MILWAUKEE -- State Rep. Gregg Underheim's fight against prostate
cancer got him thinking about whether those suffering from cancer
should be allowed to use marijuana to cope with the pain.

The Oshkosh Republican has decided to go against his party's
leadership and introduce a bill that would let doctors prescribe
marijuana for medical reasons.

The decision represents a major shift in philosophy for a legislator
who was quoted in High Times magazine in the late 1990s opposing the
legalization of marijuana.

"Certainly, having gone through what I went through makes you think
about things differently. That affected my decision on this,''
Underheim said.

Underheim, chairman of the Assembly's Health Committee, plans a public
hearing on his bill this year.

Underheim, 53, underwent surgery in June 2002 to remove his cancerous
prostate. He then waited several days for test results that showed the
cancer had not spread.

"That was a day of great relief, but you think about things like that
while you're waiting to hear what the outcome was,'' he said. "You're
wondering about chemotherapy, that kind of stuff.''

That experience prompted him to change his mind about the medicinal
value of marijuana.

"If you do the chemo, for a period of time you really feel
miserable,'' he said. "Then, just as you're getting better, it's time
to do another chemo. I've talked to a couple of doctors who say it's
worthy, certainly, of looking at.''

Underheim knows his bill faces challenges, particularly among his
fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.

Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, said Underheim's bill has "got
a big mountain to climb -- I think he understands that the odds are
stacked against him.''

Underheim said he doesn't think the average person would object to his
bill.

"I think the public is much more comfortable with this than
policy-makers are right now,'' he said.


Pubdate: Fri, 02 Jan 2004
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2004 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/