Pubdate: Sun, 16 Jan 2011
Source: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Freedom Communications
Author: Jessica Fender, Journal-Courier
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Illinois)

Up in Smoke:


New Bill to Legalize the Drug Has Been Filed in the House

After enduring two rounds of back surgery and suffering nerve damage 
in his leg, Marshall Parks knows the rest of his life will be a 
battle against pain.

He's taken a laundry list of medications and treatments.

The one he said works the best is illegal.

He was rarely a political activist, but now he feels it's time to be 
an advocate for medical marijuana. Not just for himself, but for 
people he has watched suffer, including his late mother.

"I don't want to live a life where I have to make excuses for myself," he said.

He's trying to get an answer to a question that is becoming asked 
more and more around Illinois - should he be legally allowed to use 
marijuana for medical purposes?

The Journal-Courier agreed to identify Parks by his pseudonym because 
of concerns of legal repercussions.

Snuffed by a Narrow Margin

The medical marijuana issue in Illinois may only be on the back 
burner after efforts to approve it were quashed by the state General Assembly.

The bill, known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot 
Program Act, has been filed again as House Bill 30. It would provide 
that those diagnosed with a debilitating condition such as AIDS, 
glaucoma, cancer or chronic pain would be issued a card by the 
Department of Public Health allowing them to possess no more than six 
cannabis plants and 2 ounces of dried cannabis.

The former bill - Senate Bill 1381 - failed by four votes.

It was the closest the measure has come to passing in the state. 
Although proponents saw it as a change in the tide, opponents said to 
expect similar results in the future.

One opponent is Illinois Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville.

"There are a lot of studies in these states that have used it, teen 
use has gone up. And when you ask them how they got it, they say it's 
just easier," Watson said.

He said Illinois' bill was modeled after one implemented in Colorado. 
Watson said most bills for medical marijuana he has seen fail to 
effectively regulate it in a manner that prevents increases in drug 
abuse, which he called a "disaster" for those states. He said his 
opposition to the bill isn't because he is not compassionate, but 
that ease of accessibility though methods such as dispensaries or 
doctors who readily issue prescriptions would allow the wrong people 
to abuse the system.

Even though the previous bill failed by only four votes, Watson said 
he expects it to be harder to pass a bill in the current General 
Assembly now that lame ducks are gone and there are new Republican legislators.

Watson also said he doubts he would ever vote for a medical marijuana bill.

"Nothing I've seen so far would entice me," Watson said.

Trying to Get Through Pain

Parks' recollection of time is muddled between his second back 
surgery up until the time he lost his job because of the heavy doses 
of pain medication he was on: Prescription medicines he said made him 
feel like a zombie.

He suffered a herniated disk in his back in 2001, which was fixed 
without too much trouble.

But years later, in 2006, an accident at work caused his back to go 
out once again.

After tests he compared to torture, the second surgery was less 
successful because of scar tissue.

Doctors. Therapies. Drugs. Some were more successful than others. The 
chronic pain exacerbated his clinical depression and he admitted that 
suicide would sometimes drift into a mind clouded by pain medication.

Such thoughts took a toll on his daily life. One example was when he 
was pulled over by a police officer on his way to the store.

He explained he was changing lanes to let another driver go by but it 
seemed someone thought he was driving erratically and called police. 
Parks - who was taking Oxycontin - said he was pretty angry and 
wasn't feeling right.

"I said to him 'if you had any compassion, you'd take your gun out 
and put two to the back of my head'," he recalled.

The police officer asked if it might be good to take Parks to the 
hospital for a mental evaluation, but ended up calling his wife, who 
had to make excuses for his strange behavior.

He was forgetting things, too: Important things. He credits his wife 
for preventing a drug overdose that could have killed him - a result 
of not remembering when he took his last dose.

His life was spiraling in other ways, too, including losing insurance 
that paid for the drugs. He turned to marijuana.

It was a drug he had used for recreational purposes in the past. Even 
though he thinks of it as a luxury item, it was still cheaper than 
buying prescription pain medication.

"Marijuana gives you something else to focus on other than the pain. 
It doesn't take away all the pain, but neither did the Oxycontin. But 
I feel a bit more lucid," he said.

Parks said the behavior he exhibited while taking Oxycodone was 
taking its toll on the family, but marijuana allowed him to enjoy his 
life more.

