Pubdate: Tue, 06 Jul 2004
Source: Ann Arbor News (MI)
Copyright: 2004 The Ann Arbor News
Author: Tracy Davis, News Staff Reporter
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Advocates For Decriminalization Think Voters Will OK Medical

When Chuck Ream first began suffering severe stomach pains in 1968,
doctors gave him antacids.

As the pain grew worse - endoscopies would later reveal gastritis,
ulcers and lack of a proper membrane in the duodenum - he was
prescribed barbiturates, tranquilizers and more antacids.

They worked, sort of, at first. But when the pain worsened again, a
friend suggested he try smoking marijuana.

"I tried it, and my stomach untightened, and I could breathe a little
bit," he said. "It didn't solve all my problems, but it allowed me to
function and return to school."

Ream, a Scio Township trustee, is among an increasingly vocal
contingent of people nationwide who tout the medicinal benefits of

Those who support legalizing it say it can ease and even prevent
nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, lessen the pain of
cancer patients, reduce the spasms of diseases like multiple
sclerosis, reduce pressure in the eyes of people suffering glaucoma
and induce appetite in wasted AIDS patients.

Though federal law still bans it, nine states and a few municipalities
have laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Ann
Arbor could become one of those places this November when voters
decide whether to amend the city charter to instruct local law
enforcement not to arrest or charge those with a health care
provider's recommendation to use the drug. Currently possession of
marijuana in Ann Arbor is a $25 fine.

Similar drives by the Washtenaw Coalition for Compassionate Care are
planned in Saline and Yspilanti and possibly, the state of
Michigan.Casting aside social concerns about legalizing medical use of
the long-banned plant, however, many who are opposed say there are
plenty of other safe, legitimate, FDA-approved drugs to treat nausea,
pain and other things advocates want to use marijuana for.

When California became the first state to pass a medical marijuana law
in 1996, then-director of the White House Office of National Drug
Control Policy Gen. Barry McCaffrey commissioned a comprehensive
government study of marijuana's medical viability.

A group of 12 independent experts from the prestigious Institute of
Medicine compiled all literature to date and studied it. The group
then held public hearings attended by everyone from 80-year-old
grandmothers using marijuana to prevent the pain and nausea of breast
cancer treatment to staunch opponents of marijuana to those who seemed
to be advocating marijuana for everyday stress.

"In the end, we came away with two substantial conclusions," recalled
study co-director Dr. Stanley Watson, a University of Michigan
psychiatry professor and co-director of U-M's mental health research
institute. "There was nothing overwhelmingly good about marijuana over
other drugs" for various conditions and symptoms, he said.

The report did conclude that it had potential therapeutic value for
pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting and appetite stimulation,
and that its psychological effects may enhance therapeutic value. But
so do many other safe, FDA-approved drugs, Watson said.

The second conclusion, Watson said, was that marijuana had not been
well-studied, and should be further examined under more controlled

Proponents say that though there are other drugs, not all drugs work
for everyone.

"Even if (marijuana) just helped 10 or 20 or 40 percent of the people,
why not let them use it?" Ream asks.

An Ann Arbor woman who did not want her name used because she lives in
drug-free government subsidized housing and feared being evicted, said
marijuana was the only thing that helped her when gastritis and
stomach problems did not allow her to keep food down.

"More often than not, I had to choose between eating or upsetting my
stomach," she said. Gallbladder surgery earlier this year fixed the
problem, and she said she hasn't used marijuana since.

"I am grateful for this little herb because it kept me out of the
emergency room," she said. "So I will be at the polls come Nov. 2."

The medical community has increasingly been receptive to the
possibility of using the drug for medicine. In 1993, a pair of Harvard
University professors, one of whom held a medical degree, published a
book called "Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine." It presented numerous
case reports of symptomatic relief of a wide variety of physical and
psychological illnesses. Several medical societies and caregiver groups
have since endorsed medical marijuana or more research into it.

But the vast majority of physicians balk at endorsing smoking
marijuana. Its potential benefits are undermined by smoking, a crude
and unhealthy delivery system. The IOM study called for study of other
delivery systems, such as an oral spray.

The study also noted that it is not as effective in reducing eye
pressure in glaucoma patients as legal medicines are. It also noted
that there is little evidence to support the notion that it helps
treat movement disorders like Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.

The federal government has not changed its position on marijuana use
for medical purposes either.

It remains illegal to possess, and the office of drug control policy
notes that the FDA was created to ensure all medicine falls under the
"safe and effective" standard before it's sold to consumers.

That does not include smoking raw plant materials with some 400
unknown compounds in addition to active ingredients, including toxic
carbon monoxide and tar, according to the office.

And many in the drug abuse education community fret about the messages
that legitimizing medical marijuana sends.

Justin Bishop, founder of Clean Teens and program director of the
Washtenaw County Community Partnership, said marijuana is already too
easy for kids to get.

Bishop said the dynamics of the debate have made it hard for people
like himself to raise questions without seeming to lack compassion.

"If my grandmother was dying from cancer and was suffering, I wouldn't
want her to suffer," he said. "But is marijuana the only answer? I
doubt it. How do you take science against compassion?"

Bishop said the partnership plans to hold forums and hoped to air some
educational videos on local television stations in an effort to make
sure voters got a complete picture.

The IOM report, the most comprehensive analysis ever done on the
question, resulted in a firestorm of attention and

It acknowledged in its opening paragraphs that many have criticized
the medical marijuana movement as a hoax that exploits compassion for
the sick and dying. The mission of the Marijuana Policy Project, which
Ream said recently sent $2,000 to help with campaigning, is to "remove
criminal penalties" for marijuana use. Though the project emphasizes
its medical uses, their goal is legalization.

But the report also acknowledges what advocates have been saying for
years: that it is a uniquely soothing medicine the sick have been
unfairly denied.

One of marijuana's compounds, THC, is sold in synthetic pill form as
an FDA-approved drug called Marinol. The drug is designed to stimulate
appetite and help prevent illness- and treatment-related weight loss
in AIDS and cancer patients.

Tonight, Ann Arbor City Council will vote on the proposed ballot
language for the November election.

The proposed ballot language won't be finalized until council votes
and the city attorney approves it.

Essentially, if the question passes, it would prevent medical users
from being arrested or prosecuted by local police if they have a
health care provider's blessing.

Ann Arbor Police Chief Dan Oates said the law might cause trouble for
officers who wanted to charge someone, if that person tried to come up
with a medical marijuana defense.

"The bottom line is this is up to the voters; whatever the law is, we
will deal with it," he said. "As a person who has been in law
enforcement for 24 years, I have never seen anything good come from
the use of marijuana. But I have to admit I'm not fully up to date on
marijuana's medical value."

It would not, however, prevent any federal or state law enforcement
officers from arresting, charging and prosecuting the same person,
because marijuana remains illegal under state and federal law,
regardless of whether it is used, possessed or sold within the city

So whether the move, if it passes, would be merely symbolic is

Few places have effectively implemented medical marijuana programs or
laws, said Lloyd Johnston, a U-M research professor who directs the
annual Monitoring the Future survey, which follows substance use
trends among teens. And many physicians may be concerned about the
consequences of recommending marijuana to patients.

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy
Project, said it's more than symbolic. Local police do the vast
majority of arrests in most marijuana cases, he notes, and federal
agency arrests make up only 1 percent of all marijuana arrests.

Today nine states - Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California,
Nevada, Colorado, Maine and most recently, Vermont - have laws for
medical marijuana use. A few cities, including San Francisco and
Burlington, Vt., also have them, but most initiatives have been at the
state level, Mirken said.

In August, Detroit voters will take up the question through a similar,
petition-driven poll.

Ream said he is confident Ann Arbor voters will pass the

"I think the city of Ann Arbor will respond with reason and
compassion," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin