Pubdate: Tue, 4 May 2010
Source: Metroland (Albany, NY)
Page: Feature cover article
Copyright: 2010 Lou Communications, Inc.
Author: Ali Hibbs
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


With Advocates Energized and the Tide of Public and Scientific 
Opinion Turning in Their Favor, New York State Considers Legislation 
to Legalize Medical Marijuana

It was snowing on the evening of March 9, 2001, as Dave Lawson was 
driving his band's GM Astro to a gig in Vermont. Carrying the 
instruments and one other band member, Lawson was going a cautious 40 
miles in Troy when another vehicle pulled into the intersection 
directly in front of him. Unable to stop on the slick road, Lawson 
says that he hit the car on the passenger side. Everything that 
happened directly after that is fuzzy. Mostly what Lawson remembers 
are the years of rehabilitation and persistent pain that followed.

"The bass guitar came flying up from the back of the vehicle. It hit 
the back of my head, fractured my skull and forced my face into the 
steering wheel so that, at the point of impact, I hit at 120 mph. The 
bone that separates the eye from the temple basically disintegrated. 
I fractured my sternum, both clavicles, C5 and C6 in my spine and all 
of my ribs," Lawson said. "My left arm came out of the socket and 
went back in the wrong way. I should have died."

The accident, which was found to be the other driver's fault, left 
Lawson with some brain damage and chronic pain caused by damage to his nerves.

"I could barely talk," he recalls. "I felt like I was relearning the 
language. I had to think about making my limbs move. I had to think 
about what I actually had to do to get out of bed." The painkillers 
he was given did little to dull the worst pain, according to Lawson, 
but they did dull his mental faculties so that communication and 
recovery became even more difficult. "Aspirin is it. That's as much 
pain medication as I can take, otherwise it's like I've taken a 
rufee," he says, referring to the notorious date-rape drug.

The pain was still debilitating seven months after his accident when, 
"all of the sudden, one day I had a flash," Lawson says. He 
remembered a day about a year earlier when he had been helping to 
make marijuana brownies for a friend who had skin cancer and used the 
cannabis plant to deal with the side effects of his treatment. As he 
handled the mixture of marijuana and butter that went into the batch, 
his hands went numb. Lawson, who has arthritis from decades of 
playing the guitar, suddenly felt no pain. "I think there's a reason 
that I had that memory when I did." He pauses. "And I'm glad that I did."

"At the time, I happened to have some [cannabis-infused] oil that had 
been given to me. I put some on my shoulder and for the first time in 
seven months, I felt relief."

"There is a danger," he adds, chuckling at the memory. "I jumped up 
and down and hurt my arm again because I was so excited. I literally cried."

Lawson is just one of many New Yorkers advocating for legislation 
that would allow for the legal prescription of medical marijuana to 
patients suffering from severe or chronic ailments in New York 
state--legislation that already has been passed by two state Senate 
committees this year and is currently included in the much-contested 
state budget. Some of these advocates are patients, some have watched 
a friend or family member suffer, and some simply believe that the 
benefits of medicinal marijuana far outweigh any of the perceived 
dangers. And they argue that many of the prescription drugs that are 
currently legal have far more deleterious effects on patients and 
pose much greater potential for abuse.

The idea of legalizing medical marijuana in New York state is nothing 
new. In 1980, New York actually passed a medical marijuana bill at 
the urging of Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Antonio Olivieri. 
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Olivieri began smoking 
cannabis in 1979 to combat the adverse effects of his chemotherapy 
treatments and lobbied other politicians by phone when he was too 
sick to leave his home. Federal law required states to distribute 
marijuana exclusively through research channels, and the New York 
State Health Department dispensed thousands of joints to more than 
200 patients suffering either from glaucoma or cancer between 1982 
and 1989. Twenty-four other states ran similar research programs 
during the same time. The Reagan administration's renewed 
preoccupation with America's "war on drugs" in the mid- to late '80s, 
along with inadequately organized programs and the appearance of 
Marinol--THC in pill form, which is now widely considered 
ineffective--led to the closure of every state-run medical marijuana 
program by 1990.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, from Chelsea, raised the issue 
again in 1997. Already a proponent of the use of medical marijuana, 
he took a cue from the 1996 legislation passed in California and 
became vocal on behalf of the many AIDS patients in his district. 
Opposed in the Senate by Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and on the 
federal level by the Clinton administration, the idea of legalization 
was still too politically controversial for the bill to achieve any 
measurable success. While champions of its medical use continued to 
lobby, the stigma of marijuana as a "gateway drug" loomed large and 
continued to overshadow any discussion of its medicinal benefits.

More recently, as public perception has shifted back toward cautious 
acceptance and scientific curiosity, advocates in New York state are 
organizing once again. Encouraged by the successful passage of 
similar legislation in 14 states (from Alaska and Oregon in the late 
1990s to Michigan and New Jersey in the last two years), local 
grassroots supporters have joined forces with national lobbying 
groups in an effort to convince legislators to support their cause. 
The Internet has helped to make the benefits of medical marijuana 
more generally known and accepted, while the possible economic boon 
that taxation could provide for states has made legalization far more 
attractive in recent years. Lending legitimacy to the movement, but 
doing little more than reinforcing what many people claim to have 
known for years, results from the first comprehensive research done 
in the United States on the medical efficacy of marijuana since the 
'80s were recently released by the University of California at San 
Diego. The results are in keeping with generally accepted wisdom from 
earlier research as well as research done in other nations--some of 
which spans an astonishing amount of time--and focus primarily on 
pain, neurological issues and different delivery methods.

Documentation on the medical uses of marijuana dates back to the 28th 
century B.C.E., according to literature provided by the organization 
Marijuana Policy Project, which is based on a book by Ernest L. Abel 
called Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years. "Emperor Shen-Nung 
prescribed it to treat beri-beri, constipation, 'female weakness,' 
gout, malaria, rheumatism and absentmindedness. It's use as a 
medicine was well documented in China, but its use as a recreational 
drug was not condoned." Five thousand years later, the arguments are 
pretty much the same.

Dr. Abraham Halpern, a psychiatrist from Westchester County, read 
about the uses of medical marijuana a few years ago, but he began 
looking for more credible information when his son, an assistant 
professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "insisted that 
there was merit to the use of marijuana in certain illnesses." 
Halpern's interest increased when he learned that the Drug 
Enforcement Administration had been raiding homes of seriously ill patients.

"I am interested in its use to treat patients suffering severe 
symptoms, such as the intolerable pain in patients with meta-static 
cancer, symptoms that have not responded to conventional treatment 
but do obtain relief from marijuana," Halpern says. "The notion that 
such use can be dangerous is utterly ridiculous. Raising the issue of 
'danger' is just a red herring. Some experts succeed in using scare 
tactics by raising issues such as the possible adverse effects on 
young people, the possible eventual shift from marijuana to the use 
of dangerous illegal drugs, possible cognitive impairment in some 
users, et cetera. None of these things have anything to do with 
medical marijuana. In fact, studies have shown that in states that 
have legalized medical marijuana, the incidence of marijuana use in 
young people has dropped. What I am interested in is the legalization 
of medical marijuana, properly regulated."

Halpern is one of 1,170 doctors in New York state who have signed a 
statement "supporting the right of doctors to recommend marijuana for 
medical purposes, and the right of patients to use marijuana for 
medical purposes without fear of incarceration." Medical 
organizations that support legislation include the American Academy 
of HIV Medicine, American Public Health Association, Leukemia and 
Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, Medical Society of 
the State of New York, New York State AIDS Advisory Council, New York 
State Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society, New York State Nurses 
Association and the New York State Hospice and Palliative Care 
Association. The biggest concern of these medical professionals is 
the quality of life available to patients who are suffering from 
acute and debilitating conditions, suffering that they believe could 
be dramatically alleviated through the regulated use of cannabis.