He said he feels guilty that his wife has to go to work while he 
stays home, but he enjoys helping her around the house so she can 
relax when she gets home.

"We're in our mid-50s and she works real hard," Parks said. "If I'm 
well enough to do things for her, it makes me feel good. When I was 
on Oxycontin, I was a puppet. You may as well of put me in a case. I 
had problems communicating, I was paranoid."

Police: Reasons for the Law

Jacksonville Police Chief Tony Grootens worked for many years as an 
agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. He disagrees with 
medical marijuana legislation for a plethora of reasons.

One problem it presents to law enforcement officials is handling laws 
that prevent driving under the influence of drugs.

"It metastasizes with the fat in your body. If you smoke a joint 
today, it stays in your blood for 30 days," Grootens said. "So how do 
we determine if a person is driving under the influence?"

For this reason, Grootens said legal marijuana may require a revision 
of the motor vehicle code.

Still, Grootens said medical marijuana may be popular for reasons 
outside of it's medicinal effects.

"The problem I have with medical marijuana is it's a strategic ploy 
by the people who want legalized drugs," Grootens said.

He pointed out states such as California and Colorado, where he said 
medical marijuana led to easy access and increased the ease of 
abusing the drug. He said some dispensaries have been known to mark 
up the price and sell it out the back door.

"Do you think there's not doctors out there that won't just write 
prescriptions?" Grootens said. "That there are doctors out there who 
are not on the up and up and you tell them symptoms and they'll write 
you a script?"

He said many doctors are reprimanded every year for writing 
prescriptions without keeping accurate records, showing a medical 
need or even seeing a patient.

If marijuana becomes a prescription drug in Illinois, it would likely 
join the ranks of other abused prescription drugs.

Grootens said one of the problems with prescription drug abuse is 
it's easily accessed, typically stolen by younger people from their 
parents' or grandparents' medicine cabinets.

"It would be a real problem to regulate it. It would be easily 
abused. I'm not for it at all," Grootens said. "I don't think any 
good can come from it."

Finding a Middle Ground

Some law enforcement authorities, including Grootens, said they might 
be in favor of medical marijuana if it wasn't for the fact that 
medication already exists that can do its job.

Marinol is a synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol - that's an active 
ingredient in cannabis - that has been approved by the FDA and 
endorsed by the DEA. It is prescribed for chemotherapy patients 
suffering from nausea and vomiting or AIDS patients who have a loss 
in appetite.

The side effects of the drug are similar to those of marijuana.

"What other drugs do we have that are smoked?" Grootens said, adding 
that marijuana is known to have four to five times more tar than 
tobacco and other adverse health effects like memory loss and loss of 
depth perception.

Parks said that he's heard of the drug and has known people who were 
prescribed it and said it was less preferable to cannabis itself. He 
said that marijuana vaporization or ingestion is the preferred method 
of use as it does not generate the tars from smoking and works faster 
than Marinol.

Focusing on the Stigma

One of the biggest reasons Parks wanted to take on the fight to 
approve medical marijuana was because of his mother.

She died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma when Parks was only a young man. 
He said she had no appetite and was always in pain and he believes 
she might have lived longer and suffered less if she had used marijuana.

"It was hard on the family as much as the person," Parks said.

He said family members and even medical professionals suggested it to 
her, but she would have no part of the drug.

He said he has this feeling that medical marijuana may never be 
passed in the state.

Ironically, Grootens said he feels as though there may be no stopping 
medical marijuana legislation. He felt what had happened in other 
states has been the result of legislators giving in to pressure from 
pro-marijuana special interest groups such as the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Many advocates for marijuana like to make comparisons to alcohol and 
other drugs and Parks feels that alcohol is far more destructive than 

"Have you ever seen two stoned guys fighting each other for a quarter 
on a pool table?" Parks said. "People on alcohol do that. And they 
might have $50 in their pockets while they do it."

Grootens said he felt that the prohibition on alcohol didn't work 
because it was already a part our culture and stopping marijuana laws 
may keep that from happening again.

"We have so many problems with alcohol, so why would you want to add 
to that?" Grootens said.

"There is this stigma," Parks said. "It's that whole 'reefer madness' 
thing that started in the '40s or '50s maybe. It got vilified 
somewhere along the line."
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