Source: Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, NH)
Copyright: 1999 Geo. J. Foster Co.
Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jan 1999
Author: Gordon Bonin, Maine Statehouse Writer


AUGUSTA, Maine - Mainers will mostly likely vote next fall on a citizen
initiative to make marijuana legal for people suffering from certain diseases.

The proposal by Mainers for Medical Rights will first go before lawmakers.
If the Legislature does not approve the measure, it will be sent to a
referendum in November because it is a citizen initiative.

The purpose of the initiative is to legalize the use of marijuana "to
provide important therapeutic and palliative benefits to many patients who
suffer from debilitating conditions resulting from certain diseases or
treatment of these diseases."

The diseases and side effects of treatment covered by the measure are
persistent nausea, vomiting and weight loss caused by AIDS or radiation and
chemotherapy; heightened intraocular pressure from glaucoma; chronic
seizures such as those caused by epilepsy; and persistent, debilitating
muscles spasms associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

People suffering from any of these would be allowed to grow "a small
amount" of marijuana to meet their needs, under the counsel of a physician,
without fear of criminal prosecution.

Six states have already approved similar measures at referendum, most
notably California.

But even before the medical argument over marijuana can be joined in Maine,
the battle is "very much a legal one," said Dr. Dora Ann Mills, director of
the state Health Bureau.

"No matter how you pass it," she said, "you put health care providers in
violation of federal law."

The federal government could prosecute physicians and patients or revoke
the licenses physicians need to prescribe controlled drugs, she said.

Another problem is that marijuana is not certified by the federal Food and
Drug Administration, said Gordon Smith, executive director of the Maine
Medical Association. "Doctors are used to dealing with drugs whose purity
is certified by the FDA."

The Maine Medical Association has opposed such measures in the past.

The research on the benefits of marijuana is "very cloudy," Dr. Mills said.
Some research suggests that marijuana -- actually a chemical in it called
THC -- can help those with AIDS or suffering the side effects of radiation
or chemotherapy for cancer.

Michael Lindey, a 66-year-old retired veterinarian in Freeport, vouches for
the relief it provides.

For three months in 1995, he resorted to smoking marijuana to "allay the
adverse effects" of chemotherapy for cancer.

Though he is a cigarette smoker, prior to those three months he had never
smoked marijuana, he said in a telephone interview with Fosterís Daily

In January 1995, Lindey was diagnosed with a "first-class case of cancer,"
he said. He underwent the first of two chemotherapy cycles from February
into April of that year.

The treatment was "pretty rugged," he said. But "I was grateful they
treated it aggressively."

He also underwent four operations during the two years after his diagnosis
to remove the cancer. After those operations he was given morphine to ease
his pain.

Lindey started the first chemotherapy cycle when weighed 185 pounds. By
April, he weighed 40 pounds less.

"That first cycle was a horror show," he said. "I had a lot of discomfort
and malaise. I had a terrible depression."

Though it is natural to be anxious and despondent right after a cancer
diagnosis, the emotions are "not helpful," he said.

"I was constantly nauseous," Lindey said. "Iíd walk around the house with a
bucket in my hand because the nausea was so pressing, so unrelenting."

"I kept eating a lot of small meals all day, and then at night Iíd lose
it," he said.

The weight loss made him weak and contributed to his depression.

"Your clothes hang on you," he said. "Everything is down, down, down."

During that session he said he tried Marinol tablets, a legal medication
that contains the key chemical THC from marijuana. But the tablets "just
didnít work," he said.

Six months after the first chemotherapy cycle, he underwent a second. It
was during this cycle that he smoked marijuana.

The weight loss this time was slight, he said. "The marijuana alleviated
the nausea, minimized it."

And there was no depression, he said. "I had a will to live."

"The marijuana gave me a sense of well being that was not justified,"
Lindey said. "But maybe that helped me."

"The restless anxiety was gone," he said. "You donít sleep well while under
this gun."

In the second chemotherapy cycle, he would "sleep in perfect peace,"
sometimes for eight to ten hours.

His "dosage" was just a few puffs each night, he said. "I never smoked a
whole joint."

Lindey dismissed the assertions that marijuana is a "gateway" for harder

"Since concluding smoking, I havenít had a craving for it," he said. "Nor
did I have a craving for morphine after the four operations."

However, smoking marijuana without the guidance of a physician, Dr. Mills
said, can put a person in "medical jeopardy."

The marijuana could create adverse reactions in combination with other
medication, she said.

The Marinol that Lindey took is "grainy and shiny like a white milk dud,"
she said. "You chew on it like gum."

The chemical THC is absorbed through the skin in the mouth, she said.

However, some people think that this is less effective delivery than smoking.

When it comes to glaucoma, Dr. Mills said, the research on how much
marijuana helps is "very weak."

"There is no medical efficacy in marijuana for treating glaucoma," Smith said.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has said that although it appears
marijuana can provide possibly short-term relief of intraocular pressure
from glaucoma, there are no long-term benefits, according to Smith.

For those suffering from multiple sclerosis, Dr. John Morgan, a
pharmacology professor at the City University of New York, testified in
1997 before Maine lawmakers that marijuana helps relieve convulsive muscle

When a similar measure was before the Maine Legislature in 1997, the only
formal opposition was a letter from Gov. Angus Kingís administration,
signed by the Health Bureau director, public safety commissioner and
substance abuse office director. The letter asked legislators to "defer
state activity."

Measures legalizing marijuana "would contravene current federal criminal
law, creating serious uncertainty for the citizens of Maine and the law
enforcement community,íí the administrationís letter stated.

Federal research on the medical efficacy of marijuana is under way.

The pending citizen initiative would mark the fifth time medical marijuana
bills have been before the Maine Legislature.

The 1997 version was rejected by the Legislature. The one in 1992 was
approved in both chambers but vetoed by then Gov. John McKernan. The bills
of 1979 and 1983 both become law, but each were automatically rescinded,
the first in 1981, the second in 1987.

Smith said the federal government must clarify and settle its policy on
such state laws.

"The feds are kind of a moving target on this," Smith said. In California,
the federal Drug Enforcement Agency took "an aggressive stance,"
threatening to take away physiciansí licenses to prescribe prohibited drugs
but then "backed off."

This is an issue that "really needs to be dealt with at the federal level
before states can clearly deal with it," Dr. Mills said.

Christopher McLaughlin, a lawyer for Mainers for Medical Rights, said, "The
hope is that a grassroots, state-led effort will convince the federal
government that it is a ridiculous waste of time to prosecute drug laws
against people who could benefit from them."

When those in Congress are faced with the "dichotomy" of federal and state
law, he added, "I assume they would begin to take notice." 
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