Rhode Island -- OK. Right up front, full disclosure: I have inhaled.
Considering I came of age in the 1960s, this shouldn't come as any surprise. Those of my generation can understand. Those younger need to know that the vast majority (and that is no exaggeration) of my peers also inhaled. Pot was so prevalent in the late 1960s and early 1970s that if a cop busted you and you had less than an ounce, he would just confiscate it and send you on your way. And you can be sure that pot would never see its way to the evidence room.
Now that my soul has been bared, let's move on to the subject of medical marijuana. Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would make Rhode Island the 11th state in the country to legalize marijuana use for patients suffering debilitating medical problems, like cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or AIDS. On Wednesday, the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee heard two hours of testimony on its version of the legislation, most of which supported the bill.
Let's get down to basics. Those of us fortunate enough to be healthy cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of someone undergoing chemotherapy. We may be able to intellectually understand, but can we ever really know the side effects of the very powerful medication AIDS patients must take in an attempt to control that deadly disease? Nor is it easy to really feel the pain of MS patients whose joints lock up daily, preventing them from leading a normal life.
If it were only Cheech and Chong admirers promoting medical use of marijuana, opponents might have reason to be leery. But groups such as the Rhode Island Medical Society, the Rhode Island Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association have endorsed the movement. When normally conservative states like Arizona, Alaska and Montana adopt medical marijuana laws by wide margins, you know support is not limited to spaced-out potheads.
One argument opponents like to raise is that medical marijuana laws will increase juveniles' accessibility to pot. Anyone reading the police log in the paper knows there is no accessibility problem now. It apparently isn't hard to find. So it's unlikely that legalizing medical marijuana is going to increase the supply out there on the streets.
Opponents also like to raise the specter of thousands of potheads lining up to get access to legal weed. Again, accessibility isn't the issue. And if the bill clearly defines the qualifying symptoms, it will make it difficult for a doctor to prescribe marijuana for patients or for the state Department of Health to certify the patient's right of access to medical marijuana.
Steve Brown, of the American Civil Liberties Union, hit the nail on the head when he told the House committee that providing comfort to seriously ill patients was worth the possibility that a few people might somehow skirt the law and get access to legal marijuana illegally. That possibility doesn't stop doctors now from prescribing very serious drugs (Valium, Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, to name a few) with much more potent side effects.
Finally, despite the fact that marijuana has been widely used for more than 30 years (really a lot longer, but it just wasn't publicly recognized), there has been little scientific evidence that it is all that harmful. Oh, sure, some opponents are going to dig out some obscure studies showing that reefer madness is a reality. But supporters can dig out their own studies to disprove that.
Given the lack of solid proof that marijuana is the evil weed opponents make it out to be - and given a set of regulations for allowing its medical use - denying its use to those in desperate physical need hardly seems like the American thing to do. Where are all those compassionate conservatives when you really need them?
Complete Title: From The Statehouse: Marijuana is Justified as Medicine
Source: Newport Daily News, The (RI)
Author: Joe Baker, Daily News Staff
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Newport Daily News