More MS news articles for March 2001

Ex-sheriff backs medical marijuana bill

An Austin legislator is an unlikely sponsor of the bill, which would let certain patients use the drug.

Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2001 at 20:51 CST
By John Moritz
Star-Telegram Austin bureau

AUSTIN -- State Rep. Terry Keel of Austin urged a House panel Tuesday to approve legislation allowing patients to smoke marijuana if their doctors advised them it would ease their suffering better than any legal medication.

But Keel is not an Austin liberal trying to please a college- town constituency. He's a former prosecutor and Travis County sheriff who four years ago gave up his law enforcement career to run as a Republican for a House seat in an increasingly conservative district in suburban north Austin.

"Many of you probably thought I was the last guy in the world to carry this," Keel told the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. "But it's good public policy. I think it's time we have a full debate on this."

The panel deferred action on House Bill 513 for at least a week. But members heard from several witnesses who echoed Keel's argument that marijuana has proven effective for relieving discomfort associated with such diseases as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

The legislation would not technically legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and it would not allow physicians to prescribe it. It's worded in such a way to give patients charged with possessing the controlled substance the right to argue in court that they were advised by a licensed medical doctor that the drug would ease their symptoms.

Keel said doctors would face discipline from organizations such as the American Medical Association if they recommended marijuana use for someone whose suffering was not severe.

East Texas resident George McMahon said that without medically sanctioned marijuana, he would not have been able to endure the pain, spasms and nausea he has lived with for more than a decade.

Carrying a tin bearing about 300 marijuana cigarettes into the committee room, McMahon, 50, said he is permitted to use the drug under a grandfather clause in a now- discontinued federal program.

"Without it, I wouldn't be alive today," he said. McMahon wouldn't reveal the exact nature of his medical condition.

Committee Chairman Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, co- author of the bill, said the evidence that marijuana has medicinal value is overwhelming. But three committee Republicans -- Rick Green of Dripping Springs, Robert Talton of Pasadena and John Shields of San Antonio -- appeared to be struggling with the notion that Texas might be inching its way toward legalized pot.

"Are we not encouraging them to break the law?" said Green, referring to physicians or anyone who would help a patient obtain marijuana.

Keel said that marijuana seeds are not illegal and people who needed the plant for medicinal use could plant it themselves.

"Strangely enough," Keel said, "this stuff grows like a weed."

John Moritz, (512) 476-4294