Rehberg praised for medical pot

July 19, 2007

Bob Meharg, OpEd, Helena Independent Record (MT)

In 2004, Montanans set the still-standing national record in voter support for medical marijuana.

More of us voted to make Montana the 10th state with a compassionate medical marijuana policy than voted for Bush, Schweitzer or Rehberg. Since then, several more states have followed suit, and medical marijuana remains a popular, common-sense issue.

The policy doesn’t affect very many Montanans directly, but its effect is huge and entirely positive.

Today, 368 of us from 36 different counties use medical marijuana, with recommendations from 121 different physicians around the state. For many, medical marijuana is literally a life-saver.

Marijuana’s medicinal value to Montana patients mirrors the modern scientific research findings that have steadily been documenting how miraculous marijuana really is. There are literally hundreds of scientific, peer-reviewed research papers that explain why Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of the Harvard Medical School, has written that “marijuana is safer than most medicines prescribed every day. If marijuana were a new discovery rather than a well-known substance carrying cultural and political baggage, it would be hailed as a wonder drug.”

One of the most recent findings confirmed the results of many other studies on pain relief. The research, published in Neurology, documented that marijuana has dramatically helpful effects on neuropathy, a severe kind of nerve pain commonly experienced by people with diabetes and HIV-AIDS. Marijuana has similarly been found to help people suffering from chronic pain caused by arthritis, rheumatism, M.S., fibromyalgia, migraines, and the permanent effects of severe accidents such as car crashes. Other research has discovered that besides delivering pain relief, marijuana works as an anti-inflammatory, acting directly on the site of inflammation.

Marijuana’s benefits to cancer patients also are well-known. Not only does marijuana help alleviate the pain cancer patients suffer, but it also combats the nausea and lack of appetite that are common side-effects of chemotherapy. Some believe that the prescription drug, Marinol, offers an equivalent, but research shows that isn’t true. Marinol only contains one of the more than 60 active cannabinoids present in marijuana, and its FDA-approved uses don’t even include pain relief (Marinol actually has been found by some researchers to be counter-productive for pain). On top of that, the average one-month supply of Marinol can cost more than $1,000 for the typical patient, whereas medical marijuana can be virtually free to those who grow their own, which is what registered patients do.
For most patients, one of the best things about medical marijuana other than its effectiveness is that the risks and side effects are so much milder than with alternatives. The amount of opiates it takes for me to be pain-free, for example, makes it virtually impossible to actually live. They don’t fully quell my pain, but they do turn me into a zombie, and I hear the same complaint from other patients all the time. But with marijuana, most of us can function very well, and without needing other pain-relievers, with no fear of addiction, liver damage or other common side effects of opiates. For those of us who will never be free of pain, this is a godsend.

Marijuana is truly a wonder drug, as Dr. Grinspoon has reported, and all the members of Patients & Families United are grateful to Montana voters for allowing us the right to follow our doctors’ advice in using it. We’re also thankful for Congressman Denny Rehberg’s favorable attitude toward an important issue commonly called the “Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment.” Denny has supported this vital amendment ever since Montana voters made their marijuana decision in 2004, and another House vote on this proposal is expected this week. It addresses the most important remaining threat that medical marijuana patients face.

Although medical marijuana is now legal under state and local law, the federal DEA continues to persecute patients and their caregivers. Very recently, the DEA confiscated a legal Montana patient’s medicine, causing unnecessary, unfair suffering. The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment would stop the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana issues in states with policies like Montana’s. It’s a basic state’s rights issue, combined with compassion and a simple recognition of the science behind marijuana as medicine.

And that’s the key: the science. Marijuana is perhaps the oldest medicine known to humans, and modern science keeps proving every year the ways its effects are beneficial, not negative, as the rhetoric of the “drug war” would have us believe. Montana’s national record-setting vote, and Congressman Rehberg’s support of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment ever since, are a harbinger of a smarter future on “drug war” issues. A future where those of us who benefit from marijuana don’t have to fear arrest and prison at the hands of an anti-science, authoritarian policy that actually helps no one.

Bob Meharg is a retired critical-care and trauma nurse who is a registered marijuana patient due to diabetes-caused polyradicular neuropathy. He also is chairman of the board of directors of Patients & Families United, a support group for Montana medical marijuana patients,

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