Pubdate: Sat, 22 Dec 2012
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2012 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Alexander E. Sharp
Note: Rev. Alexander E. Sharp is Executive Director Emeritus of
Protestants for the Common Good, an Illinois faith-based education
and advocacy organization.


Once again this year, in the final days of the outgoing General
Assembly before Jan. 9, a coalition of advocates and patients is
seeking to legalize medical marijuana in Illinois. We are very close
to success, but the last votes are always the hardest to get.

Sometimes when I tell friends what I am working on - medical marijuana
- - I am a little defensive. They might see this as a fringe issue. They
might wonder why I am spending so much time on it. Whatever the
reason, I feel the need to explain.

Some of us first became involved because we wanted to counter current
drug policy - the so-called War on Drugs - which has turned the United
States into a "prisoner nation" (we incarcerate more per capita than
any other country in the world) with policies that are costly, futile,
and inhumane.

Three years ago, medical marijuana was the only topic we could address
in Springfield that had any connection, no matter how indirectly, with
the failed War on Drugs. But during these three years, I have become
deeply committed to this bill as an end in itself. Its passage is an
act of compassion and common sense.

Ask yourself a simple question: have you ever experienced not just
severe pain, but chronic pain - pain that you know in some form or
other will never go away, will be with you for the rest of your life?
I cannot imagine what this would be like. Most of us can't - because
it has never happened to us.

Two months ago, I met an individual who had stepped on a rusty steel
spike. His leg became infected. After six surgeries, doctors realized
that they could not save the leg and decided to amputate just below
the knee. This person now suffers "shadow" or "phantom" pain that
causes him to cry out in agony unpredictably at least several times a
day. Cannabis relieves his pain. This bill is for him.

Two patients we work with have multiple sclerosis. Their neurological
spasms are often agonizing. Their pain is chronic. They will
experience it for the rest of their lives. Cannabis helps.

One individual I have come to know well has a morphine pump installed
in his chest. It kicks in every morning at 6 a.m. Only through
cannabis can he avoid severe nausea.

Even legislators who oppose the bill understand that cannabis helps
relieve pain in ways that prescription drugs often cannot.

So what are the attitude and barriers that need to be overcome?
Marijuana is not, as the federal Food and Drug Administration
maintains, a drug like heroin, with no accepted medical value. It is
far less harmful than FDA-approved pain medications that turn patients
into vegetables. Whatever the addictive qualities - far less than
alcohol and many prescription drugs - they do not justify the more
than 800,000 arrests nationally and 50,000 in Illinois that take place
for marijuana possession each year.

But if making cannabis available as medicine is all we ever achieve
concerning drug policy reform, the effort will have been more than
worthwhile. How often do we have the chance to relieve the severe
physical suffering of even a few people in this world? That's why this
bill deserves our support when it comes before the General Assembly in
early January. 
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