More Californians are using medical marijuana

March 02, 2005

Sophia Fischer, Simi Valley Acorn

In the nearly 10 years since California legalized medical marijuana, the stigma behind the use of the drug has decreased.

An increasing number of patients are using it, more facilities are providing it, and, after a new state bill was passed last year offering guidelines for law enforcement, patient use and physician protection, more doctors are writing prescriptions for it.

'It’s a lot easier to get now. There are radio and newspaper ads and billboards that advertise it and give a phone number to call, and the Medical Board of California lists it on its website,' said a spokesperson for Medical Cannabis Buyers Identification Program (MCBIP), in Hollywood, who preferred that his name not appear in this story. 'There’s a drive to get this familiar to people who are not.'

About 18 doctors currently write prescriptions for patients who are identified as candidates for medical marijuana use. Area patients have access to one doctor in Ventura, according to a spokesperson for Green Mountain Medicine, a privately-funded free referral service based in Los Angeles. The group provides referrals to participating doctors as well as information on dispensaries that sell medical marijuana. To help meet the growing demand, the group is planning to open a second office in San Francisco in the next few weeks.

'We get thousands of calls each week from people looking for a doctor,' said a Green Mountain Medicine spokesperson, who asked that her name not appear in this article.

In 1996, state lawmakers passed Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, making California the first state to legalize the drug 'to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.' Ten other states have passed similar laws including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Many studies have been conducted showing the medical benefits of cannabis. In 1999, a Gallup poll indicated that 73 percent of Americans were in favor of legalizing marijuana to allow doctors to prescribe it to patients who need it. That same year, the Institute of Medicine published a study that concluded that marijuana can help relieve certain symptoms in some illnesses.

In spite of these findings, federal law conflicts with individual state laws. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Congress has refused to pass laws permitting the use of medical marijuana. A number of cases have been prosecuted, some in favor of medical marijuana users; others not.

'A lot of people believe the needs are false, that legalizing marijuana is just a way for people to get high,' the MCBIP spokesperson said. 'But we have over 2,000 patients in our database, people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, muscle problems and this is the only thing that helps relieve the pain for them.'

A strict process must be followed before a patient can receive the drug. Patients must meet with a participating doctor to first determine if their ailments call for medical marijuana. If the physician feels the drug is appropriate, he or she provides a prescription that must be typed onto the doctor’s letterhead, and include the ailment, date the prescription expires, the doctor’s state license number and signature.

The patient then takes the prescription to a dispensary or a cannabis buyers’ club. There are several statewide, including one in Hollywood that services Ventura and Los Angeles county patients.

For those who want to grow the plant at home, individual counties have their own guidelines. In Ventura and L.A. counties, according to the MCBIP representative, six mature plants or 12 immature plants may be grown.

The MCBIP issues I.D. cards to users or their caregivers upon verification of doctor recommendation. The cards not only help prevent abuse of medical marijuana use, but also provide protection in case of a law enforcement emergency.

'There is a lot of abuse, but it doesn’t outweigh the health benefits for the patient,' said the spokesperson, who asked that his name not appear in this story. For more information, visit the websites www.canorml.org, or www.safeaccessnow.org.



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