"My wife had ovarian cancer and passed away in 2007," says Dr. 
Dominick DiFabio of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. "While she was on 
chemotherapy, she had no appetite, she was nauseous all the time, and 
the doctor recommended marijuana but could only give it to her in 
pill form--Marinol--which was pretty useless. It made her feel weird 
but didn't do what smoking marijuana would have done, which would 
have been to help her appetite and decrease the nausea. It was just 
such a terrible thing in a country like this where doctors can write 
prescriptions for much more dangerous drugs that are legal for 
medical reasons. I guess one could go out illegally and get it, but 
we never thought of that."

"It was very frustrating and, living through the experience, it just 
didn't make any sense. I'm not necessarily for legalizing marijuana 
in general, but for someone who is sick and can benefit from it, for 
someone who's suffering . . ." DiFabio's voice trails off as he 
remembers his wife, Susan. "With most of these politicians, my 
understanding is that they know people with cancer, that they've seen 
this. But they don't have the political courage to do what's right 
because they're afraid, I think, of getting blamed for things that 
might happen once they do it, if it does get abused."

DiFabio worries that the current national push to legalize marijuana 
for general use will have the unintended effect of jeopardizing 
support for medical marijuana. He is concerned that any perception 
that medical marijuana legislation could lead to the legalization of 
its recreational use would only provide ammunition to the same people 
who "are going crazy over a health care bill that's going to benefit 
them because it's been distorted by the extreme right." He worries 
that such distorted perceptions could impede the acceptance of 
marijuana as a medication.

"The suffering, you know, I've seen it firsthand, and that's really 
why I've become involved with this. Anything that can keep you on the 
medication, if the medication is working, is great. My wife was so 
sick that they had to change the treatment protocol for us, 
eventually. It limits the amount of treatment a doctor can give, 
because a patient can't be so sick all the time. The quality of life 
gets so bad that you just want immediate relief."

Joel Peacock, a Conservative Party member from Buffalo, is an 
advocate and potential beneficiary of the legalization of medical 
marijuana. Like Lawson, Peacock was in a car accident in 2001. He was 
rear-ended by someone who was talking on a cellular phone, and he 
sustained severe spinal injuries (he had three discs removed from his 
neck), which have left him in chronic pain. Peacock encountered 
marijuana as a painkiller by accident.

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf of Mexico, Peacock found 
part-time work as a consultant evaluating damage to the area.

"While I was down there," he says, "I ran out of my prescriptions and 
there weren't any hospitals open in New Orleans, there weren't any 
clinics, nothing. I couldn't get anyone to write my prescriptions, 
and I ran out." Peacock was going through a painful withdrawal when 
he was sent to Miami. He was sent to survey a damaged home where he 
says the resident kept asking if he was a police officer. "About 
halfway through the inspection," Peacock remembers, "he asked me what 
was wrong with me. He said I looked pale, that I looked sick."

Peacock explained his situation to the man who, after reconfirming 
that he was not a cop, said, "I've got something that will make you 
feel better." He offered Peacock a small bag with marijuana in it. 
"As sick as I was, I went back to my hotel and sat in my car and 
smoked some, and the pain went away. I waited for something to 
happen--because I hadn't smoked marijuana since I was 21--and I 
couldn't believe it, that the pain was just gone. My normal medicine 
gives me cramps and lots of other side effects and there was none of that."

Peacock has not smoked marijuana since he returned from his trip. He 
can't. He is drug tested for recreational drugs by his doctor and, if 
he ever tests positive, he will be ineligible for treatment under New 
York state law. "I can't take that chance. I have to stay on my 
prescriptions. I'm 59 years old, I wouldn't even begin to know where 
to buy that stuff in Buffalo," he says, adding that he believes it 
would be considerably less expensive than the prescription drugs that 
he is currently struggling to afford. "The retail cost of my pain 
medication is $3,200 a month, and this marijuana I had did the same 
thing and probably costs a fraction of the narcotics that I take. So, 
am I an advocate? You bet! I hope they pass it, I really do."

