Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2001
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Orange County Register
Contact:  P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711
Fax: (714) 565-3657
Author: Teri Sforza, The Orange County Register
Bookmarks: (California) (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Researchers Hope To Resolve Some Of The Controversy About The
Therapeutic Value Of The Drug.

The University of California is beginning clinical investigations into
marijuana as medicine, hoping to end the roiling controversy over its
medical usefulness once and for all.

"It's very exciting -- a first in the country," said Drew Mattison,
co-director of the newly formed Center for Medicinal Cannabis
Research, headquartered at UC San Diego. Last month, the center
announced the first of $3 million in research grants. Researchers at
UC San Diego and UC San Francisco will examine marijuana's effect on
HIV- related pain; on the spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis; and
on the driving abilities of patients with AIDS and MS.

The studies should start enrolling patients in April or May, after
federal regulatory approval. Patients who want to take part can add
their names to a waiting list.

Local medical marijuana activists laud the studies, but don't plan to
join them. "I'm glad they're going in the right direction," said
Marvin Chavez, director of the Orange County Patient, Doctor, Nurse
Support Group Cannabis Co-op. "But from my point of view, it's a waste
of taxpayers' money. We don't need a study. We're living testimony
that it works."

The new research center was formed in August. It's the product of a
bill introduced by Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, who has been
trying to make Proposition 215 work for years. Vasconcellos hopes the
center's research will finally prove what other studies have shown:
That the active ingredient in marijuana helps spur appetite and deaden

Prop. 215 is California's medical marijuana law, which has been
trapped between state and federal drug laws since it passed in 1996.
While Prop. 215 gave patients in California the right to grow and use
marijuana for a variety of illnesses with a doctor's recommendation,
federal drug law still classifies it alongside heroin and LSD, drugs
that have no medical use.

Vasconcellos hopes that the center's research will leave the politics
of medical marijuana in the past. "It's UC's ball now," said Rand
Martin, chief of staff for Vasconcellos. "We need to let them do what
they are well-equipped to do."

Study results will be reported to the Legislature and the governor, to
help them decide how to implement Prop. 215.

The research is not only supposed to help California with this task --
it will help the eight other states which have approved medical
marijuana in its wake. They are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii,
Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Many of them are farther along when it comes to implementing the laws
than California, and that's part of the burden of being the
trailblazer, said the people who crafted Prop. 215.

"California was the first state to pass a medical marijuana
initiative, and some problems weren't anticipated," said Bill
Zimmerman, who was campaign manager for Prop. 215 and is now executive
director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies in Santa Monica, which
has sponsored drug-reform initiatives in several states.

The big problems here: Prop. 215 didn't address how the drug would be
distributed, or how the state would keep track of who was legally
allowed to use it.

In the other states, the most important change was to write
state-controlled patient registries into the law, Zimmerman said. Such
registries, which usually issue identification cards, make it easy for
law enforcement to separate legitimate patients from

That language was used in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and most
recently, Colorado, Zimmerman said.

For more information about the medical research, and to get on the
list of prospective patient participants, see the center's Web site at
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake