Pubdate: Fri, 08 May 2009
Source: East Valley Tribune (AZ)
Copyright: 2009 East Valley Tribune.
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Dr. Ronald Fraser writes on public policy issues for the DKT 
Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


At long last, policymakers in Washington have begun to draw a line 
between illicit drug use and the legitimate use of drugs as medicine. 
In March, President Barack Obama's attorney general announced the 
federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana clinics 
that operate in compliance with state laws. This means lawmakers in 
Phoenix are now free to decide - without interference from Washington 
- - if marijuana will fill a medical niche in Arizona.

Thirteen states have already removed criminal penalties for the use 
of medical marijuana and actively regulate how, with a medical 
doctor's recommendation, marijuana is made available for patients 
with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, severe pain, glaucoma, 
epilepsy and other chronic conditions. But until now, Washington has 
disregarded these state laws. Since California legalized medical 
marijuana in 1996, for example, federal agents have raided more than 
100 marijuana distribution centers there.

Washington's first step

The first step has been taken with Washington's tacit acknowledgement 
that closing down state-regulated marijuana clinics is a misuse of 
taxpayers' money and harmful to Americans coping with serious 
illnesses. Many thousands of ill people attest that smoking, 
vaporizing or orally ingesting marijuana relieves pain, nausea and 
other symptoms far more effectively than Marinol, a pharmaceutically 
available synthetic version of marijuana.

While the federal government still officially maintains - contrary to 
solid medical evidence - that marijuana has no medicinal value, at 
least it has pledged not to raid medical marijuana facilities that 
are sanctioned by state law.

Arizona's Next Step?

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based 
advocate for legalizing medical marijuana, Arizona currently has a 
medical marijuana law on the books that allows patients to possess 
marijuana if it is obtained through a valid prescription. But under 
the law there is no legal supply of marijuana to fill such prescriptions.

In addition, a 2007 survey by the Marijuana Policy Project asked 
registered Arizona voters if they supported an initiative to "allow 
Arizona residents with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other 
serious illnesses to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes, as 
long as their physician approves." Sixty-eight percent of the 
respondents said they supported such an initiative.

Washington's new medical marijuana policy gives Arizona the freedom 
to exercise its historic role as the primary watchdog for the health 
and welfare of its citizens. Whether or not Arizona patients will be 
given greater access to medical marijuana is now up to the state 
Legislature or the voters.

Other Medicinal Drugs

Marijuana is not the only targeted medical drug. In all 50 states, 
federal raids can still close down pain clinics and arrest pain 
management physicians who prescribe large doses of opioids - highly 
effective, legal painkillers made from opium or synthetics with the 
properties of opiate narcotics.

Dr. Joel Hochman, director of the National Foundation for the 
Treatment of Pain in Houston, says the drug-war hysteria is making it 
too risky for many doctors to accept patients in chronic pain and 
that, with help from the media, federal raids on so-called "pill 
mills" paint a false picture that the streets are awash in drugs 
carelessly handed out by unprincipled doctors.

Instead, he claims, these clinics provide last-resort care to largely 
uninsured or under-insured blue-collar and other limited-income 
workers, many with work-related injuries, who can only afford a 
five-minute visit at high-volume, low-cost, low-profit clinics.

To stay in business these clinics must see 60 to 100 patients each 
day. With this level of traffic, doctors can make errors and patients 
can lie about their ailments _ making the clinics easy targets for 
federal agents. But, since these clinics provide valuable medical 
services, Hochman says law enforcement polices are misdirected.

His bottom line is: "Wake up America. The dope lords are making 
billions. The little pain clinics in the strip shopping centers sure aren't."

Instead of getting drugs off the streets, Hochman adds that closing 
down these pain clinics will "drive patients into the streets, 
seeking relief from their suffering. Their choices become: score 
hydrocodone off the street; score heroin off the street; drown their 
pain with alcohol. No one can tolerate unrelieved pain."

What to do? "End opiophobia and fantasy-driven public policies," 
Hochman said, "and establish publicly supported clinics so every 
suffering person can get relief. Confront the fact that law 
enforcement agencies and prisons are all strung out on the drug 
prohibition laws and need to be brought back to reality."

Here is a rare opportunity for elected officials in Arizona and in 
Washington to take a long hard look at how harsh drug laws are 
undermining medical care in America. For the millions of people 
desperately coping with chronic ailments, let's not waste it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom