REGISTER: Most Are 40 Or Older, Use Drug For MS, Muscle Spasms Or Pain.

Washington -- Few people have registered to use medical marijuana in
Alaska and three other states with a drug-law exemption, and of those
who have, more than 70 percent are 40 or older, according to a
government study released Friday.

The General Accounting Office, responding to a congressman's request,
looked at the experiences of Alaska, California, Hawaii and Oregon.
They are among at least eight states that have passed laws exempting
certain patients from state prohibitions on marijuana use. The laws,
mostly the result of voter initiatives, are in conflict with federal
drug law, which doesn't allow marijuana use for any purpose.
Alaskans overwhelmingly approved its initiative in 1998, despite
arguments from many that it would lead to widespread marijuana use and
encourage youngsters to smoke pot.

The Alaska Legislature later added a requirement that users register.
Alaska patients need documentation from a doctor stating that they
suffer from a debilitating medical condition and that marijuana could
help them. The state issues identification cards to qualified users.

Alaska has 190 people on its registry, which amounts to 0.03 percent of
the state population -- slightly below the average found by the GAO.
Of the four state laws the GAO looked at, only California does not
require patients to register.

Alaska does not track the ailments of the people on its registry, but
data from Oregon and Hawaii show that multiple sclerosis and other
muscle-spasm disorders are the most common conditions among medical
marijuana users, followed by severe pain.

In Oregon, the only state to keep detailed records on doctors'
participation, 435 licensed physicians -- 3 percent of the state's
doctors -- had recommended marijuana to patients who chose to register.
Most had recommended it for only one patient.

One doctor, though, issued recommendations for 823 patients, and the
state medical board stepped in to temporarily suspend his license.
Several high-profile federal busts of California marijuana dispensaries
have put a spotlight on the conflict between state and federal marijuana
law.

But the authors of the GAO report said they found no useful data to show
whether the medical marijuana laws were affecting arrest or prosecution
rates. Their interviews suggested few registered users had occasion to
present their cards to police.

The GAO interviewed people at 37 federal, state and local
law-enforcement offices, including the Alaska State Troopers, the
Anchorage Police Department and the district attorney's office in
Anchorage.

"Officials representing 21 of the organizations we contacted indicated
the medical marijuana laws had had little impact on their law
enforcement activities for a variety of reasons, including very few or
no encounters involving medical marijuana registry cards or claims of a
medical marijuana defense,' the report says.

A top official at the Alaska State Troopers drug unit told the GAO he'd
never run into anyone using the card as a defense.

Law enforcers, though, clearly have concerns about medicinal use of
marijuana. More than one-third of those interviewed told the GAO the
laws could make it more difficult to prosecute some marijuana cases.
Many also said the laws soften the public's attitude toward the drug.
"For example, state troopers in Alaska said that they believe the law
has desensitized the public to the issue of marijuana, reflected in
fewer calls to report illegal marijuana activity than they once
received," the report says. "Hawaiian officers state that it is their
view that Hawaii's law may send the wrong message because people may
believe that the drug is safe or legal."

Medical marijuana appears to have inspired at least one Anchorage crime.

In May, armed and masked robbers burst into an Anchorage apartment,
bound the two occupants and fled with five marijuana plants.
One of the victims was a 51-year-old AIDS patient with a state
registration card.


Pubdate: Sat, 30 Nov 2002
Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
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