Medicinal marijuana faces legal, medical challenges

September 25, 2005

Lindsey Stockton, Eastern Arizona Courier

In November 1996, Arizona voters approved an initiative (Proposition 200) that endorsed the legal use of marijuana under a doctor's care and, since that time, the issue has been debated at the state and federal level.

In recent months, a local man was arrested for having a large number of marijuana plants, and the Graham County Attorney's office charged him with possession, transportation and production of marijuana.

The accused has told authorities that he had acquired the plants for medicinal use under Oregon law, and an interstate agreement allowed him to have the plants in Arizona.

According to Deputy County Attorney Allen Perkins, such an agreement is a legal impossibility.

"Oregon cannot tell Arizona how to enforce its laws or what to enforce," Perkins said. "The same goes for Arizona - it couldn't tell Oregon or any other state how to enforce its laws. It's an impossibility of the law."

Under the Arizona statute, those claiming to have marijuana for medicinal purposes must have a doctor's prescription. Prescribing marijuana, however, is illegal under federal law.

"To have marijuana for medicinal use, you have to have a prescription from a licensed doctor," Graham County Attorney Kenneth Angle said. "Any doctors who prescribe marijuana are breaking the federal law and likely to lose their license, so doctors are hesitant to write prescriptions."

When voters passed the initiative in 1996, Governor Fife Symington threatened to veto the bill, but the Arizona Attorney General's Office told him that such an action would be a violation of the state constitution.

As the political battle about medicinal marijuana wages, the medical battle also continues.

According to www.mpp. org, which advocates the use of marijuana, the plant is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known. The Web site claims no one has ever died from an overdose, and it has a wide variety of therapeutic applications, including:

€ Relief from nausea and appetite loss;

€ Reduction of intraocular (within the eye) pressure;

€ Reduction of muscle spasms; and

€ Relief from chronic pain.

The organization claims that marijuana is frequently beneficial in the treatment of the following conditions:

€ AIDS - Marijuana can reduce the nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite caused by the ailment itself and by various AIDS medications.

€ Glaucoma - Marijuana can reduce intraocular pressure, alleviating the pain and slowing - and sometimes stopping - damage to the eyes.

€ Cancer - Marijuana can stimulate the appetite and alleviate nausea and vomiting, which are common side effects of chemotherapy treatment.

€ Multiple sclerosis - Marijuana can limit the muscle pain and spasticity caused by the disease, as well as relieving tremor and unsteadiness of gait.

€ Epilepsy - Marijuana can prevent epileptic seizures in some patients.

€ Chronic Pain - Marijuana can alleviate the chronic, often debilitating pain caused by myriad disorders and injuries.

According to the United States Justice Department, the harmful consequences of smoking marijuana include, but are not limited to, premature cancer, addiction, coordination and perception impairment, a number of mental disorders including depression, hostility and increased aggressiveness, general apathy, memory loss, reproductive disabilities and impairment to the immune system.

According to an article on FindLaw.com, the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Admini-stration and the U.S. Public Health Service have rejected smoking crude marijuana as a medicine.

Medical marijuana has been promoted by advocate organizations for compassionate use to assist people with cancer, AIDS and glaucoma. Scientific studies show the opposite is true; marijuana is damaging to individuals with these illnesses. According to the Justice Department, people suffering with AIDS and glaucoma are being used unfairly by groups whose real agenda is to legalize marijuana.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, marijuana can have adverse effects on the following conditions:

€ AIDS - Scientific studies indicate marijuana damages the immune system, causing further peril to already-weakened immune systems. HIV-positive marijuana smokers progress to full-blown AIDS twice as fast as nonsmokers and have an increased incidence of bacterial pneumonia.

€ Cancer - Marijuana contains many cancer-causing substances, many of which are present in higher concentrations in marijuana than in tobacco.

€ Glaucoma - Marijuana does not prevent blindness due to glaucoma.

In June 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal authorities may prosecute sick people who smoke pot on doctors' orders, concluding that state medical marijuana laws don't protect users from a federal ban on the drug. The decision is a stinging defeat for marijuana advocates who had successfully pushed 10 states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington - to allow the drug's use to treat various illnesses.



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