Sunday, August 10, 2003
By Shir Haberman
On Sept. 5, 2002, federal agents swooped down on a clinic, the Wo/Menís Alliance for Medical Marijuana operated in Santa Cruz, Calif., pointed automatic weapons at paralyzed and terminally ill patients, destroyed the clinicís records and arrested its operators, Valerie and Mike Corral, leading them off in handcuffs.
This despite the passage of Proposition 215 by California voters in 1996, which exempts patients who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment from criminal laws against marijuana use when the drug is recommended by a doctor. The law also exempts physicians who prescribe marijuana from prosecution.
However, marijuana continues to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug - dangerous and with no medical benefit - by federal law enforcement agencies. That places 10 states - including Maine - that have exempted patients from state laws against using marijuana in direct conflict with the federal government.
Just four days after the Santa Cruz raid, an editorial in the conservative Orange County Register called the action by federal law enforcement agents "an unwarranted and extreme operation against sick people. ... Such cruel raids suggest that a law can be used to terrorize sick people is in need of reconsideration."
And that is just what several prominent New Hampshire legislators, including Portsmouth Democratic state Rep. Jim Splaine, want to see happen. He, along with state Sen. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, and Reps. Jane Clemons, D-Nashua; Edgar Mears, D-Berlin; McKim Mitchell, D-Chesterfield; and Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester; have affixed their names to a letter sent out to state residents by the Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana. The letter asks New Hampshire voters to ask potential presidential candidates their views on changing the federal law that makes it illegal to use, grow, distribute or prescribe marijuana to ease the symptoms or treat diseases such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
"Every four years, we, as citizens and voters of New Hampshire, have the opportunity to influence national politics in a way that voters in other states cannot (because of our first-in-the-nation presidential primary)," the letter reads. "But that tremendous power comes with a price: We are responsible for ensuring that presidential candidates talk about issues that matter to people.
"The national news media will be focused on New Hampshire, and the presidential candidates will be eager to hear what Granite Staters have to say about protecting patients from arrest and prison," the letter continues. "We must seize this opportunity."
Splaine has been a longtime supporter of allowing the use of marijuana in a controlled medical setting. He, along with Vaillancourt, Sapareto and Clemons, sponsored House Bill 721 two years ago, which called for decriminalizing marijuana when it is prescribed by a physician.
"I think we need a national dialogue on this issue," Splaine said. "The letter that I co-signed contributes to the discussion."
Clemons, a nurse for 30 years, said she signed the letter because she believes marijuana has medical benefits and that outlawing its use in a medical context simply makes no sense.
"I always thought it had medical benefits and, if itís a controlled drug, why not use it?" she said.
Asked if she believed making medical marijuana an issue in the New Hampshire primary would make a difference, Clemons responded, "Iím always willing to think we here in New Hampshire can make a difference."
Sapareto noted that his college degree was in biology, pre-med. He said he supported allowing patients to use marijuana on humanitarian grounds.
"For these people who are suffering, anything that gives them relief should be supported," the state senator said. "I challenge anyone to look into the faces of these people and tell them they canít have something that can ease their suffering."
Aaron Huston, of the Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, cited a CNN/Time poll taken in November of last year that indicate 80 percent of Americans supported exempting those who use, grow, supply or prescribe marijuana for medical use from federal and/or state prosecution. He also referred to a March 2002 poll conducted by the Lucas Organization which found that 73 percent of New Hampshire residents "support changing the law to allow people with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses to use and grow their own marijuana for medical purposes, if they have the approval of their physicians."
"We know that we are in the majority," Huston said, "now letís show the presidential candidates that we are."
The New Hampshire Medical Society stands behind the claims of those who believe prescribing marijuana to certain classes of patients is appropriate.
"Weíve done some work on that," said the societyís executive director, Palmer Jones. "There are some areas where it is useful. Some ophthalmologists are using it to treat glaucoma."
Jones said his group supports the position of the American Medical Society.
The national group advocates the use of marijuana by its physicians in
a controlled environment, he said.
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