Pubdate: Fri, 3 Apr 2009
Source: Courier News (Elgin, IL)
Copyright: 2009 The Courier News
Author: Charity Bonner
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


ELGIN -- Michigan recently became the 14th state to legalize medical
marijuana. Illinois may not be far behind.

Senate Bill 1381 would allow seriously ill patients with certain
debilitating conditions to use medical marijuana without consequence
of arrest, and would provide for the patient's primary caregiver to
legally possess no more than seven dried cannabis plants and two
ounces of dried usable cannabis.

A House version of the bill passed March 4. Bruce Mirken, director of
communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he expects the
Senate vote to take place within the next three weeks.

Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, is against the legislation, but still
conflicted about it.

"The older I get, the more people I know who are suffering from
cancer," he said. "You just think, anything they can get to relieve
the pain. If pain never touches you, it is easy to say this is right
or wrong. On the other hand, wait until it happens to you, or wait
'til it happens to someone you love."

Lauzen noted there is a pharmaceutical substitute that offers the same
benefit -- Marinol. He said he also opposes the bill because there is
not a clear way to regulate the amount needed for pain relief. Marinol
is a pill containing the active ingredient THC.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the pill has
been found to relieve nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
for cancer. The USDA says the drug is a safer alternative since it
does not contain the chemicals or carcinogens found in smoked
marijuana. The USDA also reported that some states that have legalized
medical marijuana, such as California, have seen an abuse of the system.

States that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes are Alaska,
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New
Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Dr. Thomas Cao, a board-certified medical oncologist at Sherman Health
in Elgin and a self-described "classic conservative," said he is in
favor of legalizing medical marijuana in order to improve quality of
life for patients.

Cao said it is especially helpful for patients who have cachexia, a
wasting syndrome that causes weakness and loss of muscle and fat
tissue, which causes patients to lose their appetites, and those with
eating disorders such as anorexia.

"Pain is a difficult thing to assess, and for some patients, marijuana
works best ... When they feel good, they eat more," he said.

Although some find it helpful, Cao said most patients find that
marijuana does not work for their conditions.

Cao said the drug has negative political connotations that it is
important for patient quality of life.

"Morphine used to be banned, but now we have medical use and we
recognize the medical benefits of the drug. There are more people
using it now," he said.

State Rep. Kay Hatcher, the new representative in the 50th District,
said the bill in the Illinois House is very loosely written.

"This issue is complex, and it's so very easy to see both sides of the
argument, but to me, the bottom line is the message we would send to
our youngsters that it's no big deal to use marijuana," she said. "It
is a big deal, and that's the reason for my no vote."

Chilakamarri Yeshwant, a medical oncologist and hematologist at
Sherman Health, is also against the legalization of medical marijuana,
even for patients suffering from chronic pain.

Yeshwant said the problem with providing access to medical marijuana
is that there is not a standardized amount given, and that all the
side effects of smoking cigarettes, such as lung and throat damage,
also appear in patients smoking marijuana.

"Marijuana is not a safe drug to just take," he said. "I think
emotions should be set aside and people should take advice from
physicians. They know that we have scientific data which shows that it
is not a healthy drug."

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