Political Intelligence: Marvelous Medicine

March 03, 2005

, The Texas Observor

'It's marvelous medicine,' Marcia Baker pleads with legislative aide Jason Nelson, as she sits in her wheelchair, working hard to control her head tremors. Nelson works for Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), who represents a conservative bastion. “Too many families have seen their family members suffer,” Baker tells him. “It has come home.” On February 17, it came home to the Capitol as Baker joined several dozen other advocates, including physicians and patients, for the Texans for Medical Marijuana lobby day. Baker wheeled her way through the halls of the Capitol, stopping at offices to try to convince legislators to favor House Bill 658, which allows people with serious illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes, as long as their physician approves. A whopping 75 percent of their fellow Texans believe that they should have that right, according to a 2004 Scripps Howard Texas Poll. But it’s a harder sell for politicians terrified of being portrayed as soft on drugs.

Baker, 40, suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis and has found that marijuana relieves her pain, spasms, and tremors better than many of her prescribed medications—and without many of the debilitating side effects. HB 658 has bipartisan support and is co-authored by Rep. Naishtat (D-Austin) and Rep. Keel (R-Austin). It’s a baby step in the introduction of medical marijuana to Texas. The bill is written simply to protect patients who use the drug for medicinal purposes, not to make medical marijuana legal. It provides the patient with a defense for possession of marijuana if they can prove suffering from a bona fide medical condition and that they have had a discussion or recommendation from a physician about using marijuana to alleviate their medical condition. Unlike a similar bill filed in the 2001 legislative session that was left pending in committee, HB 658 also provides protection for the physician.

“They [medical marijuana patients] are trying to stay alive. This is not about party time—this is about healthcare. We need to protect them, not prosecute them,” said Noelle Davis, the Executive Director of TMM, during the day’s opening press conference.

In her lobbying, Baker highlighted the support medical marijuana and HB 658 have in the medical community. The Texas Medical Association recently adopted a policy that supports physicians discussing marijuana as a medical option. The conditions medical marijuana can help include cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

“Marijuana is a marvelous medicine. It’s effective, inexpensive, and safe—it’s impossible to OD [overdose]. It’s a damn good medicine,” said Dr. Dana Copp, a retired physician, to a legislative aide while lobbying alongside Baker.

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