.

Jim and Cheryl have been waging a public battle to get marijuana accepted 
as medicine. He's been arrested twice -- once for lying in at the doorway 
to Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia's office, whom Jim blames for 
single-handedly stopping the vote count on a medical marijuana referendum 
in Washington, DC

Jim says when he went to court he got a $50 dollar fine and the judge 
wished him luck.

But all he hopes now is that his wife of 17 years will see some progress 
toward their goal while she's still alive. "I don't believe she's going to 
live that long," he says. "I can't even understand how she's still with us."

Meanwhile, others claim marijuana helps relief the pressure of glaucoma as 
well as the intense nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and 
some AIDS symptoms. And although the Institute of Medicine and the American 
Medical Association say there's no concrete evidence marijuana works, they 
recommend further study.

Marijuana clearly has medicinal value, says Lyn Nofziger, former press 
secretary to Ronald Reagan, in the foreword to "Marijuana as Medicine." 
Nofziger says he turned to illegal marijuana to help an adult daughter who 
was constantly vomiting after undergoing chemotherapy.

If doctors can prescribe morphine and other addictive medicines, it makes 
no sense to deny marijuana to sick and dying patients when it can be 
provided on a carefully controlled, prescription basis, he says.

Christian Ratsch, author of " Marijuana Medicine," says traces of hashish 
- -- a concentrated form of marijuana resin -- were found in Egyptian 
mummies, and that hemp has also been used over the years in Russia, Asia 
and South America for allergies, blood clots, asthma and skin diseases, 
among other ailments.

On the other side of the marijuana debate are a host of law-enforcement 
officials, anti-drug organizations, politicians and others who believe that 
besides the fact that marijuana is illegal, it doesn't work.

"To say otherwise is to lead innocent people on," says David G. Evans a 
Pittstown attorney who also represents three New Jersey drug-treatment 
centers. "In the long run, the kindest thing is to enforce governmental 
standards of medical treatment for people...That's the most compassionate 
thing because otherwise you lead people down blind alleys and you kill them."

"Smoked marijuana is an intoxicant," he says. "If you're intoxicated, it's 
not helping you." He adds that smoked marijuana damages the immune system 
and has more carcinogens than cigarettes.

To Evans, the proponents of medical marijuana are perpetrating a cruel hoax 
by using persuasive and heart-wrenching tales about sick people. He says 
although there are anecdotal stories about marijuana helping some people, 
studies by several key medical groups proved it was ineffective.

"In the United States, we have a very good drug-approval process...we 
should use that drug-approval process," he says. A century ago, before the 
Food and Drug Administration, "We had chaos. We had snake oil," he says.

A cancer survivor himself, Evans says, "I know what it's like to be faced 
with death. At that point you need good, accurate information...If I looked 
at the guys who said 'Marijuana cures cancer,' I'd be dead today."

He says he believes many organizations that tout a a pro-marijuana medicine 
message are actually for legalizing all marijuana.

While Evans was in Washington, DC, recently, "marijuana advocates told 
schoolchildren that marijuana makes you smarter, a better driver and 
prevents cancer," he says. "They're trying to say that this is not harmful, 
and that's not true."

Forty-eight percent of the kids that are in drug treatment today are there 
because of marijuana, he says. "We've got tons of kids that have a 
marijuana problem. It's a harmful drug."

Evans is involved with a coalition of some 50 anti-drug organizations that 
are gearing up to fight potential state referendums on medical marijuana. 
About half the states -- but not New Jersey - have the power to hold any 
kind of state referendums.

Nine states have already approved the use of medical marijuana: Alaska, 
Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and 
Washington. However, in May, in a case involving a California marijuana 
buyers club, the Supreme Court ruled marijuana can't be sold for medicinal 
purposes. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion that 
marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United 

That case was successful. "The Supreme Court agrees with us," says Evans, 
adding only a small percentage of the people who frequented marijuana 
buyers clubs were actually medical users. "A lot of them are 21 year olds 
who have gotten a doctor on the Internet to recommend it."

Proponents of medical marijuana say the Supreme Court ruling was strictly 
about distribution, and that in states which passed referendums, people who 
grow their own marijuana for medicinal use are free from prosecution under 
state law -- although they could be prosecuted under federal law.

Nicolas Eyle, executive director of Reconsider, a pro-marijuana 
organization says, "If a local town cop drives by and sees your plants, 
they can't do anything. If a federal D. E. A.  officer drives by, he can 
seize your home."

On his first day in office last month, new Drug Enforcement Administration 
Director Asa Hutchinson said he would strive to enforce the federal ban on 
medical marijuana. Singling out a new California law allowing sick people 
to receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without 
fear of state prosecution, he said he was concerned about drug quality control.

Meanwhile, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts introduced legislation 
to repeal federal restrictions preventing states from allowing medical use 
of marijuana, saying he didn't think the federal government should overturn 
state referendums.

New Jersey state Sen. Bill Schluter also wants to see legalization of 
marijuana for medical use, and has introduced a state resolution that urges 
Congress to allow marijuana for medical patients under doctors' orders.

Under his proposal. "doctors will prescribe based on sound information," he 

Thirteen states, including New Jersey, have laws allowing medical-marijuana 
research, and numerous studies already have been done, but few or these are 
the rigorous clinical studies required for drug approval by the FDA.

The Millers are still hoping the state of New Jersey will get involved in a 
medical-marijuana research program, and have a letter from Dr. Alan 
Leshner, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, saying he is 
open to "state-sponsored research projects."

But the chances appear to be slim in New Jersey, at least for now, based on 
a recent letter from George DiFerdinando Jr., acting commissioner of New 
Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services, to Reed Gusciora. a 
state assemblyman who inquired about research programs here. The 
department's position, according to DiFerdinando, is that "based on current 
federal law and New Jersey state law, marijuana remains illegal.

The Millers, who are getting ready for their semi-annual trip to 
Washington, DC, hope to change that when they and other medical marijuana 
proponents visit several legislators in their offices next month.

Although the trip may be a bit tough on Cheryl, "We're on," Jim says 
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