March marks medical marijuana milestone

May 05, 2006

Emily Hagedron, Bakersfield Californian

In front of the Liberty Bell on Truxtun Avenue, Douglas McAfee asked if anybody had a light.

And from the rush of lighters presented to him, he lit up a joint of marijuana, took a long drag and exhaled. Then he held up the joint for everyone to see.

"It starts here," said the president of the Bakersfield chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, to the crowd of about 60 people.

The group marched from Beach Park to the Liberty Bell Saturday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the passage of California's Proposition 215. Passed on Nov. 5, 1996, the Compassionate Use Act legalized medical marijuana for use by qualified patients. The march was also a part of the Million Marijuana March, an international event where groups from around the world rallied for the legalization of marijuana.

"All the medicine in the pharmacies is made from plants and minerals," said Jeff Clark, president of the Upper Kern County chapter of NORML. "Marijuana is just a plant."

Chris Helton said marijuana helped him regain his life. Three years ago an accident at work on an oil rig aggravated a then-unknown brain tumor.

"All I could do is lay in bed," said the 44-year-old Bakersfield resident.

And since being prescribed marijuana, the tumor in his brain has stopped growing, and he's been able to resume gardening and activities like walking in marches, he said. Helton currently takes no other medicine.

"Let people know what you're doing," he told the crowd. "We're here, and we're not going anywhere."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana use can cause memory loss, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and respiratory illnesses. It is also the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, the institute says.

"It's God's natural pain medication," Clark said. "I think they (opposers) should just calm down."

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