Patients rally for medicinal marijuana use

February 07, 2006

Andrew Silva, San Bernardino Sun

Former trauma nurse Alcima Talbott was hit so hard by a patient that her jaw was dislocated, her teeth broken, her neck seriously injured and her brain apparently damaged.

Now unable to work because of chronic pain and spasms, she was back in front of her old boss and San Bernardino County supervisors on Tuesday pleading with them to drop their plans to file a lawsuit challenging California's medical-marijuana law.

"My (other) choice is to take vicodin, go to bed, get up, take vicodin, go to bed," she told the Board of Supervisors.

About a dozen supporters of Proposition 215, California's medical-marijuana law approved in 1996, asked the board not to join San Diego County's suit against it.

After the meeting, they demonstrated in front of the County Government Center in downtown San Bernardino with signs and banners reading "Cannabis is medicine" and "Stop arresting medical marijuana patients."

Talbott worked at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the county hospital in Colton that was run for several years by Mark Uffer, who is now the county administrative officer, the top appointed official in county government.

With heavy doses of vicodin, a popular and powerful narcotic painkiller, she was unable to function, she said.

Marijuana is the only medication that works for her.

"The medication is so effective. I use it for severe pain" and to reduce neck spasms, she said. "I really didn't want it to work."

Also testifying were two of her children, who credited marijuana with giving them their mother back.

"Since she started medical marijuana, she has been able to get out of bed and spend time with her family," her 12-year-old daughter, Alexandra Talbott, told the board.

Sara Henuber, a registered physician's assistant from Los Angeles who worked for a time in San Bernardino County, told the board cannabis is a "safe and benign" medicine that does have benefits.

She said she's known of patients who have been harassed by deputies and had their doctor's letter and marijuana seized without any citations or charges.

"I believe San Bernardino County is going against the will of county voters," she said.

The county's lawsuit, scheduled to be filed today in San Diego, will argue that federal law pre-empts state law, said Deputy County Counsel Alan Green.

"It's creating a lot of confusion for sheriff's deputies," he said.

Sheriff Gary Penrod asked the board to file the suit to clarify what rules his deputies must enforce.

Lawsuits have been brought against the county to return marijuana confiscated from patients, he said.

"Under federal law, if we give it back, we're aiding and abetting marijuana use," Green said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year said patients who use or cultivate marijuana are not immune to prosecution under federal law banning controlled substances.

Tuesday's demonstration and testimony was organized by Americans for Safe Access, a group that works on behalf of medical-marijuana patients.

Robert Brunelle, 24, told the board his wife uses marijuana and that he's known many people with cancer or HIV who have used it effectively.

"I can't help but think that what you're doing is wrong," he said.

After the meeting, his wife, Cindy Brunelle, 22, said she has chronic shoulder pain and depression.

"I've tried every depression medication in the world," she said, adding, "Marijuana is the only thing I still function on."

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