Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2005
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Author: Kelly Davis, Anderson Independent-Mail
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich
Cited: The Institute of Medicine report
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday upholding the federal
government's right to prosecute all marijuana growers and users even
in states with medical marijuana laws is not likely to have a big
impact in South Carolina or Georgia, neither of which have such laws.

But the ruling could spotlight the work of some, including a longtime
Clemson University chemist's group, to create uncontroversial
alternative drugs that work as well as the active ingredient in marijuana.

The decision appears to chill a trend begun in 1996, when California
passed its Compassionate Use Act, allowing people to grow or buy
marijuana for medical use with a doctor's guidance. Now 11 states have
some type of exemption for medical marijuana use, and users are caught
in a state-federal power struggle.

"I'm very disappointed, especially with (Justice) Ruth Ginsberg," said
Diane Monson of Oroville, Calif., one of the two women in the case,
Raich v. Ashcroft, who sued after U.S. Drug Enforcement agents
destroyed their pot plants.

"(Justice Ginsberg) had cancer, she has been through the harrowing
experience," said Ms. Monson by telephone Monday. "To imagine she
would be willing not only to deny people the right to vote and choose
for themselves, but to deny needed medicine, it was shocking to me.
I'm not shocked at the outcome in general."

The Supreme Court did not quibble with the scientific evidence that
marijuana can help patients with AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple
sclerosis, epilepsy and chronic pain, and even sympathized with users
who have those conditions.

However, the majority of justices concluded that the legal basis of
Ms. Monson's and Oakland, Calif., resident Angel Raich's lawsuits was
not valid. They had argued that the federal government has no
jurisdiction to regulate locally produced and used drugs sanctified by
their state.

Marijuana was classified as a so-called Schedule I substance in the
1970s when federal drug policy was overhauled during President Richard
Nixon's war on drugs. The classification makes manufacture,
distribution or possession of marijuana a criminal offense, based on
its potential for abuse, lack of accepted medical use and lack of
accepted safety in medically supervised treatment.

Since then, numerous studies have changed the landscape. The Institute
of Medicine in 1999 even concluded after a comprehensive study in 1999
that the drug can reduce nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety.

But the court ruled that federal drug control requires jurisdiction
even in local situations, because it is reasonable to believe local
production of marijuana can impact interstate drug markets.

And the reality is, according to an Anderson doctor, that for most
medical conditions, there are alternatives, including a legal
synthetic version called Marinol.

"I think it makes sense when you have a society as mobile as ours to
have most drug laws federalized, to be consistent across state lines,"
said Dr. Hunter Woodall, medical director at Hospice of the Upstate
and a faculty member at the AnMed Family Practice Residency program.

"As far as the utility of medical marijuana, basically I have found
there are much better drugs for pain, if that's your problem, and much
better drugs for nausea, if that's your problem," he said. "I rarely
have to use Marinol, probably only once a year, basically for wasting
diseases like AIDS or for really bad nausea."

He said there is a real need for nausea and pain medicines that do not
cause sedation and/or deirium. And Marinol can cause a high in some
users, which makes them uncomfortable.

Chemist John Huffman has spent the better part of his 45-year career
at Clemson University working on the problem by creating and testing
THC-like compounds. He said the federal government ought to be able to
control harmful substances, but left some wiggle room.

"I am not a great fan of medical marijuana, but on the other hand, if
it helps people, I question the wisdom of denying it to them," he
said. "There is absolutely no question that THC is a worthwhile
therapeutic drug, but not if you are going to smoke it."

Ms. Monson, who has a degenerative back disease that causes chronic
pain, said she and people like her will continue using as their state
laws allow, until they hear otherwise.

"According to the best authorities I've been able to access, the rule
still stands in the state of California that you are still allowed to
cultivate marijuana for personal use. I have some 6-month old plants
growing right now." 
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