U.S. Needs to Legalize Medical Marijuana
by Martin Chilcutt, (04 Jul 2006) Kalamazoo Gazette Michigan
Two weeks ago, my congressman, U.S. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, wrote to tell me he thinks I should have been jailed for using the treatment that helped me survive cancer. Of course, he didn't put it that way, but it's the truth.
When I was younger ( I'm 72 now ), I served in the Naval Air Force in air intelligence, and my duties were connected with testing nuclear weapons. The radiation exposure I experienced left me vulnerable to cancer, which I have experienced -- and survived -- three times. I've been in remission for 10 years, but you never know for sure if cancer will return.
That's a scary thought, not just because cancer is deadly and the drugs and radiation can be horrible, but because the treatment that got me through it in the past could land me in prison. And Rep. Upton thinks that's just fine.
The treatment I'm talking about is medical marijuana. There is abundant evidence, acknowledged by the American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association and many other medical groups, that marijuana relieves nausea, vomiting and pain, and often does so when conventional medicines fail. Marijuana helped me stay alive, as it has done for many thousands of Americans. But federal law, and the laws of 39 states, still make use of medical marijuana a crime.
Last month I stopped by Rep. Upton's district office and spoke to one of his aides about this issue, urging him to support a change in federal law. On June 9, the congressman wrote to me, acknowledging that people with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses have found relief from marijuana, but adding that he opposed changing the law.
"I would note, however," he wrote, "that prescription drugs containing the active ingredient in marijuana are available for these uses. I am concerned that the push to legalize marijuana for medical purposes may be a first step in broader efforts to legalize marijuana use for any citizen and that legalizing it for medical uses blurs the fact that it can have negative health effects."
The congressman is wrong, and his misunderstanding could put me in prison if my cancer ever recurs.
First, it simply is not true that "the active ingredient" of marijuana is available in prescription form. A pill containing just one of marijuana's 66 active components, called cannabinoids, is available, but research has shown unequivocally that the other 65 play major roles in marijuana's therapeutic benefits.
As for the notion that permitting medical use somehow opens the door to full legalization, that's plain ridiculous. For decades, physicians have been allowed to prescribe morphine, cocaine and even methamphetamine, but they all remain very much illegal for recreational use. There is no reason on earth marijuana should be any different.
And as for "negative health effects" -- with all due respect, Mr. Upton, try enduring chemotherapy and then we can talk.
The recently defeated Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment in Congress, a very modest proposal, would have told the Justice Department to keep its hands off of states that have chosen to legalize medical marijuana. It wouldn't have forced medical marijuana on any state that didn't want it, but would simply respect the democratic decisions of those that do.
At this point, I don't expect Rep. Upton ever to vote for this sensible and humane proposal, but I hope he will reconsider. If he does, he will be joining the Presbyterian Church ( U.S.A. ), the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and a growing legion of ordinary Americans -- 78 percent according to a November 2005 Gallup poll -- who want our government's war on the sick to end.
Please join us, congressman. If my cancer ever comes back, I don't want to go to prison.