Campus NORML organizes Medical Marijuana Week

February 19, 2003

Joann Ku, The Daily Illini,

Speakers, brownies and the showing of a documentary called "Grass" were among events celebrating the medical use of marijuana this week. This week, designated as Medical Marijuana Week, was sponsored by the campus chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and SFSDP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. NORML and SFSDP began the week by selling brownies and passing out event flyers on the Quad on Tuesday and Wednesday. Danielle Schumacher, president of NORML, thought it was a good way to advertise and make a statement. "It's a clever way to get people's attention," she said. "A lot of people don't take this issue seriously. But our efforts seem to be paying off." She said some people have approached NORML and SFSDP members with negative comments, but the organizations have received support from faculty and students. Frank Bryan Vazquez, senior in LAS, bought a brownie to support the medical use of marijuana. "I am totally fine with the usage of medical marijuana," he said. "I see no reason why people are against it. I fully support it." In 1998, Congress passed an Anti-Medical Marijuana resolution. The resolution said marijuana is "a dangerous and addictive drug with research clearly demonstrating that smoking marijuana impairs normal brain functions and damages the heart, lungs, reproductive, and immune systems," according to the Marijuana Policy Project Web site. On Wednesday, Medical Marijuana Week continued with two pro-medical marijuana speakers, Bryan Berkner, director of Illinois NORML, and Jamie, a man with HIV that has been given state permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. Jamie is one of the few people who can legally take medical marijuana. Jamie declined to give his last name because of privacy issues. Berkner is currently involved in a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Human Services and is working with the American Civil Liberties Union to represent individuals who aren't able to use marijuana for medical purposes. The ACLU is a nonprofit organization that fights civil liberty violations. The lawsuit concerns an Illinois 1971 law that makes marijuana legal for medical and research purposes. Sarah Delong, a member of the campus chapter of NORML, said marijuana is supposed to be approved and administrated by the Illinois Department of Human Services in Chicago, but they have been negligent and not doing their job. "In actuality, medical marijuana is legal in Illinois. It's just not enforced," Delong said. "Federally, marijuana is illegal. If a doctor prescribes it, federal law overrides the state law." Thomas Greene, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said the department allows the use of medical marijuana only in special requested cases. The medical marijuana law in Illinois only allows for marijuana to be used in a case where a research project is approved by the state human services department, Greene said. The law doesn't allow for individual use of medical marijuana based on individual needs. "Nobody has ever requested the department to grant that permission," Greene said. "That's why there's never really been anything done to grant requests for medical marijuana." While Berkner gave many facts and statistics at Wednesday's meeting, Jamie brought a more personal perspective. He mentioned his participation in medical marijuana studies and how marijuana has helped with the pain from the effects of AIDS and harsh AIDS drugs. "I don't think the government should play doctor," he said. "If they were my doctors, I'd be dead. Plain and simple." Some students left with a new perspective and more knowledge on the subject. "Before coming here, I thought good things of it,"said Genevieve Stalla, a junior in LAS. "This event increased my awareness and my approval of it."

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