Party will discuss medical marijuana

By Mary Perham, The Corning Leader -- 3/31/2004

BATH -- A nationwide debate over the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes will be visited Friday evening at the Alice and Henry Dormann Public Library.

A 7 p.m. forum, hosted by the local Green Party, on growing support for prescriptive marijuana will feature Dr. Jennifer Daniels, a physician and social activist from Syracuse.

"(We want) to draw attention to the issue of medical marijuana," said Steuben County Green Party Chairwoman Rachel Treichler. "At a time of skyrocketing drug costs, it makes no sense to outlaw an effective and inexpensive drug that has been safely used for thousands of years."

The Green Party candidate for state lieutenant governor in 2002, Daniels is slated to talk about the medical properties of marijuana and its usefulness compared to legal drugs. She will give an update on a bill now before the state Assembly to legalize medical marijuana.

Supporters of the bill say marijuana has proven to be therapeutic for patients with cancer, painful central nervous system diseases and HIV/AIDS.

The bill has gained strong support in the Assembly and across the state. The cities of Buffalo and Albany have adopted resolutions favoring the use of marijuana as a prescriptive medication.

Marijuana - or cannabis - has been the subject of controversy for a number of years.

Outlawed for more than 60 years, it's considered an addictive substance. It is relatively inexpensive but can potentially lead users to stronger illegal narcotics. It has been associated with "reefer madness," Bohemian lifestyles and the drug culture of the '60s.

Yet a growing number of medical associations are giving the drug qualified approval for use in offsetting the side effects of treating cancer and other diseases. Those reactions are now treated with more conventional - and costly - prescription drugs.

One such prescription, Emend, is used for patients suffering the immediate ill-effects of chemotherapy. The three-day treatment costs $250.

Opponents of the current plan argue legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would lead to higher crime, drug store break-ins and misuse of prescriptions. Many say there is no need to use marijuana because other prescriptions are available.

U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey has said, "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that smoked marijuana is useful or needed."

Yet agencies such as the American Medical Association disagree.

In a 2001 report, the AMA noted the drug effectively could be used as a treatment, to enhance other drugs or for those suffering chronic pain and insomnia.

The AMA cautioned studies to date were inconsistent, largely because they measured "crude plants of variable potency" and included experienced and new smokers. It called for a controlled, clinical study of marijuana.

The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine also endorsed marijuana for possible use as medicine.

Both national health agencies voiced concern about smoking marijuana as opposed to consuming it.

"Marijuana is not a completely benign substance," said the IOM report. "It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications."

Provisions in the Assembly bill include allowing a licensed practitioner to certify a patient has a serious condition that should be treated with the medical use of marijuana. If approved by the state Department of Health, the patients would be allowed a month's supply of marijuana with five refills before a new certificate would be issued.