In a panel discussion yesterday in Ellis Auditorium, nine patients described a dizzying array of illnesses ranging from epilepsy to a rare joint disorder known as Larsen syndrome. Two sat in wheelchairs, and one young man told the audience he was there to speak on behalf of his father, who is bedridden with multiple sclerosis.
All panelists said they had found one drug that significantly calms the symptoms: marijuana.
The Missouri conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gathered yesterday at the University of Missouri, and advocates say they are gearing up for a renewed push to pass medical reform legislation in the state.
In a daylong roster of speakers, none was more powerful than the sufferers of chronic illnesses who say smoking marijuana calms their nerves, decreases nausea and eases pain. And, they say, they’re tired of being treated like criminals for using it.
“It’s a real human tragedy to find a safer alternative” to pharmaceuticals “and then to be hit so hard by a legal system that doesn’t understand,” said a Columbia resident and marijuana user who was charged with a felony in South Dakota for growing cannabis. The man, who asked not to be named, said he smokes to treat pain associated with a urological condition.
Brian Chitwood of Farmington said that when he was being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma he was given chemotherapy drugs that left him with a nonstop feeling of nausea. He found that smoking a joint could restore his equilibrium.
“There were other cancer patients that asked me, ‘How come you go out back and you come back smiling?’ ” Chitwood said. “So I took two of them out back, and they came back smiling, too.”
In 2004, Columbia became the first municipality in the state to allow patients with a doctor’s written permission to possess less than 35 grams of marijuana. At the conference, one patient proudly displayed her written doctor’s recommendation, and others discussed creating a database for the public of sympathetic Columbia physicians.
But advocates said Columbia laws don’t go far enough, that they put medical users in a bind by stipulating that they cannot legally grow their own crop and forcing them onto the streets to enter into a criminal transaction to make a purchase.
Over the past year, Columbia has had two murders associated with robberies during marijuana transactions.
“I can’t buy it. I wish I could grow it on my porch, and then I would know exactly what I was getting,” said Christy Welliver, an MS sufferer who has a medical recommendation from a Columbia physician to use marijuana to prevent muscle spasms. “But I can’t do that, so I do have to rely on people giving it to me because I won’t break the law.”
A House bill introduced during the last legislative session in Jefferson City would have legalized medical marijuana for a long list of afflictions such as MS, cancer, fibromyalgia and AIDS. NORML advocates plan to urge the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kate Meiners of Kansas City, to file it again in the upcoming session.
But Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the national NORML organization, urged advocates to push for a bill that gives doctors the widest possible latitude in prescribing cannabis. As a cautionary example, he cited the medical marijuana law in Vermont, where strict qualifications have limited marijuana treatment to only 35 people.
By T.J. Greaney
November 8, 2009
Columbia Daily Tribune