Pubdate: Mon, 04 Oct 2004
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2004 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: Jim Ritter, Health Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Once or twice every day, Julie Falco breaks the law to relieve her
multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Eating illegal marijuana brownies, she says, allows her to stand up
straighter and walk more easily.

But Falco worries about getting busted, and she believes the stress
can worsen her symptoms. So today she plans to testify in favor of a
bill that would legalize the medical use of marijuana in Illinois.

The bill would allow a patient with a "debilitating medical condition"
to legally possess pot.

The House Health Care Availability and Access Committee is holding the
1 p.m. hearing at the Thompson Center. The committee shelved the bill
last March, but the measure likely will be re-introduced next year.

Ten states allow the medical use of marijuana, said Matthew Atwood of
Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform. He and other
supporters say marijuana can help relieve nausea and vomiting from
chemotherapy, appetite loss from AIDS, muscle spasms from MS and
pressure in the inner eye associated with glaucoma.

Opponents say legal drugs are safer and more effective, especially
when taken under the direction of a doctor. "You don't want to leave
management of a disease to episodic smoking of a weed," said former
deputy drug czar Dr. Andrea Barthwell. "It is not the best that 21st
century medicine can offer."

Barthwell notes that the prescription drug Marinol, which contains a
synthetic version of the active ingredient of marijuana, treats
chemotherapy nausea and AIDS wasting. Side effects include dizziness,
exaggerated happiness, paranoia, drowsiness and thinking abnormally.

Under the bill, a doctor would have to certify that a patient has a
medical condition that could be helped by using marijuana. The state
then would issue an identification card permitting the patient and his
or her primary care giver to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and
six marijuana plants. Barthwell said six mature plants could yield as
many as 1,000 joints.

Opponents say pot contains many harmful substances that could, for
example, weaken the immune system and increase the risk of lung infections.

Moreover, the legislation would send the wrong message to young people
who might conclude that if pot is used to treat patients, it must not
be very harmful. "It undermines our prevention efforts," Barthwell

Opponents also believe medical marijuana is the opening wedge in a
campaign to eventually legalize pot for recreational use, which they
believe would be disastrous. They cite studies showing that more young
people are in treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcohol or
for all drugs combined.

But Atwood denied that medical marijuana would be the first step
toward legalization.

"It's about protecting patients from arrest and imprisonment," he
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