Medical marijuana case strong

July 10, 2005

Dennis M. Clausen (OpEd), North County Times

Most people would never create a gateway program for drug addicts. Nor would they deny relief for the terminally ill. Yet, the county grand jury's decision urging county supervisors to take advantage of California's 9-year-old law that allows medical use of marijuana has forced many people to choose sides in this controversy.

For those who have watched loved ones die slow, painful deaths from AIDS, multiple sclerosis or cancer, this issue is deeply personal. It is impossible to describe the feelings of total helplessness one has when a loved one battling a disease has no appetite, is too nauseated to eat, vomits incessantly and literally wastes away.

Cancer has taken the lives of my father, mother, sister and grandmother. All of them suffered in ways that medical marijuana could have alleviated. I sincerely believe that anyone who has sat by a bedside holding a bucket for a loved one to vomit into, knowing that tomorrow would be worse, and the next day worse yet, would not deny relief in any form to a dying cancer patient. I still remember my mother telling us after an especially difficult day, 'I am not afraid of dying. I am only afraid of the pain.'

Putting my personal feelings aside, I decided to research the medical arguments for or against medical marijuana. One of the most impressive Web sites was 'Medical Groups' Endorsements' ( Endorsements.html), which lists the major national and international medical associations' positions on medical marijuana. Of the 39 medical associations cited, 24 support 'prescriptive access' to medical marijuana, six support 'a physicians' right to discuss marijuana therapy with a patient,' five support 'legal access under a physician's supervision' and the remaining medical associations support 'research.' Many of these medical organizations also support the American Preventive Medical Association's position that physicians 'in states where such use is legal, should not be censured, harassed, prosecuted or otherwise penalized by the federal government.' Clearly, the members of the county grand jury are not part of some aging hippie counterculture. They are in good company.

Additional research produced various studies that provided detailed comparisons of medical marijuana and the pharmaceutical companies synthetic version (Marinol). Typical of these studies, the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana reported that natural marijuana outperformed the synthetic version in every category. Natural marijuana was less expensive, provided more immediate relief, could be used by patients who have difficulty swallowing, contains other unique therapeutic side effects, etc. The report also states that 'of 56 patients who got no relief from standard antiemitic agents, 78 percent became symptom free when they smoked marijuana.' There are, of course, those who will argue just the opposite. Still, the many medical people who support the controlled, therapeutic use of medical marijuana for terminally ill patients present a compelling case.

One of the most important things a society can do is ease the suffering of those who are gravely ill or dying. As the county grand jury made eminently clear, that concern should take precedence over all other concerns.

Escondido resident Dennis M. Clausen is a professor of American literature at the University of San Diego.

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