March 14, 2004
Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling
There is no lack of emotion and hype in the New York City Council's ongoing debate over using marijuana in the treatment of certain cancer cases. What's missing is sound science, good medical care and real compassion for patients' suffering.
The Council's Resolution 71 urges the state Assembly and Senate to pass a bill that legalizes possession of up to a half-pound of marijuana for "medical use." But there is no reasonable medical evidence to suggest that smoking marijuana is a safe and effective alternative to established, conventional, approved drugs. Pro-marijuana forces, backed by fringe groups like NORML, the Marijuana Reform Party and the Marijuana Policy Project, contend that so-called "medical marijuana" would ease suffering in diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. But the American Cancer Society, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology worry about the side effects of the 400-plus chemicals contained in the drug, and point to the availability of FDA-approved drugs that have yielded proven results. These drugs are dispensed by pharmacists who closely monitor accuracy, potency and the possible effects of intermixing medicines.
Right now, pharmacists can provide THC in pill and other forms that are safe and effective and can be dosed to an individual's pain-relief needs. Rather than rely on these proven treatments, proponents of the Council's resolution would allow patients to manufacture their own marijuana with no safeguards or regulation of potency, quality or safety. Added to that are the possible consequences of exposure to fertilizers and pesticides that may be contained in homegrown varieties.
Their prescription to a potentially dying person to, in effect, "heal thyself" deprives the most vulnerable members of our society of the best-quality medical care.
We can and should do more to help ease the suffering. We should invest more in training doctors, nurses and caregivers in palliative care designed to treat pain. But to let these important issues be lost in the haze of a quick fix like "medical marijuana" serves neither patients nor the cause of better care and treatment.
Burling, a Republican from western New York, is the only licensed pharmacist
in the state Legislature.
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