DEA stirs backlash
July 17, 2011
Wes Woods II , Contra Costa TimesNational pro-marijuana proponents had filed a petition nearly nine years ago asking the U.S. government to reclassify the drug because of supportive research. Medical marijuana proponents are pushing back against a recent Drug Enforcement Agency declaration that marijuana has no accepted medical use.
Supporters said the drug makes patients eat right and keep weight on, which can be life-saving for those in need. An appeal is expected to be filed in the next two weeks.
The federal government recently ruled that marijuana should remain classified as a highly dangerous drug.
Department of Health and Human Services officials concluded marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision, DEA administrator Michele M. Leonhart said.
Local proponents of that decision say smoking marijuana is unsafe and brings on health problems instead of solving them. They say other prescription drugs, including synthetic derivatives of marijuana, can provide the relief patients need - legally.
"For them to blatantly say there's no medical use is pretty much ignorant," said Jan Werner, vice president of The Clearview Lake Corp., which runs marijuana collectives in Bloomington and Corona. "It's really, really dumb. Why are there more and more doctors" saying there is a medical use for marijuana?
Supporters say appeal to be filed soon
Americans for Safe Access officials said more than 6,500 reports and journal articles from around the world support the medical value of marijuana.
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, which includes Oakland-based pro-medical-marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, filed the petition.
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said an appeal is expected to be filed soon.
"We're working with our base so local and state officials stand up for their rights and don't buckle to federal intimidation," Hermes said.
"We hope officials elected across the country look to those people who want to ensure the health and welfare of their people over the law enforcement priorities of the federal government."
Christopher Kenner, a patient of medical marijuana cooperative G3 Holistic Inc. in Upland, said he just wished people saw the issue from his point of view.
"I've been a patient since 2005," said Kenner, 53. "I know it's made a big difference in my life."
Kenner said he has had pancreatitis for 30 years and has been on disability for 10 years.
"With pancreatitis, I'm not able to eat often, I lose a lot of weight, and it's helped me put on weight and hold onto the weight," Kenner said. "It definitely keeps me out of the hospital, which is a plus for me and the taxpayers."
'A very firm position'
But Paul Chabot, founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition, said there are other drugs for patients to take to help them, including marinol, which has synthetic THC that is found in marijuana.
"We have a firm position that there is no medical benefit from smoked marijuana," he said.
Marijuana legalization and medical marijuana would lose if it goes through the court system, Chabot said.
"We're confident the Supreme Court, whether Democrat- or Republican-leaning member, will agree with science," Chabot said. "And the (federal) supremacy clause trumps state law."
Ricardo Whyte, medical director of chemical dependency services at Loma Linda University, also contends smoking marijuana is not medically beneficial, whereas the oral use of an active ingredient in marijuana, such as a cannabinoids, could curb cancer-related nausea.
"I think it's more appropriate if it's cases where the nausea has not responded to anti-nausea medications, in which case oral preparation of the cannabinoid derivative is used or is tried," Whyte said.
Nausea as a side effect of cancer treatment is often underestimated, he said.
"When we understand that nutrition is a really important part in fighting any disease, a lack of motivation to eat can be very debilitating and can really impair rehabilitation," Whyte said. "So that said, nausea by no means is a minor symptom to treat. It's actually a very important symptom to treat."
However, Whyte contends the DEA's response to medical marijuana may in fact include the population of users who are using the drug to treat other symptoms besides nausea.
"I mean, they're talking about things like headache and depression and anxiety when in fact we know that marijuana can actually precipitate what we consider psychosis and paranoia," Whyte said. "I definitely think that the use of marijuana should be restricted to cannabinoid derivatives in the by-mouth preparation as opposed to smoking."
Roger Jon Diamond, attorney for the president of Upland-based medical marijuana collective G3 Holistics Inc., said he believed the DEA's decision was a mistake.
"The DEA is perpetrating a myth that marijuana has no medical use to justify their activities," Diamond said.
"When I first got involved in these cases I was a little suspicious and cynical, but getting to know these people personally I realize how important marijuana is for many, many people," Diamond said. "I've met them, talked to them and they're not recreational drug users who choose to get high. They're legitimate patients who need medical marijuana for legitimate purposes."
Diamond, who said he has never used drugs, added the number of people who use the drug for no medical benefit is minor.
"A great majority, 99 percent in my opinion, are using it legitimately," Diamond said.
Those patients include Marla James, 50, of Huntington Beach, who said she has been on medical marijuana for 10 years and it has allowed her to get off harder drugs, including Oxycontin.
James was on pain-killers for two years and the doctors kept having to increase the dosage.
"I had to deal with the withdrawals and while I was getting off, I was using medical marijuana and that helped with the pain and vomiting," she said.
"So I use the medical marijuana for many purposes, but I am no longer on any narcotics," she said. "If I get some pain I use a little bit of medical marijuana and I get out of pain very quickly."
James is a member of Perris-based The Human Solution, which is a nonprofit that raises money and supports medical marijuana defendants and patients.
Chabot said he understands that marijuana brings its patients relief of their ailments.
"But, again, marijuana doesn't cure anything," Chabot said. "It's no different than someone taking a shot of tequila in morning - that brings relief as well."
Werner said the decision by the DEA keeps marijuana from being studied in more professional settings.
"The bigger picture is by doing that they're keeping it in the same category as heroin and LSD, which are considered nonmedical value drugs. It keeps doctors from writing a normal prescription (to patients)," Werner said.