Texans support medical marijuana, poll says

November 15, 2004

Mary Ann Roser, Austin American-Statesman

An overwhelming majority of Texans say seriously ill people should be allowed to use marijuana for medical reasons, according to a recent poll.

The Scripps Howard Texas Poll of 900 randomly selected Texas adults found that 75 percent said they would favor legislation that would let people with cancer and other major illnesses use marijuana, as long as their doctors agreed. Nineteen percent of those quizzed last month opposed the idea, and 6 percent either didn't know or declined to say.

Texans for Medical Marijuana, an advocacy group formed in January, expected a majority to answer favorably, but it was 'pleasantly surprised' by the avalanche of support, Executive Director Noelle Davis said.

'This goes beyond party lines,' Davis said. 'Everyone wants their loved ones to be comfortable when they're suffering.'

The telephone poll showed that Texans supported medical marijuana use regardless of age, income, ethnicity, race, education and gender. Some regions of the state were more supportive than others, with East Texas favoring it the least, at 62 percent, and Central Texas the most, with 83 percent supporting medical marijuana use. Republicans also were less enthusiastic, with 67 percent favoring it, compared with 81 percent of Democratic respondents and 82 percent of independents.

Adults ages 18 to 29 favored it the most, at 81 percent, while those in the 40- to 49-year-old group favored it the least, at 70 percent. Seventy-two percent of those 60 and older favored it.

The poll, which had only one question on marijuana use proposed by Texans for Medical Marijuana, had a sampling error of 3.3 percentage points, meaning results can be off by that much in either direction. It was part of a larger Texas Poll conducted between Oct. 11 and 28.

'If they're going to keep us alive, they ought to make us comfortable,' said Marcia Baker, 40, of Sugar Land.

Baker said she was surprised how supportive her parents -- 'Ward and June Cleaver' -- are of her regular marijuana use to combat the tremors, pain and spasticity of severe multiple sclerosis, an illness she has been battling since her 20s.

'Medical marijuana is becoming a family secret,' she said.

Marijuana relaxes her and eases her pain, while still leaving her able to function, she said. She was 'numb mentally' and unable to stay awake with the large doses of medicine she had been on, she said.

She either smokes the marijuana or makes brownies out of it, she said.

Many doctors don't want to recommend marijuana, not just because it's illegal, but because they have not embraced it the way families have, Baker said.

Dr. Richard Evans, president of the Texas Cancer Center in Houston, is not one of those doctors. As a medical adviser to Texans for Medical Marijuana, a nonprofit group that educates cancer patients, he would recommend pot to his cancer patients if it were legal, he said.

Marijuana has been known to ease nausea from chemotherapy, eye pressure from glaucoma and muscle spasms from neurological disorders, Evans said. It also stimulates appetite in the sick, he said.

Evans has testified about marijuana's benefits before legislative committees, but so far, no bills have passed either house.

Davis said she was confident her organization would get a sponsor for the upcoming session, which starts in January. However, the group has been turned down because some lawmakers worry the issue is too unpopular.

Davis is optimistic the poll will change that. 'We hope for strong bipartisan support and the poll shows Texans support this.'

She pointed out that Montana, which backed President Bush in the presidential election Nov. 2, also voted to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

Other states where it is legal are California, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Oregon and Washington, said Karen Heikkala, a spokeswoman for Texans for Medical Marijuana.

The legislatures in Vermont and Hawaii approved the laws there, while the other states approved the marijuana use by voter initiative, Heikkala said.

maroser@statesman.com; 445-3619

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