Medical Marijuana Helps Seriously Ill

March 23, 2004

John H. Wilson, Times Union - Albany, NY

I am an enrolled, card-carrying, President Bush- and war-in-Iraq-supporting conservative. You might expect me -- a lawyer, former prosecutor and law chairman of the Bronx County chapter of the state Conservative Party -- to oppose legislation allowing the medicinal use of marijuana. You would be wrong. Many conservatives like me strongly support the medicinal use of marijuana, mostly because we have seen firsthand how medical marijuana can help desperately ill people.

My brother-in-law, John Holmberg, was a decent, hardworking man who was making plans for his future. He was working for the Postal Service by day and studying to become an engineer at night when his dreams and his life were cut short at the age of 40, in March 2002, after a two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Like many who undergo chemotherapy, John endured terrible nausea, pain, loss of appetite and weight loss. He was suffering, both from his illness and from the treatments his doctors prescribed. Marijuana helped to ease that suffering. It relieved his pain and nausea, giving him back his appetite and stopping his weight loss.

Medical marijuana gave John more than two years of life, and it made that time less painful. It worked when legal prescription medications did not.

Yet, the laws of New York treat patients like my brother-in-law as criminals.

Seeing how medical marijuana helped John led me to support New York's medical marijuana legislation, sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, and 42 other Assembly members, including eight Republicans.

It is the only rational, humane thing to do.

Ten states have laws like the Gottfried bill that protect medical marijuana patients. These laws have been implemented with few problems.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reviewed four of those states' laws in 2002, including interviews with officials in 37 law-enforcement agencies. The majority of these officials reported 'little impact on their law enforcement activities.'

For many years, doctors have been allowed to prescribe such drugs as morphine, cocaine and methamphetamine, which are much more addictive and dangerous than marijuana. Physicians are in the best position to know whether medical marijuana would help a patient; they should be allowed to make that decision legally.

Some in my party strongly oppose the legalization of medical marijuana. One argument they advance is that the evidence in favor of medical marijuana is 'anecdotal.'

These folks are misinformed.

Medical organizations across the country support medical marijuana laws. Last year, the New York State Association of County Health Officials, all of whom are physicians, joined them, stating: 'Marijuana has proven to be effective in the treatment of people with HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and those suffering from severe pain or nausea.'

We have an opportunity to let humanity and justice guide us, to stop treating users of medical marijuana as criminals, and to honor John and others like him who need our help as they seek a longer, less painful life.

I ask all New Yorkers of every political persuasion to join me and to support New York's medical marijuana bill. 

John H. Wilson is a Bronx attorney. 

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