Unlike Lawson, who is able to obtain enough cannabis (though he will 
not say how) to alleviate his pain and allow him to attend school and 
continue to play in his band, Peacock is unable to work due to his 
pain and the side effects of the prescription drugs that he currently 
takes. "The pain just got the best of me," he says resignedly. "I 
just finally ran into a wall, and I couldn't do it anymore. I can't 
travel. I'm stuck in the house most of the time because the pain is 
brutal." Currently, Peacock says his wife is unable to retire, as her 
insurance is the only way that they can manage the medical bills.

Currently, marijuana is approved to treat a limited number of severe 
conditions in states that have legalized its medical use. Glaucoma is 
an accepted condition in nearly every legalized state (excepting only 
Vermont) because of marijuana's ability to reduce pressure in the eye 
and slow, if not completely halt, progression of the disease. Other 
widely accepted conditions include: cancer, AIDS, cachexia, severe or 
chronic pain, severe or chronic nausea, seizure disorders and muscle 
spasticity disorders. Although approved by fewer states, other 
conditions for which marijuana has been deemed useful include: 
Crohn's disease, hepatitis C, arthritis, migraines and the agitation 
of Alzheimer's disease. Some interesting studies suggest that proper 
use of medicinal marijuana can dramatically slow the progression of 

Every legalized state has different legislation dictating possession, 
access, fees and so on. Most states allow for the possession of small 
amounts of marijuana and a certain number of plants. Many charge fees 
to patients for required ID cards. Organizations that are allowed to 
disseminate the drug are also regulated by state law. Comparatively, 
the legislation under consideration in New York is quite strict in 
terms of access and possession.

The bill currently under consideration requires that patients must be 
certified by a medical practitioner, have a severely debilitating or 
life-threatening condition, and stand to benefit from the use of 
medical marijuana. Certifications will be good for only one year and 
must appear in the patient's medical record. Doctors may not 
prescribe for themselves. And the Department of Health, for a fee 
that has yet to be announced, will issue ID cards. Patients (or their 
designated caregiver) are allowed up to only 2.5 ounces at any given 
time and will not be allowed to keep any plants. Organizations 
registered to distribute the prescribed cannabis must apply for and 
receive approval by NYS-DOH after meeting strict qualifications. The 
law also provides for research into the effectiveness of the 
prescribed marijuana, with a report to be submitted at the end of one 
year. Subsequent reports are expected biannually.

Dave Lawson gets emotional when he talks about the many people in 
pain who be believes could be helped by the legalization of medical 
marijuana. He knows that, without it, he would likely not be in 
school or still playing with his band. Lawson considers himself 
fortunate to be able to manage his pain in a way that allows him to 
continue to live his life, and he has dedicated himself to efforts to 
make the same relief available to others. "Marijuana shouldn't be 
illegal," he says with passion. "The fact that there are people out 
there dying and that marijuana would help them. What is this country 
scared of? That they are going to get better or that it might kill 
them? So many of these people are already dying, for god's sake. And 
this would only make it easier. It just makes me angry."



In a telephone poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post in 
January, support for the legalization of medical marijuana in the 
United States was found to have increased significantly in the last 10 years:

. 81 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for 
medical use, up from 69 percent in 1997.

. 56 percent believe that, if legalized, medical practitioners should 
be able to prescribe medical marijuana to any patient that they think 
would benefit; 21 percent think it should be limited to the 
terminally ill; and another 21 percent would limit it to those with 
serious, but not necessarily terminal, illnesses.

. 68 percent of conservatives and 72 percent of Republicans are in 
favor of legalization for medical purposes, as are 85 percent of 
Democrats and independents, and about 90 percent of liberals and moderates.

. Only 69 percent of seniors favor legalization of medical marijuana, 
compared with 83 percent of adults under the age of 65.



Conditions: Cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, seizures, 
glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders 
characterized by muscles spasticity and nausea.

Regulations: 1 ounce and no more than 6 plants, of which only 3 may be mature.


Conditions: AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cachexia, cancer, chronic 
pain, glaucoma, migraine, persistent muscle spasms, multiple 
sclerosis, seizures, epilepsy, severe nausea and other chronic 
medical symptoms.

Regulations: 8 ounces and/or 6 mature plants, unless recommended by a 


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, severe pain or 
nausea, seizures, epilepsy, persistent muscle spasms, multiple 
sclerosis. Other conditions are subject to approval.

Regulations: 2 ounces and no more than 6 plants, of which only 3 may be mature.


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, wasting syndrome, 
severe pain or nausea, seizures, epilepsy, severe and persistent 
muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease. Other conditions 
subject to approval.

Regulations: 3 mature plants, 4 immature plants, and 1 ounce of 
useable marijuana per mature plant.


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic 
lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's, nail-patella 
syndrome, chronic intractable pain, cachexia, wasting syndrome, 
severe nausea, seizures, muscles spasms and multiple sclerosis.

Regulations: 2.5 ounces.


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic 
lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's, nail patella, 
cachexia, wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain or nausea, 
seizures, epilepsy, muscle spasms and multiple sclerosis.

Regulations: 2.5 ounces and up to 12 plants, kept in a locked facility.


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, wasting syndrome, 
severe or chronic pain or nausea, seizures, epilepsy, severe or 
persistent muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and any 
other condition adopted by the department by rule.

Regulations: 1 ounce and 6 plants.


Conditions: AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, cachexia, persistent muscle 
spasms or seizures, severe nausea or pain. Other conditions subject 
to approval.

Regulations: 1 ounce, 3 mature plants, 4 immature plants.

New Jersey

Conditions: Seizure disorder, epilepsy, intractable skeletal muscle 
spasticity, glaucoma, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or 
vomiting, cachexia or wasting syndrome resulting from HIV/AIDS or 
cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, terminal 
cancer, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's 
disease, terminal illness if the prognosis is less than 1 year, and 
any other approved medical condition.

Regulations: Prescribed. Maximum amount is 2 ounces in 30 days.

New Mexico

Conditions: Severe chronic pain, painful peripheral neuropathy, 
intractable nausea/vomiting, severe anorexia/cachexia, hepatitis C, 
Crohn's disease, PTSD, ALS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, 
damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with intractable 
spasticity, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and hospice patients.

Regulations: 6 ounces, 4 mature plants and 12 seedlings.


Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, severe pain or 
nausea, seizures, epilepsy, persistent muscle spasms, multiple 
sclerosis. Other conditions subject to approval.

Regulations: 24 ounces and 6 mature plants.

Rhode Island

Conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, chronic or 
debilitating disease (or medical condition or treatment) causing 
cachexia, wasting syndrome, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, 
epilepsy, muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, 
Alzheimer's. Other conditions subject to approval.

Regulations: 2.5 ounces and up to 12 plants; primary caregivers may 
possess up to 5 ounces and 24 plants.


Conditions: Cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or any other 
disease resulting in chronic, debilitating symptoms producing severe 
pain, nausea, seizures, cachexia or wasting syndrome.

Regulations: 2 ounces, 2 mature plants and 7 immature plants.


Conditions: Cachexia, cancer, Crohn's disease, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, 
epilepsy, glaucoma, intractable pain and multiple sclerosis, diseases 
that result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, 
seizures, muscle spasms or spasticity. Other conditions subject to approval.

Regulations: 24 ounces and no more than 15 plants.
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