Pubdate: Sun, 01 May 2011
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2011 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Rob Christensen


RALEIGH -- Perry Parks, a 68-year-old former Vietnam helicopter 
pilot, is relentless in his campaign to persuade North Carolina's 
legislature to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

He doesn't just walk the halls of the legislature, often attired in 
his old National Guard uniform. To publicize his cause, he agreed to 
be photographed smoking a bong - a picture seen on national 
television and in newspapers as far as way as Japan.

"I call it the hit heard around the world," Parks quips. "It's all 
over the Internet."

Like a Tar Heel Forrest Gump, Parks has a habit of turning up at the 
side of notable political leaders, whether Gov. Bev Perdue, U.S. Sen. 
Kay Hagan, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis or President Barack Obama.

He has twice persuaded the N.C. Democratic Party's executive 
committee to pass a resolution supporting legalizing marijuana for 
medical reasons, although party leaders seem skittish about the issue.

But it will be far harder to persuade the legislature to do so. A 
bill legalizing medical marijuana did not get very far last session 
when the Democrats were in control, and it likely faces an even more 
difficult road now that the more socially conservative Republicans 
are in power.

But that has not deterred Parks, an intense man, who like all 
crusaders, believes that if he just has a chance to sit down and 
explain his position, people will come around to his point of view.

He is doing this, Parks says, for his fellow veterans, many of whom 
are dealing with chronic pain, and have found that marijuana provides 
them relief.

"I have veterans that call me every day who are being arrested or 
being kicked out of VA clinics because we don't have a state law," Parks says.

Parks says inhaling marijuana relieves his pain from severe 
degenerative disc disorder and arthritis.

But while veterans are his primary motivation, the bill that has been 
introduced would make medical marijuana available to anyone who meets 
the medical guidelines. In December, Parks was elected president of 
the N. C. Cannabis Patients Network, a group that counts 1,000 members.

This is the second session that a bill legalizing marijuana for 
medical purposes - but not legalizing it generally - has been 
introduced in the state legislature. Last session, the bill got a 
hearing in the House Health Committee, but this time it has not 
gotten that far, and is stuck in the House Rules Committee, a burial 
ground for bills.

Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston, co-chairman of the Rules Committee, 
said he would hold a hearing if the N.C. Medical Society expressed an 
interest in it. But the group, which represents doctors, has not 
endorsed the bill.

State Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte, the bill's chief sponsor, 
said much of the political and medical establishment are wary of the 
legislation, although privately many will say they know people who 
have been helped by the medical use of marijuana.

"Everyone in the world of officials is afraid of it," Alexander said. 
"That is why open discussion and open dialogue is important."

"Some people have what I call a Cheech and Chong view of the issue," 
Alexander said. "Frankly, if you look at it through that lens it 
makes it more difficult to take it seriously and makes it more 
difficult to listen to the evidence out there about its medical efficacy."

Alexander said there are 20 ailments that medical marijuana has been 
proven to have some positive effect on, including helping those 
undergoing chemotherapy treatment. And he cited a recent article 
published by the National Institute of Health that suggested that 
cannabis can play some role in retarding the growth of cancer tumors.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a number of 
prescribed ailments and conditions such as cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, 
diabetes, Crohn's disease, hypertension, severe nausea and epilepsy. 
The state Department of Agriculture would oversee a licensing system 
for growing marijuana.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana to be 
used for medical purposes. But no state in the South allows it.

Parks says he gets it. He is career military, a resident of 
small-town North Carolina, and a Christian. His grandson played every 
quarter last season for the University of Alabama football team.

"This stuff totally removed my pain"' Parks says of the marijuana. "I 
couldn't believe it. I prayed about it. My preacher told me I was 
still wrong. I went back and prayed about it."

Parks spent 28 years in the military, as a chief warrant officer 4, 
flying helicopters in Vietnam and later with the National Guard.

In his 30 months in Vietnam, Parks said he earned the Distinguished 
Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars and the Air Medal - 31 times.

He went through a difficult period after Vietnam with drugs, but got 
his life back together, married and raised a family, eventually 
settling in Rockingham. He became a corporate pilot for Murphy Farms 
and worked as a pilot examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration. 
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