Pubdate: Sun, 07 Jul 2013
Source: Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Copyright: 2013 The Union Leader Corp.
Note: Out-of-state letters are seldom published.
Author: Shawne K. Wickham

Marijuana Stories


Ted Wright's wife was wasting away before his eyes.

Ravaged by constant nausea and vomiting - the side effects from a 
clinical trial drug that was keeping her cancer at bay - Cindy Wright 
had rapidly lost more than 30 pounds.

"She couldn't eat," her husband recalled. "And they said, 'You've got 
to stop losing weight; we're taking you off the trial.'"

A nurse at their Boston hospital had told them other patients were 
getting through their treatments by using cannabis - marijuana. 
Desperate, the Wrights decided to try it.

"Within five minutes, she was eating the biggest meal I'd seen her 
eat in a year," Ted Wright said. "As soon as she felt the effects of 
the drug, she felt well enough to eat."

"It was just amazing. And she put the weight back on within a month 
and stabilized," he said. It's been two years, and "she's been stable 
ever since."

"That flipped a switch for me," said Wright, a Tuftonboro Republican 
who was elected to the House last November. "It became a crusade for me."

He co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill that is poised to become 
law, after both the House and Senate passed a compromise version late 
last month. Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she will sign the measure into law.

And once she does, the Wrights are among an unknown number of Granite 
Staters who will come out from the shadows of illegal drug use.

The decision to pass House Bill 573 was not taken lightly. Concerns 
and objections voiced by law enforcement officials and the New 
Hampshire Medical Society, among others, were weighed against the 
possible benefits.

Dr. P. Thomas Harker, president of the Medical Society, told the New 
Hampshire Union Leader last month that "cannabis is an unproven 
therapy," and his organization was "very concerned about the risk of 
diversion and the message we send to the children and adolescents of 
New Hampshire about cannabis."

He added: "Smoking marijuana is clearly bad for people's lungs."

The new law allow patients with "qualifying" medical conditions who 
obtain special identification cards to use cannabis for therapeutic 
purposes without fear of arrest, prosecution or penalty. Those 
conditions include cancer, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular 
dystrophy and traumatic brain injury.

Lawmakers ruled out allowing patients to grow their own plants, 
something law enforcement and Hassan opposed. Instead, the state 
health department will supervise nonprofit "alternative treatment 
centers" - two initially - that will distribute the drug.

The measure also would set up a Cannabis Advisory Council, to include 
lawmakers; medical professionals; representatives of the Attorney 
General's Office and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union; health 
and safety officials; and members of the public, including a patient, 
to evaluate how the new program is working.

Wright said he's disappointed that lawmakers removed the home-grow 
option. He said it's safer to grow the plants oneself, to ensure they 
are free from substances that could harm vulnerable patients.

Still, he said he's "thrilled" that patients such as his wife will 
soon be able to obtain cannabis legally.

Richard Vincent of Loudon doesn't share Wright's sense of victory. 
"It's still kind of frustrating," he said. "They went up to the 99 
yard line and that was it. No touchdown."

He wanted the home-grow option preserved. "If you grow your own, you 
have control," he said. "There are no pesticides or herbicides. The 
purity is there."

Vincent was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995; he leads an MS 
Society support group for patients in the Concord area. He estimates 
there are a "couple of hundred" folks in New Hampshire who have the 
disease and could benefit from medical marijuana.

He doesn't know why, but he said cannabis relieves the spasticity 
that accompanies the disease. "It means getting around a lot easier."

Darlene Wilson of Manchester has chronic pancreatitis, one of the 
"qualifying" conditions in the pending law. Her pancreas no longer 
functions properly to break down fats and proteins, so she struggles 
to maintain a proper weight.

"In the old days, they used to call it the wasting disease," she explained.

Wilson used to operate an interstate trucking business; she had to 
quit work when she became ill in the late 1990s. She depends on a 
morphine pump in her stomach to control her constant pain.

After other patients told Wilson that cannabis had relieved some of 
their symptoms, including severe vomiting, she decided to try it.

"The instantaneous relief that came from it was something to behold," she said.

She ingests cannabis instead of smoking it, which she said eliminates 
any possible cancer risks from smoking. And while opponents raise 
concerns about medical marijuana use leading to addiction or abuse of 
other drugs, Wilson calls cannabis "a life-saving drug."

She urged skeptics to "keep an open mind."

"Walk through a cancer ward," she said. "Talk to people that use it. 
Listen to some people's stories.

"It is a wonderful medicine, and it can do a lot of good things for 
people and end a lot of suffering."

Wright said he's already working on a bill to expand the law, to 
allow home cultivation with monitoring by law enforcement.

Here's what he wants people to understand: "For Cindy, it's been a 
matter of life and death."

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when she was just 30 years 
old, his wife had battled the disease for many years. About five 
years ago, the cancer had spread to her bones. That's when she got 
into the clinical trial.

A year ago, Cindy Wright was the only patient left from the original 
group; the others had died from the disease or quit because of side effects.

"It was the cannabis that was keeping her on the trial and, frankly, 
may have saved her life," Wright said.

The trial drug was recently approved, which means his wife can get 
her treatments closer to home. And the legalization of medical 
marijuana means she won't have to stop taking the drug that is 
keeping her alive, he said.

Ted and Cindy Wright have been married for 21 years. Her illness 
meant they couldn't have children, or even adopt, but there have been 
other compensations, he said.

"We missed out on some things, but we've learned a lot about 
ourselves, and life," he said. "And we have a lot more compassion in 
everything we do."
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