Pubdate: Mon, 18 Feb 2008
Source: Tahoe Daily Tribune (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Copyright: 2008 Tahoe Daily Tribune
Author: Dave Frank, Nevada Appeal
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


CARSON CITY -- 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, while 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.

After a 2000 ballot initiative, the Nevada 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 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 candidate John McCain does 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, but 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 that 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 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. Szczepanski 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 still are in the program, though, and they get 
monthly supplies of marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi.

Claude 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 painkillers. 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: Richard Lake