Lying motionless in a reclining bed, Cheryl Miller ponders her future,
wondering if there will be some relief to her pain. She was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disorder, 32 years ago and now
is in the end stages, unable to move her arms, barely able to speak -- a
shell of her former self.

Miller, 56, of Dover Township, has found something to help ease the pain --
marijuana. But she often does without because it is an illegal drug in New
Jersey and has not been approved for medical use, except in a handful of
states and Canada.

"I won't give up my fight for marijuana," she says, her words barely audible.

Neither will her husband, Jim, who has undertaken a 10-year crusade to
bring about the legal use of medical marijuana in New Jersey, and get some
relief for his long-suffering wife. During the last decade, Miller has
written more than 100 letters to legislators, protested nine times near the
White House and once pushed his wife in a wheelchair from Seaside Heights
to Trenton, drawing media attention to her plight.

On March 30, 1998, Cheryl was arrested in the Washington offices of
then-Rep. Jim Rogan of California after eating a small piece of marijuana.

Recently, Next Play Video filmed a 28-minute documentary entitled "Cheryl
Miller: The Case for Medical Marijuana Necessity." The documentary,
produced by Peter Christopher of Middletown, has been shown in Minnesota,
and Christopher is negotiating to have it shown on cable networks in New
Jersey.

Jim Miller said he hopes the media attention will spur some legal action
and help make Cheryl's final days as pain-free as possible.

"You can't measure the frustration we have had the last 10 years," says
Miller, standing by his wife's bedside, affectionately patting her head. "I
have to get the drug for her illegally and there is no steady source. It's
almost cruel in nature, having to go on like this. I never imagined when I
exchanged wedding vows in 1984 that I'd end up feeling like a criminal
trying to help my wife."

Jim Miller, a carpenter, said Cheryl was a vivacious, adventurous and
goal-oriented woman who was a fashion model and did some car dealership
commercials in the 1960s, before the disease struck. She has two sons,
Carl, 35, and David, 30; and she also had a son, Ricky, who died at age 16
in a gun accident, and a daughter, Deena, who died at age 21 in a car
accident in Oklahoma.

During the last few years, research has revealed that a class of chemicals
called cannabinoids is very similar to a naturally occurring chemical in
the body called anandamide, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Numerous nerve receptors throughout the brain and body, triggered by the
presence of anandamide, are involved in pain control.

The discovery of these receptor sites and of the chemical similarities
between cannabinoids and anandamide has provoked new interest in research
on the medicinal properties of marijuana.

Reports that marijuana reduces spasticity in MS patients led to a small
number of clinical trials, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis
Society. The studies explored the role of THC, the active ingredient in
smoked marijuana, in treating spasticity, tremors and lack of balance
control. Jim Miller says marijuana, which Cheryl has taken mixed in with
salad dressing, helps her with those symptoms and also eases her pain,
which is especially severe around her arms.

However, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Medical Advisory Board
says it does not recommend marijuana as a treatment for MS because the
studies did not provide convincing evidence that marijuana benefits people
with MS.

New Jersey became involved in the debate over medical marijuana in 1981,
when then-Sen. C. Louis Bassano of Union helped enact a law that permitted
the state to "partake in a research program involving marijuana."

Jim Miller learned of this obscure law in 1992 and started writing
legislators in the state about it -- with little response.

"I came to find out from Bassano that no one had asked the state Health
Department about the law," Miller said. "It just went unused."

Frustrated, eager to draw atten-tion to the issue, Miller pushed his
wheelchair-bound wife from Seaside Heights to Trenton, over bridges, up
hills, negotiating the 58 miles in 25 hours. Television, newspaper and
radio crews covered the May 24, 1993 event and learned of Cheryl's struggles.

But the resultant publicity soon subsided.

Miller was undaunted, sending more letters and continuing his crusade. On
June 3, 1999, the Millers visited Bassano in his Trenton office. Bassano
asked Jim Miller to get proof from the Na-tional Institute of Drug Abuse in
Bethesda, Md., certifying they would review an application from New Jersey
to allow research.

Miller complied, getting a letter from Dr. Alan I. Leshner of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Service in Maryland, saying the NIH "remains
open to receipt of applications for research, including New Jersey."

Bassano took the letter and asked Christine Grant, then-N.J. Commissioner
of Health and Senior Services, to "look into the matter and to make an
application to have New Jersey partake n re-search."

But the efforts never got off the ground.

In a Nov. 5, 2002, letter to Miller, George T. DiFerdinando, deputy
commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the
department believes that current research indicates there are viable and
acceptable treatment alternatives for those who seek to use marijuana for
medicinal purposes. Enclosed in the letter was a list of alternative
treatments that included cannabis and synthetic canneabinoids.

"So, on one hand, they are saying marijuana, cannabis can be used to help
multiple sclerosis," Miller said, shaking his head in dismay. "Then, on the
other, they are doing nothing to help make it available in New Jersey."

Bassano, who retired in 2001, says the only way the controversy is going to
go away is for the federal government to take decisive action.

"They have got to put the issue to rest by doing thorough testing and
coming to a conclusion, negative or positive," Bassano said. "It
(marijuana) can't come from the state. The federal government should be the
agency that provides the drug. They could disperse it to the states, who
would then disperse it to the doctors."

Dr. Robert Terranova of South-ern Ocean County Hospital in Stafford said
some tests have shown medical marijuana to help with hand coordination and
trem-ors.

"The drugs prescribed by the FDA to treat multiple sclerosis have no effect
on the symptoms of the disease," Terranova said. "They don't change your
symp-toms, they just try and halt the progression of the disease."

Legalization of medical marijuana on a federal level appears unlikely.

In a May 10, 2001 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law does
not allow a "medical necessity" for marijuana use. The court held that
marijuana's listing by Congress as a Schedule I drug and the Controlled
Substance Act meant that it "has no currently accepted medical use in
treat-ment in the United States."

Additionally, long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant
serious side effects, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society,
which recommends FDA-approved drugs such as baclofen and tizanidine to
reduce spasms in MS.

Despite the high odds against legalization of marijuana for medicinal use,
Jim Miller has vowed to continue his fight.

But time is running out for Cheryl, who lies immobilized in a hospital bed,
unable to move her arms, barely able to speak. She was rushed to Brick
Hospital for internal complications on Jan. 23, and spent eight days in the
hospital. Her condition continues to deteriorate.

"I know it (legalization) is going to be too late for Cheryl," said Jim
Miller. "It is most unlikely to happen in New Jersey and Cheryl is aware of
that. Why am I doing this? Why am I still fighting? Because I know one day
in the future I'm going to reflect on this period in time and I don't want
to say, 'I wish I had done more to help my wife.' "


Pubdate: Sun, 09 Feb 2003
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2003 Asbury Park Press
Contact: yourviews@app.com
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