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Americas Now 20120618 The case for cannabis

06-21-2012 15:48 BJT


By Craig Mauro

For decades, the U.S. government has outlawed marijuana, classifying it as an illegal drug, but it is quickly gaining acceptance as a medicine, where it is sold legally to people in several states. Campaigners in Illinois now believe they have crafted a piece of legislation that would allow the distribution of marijuana to patients who can genuinely use it for painrelief. Craig Mauro reports.
Maryann Loncar and Mike Graham are "working the rails" in the lingo of Illinois’s state capitol. In other words, they are doing some old-fashioned political lobbying. Maryann Loncar explains, “What everybody does here is, they're from different corporations or they have different causes, ours is HB30 which is the medical cannabis bill and we're two votes short and we've been two votes short for two years. We come down and we try to get the legislators out of their chambers and we talk to them."

The bill HB30 would allow patients in Illinois with certain diseases, like cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use marijuana, or cannabis, as medicine. Loncar’s best friend has had multiple sclerosis for 18 years and uses marijuana, illegally, to alleviate the symptoms.
Mike Graham suffers from degenerative disc disease and has a morphine pump surgically implanted in his back. Before he started using marijuana, he took a cocktail of 14 pharmaceutical drugs to treat his condition.

“I used to be hospitalized three or four times a year due to the side effects and the compounding effects of all of these drugs. I haven't been hospitalized in three years since I've been off fall of these, other than my normal operations”.

In States like California, which enacted the country’s first medical cannabis law, raids on dispensaries are not uncommon. California Federal prosecutor, Melinda Haag says criminals are exploiting what is supposed to be a medicinal trade.

“The law has been hijacked by profiteers who are motivated not by compassion but by money. What we are finding is that people are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money, in short to engage in drug trafficking”.

Other opponents take issue with the very idea of medical marijuana. Peter Bensinger directed the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency in the late 1970s and early 80s. He says the U.S. government's Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, should be the final arbiter on deciding what is a medicine - and not state legislatures or the public.Bensinger elaborates:

"When you and I go to the pharmacy or drug store and we get some medication, it's been approved by the FDA. They know the potency, they know the side effects, and they know the quantity and the milligrams of each pill. The FDA has looked at marijuana and said it doesn't qualify. It's not safe or effective".
Despite that, voters in Michigan, just to the east of Illinois, decided in 2008 that marijuana should be considered medicine. A referendum on the matter passed with 63% of the votes. Even though they are now legal under state law, many marijuana dispensaries in Michigan operate out of unmarked buildings like this one in Detroit, for fear of attracting too much attention.

Jamie Lowell runs a ‘compassion center’ in the town of Ypsilanti, where local authorities have been permissive. He estimates that about 2,000 patients have obtained marijuana here from ‘care-givers,’ or marijuana suppliers.  Lowell believes the legal ambiguities surrounding medical cannabis leave many in his trade vulnerable:
“What it's come down to here in Michigan is where you are means everything. If the prosecutors want to be aggressive against us, they just don't like it or don't understand it for whatever reason, or the sheriffs don't like it, they are aggressive against it and they let the courts sort it out later. They don't really seem to be concerned that they're acting in defiance of the will of the people and the clear law that exists”.

Back in Illinois, activist Mike Graham says the legislation he is pushing accounts for loopholes found in other states and that would eliminate the potential for abuse. He estimates that about 10,000 patients suffering from conditions specified in the law would use the drug if it is legalized medically in Illinois. Eric Berlin is a lawyer at a prestigious firm in downtown Chicago who suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition. He has helped Graham and Loncar advocate for the Illinois legislation.

“The bill would set up very few what are essentially pharmacies for dispensing medical cannabis. The new bill got rid of home grow and various other things that concern people. Now we have one or two dispensaries in each district and they would all be regulated and licensed”.

Skeptical at first, Berlin turned to cannabis as a pain reliever after doing extensive research on the scientific evidence:
"Do I risk something to feel better, to do something that may actually help me get back up on my feet, help me manage my life like a normal person with the threat of arrest? Once I read all the scientific support for this and once I talked to a lot of other patients, folks who have Crohn's, cancer, MS, other debilitating medical conditions that cannabis has been found to help, I felt it was really wrong that the government's preventing someone from getting something that can help them with their relief".

The American Cancer Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society have mixed conclusions about the efficacy of using marijuana’s cannabinoid compounds for pain relief. They recognize some potential benefits but also say there should be more research.
A 1999 report from the independent, non-profit Institute of Medicine is generally considered the most comprehensive study to date of cannabis’s medical uses.The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting.
This report found that the accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting.

Though the report went on to call the drug effects 'generally modest' and said in 'most cases there are more effective medications.'But many patients like Julie Falco in Chicago say they just haven’t found anything that is more effective.
“I know it works. It saved my life basically. In 2004 I was ready to check  out. And it wasn't until I made those little one inch size pieces of brownie and took them three times a day like regular medication. I'm not depressed anymore. I’m feeling better from this; I’m walking a little better too. I think I'll keep this up for a while”.
Falco was one of the first to begin lobbying in Springfield, Illinois's state capital. She says she’s given up hope on getting a bill passed and is considering moving to California or Michigan after living in Illinois her entire life.

"It's like, forget it. If that's the way I can help: come back here and show, look at the difference I made, in my condition. I have to get out of Illinois - it's killing me".
As in other states, it’s not clear how things would play out here if the state eventually does enact a medical cannabis law.Besinger shares what might happen.
"The US attorney’s office in Illinois was asked by the state treasurer - what's your position? The answer came back very clearly - the Justice  Department will enforce federal law regardless of state laws. So where there have been a lot of flagrant violations of selling, growing and trafficking marijuana in large quantities the DEA has raided in Oregon  and California and other states, and it’s likely to do the same here".

Inching closer is exactly what Maryann Loncar and Mike Graham are content to do.  They’ve been two votes short for a while, but they still make the four-drive drive from Chicago to Springfield at least once a month.

"This is quality of life and it's our quality of life and we’re not going to go away until this law is passed".

Editor:James |Source: CNTV

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