View Point

Saturday, February 13, 1999

Decision to use
marijuana should be
up to your doctor

Bills would protect patients now
using drug for medical purposes

By Pam Lichty

Tapa

Sandra Lacar's View point column (Star-Bulletin, Jan. 30) asserting that the possible legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes will have "serious future ramifications for the people of Hawaii" greatly exaggerates the issue.

The four bills under consideration have one purpose in common: to protect patients currently using medical marijuana from arrest under state law.

These bills do not, and cannot, address federal laws, but the vast majority of marijuana arrests occur under state or county authority.

While most observers agree that it would be preferable to wait for the FDA to complete an approval process for marijuana, drug war politics prevents them from doing so.

Despite the fact that a DEA administrative judge in 1988 found that "marijuana is one of the safest therapeutic substances known to man"; despite the fact that eight patients in the United States receive government-supplied marijuana in smokable form (in a program that was closed to new applicants in 1992); and despite the fact that the feds have acknowledged the benefits of one of marijuana's active ingredients by approving a THC pill, it is generally acknowledged that federal approval of medical marijuana is unlikely in the near future.

The main barrier to marijuana's medical use, as well as to research, is its arbitrary designation as a "Schedule I " category drug, which does not permit prescription for any reason.

In May 1998, the California Medical Association in a policy shift announced, "due to the lack of scientific justification for Schedule I classification of marijuana and the consequent virtual standstill in research on its medical benefits...we support efforts to reschedule marijuana."

Voters in six states have overwhelmingly approved initiatives removing state penalties for medical use. In fact, everywhere the issue has been put to a vote, it has been approved.

In Hawaii, however, we must rely on the legislative process.

Lacar's assertion that marijuana use by the general public and kids will greatly increase is pure speculation. A National Institute on Drug Abuse survey carried out in California two years after the passage of Proposition 215 found that usage among teens age 12-17 was 6.6 percent compared to 9.9 percent nationwide.

Young people understand that medicine for sick people is a different issue than recreational use.

As for Lacar's statement that marijuana is not "a benign substance," surely she doesn't believe that it is more potent or harmful than cocaine, morphine and even amphetamines, all of which can be prescribed by your family doctor.

Absolute safety is not the issue, rather it's a weighing of risks and benefits for a specific patient. Your physician is the one who should make that decision -- not the government.


Pamela Lichty is vice president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.


Hearings on
medical marijuana

Bullet What: House and Senate health committee hearings on bills concerning medical use of marijuana.

House

Bullet When: 8:30 a.m. Tuesday

Bullet Where: Room 329, State Capitol building

Bullet What: Hearings on House bills 1341 and 1157.

Senate

Bullet When: 2 p.m. Wednesday

Bullet Where: Room 229, State Capitol building

Bullet What: Hearings on Senate bills 862 and 1038.





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