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Don't Deny Mercy to the Seriously ill

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Mar. 12, 00
Washington Post
By Ulysses Currie
More than once, I have stated publicly my opposition to the legalization of marijuana or any other drug whose possession and use is illegal without a doctor's prescription. According to a survey conducted recently by the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research, 75 percent of Marylanders agree with me. I am strongly in favor, however, of allowing seriously ill people, upon a doctor's written recommendation, to use marijuana to relieve debilitating nausea and pain or to otherwise treat their illnesses. According to the same survey, 73 percent of Marylanders agree that doctor-recommended medical use of marijuana is a compassionate action the state should approve.
The 2000 General Assembly is considering legislation to allow the medicinal use of doctor-recommended marijuana.
In 1997 the National Institutes of Health and an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that marijuana use can alleviate severe and disabling pain as well as nausea and vomiting resulting from cancer, AIDS-wasting syndrome, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It also reduces pain and spasms and helps patients with glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and chronic nervous-system disorders. Marijuana possession for any reason now is illegal in Maryland and punishable by as much as a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Opponents of the medicinal use of marijuana fear that making marijuana available to patients will increase illegal drug use, but no evidence lends credence to that view.
In 1996, for example, California and Arizona voters approved referendum issues to allow physicians to recommend marijuana for medical treatment. The National Household Survey on Drug Use reports that the percentage of California and Arizona residents using marijuana has remained unchanged since then. In addition, the availability of marijuana has remained relatively stable . In all, five states--Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington--have laws that allow patients to use physician-recommended marijuana. Colorado and Nevada have medical marijuana initiatives on their November ballots, and polls indicate citizen approval is expected. Opposition to doctor-recommended use of marijuana seems to be based on a distorted perception that somehow if we let sick people use marijuana to improve their quality of life, we will pave the way to legalization. But that is not what the medicinal use of marijuana is about. It is about whether we want seriously ill people to be arrested for seeking physician-recommended relief from their illness.
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