Medical Marijuana: Texas needs a thoughtful discussion

February 12, 2005

, Dallas Morning News

Medical science is producing evidence that ingredients in marijuana can ease chronic pain. Numerous studies show that marijuana helps some cancer and other seriously ill patients relieve chronic pain and control nausea and vomiting.

Marijuana use, however, is illegal in Texas, which means that even if a doctor believes in its medicinal benefits, a doctor can't prescribe it nor can a patient legally obtain or use it.

Let's be clear on this point. This newspaper is not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana. We are advocating a thoughtful public policy discussion to allow patients facing chronic pain legal access to this alternative treatment.

Unfortunately, the only bill in the Texas House would add to the confusion on this subject. It would change the state's health and safety code to allow a person charged with possession of marijuana to be allowed to show evidence in court that a licensed physician recommended the drug as a treatment. While we think a discussion of medical marijuana use in Texas is long overdue, this bill from state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, is the wrong approach.

The bill provides false hope for patients and inadequate guidance for doctors and law enforcement agencies. A patient could still be convicted on illegal drug charges because the law doesn't legalize the use of medical marijuana. In addition, the bill doesn't indicate the amount of marijuana a patient could possess or how the patient could legally obtain it.

Medical research and public opinion are changing. The American Medical Association has urged research to deliver the benefits without subjecting physicians and patients to criminal sanctions.

Ten states also have laws that protect from arrest or jail those patients who possess and grow their own medical marijuana with a doctor's approval. Some states register doctors and patients and provide ID cards so police officers can determine who uses marijuana for medical reasons.

And last year a Scripps Howard Texas Poll found that 75 percent of Texans favored legislation that would allow people with cancer and other serious illnesses to use their own marijuana for medical purposes as long as their physician approves.

The Naishtat measure isn't the right answer. The state needs a sound policy for the future, and lawmakers should start asking the right questions now.



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