Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 2009
Source: Burlington Times-News (NC)
Copyright: 2009 Freedom Communications, Inc.
Author: Randy Irwin, Freedom News Service
Cited: North Carolina Cannabis Patients' Network
Referenced: House Bill 1380 - Medical Marijuana Act
Referenced: AMA's Report Six of the Council on Scientific Affairs
Referenced: House Bill 1383 - Medical Marijuana Act/Referendum
Referenced: The Institute of Medicine report
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

Waiting to Inhale:


Prescription painkillers made her retch. Muscle relaxants ravaged her 
liver. So Jean Marlowe put down her pills and rolled a joint.

"I tried marijuana, and in five minutes, my stomach stopped shaking 
for the first time in five years," said Marlowe, who has used 
marijuana as medicine since a doctor recommended the drug in 1990. 
"It really does work."

The founder and executive director of the North Carolina Cannabis 
Patients' Network, Marlowe is asking state lawmakers to pass a bill 
legalizing medical marijuana use. The bill is currently in the House 
of Representatives' Health Committee, and two of Gaston County's 
three House delegates who serve on the committee have indicated they 
would likely vote against it.

House Bill 1380, the N.C. Medical Marijuana Act, would allow patients 
access to medical-grade cannabis with a signed statement from a 
physician. Growers and dispensaries would be licensed and regulated 
by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"All of these people who have been kindly, caringly, lovingly 
sticking their necks out to grow a little bit of high-quality 
medication for patients could actually come forward and get a license 
and be legal," Marlowe said.

North Carolina would become the 15th state to legalize medical 
marijuana and would see estimated annual tax revenues of $60 million 
within four years of the bill's passage.

Local Support?

While newly appointed state Republican state Rep. Dan Ingle is 
against the proposal, his two Democratic colleagues would like more 
information on the issue.

"I would like to see considerable more discussion in our county 
first. I'm a strong advocate for good quality pain management," said 
Rep. Alice Bordsen.

State Sen. Tony Foriest said he would try and view the issue objectively.

"I'm for looking at the possible benefits of whether we should 
proceed or not," Foriest said. "Quite frankly, I don't know. I don't 
have a closed mind to things I don't understand."

Ingle, a former county commissioner with a career in law enforcement, 
is strongly opposed.

"I'm going to vote no. I've always felt like marijuana was a gateway 
drug," he said "It's a strong weed. It contains THC. I don't think it 
should be used for medical purposes."

Bordsen added that while it's not "our priority issue at this time" 
ultimately "if we can have truely a restricted and legitimate access 
for those who need it, I would support it."

For some lawmakers a vote yes would depend upon whether the U.S. Food 
and Drug Administration approves marijuana for medical use. That 
appears unlikely.

Marijuana faces a political minefield in the fight for federal 
recognition. The FDA discounted its potential medical application in 
a 2006 review, contradicting a 1999 study from the National Academy 
of Sciences' Institute of Medicine that found it "moderately well 
suited" for treating certain conditions.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls marijuana the nation's 
most abused illicit drug and classifies it as a Schedule I

Marijuana As Medicine

Marijuana is "moderately well-suited for particular conditions" 
including nausea and vomiting from cancer patients' chemotherapy and 
the rapid loss of body weight known as "wasting" in AIDS patients, 
according to the 1999 Institute of Medicine study, "Marijuana and 
Medicine: Assessing the Science Base."

Long lists of side effects accompany many prescription drugs, and 
overdosing can be fatal. Advocates say by comparison, cannabis offers 
a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals.

"There are no side effects that are harmful," Marlowe said. "There 
has been over 5,000 years of documented medical use of cannabis, and 
not a single death has ever occurred."

Marlowe said a user would have to smoke 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 
15 minutes -- a physical impossibility -- to ingest a toxic dose.

"There is no such thing as a lethal dose," she said.

Muscle relaxants can weaken patients by gnawing away at their muscle 
tissue, Marlowe said, but cannabis allows them to maintain their strength.

"Almost every one of the muscle relaxers helps with muscle spasms, 
but they also atrophy the muscle over a period of time," she said. 
"One unique property of cannabis is it can stop smooth muscle spasms 
while maintaining the muscle mass."

Marijuana increases users' heart rates and may decrease blood 
pressure, according to a 2001 American Medical Association report. It 
can impair short-term memory, motor skills, reaction time and 
information processing skills. Chronic users can experience 
withdrawal symptoms, but doctors conclude that cannabis is less 
addictive than alcohol and tobacco products.

"Although some marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be 
less likely to do so than users of alcohol and nicotine, and the 
abstinence syndrome is less severe," the AMA states in Report Six of 
the Council on Scientific Affairs.

In the 2001 report, AMA doctors encouraged researchers to develop a 
smoke-free inhaled delivery system for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, 
or THC, the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana.

"Like tobacco, chronic marijuana smoking is associated with lung 
damage, increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and possibly 
increased risk of lung cancer," the report states.

Marlowe refutes the belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that 
leads users to try more harmful substances. She points to members of 
the N.C. Cannabis Patients' Network who were formerly prescribed 
heavy-duty painkillers.

"Not only have none of them gone to hard drugs, they've all come off 
of narcotics," she said. "Marijuana is not a gateway drug. The most 
recognizable, easiest gateway drug that most people run into is tobacco."

A Continuing Crusade

An institute in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park processes and 
distributes medical marijuana to select participants in a nationwide 
federal study, according to the text of HB 1380. Meanwhile, the 386 
patients of the N.C. Cannabis Patients' Network cannot legally obtain 
the drug themselves.

"Our oldest patient is an 86-year-old World War II veteran who 
suffered nerve damage to his feet from the heavy packs he carried 
during the war," Marlowe said. "Now he's suffering, and he has to be 
considered a criminal."

Marlowe, too, has been considered a criminal for her medical use of 
marijuana. The Mill Spring resident said she uses the drug to treat 
her numerous medical conditions, including muscular dystrophy, 
rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

She was arrested in 1998 when U.S. Customs agents intercepted a 
package of cannabis she ordered from a farm in Switzerland.

A judge sentenced her to six months on house arrest and two years of 
probation, but Marlowe was soon convicted of a probation violation 
because of her continued marijuana use.

She spent 10 months in a federal prison camp in West Virginia.

"It's been a battle," she said. "I've been doing this for 17 years."

HB 1380's future is uncertain. Health Committee members did not vote 
on the bill after a June 18 hearing, which included testimony from 
Marlowe and other NCCPN patients.

The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), said he 
will seek a vote to move the bill out of committee without prejudice. 
The Health Committee would not vote on the bill's merits, but 
majority approval would allow it to proceed to the House Finance Committee.

"It's just one step closer to a full debate on the floor, and that's 
what I really desire more than anything," Jones said. "Every time the 
public hears more about this, many myths are dispelled, and we see an 
increase in support."

Jones also filed a companion bill, HB 1383, which proposes a 
referendum on medical marijuana. The mechanism for licensing growers 
and dispensaries is identical to the one proposed in HB 1380.

"There are those who continue to feel some trepidation about it 
because it's a political liability," he said. "One option would be to 
allow the citizens of the state of North Carolina to vote on it."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake