Pubdate: Mon, 04 Feb 2008
Source: Nevada Appeal (Carson City, NV)
Copyright: 2008 Nevada Appeal
Author: Dave Frank
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Federal Government Stands In The Way Of A State-Run Medical Marijuana 

The water, the lights, the seeds, the soil. The problem  could be 
several things.

Some patients will learn how to grow, said Claude  Miller, a Nevada 
medical marijuana consultant, some  won't.

"There's patients who can't grow a flower," he said.  "Much less 
medical marijuana."

That's part of the reason he started his business. Many  of the 900 
patients in Nevada's program know little  about the plant when they register.

But those patients, despite a provision in state law,  must grow 
their marijuana themselves or find a  state-approved "caregiver" who 
will grow it for them.

"(Marijuana) is a godsend and it really helps people,"  said Miller, 
who supports medical marijuana only under  a tightly regulated system.

Patients, however, will not be able to get the drug  like other 
prescriptions the state recognizes unless  the federal government 
changes its stance.

Following a 2000 ballot initiative, the state  Legislature wrote the 
constitutional amendment into law  including a section that ordered 
the University of  Nevada School of Medicine to research marijuana 
and develop a program to distribute it to patients.

The 2001 law says the Legislature understands the  state's 
"obligation" to research a distribution  program, but also says it 
must do it with the  permission from the federal government.

The ballot initiative, approved by 65 percent of  voters, called for 
"appropriate methods for supply of  the plant to patients authorized 
to use it." These  patients include residents diagnosed with 
illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.

The federal government, however, rejects the opinion of  the 12 
states with medical marijuana programs.

"Smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of  science," 
according to the Web site of the U.S. Drug  Enforcement 
Administration. "(It) is not medicine, and  it is not safe."

Federal authority

Federal policy, supported by the past three presidents,  has stalled 
research and development of a state  distribution program.

Dr. Dave Lupan, an associate dean at the state school  of medicine, 
said the university has made "no progress  whatsoever" on the 
legislature's mandate. It will stay  that way at least until there is 
a new president, he  said.

It is unlikely the policy will change under the next  administration, 
though. Republican presidential  candidates John McCain and Mitt 
Romney do not support  legalizing medical marijuana. Democratic 
presidential  candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are  undecided.

But the university would have more problems than policy  if it tried 
to start a program. Not only does the  federal government have no 
interest in the school's  research, Lupan said, the state has given 
no money for  it.

"It's not only a matter of bucking federal government  authority," he 
said, but of finding doctors to work for  free.

The federal government itself has had medical marijuana  evaluated 
several times. A 1999 federally-commissioned  study by the Institute 
of Medicine reported, "the  accumulated data indicates a potential 
therapeutic  value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms 
such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting and  appetite stimulation."

The Federal Drug Administration, however, said in 2006  the medical 
use of the drug is not supported by  science.

Green and black thumbs

A change in federal policy that led to state  distribution could, 
according to supporters, help many  patients.

Jennifer Bartlett, who manages the current state  program through the 
Nevada Department of Agriculture,  said "there are some who can't 
grow it, and it's a  struggle."

She has not endorsed state distribution, however, and  said many 
patients have no problems growing their own  marijuana or finding a caregiver.

A state program would help all patients, though, not  just those who 
have difficulty growing it, said Dan  Hart, who managed the group 
that led the medical  marijuana ballot initiative.

The state could make sure the medicine was good  quality, he said, 
and this also would particularly help  patients with a debilitating disease.

But some medical marijuana advocates, such as Chandler  Laughlin, 
said the state should not be involved with  marijuana and that a 
state-run program is a bad idea.

The Silver City resident and radio host did say many  patients like 
him can't grow high quality marijuana.

"I have a black thumb," he said.

Bruce Mirken, who supports marijuana legalization, said  a state-run 
program could make it easier for the state  to both guarantee 
effective use for patients and track  illegal use by others.

It can't be difficult for patients to get the medicine  they need 
under the current program, he said.

"You could grow your own tomatoes, but if all your  plants die, you 
don't have a salad that day," said  Mirken, a representative for the 
Marijuana Policy  Project, which has unsuccessfully pushed ballot 
initiatives in Nevada to partially legalize marijuana.

A model program

If Nevada eventually does set up a distribution  program, it probably 
won't be the first state to do it.

New Mexico, which legalized medical marijuana in April,  is working 
on the rules its department of health would  need to run a 
distribution program.

This will allow patients to get the drug the way other  patients get 
their medicine, said Reena Szczepanski,  director of the anti-drug 
prohibition New Mexico Drug  Policy Alliance. It would help prevent 
patients from  going to the black market, she said.

But New Mexico's system might not work for Nevada,  because of the 
state's sparsely populated areas. She  said a state-run system where 
the drug is distributed  through pharmacies might be better for Nevada.

The federal government itself has the only active  government-run 
distribution program in the country. The  Compassionate 
Investigational New Drug program was  started in 1978 and closed to 
new patients by President  George H.W. Bush in 1991. A few people are 
still in the  program, though, and they get monthly supplies of 
marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi.

Miller, head of Nevada Medical Marijuana Consultants,  said a 
state-run distribution program could be good for  Nevada, but the 
state should be careful not to legalize  it or regulate it the way 
California does, with  marijuana available at licensed clubs.

"We don't want a bunch of drug-dealing thugs in this,"  he said.

But Miller, who became a patient after a spine surgery,  said the 
drug is more safe and effective for many  people who would otherwise 
be prescribed pain killers.  Those people, he said, deserve to have 
their medicine.

Opponents, he said, don't understand the research or  the state's program.

"We're not just a bunch of yahoos smoking reefer," he  said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom