By Alfa · May 2, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    MONTPELIER - The two sides of the medical marijuana debate collided
    here Tuesday, when a supporter of the controversial state legislation
    loudly interrupted a presentation given by President George W. Bush's
    deputy drug czar, who was in town to advise local lawmakers on drug

    The Bush administration strongly opposes decriminalizing marijuana for
    medical purposes. The protester was among about 60 people who attended
    Dr. Andrea Barthwell's hour-long public presentation at the Pavilion
    Building auditorium. He said he was upset that the White House is
    trying to influence the local debate.

    Vermont would become the 10th state to decriminalize marijuana for
    medical purposes if a bill now being considered by a House committee
    becomes law. The Senate has already approved the measure.

    "They did not come here to listen to us, they came here to lecture us
    on their drug policy," the unidentified male protester yelled before
    being escorted out of the auditorium by security guards. "They have no
    business coming here and affecting our local debate."

    The interruption curtailed a public question-and-answer session, which
    did not resume. He was one of about 40 persons who earlier in the day
    attended a rally on the Statehouse stairs supporting the use of
    marijuana in medical treatment. The rally was called by several
    pro-marijuana groups in response to Barthwell's visit.

    Before meeting with the public and catching a mid-afternoon flight
    back to Washington, D.C., Barthwell spent the morning at the
    Statehouse, where she met privately with Gov. James Douglas and
    testified before the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees.

    Douglas, who does not support medical marijuana use, said Barthwell
    was invited to Vermont in part to "meet with legislative committees
    and explain to them why legalizing pot is not a good idea."

    Although her marijuana stance clearly drew the most attention,
    Barthwell also spoke with lawmakers about the administration's of
    methadone to treat heroin addiction and a new federal initiative to
    identify non-addicted drug users - so-called recreational users - and
    get them off drugs before they either become addicted or convince
    non-users to t
    ry drugs for the first time. Barthwell said marijuana
    users are among the program's prime targets.

    Besides decriminalizing marijuana for medical use, Vermont lawmakers
    are also considering expanding methadone treatment beyond a single
    Burlington-based clinic that can only treat 105 addicts. The proposal
    approves additional clinics and allows recovering addicts to take
    liquid methadone doses at home instead of having to ingest them in
    front of clinic staff.

    Take-home methadone would allow the Burlington clinic, which has a
    waiting list of about 150 addicts, to treat an additional 30 patients.

    Barthwell, who is the deputy director for demand reduction for the
    Office of National Drug Control Policy, said she supports expanding
    Vermont's methadone treatment to opiate addicts. However, she does not
    favor the medical use of marijuana for any reason, she said.

    "We do not want to see a medical marijuana bill pass here or anywhere
    else," Barthwell said.

    Barthwell said despite anecdotal accounts from cancer, Multiple
    Sclerosis and AIDS patients that smoking marijuana relieves nausea,
    eases severe pain and increases appetite, there is no scientific
    evidence to back up such claims. In fact, allowing people to grow and
    smoke marijuana would expose already sick people to potentially
    harmful, uncontrolled doses of the drug, she said.

    "It's a cruel hoax that exploits our passion for the sick," said
    Barthwell, who believes terminally ill patients are often "coached" on
    what to tell lawmakers by those whose true agenda is to legalize
    marijuana for everyone.

    Barthwell told lawmakers that THC, the active ingredient of marijuana,
    does show medical promise. Researchers are working to extract
    regulated doses of THC for medical use, much as they already have done
    with opiate compounds like morphine. But until science does this, the
    drug should remain illegal, she said.

    "Smoking a crude plant product is not a safe delivery system,"
    Barthwell told lawmakers. "Smoking a crude plant is not medicine."

    Medical marijuana supporters said terminally ill people are not
    instructed how to talk to lawmakers. They also said that smoking the
    substance is both safe and effective medicine.

    "I went to school all right, the school of HIV," said Katherine
    Perera, a Hancock resident who contracted AIDS 22 years ago and uses
    marijuana to combat the nausea caused by her medication. "I'm fighting
    for something I believe in. To put me down that way leaves me a little

    Sen. James Leddy, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Health and
    Welfare Committee, also took Barthwell to task on her stance.

    "We heard nothing that was an alternative for these people's pain and
    suffering, so we struggle to understand where the hoax is," Leddy told
    Barthwell. "They are seeking desperate relief from pain and nausea.
    The government says the cruel hoax is taking the plant and using it in
    an illegal way... You are making a statement that based on the
    testimony we heard is not credible to the committee."

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