Guilford legislator backs medical marijuana study
By Emily Stephenson
Thursday, May. 29, 2008 3:00 am
GREENSBORO — A Guilford County representative wants to get the legislature fired up to study the benefits of medical marijuana. But similar efforts in the past went up in smoke.
If the bill sponsored by Rep. Earl Jones should pass, the Legislative Research Commission would determine the feasibility of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
"Medical use of marijuana has already been demonstrated to manage the health problems related to Alzheimer's, AIDS, arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis," said Jones, a Democrat. "There are a number of organizations that have endorsed medical marijuana."
But legalizing marijuana for any purpose still is not approved by the federal government, and previous attempts to study the issue in North Carolina have failed.
Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, filed a similar bill in 2003 that failed in the state House.
"What happened five years ago is that legislators were a little afraid of taking up the topic," Luebke said. "There were not that many constituents around the state who had advocated for the benefits of medical marijuana. I could not find the necessary support to get a study commission."
Recent attempts to legalize marijuana for pain-relief purposes in South Carolina and Tennessee also failed.
Nancy King, a medical ethicist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said medical drug use carries complicated consequences.
"Using marijuana in a medical context is not distinguishable from using it in a context of illegal drugs from the perspective of law enforcement," King said.
But Jones and Luebke think the tide of public opinion on medical marijuana may be turning.
Twelve states allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms, and only in California has the federal government intervened.
Ray Warren is the director of state policies with the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that lobbies for legalization of marijuana. He said the California law allows patients to cooperatively grow their own marijuana. Other states do not.
"You simply don't hear about any issues in Rhode Island or Vermont or Montana," Warren said. "In my mind, North Carolina would be a very receptive place to a compassionate marijuana law."
John Rustin, director of government relations for the N.C. Family Policy Council, disagrees.
Rustin said his group believes that legalizing marijuana for any purpose sends a mixed message to young people and hinders the fight against teen drug use.
"The legislature now is dealing with a lot of the tension focused on gang prevention and gang activity," Rustin said. "Of course, a lot of those activities or problems are related to illegal drug use. We don't think it's necessary to study this. The real purpose of a study would be to move toward legalization of marijuana."
But Jones said the proposed study may not lead to that end.
"I've found the best route to take on something like this is to have a study committee where people can get accurate facts and information and draw their own conclusions," he said. "They already have the myths and misinformation."