Saturday, January 22, 2000
By Catherine Strong / Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- Thousands of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis in the United States are using marijuana as relief from muscle spasms, a doctor testified on Friday at the trial of a Michigan woman.
Renee Emry Wolfe, of Ann Arbor, was charged with possession of marijuana after lighting a joint in a congressman's Capitol Hill office in 1998. Her lawyer, Jeffrey Orchard, contends that Mrs. Wolfe smoked the marijuana out of medical necessity to get relief from muscle spasms or shaking caused by her multiple sclerosis.
Prosecutors say Mrs. Wolfe went to the office of Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., on Sept. 15, 1998, to protest his resolution on the House floor that day that said marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medical use.
During the second day of the trial, Dr. Denis Petro, a neurologist, testified in court that the number of people with multiple sclerosis who use marijuana "is certainly in the thousands."
Petro also said that some other drugs used to treat muscle spasms or shaking are not always effective or have severe side effects.
Mrs. Wolfe, 39, has said that smoking marijuana helps alleviate her symptoms in a matter of seconds. When she gets attacks, her hands shake and she loses control of her legs.
Orchard contends that Mrs. Wolfe started to feel tense "in an extremely stressful environment" when McCollum's aides did not want to talk with her and she lighted the marijuana cigarette because she felt her symptoms returning.
Prosecutors say Mrs. Wolfe was illegally smoking marijuana on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and she went there carrying a sign to protest the House resolution against the use of the drug.
Multiple sclerosis is a disabling disease of the central nervous system that afflicts more than 300,000 Americans, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates. People with MS have such symptoms as unusual tiredness, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors and difficulty walking. In severe cases, they are partly or completely paralyzed.
Mrs. Wolfe has difficulty walking and usually sits in a wheelchair.
If convicted, Mrs. Wolfe could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The nonjury trial before Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters is to resume on Monday afternoon at the District of Columbia Superior Court.
The case has drawn attention to whether people with multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions should be able to use marijuana for medicinal reasons.
Nearly 70 percent of voters in the nation's capital voted to allow the medical use of marijuana last year, but Congress has blocked the measure from becoming law.
A half-dozen states have offered ballot measures to legalize marijuana
as medication, but the drug is banned by federal law and doctors hesitate
to prescribe it. The Justice Department is challenging voter-approved laws
in Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington.