Pubdate: Thu, 20 Feb 2003
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2003 Missoula Independent
Author: Jed Gottlieb
Cited: Montana NORML
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Russo, Ethan)


Rep. Ron Erickson (D-Missoula) doesn't kiss babies or stump at whistle 
stops, but he does go door to door and speak with his constituents every 
election cycle. A few years ago, Erickson knocked on a door and received a 
request that surprised him.

"I'm used to people talking to me about schools or property taxes," says 
Erickson. "But suddenly this guy asks if I believe in the use of medical 
marijuana. I said, 'as a matter of fact, pain counts, so yes I do.'"

The door he had knocked belonged to John Masterson--the director of the 
Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana 
Laws (NORML). Now, at the behest of Masterson and NORML, Erickson has made 
good on his position and introduced House Bill 506, which would legally 
protect medical marijuana patients from prosecution.

Such legislation, most often associated with California, is actually in 
effect in nine states, including Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and 
Oregon. Even Montana's neighbor to the south, Wyoming, has a similar bill 
that has already made it out of committee and onto the floor.

"We're just getting on board with the rest of the West," says Ethan Russo, 
M.D., of Montana Neurobehavioral Specialists, who helped draft the bill.

Russo says that the bill isn't meant to be symbolic; He believes it's a 
legitimate effort to legalize a legitimate medicine.

"This is a serious thing," he says. "Nobody should worry that this is an 
excuse to light up because they have a hangnail. This is designed as a 
treatment for serious medical illnesses."

Russo admits that smoking may not be the best way to receive medicine, but 
he says that marijuana's medicinal effectiveness is beyond debate. 
Medicinal marijuana's many uses include pain relief (particularly of 
neuropathic pain) and stimulation of the appetite (specifically for 
patients suffering from HIV, AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia), he says.

"Cannabis has always been medicine as long as recorded history," says 
Russo. "What you're seeing right now is just a temporary historical 

The bill is bound to have detractors who think that it's an attempt to move 
toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The criticism has long 
dogged the efforts of pro-medical marijuana legislators and NORML.

"I am sure that there will be distracting testimony claiming that this bill 
is something that this isn't," says Erickson.

The bill is set for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, 
Feb. 21. Both Russo and Erickson encourage supporters to testify, and they 
know they have thousands--NORML reports that more than 70 percent of 
Montanans support legalizing medical marijuana. But they also expect 
numerous opponents spouting the usual complaints: the bill undercuts the 
war on drugs, it sets a bad example for kids, etc.--second-opinions that 
may carry more weight with legislators than a doctor's prescription.
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