Proposed Ohio legislation renews debate over medical use of marijuana

March 06, 2005

Connie Cartmell, Marietta Times

In a quiet room with a seriously ill cancer patient, or sitting in a support group with patients, or with their families, Kem Dye, cancer care coordinator at Strecker Cancer Center, listens and learns.

One big issue of repeated interest is the medical use of marijuana.

'My support group has talked about medical marijuana use, pros and cons, and if it could help better than what we have today,' Dye said. 'They have even joked about the idea of baking marijuana brownies.'

The medical marijuana controversy is back on the front burner.

For hundreds in Washington County who still wonder if marijuana could help them or their family members, the 'hot-button issue' is resurfacing in Columbus.

'I've been at this a long time now,' Dye said, 'and you know what? Nothing controls all the symptoms of cancer. People have known for many years the benefits of medical marijuana, but it is not for everyone.'

When his father was ill and dying of cancer four years ago, Sen. Robert Hagen, D-Youngstown, hoped for a miracle and something for his father that would relieve the horrible symptoms of the disease, without debilitating side effects.

Cancer brings 'wasting' and serious appetite suppression, often because of the powerful medications used to attack the cancer itself.

Nausea and vomiting are common and pain is often chronic and overwhelming.

'His father was so sedated on morphine and pain killers those last months, that he wasn't able to interact or respond,' said Gregg Paul, legislative aide to Hagen. 'Maybe he could have been made more comfortable. The family would have done anything they could to have that happen.'

Because of his experience with the death of his loved one from the ravages of cancer, Hagen has introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate, SB 74, to protect medical marijuana patients from criminal arrest and state prosecution.

Medical marijuana, in pill form, is already legal and is being prescribed by physicians for their patients in Ohio.

But what the senator is proposing is the use of the drug in any form - including smoking it - or even sprinkling powdered pot in your morning coffee.

'It is pretty much for discussion purposes, at this point,' Paul said. 'The last time the use of medical marijuana was brought up in the Ohio legislature was 1997. It was not considered.'

Experts say about 80 million Americans admit to having smoked marijuana.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) a pubic-interest lobby that provides a voice for American who oppose marijuana prohibition believes the time has come to stop denying patients access to the medical benefits of the drug.

Most often mentioned are appetite stimulation and proven control of nausea. There is little argument in the medical community about these benefits.

'It's hard to say there is a downside to this,' Paul said. 'Pain killers, which are highly addictive, are derivatives of opium. I don't believe that by legalizing the medical uses of marijuana, we are not going to see drug abuse rates go up or down.'

Proponents have been working three decades to bring marijuana out of the shadows and into the mainstream of U.S. medicine.

Dr. Michael Brockett, a physician and Marietta city health commissioner, said he has already prescribed marijuana, in pill form, several times.

'It does bring some real benefit to patients, especially with nausea, for sure, and with appetite stimulation,' Brockett said. 'It's been used for a long time and, if used properly, it is no worse than any other medication.'

But Brockett draws the line when it comes to smoking marijuana for medical purposes.

'It's OK with a pill, but I'm not so sure about smoking it. It's pretty tough on the lungs,' he said. 'But there are cases where a patient can't keep medicine down and might want to smoke it instead.'

Individual cases need to be considered, if other forms of medical marijuana are approved, he said.

For Brockett, there is still a stigma in society to the use of marijuana that isn't likely to go away any time soon.

Opponents fear legalizing all forms (including smoking) will send the wrong message to children, legalize still another intoxicant (alcohol and tobacco already under siege), and release an addictive and dangerous 'gateway' drug into society.

'We already allow the medical use of many drugs, such as cocaine and morphine, which can be abused in a non-medical setting,' NORML literature has said. 'Basic compassion and common sense demand that we allow the seriously ill to use whatever safe mediation is most effective.'

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law makes no exceptions for growing or distributing marijuana, even if the goal is to help seriously ill patients using marijuana as a medicine.

Ten states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) have legalized the medical use of marijuana, despite the Supreme Court's decision, according to NORML.

One of the major points brought forward by opponents is that there are - already - traditional medications that work perfectly well to help patients. Marijuana is not needed. But for some patients, traditional medications simply do not work.

Patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain, do not always get benefits for their symptoms from traditional medications.

Hagan and proponents have no illusions that S.B. 74 will sail through without a battle.

'The last time it came up here, it was defeated,' Paul said.

Gov. Robert Taft is known to be opposed to any legislation that would include medical marijuana.

'I do know one thing, that he isn't going to like it,' Paul said. 'We have a zero tolerance in Ohio. We know we have a tough fight, but we want those who could benefit from this to tell their side of the story.'By Connie Cartmell

The Marietta Times

ccartmell@mariettatimes.com

In a quiet room with a seriously ill cancer patient, or sitting in a support group with patients, or with their families, Kem Dye, cancer care coordinator at Strecker Cancer Center, listens and learns.

