The U.S. government’s 1937 Marihuana Tax Act made marijuana possession illegal throughout the country and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 continued the federal ban.
Many states, however, have recognized that marijuana use can be beneficial for patients with some debilitating diseases and several states passed laws allowing its use for medical reasons.
Michigan’s voters will decide Nov. 4 if the state will join the others who allow marijuana use for specified medical conditions, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal government can still prosecute patients using marijuana for medical reasons.
‘… her nausea disappeared’
Dr. George Wagoner of Manistee said the proposal is flawed, but he supports it and said he will do everything he can for the rest of his life to make marijuana available for medical use.
The proposal is flawed, Wagoner said, because it still will not allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to people who need it, but it will at least make it legal for people to use it in Michigan for medical reasons.
Wagoner made his decision to support legalization of marijuana for medical use after seeing how it helped ease his wife’s suffering before her death of ovarian cancer in July.
Beverly Wagoner’s cancer was diagnosed in January and she suffered from severe nausea after chemotherapy treatments and could not eat.
“She took all the prescribed medications but they didn’t work,” he said. “There was Zofran, and that cost $47 a pill but the good news was I could afford them, but it didn’t work. It helped a little bit but didn’t help her quality of life.”
Wagoner said he discussed the issue with his family physician, who told him he’d heard for 20 years that marijuana use was good for treating nausea caused by chemotherapy. That doctor couldn’t prescribe marijuana for Beverly, but did prescribe Merinol, which is a synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“My wife took one pill and then a second (hours later) and it lessened the nausea, but produced hallucinations and she wouldn’t take it anymore,” Wagoner said. “I was feeling pretty helpless at this time and told my friends in Manistee if I could purchase marijuana I certainly would.
“The next day, a small amount of marijuana appeared in my kitchen,” he said.
He and Beverly had no experience with marijuana or smoking so they had to figure out a way to use it.
His first attempt was to make tea with some marijuana leaves.
“She promptly threw it up,” he recalled, adding that he couldn’t put it in brownies because she couldn’t eat them.
He then looked for a pipe at local gas stations, but didn’t find any so he decided to make a pipe at home using wood for a bowl and a plastic straw for a stem.
“I put a pinch of marijuana in that bowl and lit it and my wife took two breaths, two breaths, that’s all, and her nausea disappeared. It just left for the first time in hours,” Wagoner said.
Beverly’s nausea disappeared for six hours at a time as she repeated her smoking for three or four days, he said, until the worst of her nausea was over.
“It was very, very effective and the only drug that was effective,” he said.
Wagoner noted that doctors can prescribe morphine for patients but not marijuana and said the government’s classification system for the drugs is wrong. He said he’s working to push for reclassification.
“But that’s going to take a long time and I feel it’s far too important to wait — there are many people on chemotherapy now and they shouldn’t be made to wait for it,” he said.
He’s also heard marijuana may help in the treatment of diseases, but said he’ll leave those potential benefits for others to study.
Wagoner attended a recent meeting of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, he said, and learned the organization is taking a stand against Proposal 1.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to make their job harder, but street use is a different story,” he said about marijuana, adding that he believes it is already available illegally in every town in the country and doesn’t think Proposal 1 would make a difference to street use of the drug.
“I’ll do everything I can the rest of my life to make marijuana available for medical use,” Wagoner said. “People should not have to break the law, as I did, to obtain relief.”
‘… more harm than good’
Mason County Sheriff Hartrum opposes the proposal.
“I think marijuana is bad in the first place and I think the use of medical marijuana should be dictated by science, not public opinion,” Hartrum said.
“I think ultimately, it will do more harm than good,” he said about the possibility of the proposal passing. “The reality is that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs and once it’s legalized for one use … special interest groups will chip away at the legislation in attempts to get it legalized.
“It’s a slippery slope.”
Hartrum also said he’s not sure people need to use marijuana for medical reasons because he said there are other medicines patients can use in place of the illegal drug.
And the law would cost taxpayers money, he said.
“It would be hard to enforce and you would have to create a new bureaucracy to govern it and we don’t have the money to fund the bureaucracy we have now,” Hartrum said.
Kevin Braciszeski - Daily News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008