Pubdate: Fri, 19 Nov 2004
Source: Public Broadcasting Service (US)
Show: Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (US)
2004 see specific show for correct copyright
Anchor: Bob Abernethy
Reporter: Lucky Severson
Cited: Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana ( )
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy ( )
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft ( )
Cited: Drug Enforcement Administration ( )
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: This past Election Day, voters in Montana
approved the use of marijuana if a doctor recommends it to relieve
pain. That brings to 10 the number of states --almost all in the West
- -- that now permit so-called medical marijuana.

But, until the Supreme Court decides which laws should prevail, that
permission at the state level remains in contradiction to federal law,
which forbids marijuana use for any reason. Lucky Severson reports.

LUCKY SEVERSON: For now, anyway, this is a legally protected pot
garden. It's located near Santa Cruz in California, and belongs to a
nonprofit group called Women's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, known
as WAMM. Valerie Corral founded WAMM after a car accident years ago
left her with severe epilepsy and unbearable migraines. Her doctor
prescribed medicine, but she says it didn't help. Her husband agrees.

MIKE CORRAL (Women's Alliance for Medical Marijuana): I don't think I
can really describe the difficulty and the sadness that we both went
through during those years, until we discovered marijuana.

SEVERSON: But they won't get a sympathetic hearing from the White
House office of national drug control policy.

DAVID MURRAY (White House Office of National Drug Control Policy):
Unfortunately, the information that we have to date about smoked
marijuana is that it is an illusion -- it does not address therapeutic
needs of patients. In fact, the likelihood is high that they are
actually doing more damage to themselves by taking in this substance.

VALERIE CORRAL (Women's Alliance for Medical Marijuana): What can I
say to somebody who believes that they know more about my suffering
than I do?

SEVERSON: The clash between public policy and personal rights is not
lost on the people at this WAMM-sponsored event on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Many here say they have a note from their doctor recommending that
they light up. But Valerie Corral says marijuana is only a small part
of what WAMM is about -- that it's about people in pain caring for one
another. She says she has cared for 140 friends who have died from
cancer and other diseases.

Ms. CORRAL: I would invite anyone to spend an afternoon with me at the
bedside of one of our friends who is dying and to watch that suffering
fade away with a small puff of medicine.

SEVERSON: David Murray says he does not know Valerie Corral, but he
suspects the motives of anyone campaigning for medical marijuana.

Mr. MURRAY: I believe the real lack of compassion here is those whose
political agenda for legalization is so strong that they are willing
to use as hostages and as front people suffering patients in
wheelchairs and holding them up as if that is the real reason. They
want this drug available to themselves. That is my

SEVERSON: Murray is not alone in his criticism of medical marijuana
advocacy groups. Barrett Duke, with the Southern Baptist Convention,
shares his skepticism.

Dr. BARRETT DUKE (Southern Baptist Convention): The people who are
advocating it just want people to go out in their back yard and want
them to grow plants and pick the leaves and smoke them. That doesn't
seem to me to be a very healthy approach to medicine.

SEVERSON: There are now numerous medical marijuana clubs operating in
Northern California where patients can get marijuana in all forms as
well as support and counseling.

Since the court decision in 2002 that doctors could not be punished
for recommending medical marijuana, the number of patients smoking pot
has grown into the thousands. But federal law still defines smoking
marijuana for any reason as illegal under the Controlled Substance
Act. And in some instances, government agents have vigorously enforced
the law. Such was the case in 2002 when Valerie and Mike were arrested
once again by DEA agents.

Ms. CORRAL: He put the gun to my head right where I have the brain
trauma from my car accident. And, but I have to say, at that moment
something happened inside of me.

SEVERSON: That's when she sued the government and won a temporary
injunction to stop federal prosecutions and keep the garden going. The
court ruled in her favor because she wasn't selling marijuana, she was
giving it away.

Ms. CORRAL: It is not a law enforcement issue, it is a health

PAULA YARR: I have been in so much pain that I cannot

SEVERSON: Paula Yarr has lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer in
remission. She has undergone 12 surgeries and says her medicines only
make her sicker. So she smokes, and says it gives her relief.

Ms. YARR: I was once very conservative in my thinking. But that was a
long time ago.

