More on the Medi-Pot Wars
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Medical marijuana supporters converged on the Texas capitol Feb. 17 for the Texans for Medical Marijuana lobby day. Medi-pot patients were joined by members of the medical and religious communities to urge lawmakers to pass HB 658 – authored by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, and joined by Reps. Terry Keel, R-Austin, and Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas – which would create an affirmative defense to prosecution for marijuana possession and forbid any law enforcement from investigating licensed doctors for discussing marijuana as a treatment option with their patients.
Patients and others support medi-mari "not because they want to have a party, not because they want to do something deviant, but because they want to stay alive," TMM executive director Noelle Davis said during a noon press conference on the Capitol steps. "This is not about partying, it is about health care."
In all, 26 states have laws that in some manner recognize medi-pot, including 10 that legalize it outright. Florida and Idaho have laws allowing a medi-mari defense, similar to the one now before Texas lawmakers. (Keel authored a similar bill in 2001 that died in committee.) "There is ample evidence that marijuana is beneficial to people suffering from the chronic and debilitating pain associated with cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis," Naishtat told supporters. "Under my bill, a patient would have to prove in court that he or she was suffering from a bona fide medical condition, and that a physician had discussed or recommended marijuana as an option to alleviate the symptoms of a medical condition."
Among those joining TMM on Thursday was 36-year-old Chris Cain, a quadriplegic who has used marijuana to control pain and spasms for the last 10 years. Cain told the crowd that marijuana is the first drug he's used in his 20 years in a wheelchair that actually controls his symptoms without drugging him out like pharmaceutical medicines he'd previously been prescribed. Cain said he's been punished for his outspoken support of medi-pot – a circumstance that would be corrected with the passage of Naishtat's bill.
In July, the Hardin Co. Sheriff's Office, with the aid of two helicopters, raided Cain's home near Beaumont, seized three joints, and threw Cain in jail. Cain spent several hours in jail without medical attention before being released to his mother's care. (The fuzz also seized computer equipment Cain uses to run his search-engine business.) Cain said local law enforcers had been harassing him for four years as a result of his support for medi-pot and his public admissions that he is a medi-mari user. Cain is currently seeking to prove his innocence in court (if it goes that far, since there are some questions about the legality of the raid, he said), and hopes state lawmakers will help him.
"Pass [HB 658] and let me defend myself in court," he said.
The most recent Texas Poll indicates that 75 percent of Texans support medical marijuana legislation; a recent AARP poll revealed that 72 percent of that group's membership would also support such a measure. Additionally, the Texas Nurses Association has thrown its support behind HB 658, Davis pointed out, and last year the Texas Medical Association gave its nod to efforts to protect the right of doctors to openly discuss treatment options with their patients. Davis said that TMM has so far earned the formal support – via petition – of more than 7,500 patients, doctors, and advocates across the state.
Grandpa Walter's Reefer Madness
In other medi-pot-related news, Illinois lawmakers last week heard testimony and then declined to pass out of committee a bill that would legalize possession of up to 12 plants and 2.5 usable ounces of marijuana for use by registered medi-pot patients. Chicago Democratic Reps. Larry McKeon (a former Los Angeles cop) and John Fritchey introduced the bill, which was bottled up on Feb. 17 after federal drug czar John Walters swooped into Springfield to testify against it.
Over the past few years, Walters has increasingly used his position as head of the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy to lobby against drug policy reform proposals made in individual states, in part by using inflated rhetoric and highly questionable "facts." Last week he was at it again, telling Illinois lawmakers that 60 percent of people seeking drug treatment do so because of marijuana abuse and dependency problems, and recycling his ain't-your-grandpappy's-pot arguments.
"This is not your father's marijuana," he said. "This is not your marijuana when you were in college, if you are a baby boomer. You are suffering from 'reefer madness' if you think it is."
Adding insult to injury, Illinois Capitol Police detained one witness, who'd testified in favor of the measure, for bringing his federally dispensed medi-pot joints to the capitol as a visual aid.
Irvin Rosenfeld is one of seven patients still legally allowed to use medi-pot under a federal research program closed in 1992. He has used pot provided by the feds for more than 20 years, but was detained by police who said they needed to verify his claims before releasing him and his tin of joints. The law enforcement action did not sit well with bill sponsor McKeon.
"I find that disgusting and offensive," he said, adding that he would not be deterred by the temporary setback. "I can't remember ever seeing any White House, Republican or Democrat, put such a massive effort and spend so many taxpayer dollars trying to quash a state bill. ... This is an outrageous misuse of tax dollars," he said. "I'm going to proceed with this legislation, period."
Jordan Smith is a staff writer at the Austin Chronicle .