One big issue of repeated interest is the medical use of marijuana.

'My support group has talked about medical marijuana use, pros and cons, and if it could help better than what we have today,' Dye said. 'They have even joked about the idea of baking marijuana brownies.'

The medical marijuana controversy is back on the front burner.

For hundreds in Washington County who still wonder if marijuana could help them or their family members, the 'hot-button issue' is resurfacing in Columbus.

'I've been at this a long time now,' Dye said, 'and you know what? Nothing controls all the symptoms of cancer. People have known for many years the benefits of medical marijuana, but it is not for everyone.'

When his father was ill and dying of cancer four years ago, Sen. Robert Hagen, D-Youngstown, hoped for a miracle and something for his father that would relieve the horrible symptoms of the disease, without debilitating side effects.

Cancer brings 'wasting' and serious appetite suppression, often because of the powerful medications used to attack the cancer itself.

Nausea and vomiting are common and pain is often chronic and overwhelming.

'His father was so sedated on morphine and pain killers those last months, that he wasn't able to interact or respond,' said Gregg Paul, legislative aide to Hagen. 'Maybe he could have been made more comfortable. The family would have done anything they could to have that happen.'

Because of his experience with the death of his loved one from the ravages of cancer, Hagen has introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate, SB 74, to protect medical marijuana patients from criminal arrest and state prosecution.

Medical marijuana, in pill form, is already legal and is being prescribed by physicians for their patients in Ohio.

But what the senator is proposing is the use of the drug in any form - including smoking it - or even sprinkling powdered pot in your morning coffee.

'It is pretty much for discussion purposes, at this point,' Paul said. 'The last time the use of medical marijuana was brought up in the Ohio legislature was 1997. It was not considered.'

Experts say about 80 million Americans admit to having smoked marijuana.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) a pubic-interest lobby that provides a voice for American who oppose marijuana prohibition believes the time has come to stop denying patients access to the medical benefits of the drug.

Most often mentioned are appetite stimulation and proven control of nausea. There is little argument in the medical community about these benefits.

'It's hard to say there is a downside to this,' Paul said. 'Pain killers, which are highly addictive, are derivatives of opium. I don't believe that by legalizing the medical uses of marijuana, we are not going to see drug abuse rates go up or down.'

Proponents have been working three decades to bring marijuana out of the shadows and into the mainstream of U.S. medicine.

Dr. Michael Brockett, a physician and Marietta city health commissioner, said he has already prescribed marijuana, in pill form, several times.

'It does bring some real benefit to patients, especially with nausea, for sure, and with appetite stimulation,' Brockett said. 'It's been used for a long time and, if used properly, it is no worse than any other medication.'

But Brockett draws the line when it comes to smoking marijuana for medical purposes.

'It's OK with a pill, but I'm not so sure about smoking it. It's pretty tough on the lungs,' he said. 'But there are cases where a patient can't keep medicine down and might want to smoke it instead.'

Individual cases need to be considered, if other forms of medical marijuana are approved, he said.

For Brockett, there is still a stigma in society to the use of marijuana that isn't likely to go away any time soon.

Opponents fear legalizing all forms (including smoking) will send the wrong message to children, legalize still another intoxicant (alcohol and tobacco already under siege), and release an addictive and dangerous 'gateway' drug into society.

'We already allow the medical use of many drugs, such as cocaine and morphine, which can be abused in a non-medical setting,' NORML literature has said. 'Basic compassion and common sense demand that we allow the seriously ill to use whatever safe mediation is most effective.'

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law makes no exceptions for growing or distributing marijuana, even if the goal is to help seriously ill patients using marijuana as a medicine.

Ten states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) have legalized the medical use of marijuana, despite the Supreme Court's decision, according to NORML.

One of the major points brought forward by opponents is that there are - already - traditional medications that work perfectly well to help patients. Marijuana is not needed. But for some patients, traditional medications simply do not work.

Patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain, do not always get benefits for their symptoms from traditional medications.

Hagan and proponents have no illusions that S.B. 74 will sail through without a battle.

'The last time it came up here, it was defeated,' Paul said.

Gov. Robert Taft is known to be opposed to any legislation that would include medical marijuana.

'I do know one thing, that he isn't going to like it,' Paul said. 'We have a zero tolerance in Ohio. We know we have a tough fight, but we want those who could benefit from this to tell their side of the story.'

Suggested medical benefits of marijuana

Helps control nausea and vomiting.

Stimulates appetite, especially for patients suffering from HIV (wasting syndrome) or dementia.

Pain relief, especially of neuropathic pain (nerve damage).

Marijuana is less toxic than many drugs that physicians prescribe every day.

Helps control spasticity (erratic body movement).

Glaucoma management (lowers eye pressure).

Source: NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).



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