Pubdate: Mon, 13 Jun 2005
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Robert Crowe
Cited: Texans for Medical Marijuana
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Gonzales v. Raich)



Backers Say the Call to Legalize Use by Patients Grows Despite Court Decree

Scooting around the grocery in a motorized wheelchair, Marcia Baker doesn't 
look like a criminal.

But when she gets home to her Fort Bend County subdivision, the 41-year-old 
former accountant sometimes breaks the law. Most afternoons, she says, she 
eats brownies made with marijuana to help her cope with multiple sclerosis. 
Pot, she says, relieves the head tremors and stinging pain in her limbs 
without inducing the catatonic state typically caused by doses of Vicodin, 
baclofen, Klonopin and Neurontin her doctor prescribes.

"Does marijuana replace the other drugs? No," Baker said last week. "Does 
it allow me to take less of the other drugs? Yes."

The controversy over so-called "medical marijuana" received new attention 
last week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may 
enter people's homes and arrest them on federal charges - even in states 
where such use has been made legal.

Texas is not one of those states; an effort to liberalize its marijuana 
stance stalled in the just-ended legislative session. But 11 other states 
already have laws that protect patients' medical marijuana use, and recent 
polls indicate significant support for medical marijuana.

In this battle, Baker has become a reluctant activist. She contributes to 
advocacy groups, and testified before the state House committee considering 
the medical marijuana bill.

"I do consider myself an activist," she said, then added, "I've always been 
a wimp for anything. I've actually been very shy most of my life."

Baker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that 
affects the central nervous system, in 1990, and it progressed so much by 
1995 that she had to quit working. A couple of years later, at the urging 
of friends, she decided to try marijuana and found it helped. She said she 
won't even tell her doctor what she's doing for fear of putting him in 

She has concerns for herself as well. As much as she finds the drug 
beneficial, she says she has a moral problem with breaking the law. She 
also has a more practical worry.

"I really don't want police after me or DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) 
after me," she said. "I'm not a bad person. I'm a human being who got dealt 
a bad body."

Last Week's Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled June 6 that federal authorities can prosecute 
marijuana users taking the drug under a doctor's supervision in states that 
permit its medical use. Medical marijuana advocates were disappointed by 
the decision, but some, including Baker, see the justices' written opinions 
as a step toward the federal government's recognizing the difference 
between use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and for criminal recreation.

The majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged some 
therapeutic uses.

"Going out of their way to say that marijuana does have valid medical 
purposes is a remarkable statement," said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana 
Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

Eight of the state laws legalizing medical marijuana use were passed by 
voters in ballot initiatives. Advocates say approval of medical marijuana 
by a vote of 34-2 by the Rhode Island Legislature a day after the Supreme 
Court decision shows that times have changed.

The Texas bill this year was one vote away from leaving committee before 
going to the House, but it was rejected at the last minute. The bill's 
author, Rep. Elliot Naishtat, D-Austin, said the bill would have allowed 
medical marijuana users charged with possession to plead their case before 
a jury.

A sponsor of the bill, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, a former Travis County 
sheriff and prosecutor, said the Supreme Court has placed the onus of 
resolving the legality of medical marijuana use in states where it's 
protected or legal on Congress.

"They have to face this squarely as a public policy decision," Keel said.

Constituents polled in his conservative district strongly support the use 
of medical marijuana for some patients, he added. He said he was further 
moved by Baker's testimony.

Laws pending in Congress include the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana 
Act, which has failed to pass for 10 years. Its co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ron 
Paul, R-Lake Jackson, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Congress 
could vote as early as this week on the passage of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher 
amendment, which would block federal prosecution of medical marijuana in 
states where it's legal.

A 2004 poll by the AARP found that 72 percent of Americans over 45 believe 
adults should be permitted to use medical marijuana recommended by a 
physician. In a Scripps Howard poll commissioned last fall by lobbying 
group Texans for Medical Marijuana, 75 percent of respondents said people 
with serious illnesses should be allowed to use marijuana for medical 
purposes as long as their doctor approves.

Skeptics, like Dr. Jose Carranza, the director of Psychiatry Consultation 
at Memorial Hermann Hospital, believe most medical marijuana users are 
lifetime recreational pot smokers who use ailments as an excuse to get high.

"To make a conclusion that marijuana is good for MS because one woman says 
it's good is nonscientific," said Carranza. "It's not a medicine, but they 
love it and would like to continue to be high until they die."

He said marijuana stimulates appetite and contains chemicals that are 
sedative and psychedelic, but he does not believe it has any therapeutic value.

Noelle Davis, executive director for Texans for Medical Marijuana, said 
research shows that marijuana, among other things, limits spasticity in 
multiple sclerosis patients, alleviates vomiting and nausea in cancer 
patients on chemotherapy and also alleviates chronic pain and stimulates 
appetite in HIV patients.

"There are some people who have tried every legal option and found that 
this is the only thing that relieves symptoms," Davis said.

Political Risks

Davis believes politicians no longer have to worry that their support of 
medical marijuana might be interpreted as being soft on drugs. Keel said 
that he and other Republican lawmakers, such as Paul, are proof that one 
can support medical marijuana without being voted out of office.

"I do know that there a lot of people, (including) people who have actually 
supported me in my run for office, that think marijuana should be available 
to help some individuals, but I do not take that position myself," said 
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, a Republican.

He said he does not recall any recent cases of his office prosecuting 
medical marijuana users.

Carranza worries that legalizing marijuana for some patients would 
encourage recreational use.

Keel, however, said the same argument could be made for more powerful 
prescription drugs such as morphine, which is a derivative of opium.

"You never hear the argument that (opium and heroin) are such serious drugs 
that their derivatives would be too dangerous for medicine," he said. "So, 
it makes no sense with marijuana."



The following bills concerning medical marijuana are pending in Congress:

   The States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act: The act would move 
marijuana to a less-restricted status in the Controlled Substances Act and 
regulate its production, possession and use as medicine. Among its sponsors 
is U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson.

   Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment: Congress could vote as early as this week 
on passage of the amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Rep. Dana 
Rohrabacher, R-Calif. It would block federal prosecution of medical 
marijuana in states where it's legal.
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