Pubdate: Mon, 14 May 2012
Source: Dartmouth, The (Dartmouth College, NH Edu)
Copyright: 2012 The Dartmouth, Inc.
Author: Madison Pauly


Policymakers, doctors and professors from across New England debated
the merits and pitfalls of legalizing medical marijuana at the eighth
annual Dartmouth Symposium on Substance Abuse, held on Friday in
Collis Common Ground. The conference - "Medical Marijuana:
Compassionate Care or Oxymoron?" - examined the controversial issue
of medical marijuana in the context of a current bill facing the New
Hampshire legislature.

The symposium aimed to provide an informed, scientific discussion of
the topic and sought to eliminate politicized arguments, according to
Seddon Savage, director of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction, Recovery
and Education and the event organizer.

"I think it's very important for scientists to be in discussion to
bring to light different arguments," she said. "Often, public debate
is based on observations and people's own personal

Organizers chose speakers based on their local and regional
involvement in the issue and their ability to engage in balanced
dialogue, Savage said.

"I think we heard equally from both sides," she said. "But it's very
hard to find scientists who will say unequivocally that marijuana is

Where it is legalized, medical marijuana is most often recommended for
patients suffering from chronic pain and nausea as a result of cancer
treatment, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS, Columbia University psychiatry
professor Herbert Kleber said.

Some patients do not respond to treatments for pain or "intractable
nausea," making other approaches necessary, Savage said.

However, a dearth of scientific studies on the efficacy and risks of
medical marijuana has made it difficult for organizations to establish
clinical policies for recommending the drug to patients.

"People don't know, patients don't know and doctors can't tell them,"
Tom Reid, deputy county attorney of Rockingham County, N.H., said.

In places where medical marijuana has been legalized, existing
delivery systems such as dispensaries often provide little to no
guidance to patients on the type, potency and dosage, Reid said.
Doctors who advertise their willingness to write prescriptions may
abuse the system, he said.

As the drug becomes more socially acceptable, recreational use becomes
more prevalent among youth.

"It's very hard to craft a system that makes it only available to
patients who need it," Savage said.

"The political context and timing of the conference was wonderful
because that bill is before the New Hampshire legislature right now,"
Savage said.

New Hampshire may become the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana,
according to Savage. Senate Bill 409, sponsored by Sen. Jim Forsythe,
R-Strafford, and Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, would allow the use
of medical marijuana by patients with a "debilitating medical
condition," according to the New Hampshire General Court website.

Speakers throughout the day's events referenced the current
deliberations of the state government on the proposed legality of
medical marijuana.

Under the proposed law, state-registered patients or caregivers could
cultivate up to four mature cannabis plants and 12 seedlings in an
enclosed, locked location, and patients would be allowed to possess
six ounces of marijuana or less. The bill also prohibits the use of
medical marijuana in public, at a workplace or when driving and
imposes criminal sanctions on those who violate the proposed law.

The bill passed in the State House of Representatives with a
veto-proof majority but only passed in the Senate by a vote of 13 to
11, which is insufficient to override a promised veto by Gov. John
Lynch's, D-N.H., according to Savage. The final vote will take place
within the next two weeks, she said.

Friday morning's programming focused on the medical and botanical
aspects of the issue. Harvard Medical School psychobiology professor
Bertha Madras opened the conference with a discussion of the history
and acceptability of marijuana as medicine.

Edgar Romero-Sandoval, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and
toxicology at the Geisel School of Medicine, presented research on the
pharmacological impacts of cannabinoids. Gilbert Fanciullo, an
anesthesiology professor at the Geisel School, and New York University
Medical School professor Nicholas Pace discussed the clinical issues
surrounding marijuana used for therapeutic purposes.

The Parliamentary Debate Team also addressed the issue in a debate
format at noon in an example of the potential for student
contribution, Savage said.

"Psychoactive substances are ubiquitous in our culture," Savage said
in an email to The Dartmouth. "Students need to be informed about
their properties not only to make personal decisions about their use,
but to intelligently guide others and help shape policies."

Afternoon speakers tackled the subject from the policy angle,
exploring historical trends of marijuana use and the policies of
national organizations and the government.

Director of Addiction Services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
and psychiatry professor Benjamin Nordstrom Med '01 presented
addictive medications' trends of recreational use.

The day concluded with a panel discussion and audience question and
answer session debating medical marijuana policy in New England. The
panel included John Thiele, the director of Maine's medical marijuana
program, and Bobby Sand, county attorney from Windsor, Vt.

The Dartmouth Center on Addiction, Recovery and Education holds two
conferences each year, with a fall meeting intended for general
practitioners and a spring symposium examining a controversial topic,
Savage said. The programming is funded by the center's operating
budget, which is provided by the Provost's Office and amounts to
between $8,000 and $10,000.

The center aims to prevent "substance and addiction problems as
personal and public health issues" by facilitating communication,
policy implementation and education about substance use in the
Dartmouth community, according to its website.
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