Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2005
Source: Isthmus (WI)
Copyright: 2005 Isthmus
Author: Lisa Kaiser
Note: Article accompanied by approximately 4 in. x 4 in. photo of Gary
Storck having his medicine.
Cited: Is My Medicine Legal YET?
Cited: Wisconsin NORML
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Most citizens support its legal use, but politicians may be too

When support for an issue approaches 80% among Wisconsin residents,
you would think that our state representatives would be falling all
over themselves to follow the will of the people. But when the issue
is legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, things get

On one side are people who use marijuana to help them cope with
cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV, glaucoma or chronic pain, among other

Gary Storck, a medical marijuana activist in Madison, is one of those
people.  "As a small child, I found myself rapidly losing my
eyesight," Storck says.  "I would pray to God that I wouldn't go
blind, and that's a horrible way to grow up.  Eventually I was
diagnosed with glaucoma."

Storck found out that smoking marijuana relieved the pressure in his
eyes. In 1979, his doctor wrote him a note saying that if marijuana
were legal, he would recommend it for Storck. To this day, Storck,
who's on Social Security disability, uses marijuana to treat his
glaucoma and other medical problems.

"I've been on a lot of treatments, but this is reliable without having
a lot of bad side effects," says Storck, who together with Jacki
Rickert heads a group called, Is My Medicine Legal Yet? (IMMLY), which
advocates for the legal use of medical marijuana.

On the other side of the issue are people who prefer a "Just say no"
approach to drugs, except those marketed by big pharmaceutical
companies. "Our national medical system relies on proven scientific
research, not popular opinion," said John Walters, Director of the
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in a recent statement.

"The politics of this are fascinating," says Bruce Mirken of the
Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.  He cites a nationwide
poll conducted in June that showing that 65% of those surveyed would
support legalized medical marijuana.  And a 2002 poll conducted by
Chamberlain Research Consultants in Madison showed about 80% support
in Wisconsin.

"It's clear that this isn't a controversial issue for individuals, but
a lot of politicians are afraid of being seen as being soft on drugs,"
he says. "But what other issue gets this high in polling?"

He adds that people who support legalizing pot as medicine, but they
didn't realize how strong the idea is backed. "What we have is a
majority that doesn't know it's a majority."

As if to illustrate the issue's unpredictable political nature, the
U.S. Supreme Court decided in June that the federal government may
arrest and prosecute legal users of medical marijuana in states with
official programs. Among the majority were some of the court's more
liberal justices including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Anthony
Kennedy and John Paul Stevens. The dissenters were Sandra Day
O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was
diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2004.

State Rep. Gregg Underheim, (R-Oshkosh) has his own reasons for the
supporting the legal use of marijuana as medicine.  The chair of the
Assembly's Committee on Health, Underheim was diagnosed with cancer in
2002. Although he did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation
treatment, he spoke to other cancer patients about the possibility of
using marijuana in such circumstances.

"There is a wide array of medical uses," Underheim says.  "Marijuana
more effectively deals with issues of appetite.  When you are in
chemotherapy, you can become violently ill.  Marijuana quells the
nausea and gives you an appetite.  Also, AIDS patients are often rail
thin from all of their medications, and marijuana helps bring back
their appetite.

Last year, Underheim introduced a bill that would allow for the legal
use of medical marijuana in Wisconsin.  Users would have to be under a
doctor's care and register with the state and could possess only small
amounts of marijuana.

"Under my bill, a doctor could recommend it but not prescribe it,"
Underheim says.  "If a registered patient were caught with a small
amount, he or she would not be prosecuted."

Underheim plans to reintroduce similar legislation in the next several
weeks; the bill is now being drafted. If passed, Wisconsin would join
10 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

But, Underheim's proposed bill leaves open the question of how
patients would acquire pot -- no growing clubs, personal plants or
sanctioned pharmacies.  "I've remained silent on acquisition," he
says.  "I couldn't think of any way that would be acceptable."

