Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2011 Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC) Copyright: 2011 Wilmington Morning Star Contact: http://www.starnewsonline.com/section/submit01 Website: http://www.starnewsonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/500 Author: Patrick Gannon AREA RESIDENTS LOBBY FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA Steve Winthrop says several years ago he was a "doped-up, drooling zombie. The Wilmington resident was taking large doses of Oxycontin to ease discomfort from a spine injury first caused by a car accident and exacerbated by an injury suffered as a paramedic in New York. Winthrop said he became addicted to the drugs, but with the help of his girlfriend, got off them. Now, he said, he uses marijuana to deal with his pain and it has helped him become more active, without the side effects. "I'm high right now," he said at about noon in the Legislative Building in Raleigh. "Do you have a problem talking to me? Do I appear like a stoner to you?" Winthrop and at least seven other Wilmington-area residents attended a day-long event in Raleigh Tuesday to express their support for House Bill 577, also known as the Medical Cannabis Act. The bill, introduced in the state House earlier this session, hasn't moved from the House Rules committee, where bills often go to die. The measure would shield qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as well as their physicians and caregivers, from criminal and civil prosecution related to the patients' marijuana use. It wouldn't allow anyone to drive while impaired by cannabis or smoke it in any public place, including school buses, school grounds and correctional facilities. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates the sale of medical marijuana would generate more than $39 million a year in sales tax revenue alone. But advocates for the legislation said the actual economic impact would be many times greater, when patient and caregiver registration fees, marijuana dispensary license fees and other revenues are accounted for. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently permit the medical use and cultivation of cannabis, according to the bill. "It is my ... hope that North Carolina is going to be the 17th state sometime soon," said Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, one of the bill sponsors, during a news conference at the Legislative Building. The bill must be approved by either the House or Senate by Thursday "" the so-called "crossover deadline" "" or it won't be eligible for consideration by the 2011-12 General Assembly. Alexander said he planned to start a discharge petition on the bill. If it gets the signatures of enough House members, it would be taken out of committee and immediately considered on the House floor. That appears unlikely. Speakers at Tuesday's event speculated as to why lawmakers wouldn't allow the bill to be heard this session, from legislators' fears of losing votes from their more conservative constituents to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Alexander was joined by two other bill sponsors: Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin; and Rep. Patsy Keever, D-Buncombe. "This boils down to the question: Do we or do we not own our own bodies?" Bradley said to the dozens of people gathered at the news conference. Keever said her husband died of cancer and she "watched him waste away" from the effects of chemotherapy. She said she wished he had medical marijuana to ease the pain. "To not use this tool for our citizens is immoral," Keever said. Winthrop's girlfriend, Cindy Heinly, is a registered nurse in Wilmington. She is also the president of the newly formed Wilmington chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML. The group plans a meeting at 6 p.m. June 17 at Far Out, 620 N. Fourth St. in Wilmington. Heinly said she hasn't smoked marijuana in a quarter of a century, but as a nurse she's "just sick of watching my patients suffer." Lee Porter, a nurse practitioner at Allied Psychophysiology, and his wife, Liz, an environmental scientist, also made the trip to Raleigh. Liz Porter said one of the obstacles advocates for medical marijuana face is the fear that many people have about supporting the idea publicly. "We need to open this dialogue," Liz Porter said. "We need to sit down and find out why people are scared, and let's address it." Winthrop said marijuana is the "best medicine in the world." "They're just not giving it to us," he said. "It's that simple. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.