SEVERSON: A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit
research organization, concluded that marijuana can be helpful in
treating pain, nausea, and vomiting. There are legally prescribed
painkillers, such as the pill Marinol, a marijuana derivative that can
ease pain. Brian Bachmann, who has been HIV positive since 1985, says
Marinol and other pharmaceuticals that can have side effects don't
work very well for him.

BRIAN BACHMANN: I have tried Marinol in the past. I found it to be
overwhelmingly sedative and not as effective and controllable as
smoking marijuana.

SEVERSON: Bruce Mirken, with the Marijuana Policy Project, a private
advocacy group, says Marinol and other pharmaceuticals often don't

BRUCE MIRKEN (Marijuana Policy Project): Those drugs work for some
people, and for those for whom they work, great, God bless them. But
any physician will tell you that no drug works for everybody.

SEVERSON: He says the Food and Drug Administration is out of step with
science and polls that show two thirds of the public now supporting
the use of medical marijuana.

Mr. MIRKEN: When you look at the public opinion polls, you look at the
growing number of medical and public health organizations, there is no
doubt that public opinion has begun to shift and begun to take a more
nuanced view.

SEVERSON: The shift in public opinion is one reason an increasing
number of denominations are now giving their blessing to medical
marijuana. That includes most mainline Protestant churches. The
Reverend Andrew Gunn, retired after 50 years in the United Methodist

Reverend ANDREW GUNN (Retired Methodist Minister): The United
Methodist Church, which has been strongly against drugs, just this
past year, three months ago, passed an amendment to be in favor of
medical marijuana. And it passed overwhelmingly, which was quite a
surprise to most of us.

Mr. MURRAY: My impression is that they have been badly briefed,
because no aware and passionate, careful, morally charged person, in a
church or otherwise, who actually looks at the evidence and the
record, could sustain that understanding.

SEVERSON: There are still churches that strongly oppose the use of
medical marijuana, like the nondenominational church Paula Yarr belongs to.

Ms. YARR: They said that I couldn't be in a leadership position --
that it wouldn't be safe for the kids.

SEVERSON: The Southern Baptist Convention is still very strongly
opposed to medical marijuana.

Dr. DUKE: People's lives are being destroyed by this. And there are
too many people taking illicit drugs now. To make medical marijuana
more available is simply going to increase the likelihood that more
people are going to end up with serious drug problems.

SEVERSON: That's the argument most opponents of legally prescribed
marijuana make: that it will start an epidemic. Critics charge that
marijuana clubs, like this one in the Bay area, are dispensing a drug
illegally and the users are coming here for pleasure as much as pain.
They might point to this man, Joshua John, who has smoked four joints
and eaten one rather potent brownie. But he says he requires a heavy
dose of marijuana to soften the pain of a severe and rare form of arthritis.

JOSHUA JOHN: Am I breaking the law? In my wallet right now, I have a
note from a doctor -- a licensed M.D. -- that says he doesn't see any
reason why I shouldn't continue what I am doing for my pain, as long
as I am not driving and being irresponsible.

SEVERSON: The greatest fear seems to be that legalizing medical
marijuana will lead to legalizing recreational marijuana.

Mr. MIRKEN: Doctors have been able to prescribe cocaine and morphine
and methamphetamines since before I was born, and I don't see any
movement to legalize those drugs for recreational use.

SEVERSON: It was Reverend Gunn's dying wife who persuaded him that
medical marijuana should be legalized. It was after his son, a doctor,
recommended it to ease her pain. But medical marijuana was illegal in
Maryland, where they lived.

Rev. GUNN: I think it is a matter of compassion. A matter of carrying
out the will, God's will to love one another and to help one another.
And this is a positive way in which we can help people who are very
sick and need as much help as they can get.

SEVERSON: But Barrett Duke, with the Southern Baptist Convention,
defines compassion another way.

Dr. DUKE: Christ would call humanity to do everything they could to
relieve suffering. But I think he expects us to do that in a
responsible way. While we would help bring relief to some people, we
would create a lot of problems for a lot more people in the long run
as a result.

SEVERSON: People on both sides say they feel compassion for the sick
and dying, for those caught in the middle. The Supreme Court will
decide how that compassion should be administered, and whether Valerie
and Mike Corral can keep their garden. For RELIGION & ETHICS
NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Lucky Severson in Santa Cruz, California.

ABERNETHY: The high court will hear arguments on November 29 on
whether federal law or state law should prevail in medical marijuana
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