More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Start of under-funded program nears

September 21, 2001
By Emily Richmond

Advocates of Nevada's fledging medical marijuana program said pills can't match smoking the plant when it comes to patient tolerance and affordability.

"A person suffering from nausea and loss of appetite following radiation treatment usually can't keep anything down, including pills," said Dan Hart, leader of Nevadans for Medical Rights, a group that advocates the use of marijuana for medical reasons. "There's no question that for some patients the actual smoke is the only effective delivery system."

The cost of marijuana alternatives are often prohibitive, and many insurance companies won't cover drugs that aren't considered essential, Hart said.

Prescriptions for Marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana available in pill form since the mid-1980s, can cost as much as $500 each month. But the cost of purchasing and maintaining a marijuana plant is significantly less, Hart said.

Qualified patients in Nevada, according to a law passed during the recent legislative session, may have as many as seven mature and seven immature marijuana plants at one time.

To qualify for the program, patients must have a letter from a physician stating that they suffer from a debilitating illness, such as cancer or AIDS, and would benefit from smoking marijuana. Patients would have to undergo a background check to ensure they have not been convicted of selling drugs. Once approved, patients would be issued a photo ID through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Some potential participants have expressed doubt that the state's physicians will embrace the program. The Nevada State Medical Association came out against medical marijuana, saying there is no significant evidence that the drug is beneficial.

The medical marijuana program officially launches Oct. 1 under the authority of the state Department of Agriculture, and applications will be available starting Monday. More than 100 people have already called the department's Reno office to ask for more information, said Cecile Crofoot, manager of the state's marijuana program.

The program was approved without funding and signed into law by Gov. Kenny Guinn. So far, however, less than $3,000 of the $30,000 needed for the program's first year has been donated, Crofoot said Monday.

Paul Iverson, director of the agriculture department, has vowed the program will begin as planned, regardless of how much money is raised, Crofoot said. The longevity of the program without a secure funding source remains in doubt, Crofoot said.

Aaron Russo, a Hollywood producer and onetime Nevada gubernatorial candidate, originally promised to donate $30,000, but later said he would instead try to raise the money through private donations. Russo ran a series of television commercials blasting Guinn, his former political opponent, for signing the program into law without funding.

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