Proven medical remedy must be more accessible


POSTED: Saturday, February 20, 2010

The first U.S. clinical trials in more than two decades on the medical effectiveness of marijuana have determined it is capable of reducing muscle spasms and pain. The conclusion should lead to changes making it available to patients in Hawaii so they will not have to buy marijuana on the black market.

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, funded with nearly $9 million by the state of California for the past 10 years, confirmed that marijuana is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological injuries or illnesses.

Volunteers were randomly given marijuana and placebos in some of the studies to determine actual relief. In one study, rats that were given vaporized cannabis exhibited reduced activity of nerve cells, indicating it could be helpful in treating migraine headaches and facial pain.

California and Hawaii are among 14 states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. More than 5,700 patients in Hawaii have registered with the state to use medical marijuana. However, while California has been trying to cope with nearly 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries, creating what some have called a carnival atmosphere, Hawaii has none.

The George W. Bush administration won a court battle upholding a federal law classifying marijuana as an illicit drug with no medical use, allowing prosecution of people for using pot for medical purposes. The Obama administration has chosen not to pursue such prosecutions.

Gov. Linda Lingle has insisted on adhering to the federal law. She vetoed a bill last year that would have created a task force to find a way for patients to obtain marijuana legally. When the Legislature overrode her veto, she chose not to create the task force. Instead, Sen. Will Espero, who sponsored the task force bill, asked representatives of nongovernmental groups included in the bill to do the work as the Medical Cannabis Working Group.

The group issued a report this month proposing creation of a marijuana distribution system for patients, increases in the maximum number of plants and marijuana amounts a patient may possess, allowing doctors to care for at least five patients to assure them adequate supplies and transferring the program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.

The working group also recommends that the Legislature ensure patient confidentiality—state officials released patients' names and addresses to a Hilo newspaper in 2008—and “;presumptive eligibility ... so that a patient with completed paperwork is assumed to be certified pending determination”; by the state agency.

Legislators have strongly supported the state's medical marijuana law. The working group notes that Lingle's veto of the task force legislation was overridden unanimously by the Senate and by a 38-9 vote in the House. A bill to create a distribution system should be enacted with the expectation that a veto will fail again and the next governor will implement the new law.