Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2001
Source: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (WI)
Copyright: 2001 Eau Claire Press
Author: Kevin Murphy, Leader-Telegram correspondent
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Legislation Expected To Be Drafted

MADISON -- Jacki Rickert says smoking marijuana saved her life. So she 
asked a legislative committee Tuesday to legalize pot for patients under a 
doctor's care.

Rickert, of Mondovi, said nausea and other side effects from medications 
she takes for two incurable conditions caused her weight to slip to 68 
pounds before she began smoking marijuana several years ago.

Cannabis helped her regain her appetite and about 30 pounds and enabled her 
to tolerate the medicine she needs for her ailments, which include 
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and a degenerative bone marrow condition, she said.

Rickert, who rolled her wheelchair from Mondovi to Madison in 1997 in 
support of increased medical use of marijuana, was one of five people 
invited to address the Assembly State Affairs Committee in anticipation of 
legislation to be drafted on the subject.

After Demerol, morphine and synthetic forms of marijuana's active 
ingredient severely irritated her stomach lining or caused breathing 
difficulties, Rickert asked her physician about marijuana therapy.

After three years of study, her now-deceased doctor told Rickert it was the 
"safest ... of any possible medications."

Rickert was one of a few dozen people nationwide to be accepted into a 
marijuana therapy program, but the program was snuffed out before she 
received any.

Rickert's doctor never was able to get complete clearance to prescribe 
marijuana for her.

"It was the first time in 35 years someone didn't honor his prescription," 
she said.

So Rickert has turned to other sources for marijuana, which she calls "a 
God-given herb."

"Be open-minded," she told the committee, "because tomorrow it could be you 
or your children in need of relief, and there's something out there that 
can help you."

However, Rickert's testimony was sharply contradicted by Dr. Michael 
Miller, speaking on behalf of the Wisconsin Medical Society. Miller urged 
the committee not to "get ahead of the science."

Although research has shown that pharmaceutical versions of marijuana's 
active ingredient have some medicinal benefits, smoked marijuana has none, 
Miller said.

Until valid and accepted medical research demonstrates that the benefits of 
smoking marijuana outweigh its potentially consequences, the drug should 
not be legalized in Wisconsin or elsewhere, Miller said.

"Marijuana is not a benign drug. Addiction to marijuana can and does occur. 
Dysfunction and disability do result. Families can be destroyed by cannabis 
addiction," he said. "The risks of legalizing smoked marijuana are great, 
and the medical evidence of its benefits is lacking."

Gina Dennik-Champion, executive director of Wisconsin Nurses Association, 
agreed that the medical benefits of smoked marijuana have not been 
thoroughly tested, but she said marijuana has been successfully used to 
alleviate a variety of discomfort for generations.

"There are some health care providers, including RNs, who sometimes suggest 
the medical use of cannabis to their patients," Dennik-Champion said. 
"Unfortunately, they will rarely document their advice so as to protect 
their license to practice ... (or) to protect the patient."

She said research by the Institute of Medicine found marijuana to have a 
low potential for abuse and addiction. The same report also said there was 
no evidence that marijuana use could lead to other more serious substances 
such as heroin.

Marijuana is used for therapy around the world, and a review of medical 
literature shows there is no reason for the continued prohibition against 
its medical use, she said.

Political pressure has suppressed most studies designed to determine the 
medical benefits of smoked marijuana, said Gary Storck, director of a 
Madison-based medicinal marijuana advocacy group.

"The government has known that pot shrinks tumors, that it lessens 
glaucoma's effects, but there are political considerations working against 
it," Storck said after the hearing. "There's evidence that marijuana has 
been used for thousands of years in various treatments; no drug has been 
studied that much."

State Rep. Frank Boyle, D-Superior, said legislation to legalize marijuana 
for medicinal use would be finished in about a month, the second time since 
1996 that he has sponsored it.

Similar laws have been passed in eight other states and are pending in 15 
more, he said.
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