This lack of access worries Gary Storck.  "This puts patients in a
tight spot," he says.  "If you grow it, you're facing potentially a
long time [in jail] if you're caught.  Besides, if you're in chemo you
could be dead before you grow a crop.  Your friends or family could
help you out or you could get it on the street, but that's medicine of
uncertain quality and you risk being arrested."

State Sen. Tim Carpenter ( D-Milwaukee) sponsored the state Senate's
version of the medical marijuana bill last year.  "We'd been contacted
by many constituents who were HIV positive or had cancer or leukemia,"
he says. "They thought that marijuana was lifesaving medication that
could help alleviate the devastating side effects of their

While Carpenter is willing to let the details of any proposed
legislation work themselves out, but said that he would support a
program that would fall under the supervision of the Department of
Health and Family Services. He also wants to " sit down with the
attorney general and law enforcement to talk about it from all
perspectives and get their input."

The public, stresses Carpenter, also has a role to play.  "If the bill
comes up for a public hearing, it's important that people make their
feelings known," he says.  "We want to deal with this in a humane way
and alleviate people's pain and suffering."

Although drug czar Walters has said that the Supreme Court's decision
"marks the end of medical marijuana as a political issue," others say
that the battle has just begun.

Just after the decision, the U.S.  House of Representatives voted on
an amendment to end federal raids on those who use medical marijuana.
While the measure was defeated, it drew more support than previous

Many Republicans -- especially those from states with legalized
medical marijuana programs -- voted in favor of the measure. But in
Wisconsin, the issue split the state's congressional delegation along
party lines, with all four Democrats voting in favor and all four
Republicans opposing it.

The issue will live on in the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act,
authored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.  ) and co-sponsored by Rep.
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).  It essentially tells the federal government
to get out of the way of states that choose to enact medical marijuana

Advocate Storck says politicians and the public should think about the
morality of banning medicinal marijuana.  "In a nation that prides
itself on being compassionate, it's extremely cruel to withhold this
medication from our most defenseless and vulnerable."

"Serious illness can strike at any time.  Think about if that day
comes for you.  You would want to have all treatment options available
to you.  This ban is irrational, cruel and it's got to end."

That's not how the anti-marijuana crowd tends to see it. They portray
legal users are zonked-out stoners who use their medical conditions as
excuses to get high. In this and other respects, marijuana's
reputation as the favored drug of '60s hippies and experimenting
teenagers is still working against it.

"Marijuana has a bad name in some quarters," Republican state Rep.
Gregg Underheim says.  "It's seen as a gateway drug for younger people."

Some say that smoking medical marijuana can lead to addiction.  But
state Sen. Tim Carpenter notes that OxyContin, a legal prescription
painkiller and a sought-after street drug, as one of the most
addictive drugs around.  "But nobody said, gee, legalizing it will put
more of it out there for people to abuse."

Foes of medicinal marijuana also claim that the prescribed cannabis
can wind up in the hands of others for recreational use, or what is
known as "diversion." But Underheim says there's no proof of that.

"In states where you see the medical usage of marijuana you see no
real diversion," Underheim says.  "People are responsible in their use
of it and they'd be reluctant to give their medication to others."

And Storck says the relaxation and improved mood from smoking
marijuana are pleasant side effects, not a reason for banning it.

"As far as euphoria goes, what's so wrong with feeling good?" he asks.
 "If you're sick, and this makes you feel better without a lot of bad
side effects, why not use it?"

On the Web:

Is My Medicine Legal Yet ( IMMLY ) Wisconsin-based
organization "dedicated to furthering access, public education and
research regarding the therapeutic uses of cannabis."

Marijuana Policy Project Non-profit group, the largest
marijuana reform organization in the country.

Medical Marijuana Pro And Con Provides
a balanced, comprehensive look at the medical marijuana debate.

Wisconsin NORML Information about the state chapter of
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law; group "supports
the right of adults to use marijuana responsibly, whether for medical
or recreational purposes."

Office of National Drug Control Policy
The official word from the government.
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