Pubdate: Wed, 28 Apr 2004
Source: Times Argus (VT)
Copyright: 2004 Times Argus
Author: John Zicconi, Vermont Press Bureau
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


MONTPELIER - The two sides of the medical marijuana debate collided
here Tuesday, when a supporter of the controversial state legislation
loudly interrupted a presentation given by President George W. Bush's
deputy drug czar, who was in town to advise local lawmakers on drug

The Bush administration strongly opposes decriminalizing marijuana for
medical purposes. The protester was among about 60 people who attended
Dr. Andrea Barthwell's hour-long public presentation at the Pavilion
Building auditorium. He said he was upset that the White House is
trying to influence the local debate.

Vermont would become the 10th state to decriminalize marijuana for
medical purposes if a bill now being considered by a House committee
becomes law. The Senate has already approved the measure.

"They did not come here to listen to us, they came here to lecture us
on their drug policy," the unidentified male protester yelled before
being escorted out of the auditorium by security guards. "They have no
business coming here and affecting our local debate."

The interruption curtailed a public question-and-answer session, which
did not resume. He was one of about 40 persons who earlier in the day
attended a rally on the Statehouse stairs supporting the use of
marijuana in medical treatment. The rally was called by several
pro-marijuana groups in response to Barthwell's visit.

Before meeting with the public and catching a mid-afternoon flight
back to Washington, D.C., Barthwell spent the morning at the
Statehouse, where she met privately with Gov. James Douglas and
testified before the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees.

Douglas, who does not support medical marijuana use, said Barthwell
was invited to Vermont in part to "meet with legislative committees
and explain to them why legalizing pot is not a good idea."

Although her marijuana stance clearly drew the most attention,
Barthwell also spoke with lawmakers about the administration's of
methadone to treat heroin addiction and a new federal initiative to
identify non-addicted drug users - so-called recreational users - and
get them off drugs before they either become addicted or convince
non-users to try drugs for the first time. Barthwell said marijuana
users are among the program's prime targets.

Besides decriminalizing marijuana for medical use, Vermont lawmakers
are also considering expanding methadone treatment beyond a single
Burlington-based clinic that can only treat 105 addicts. The proposal
approves additional clinics and allows recovering addicts to take
liquid methadone doses at home instead of having to ingest them in
front of clinic staff.

Take-home methadone would allow the Burlington clinic, which has a
waiting list of about 150 addicts, to treat an additional 30 patients.

Barthwell, who is the deputy director for demand reduction for the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, said she supports expanding
Vermont's methadone treatment to opiate addicts. However, she does not
favor the medical use of marijuana for any reason, she said.

"We do not want to see a medical marijuana bill pass here or anywhere
else," Barthwell said.

Barthwell said despite anecdotal accounts from cancer, Multiple
Sclerosis and AIDS patients that smoking marijuana relieves nausea,
eases severe pain and increases appetite, there is no scientific
evidence to back up such claims. In fact, allowing people to grow and
smoke marijuana would expose already sick people to potentially
harmful, uncontrolled doses of the drug, she said.

"It's a cruel hoax that exploits our passion for the sick," said
Barthwell, who believes terminally ill patients are often "coached" on
what to tell lawmakers by those whose true agenda is to legalize
marijuana for everyone.

Barthwell told lawmakers that THC, the active ingredient of marijuana,
does show medical promise. Researchers are working to extract
regulated doses of THC for medical use, much as they already have done
with opiate compounds like morphine. But until science does this, the
drug should remain illegal, she said.

"Smoking a crude plant product is not a safe delivery system,"
Barthwell told lawmakers. "Smoking a crude plant is not medicine."

Medical marijuana supporters said terminally ill people are not
instructed how to talk to lawmakers. They also said that smoking the
substance is both safe and effective medicine.

"I went to school all right, the school of HIV," said Katherine
Perera, a Hancock resident who contracted AIDS 22 years ago and uses
marijuana to combat the nausea caused by her medication. "I'm fighting
for something I believe in. To put me down that way leaves me a little

Sen. James Leddy, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Health and
Welfare Committee, also took Barthwell to task on her stance.

"We heard nothing that was an alternative for these people's pain and
suffering, so we struggle to understand where the hoax is," Leddy told
Barthwell. "They are seeking desperate relief from pain and nausea.
The government says the cruel hoax is taking the plant and using it in
an illegal way... You are making a statement that based on the
testimony we heard is not credible to the committee."
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