High court’s decision not in patients’ best interest, some say
By Charlene Laino
SAN FRANCISCO, May 14 — “This is not going to be over until we win,” vowed Dennis Peron, author of the California proposition that in 1996 legalized the use of marijuana as medicine in the state. Peron and other proponents decried Monday’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cannabis may not be given to patients, even with a doctor’s prescription.
WHILE THE ruling
is largely being construed as saying that federal laws override the California
statute allowing the medicinal use of pot, Peron rejects that interpretation.
“Yes this is a big setback for the sale of marijuana,” said Peron, director of Californians for Compassionate Use of Marijuana.
“But as I see it, we can still cultivate marijuana for medicinal use, possess it and use it — just not sell it,” he said.
Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which coordinates efforts to pass medical marijuana bills in state legislatures, agreed.
“Although the Supreme Court has ruled that the medical necessity defense cannot be used to avoid a federal conviction for marijuana, a government may still allow its residents to possess, grow, or distribute medical marijuana,” he said.
Nearly 99 percent of all marijuana arrests in the nation are made by state and local — not federal — officials, he added. “Thus, properly worded state laws can effectively protect 99 out of every 100 medical marijuana users who otherwise would have been arrested and prosecuted — regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
Peron, also founder of the Cannabis Farm in Lake County, three hours north of here, is so convinced that their interpretation of the ruling is correct that he plans to continue growing the plant and proving it for free to some 300 patients who have shown medical necessity.
SEPARATING SCIENCE FROM POLITICS
Medical necessity is the key here, said San Francisco AIDS specialist Dr. Donald Abrams, who has been unraveling marijuana’s mysteries since 1997, when he was granted approval for the first federally sponsored study of its effects in HIV-infected patients.
“I try to separate science and politics,” Abrams said. “But then you get a situation like this, where the Supreme Court decides they are medical authorities.”
Pointing out that
the government’s own Institute of Medicine has issued an expert report
concluding that marijuana may have medical benefits and is worthy of further
study, Abrams said that the judiciary might not be the best people to be
determining what is best for the patient.
“That being the case, we need to do what we can to make it available to patients,” he said.
Proponents of medical pot say it helps AIDS patients keep eating; relieves nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy; alleviates the chronic pain of conditions including headaches, arthritis and degenerative nerve disease; and lowers the increased intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma.
SEVERAL TRIALS UNDERWAY
Abrams and others already have several trials underway, including one to determine if marijuana helps to increase appetite in HIV-positive patients — giving them the “munchies,” as it were — thereby warding off the debilitating weight loss associated with the AIDS wasting syndrome.
So far, only the pilot trial, designed to show safety, has been completed and is under review for publication, Abrams said.
The study, which set out to determine whether marijuana is safe when taken in combination with the protease inhibitors that have become a standard part of the drug cocktails given to many HIV-positive patients, “showed no apparent detrimental effects,” he said.
And compared with patients given placebo, “we saw weight gain in the marijuana group,” he said.
Thanks to funds being made available by the state of California, studies of marijuana’s effects in inducing weight gain and relieving nerve pain in AIDS patients will continue as will a trial looking at whether it reduces spasticity in those with multiple sclerosis, Abrams said.
While Abrams prefers
medicine be handled by doctors, both he and Peron said that more legislation
is needed. Peron points out that Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts has
introduced a bill in Congress that that would reclassify marijuana as a
schedule II drug, which means that like cocaine, it could be prescribed
by doctors, albeit with tight restrictions.
“You can’t have one law in 41 states and another in the other nine,” said Peron, referring to the fact that since 1996, eight other states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have adopted similar laws to California’s.
“We will change the
scheduling,” he asserted with conviction.
Abrams said he also sees the need for some such legislation. “Every state bordering on the Pacific now has a law legalizing marijuana as medicine,” he said. “And one-fourth of the U.S. population live in these states.”
The Bush administration has said it believes in state rights, Abrams said. “Now, let’s see if they put their money where their mouth is.”