Legalize the medical use of marijuana

Last modified: 5/23/2012 12:00:00 AM
Writing in The New York Times last week, Gustin Reichbach, 62, made a passionate plea to legalize the medical use of the marijuana that allows him to sleep and combat the nausea caused by chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Reichbach's story was similar to those heard by New Hampshire lawmakers, who will soon vote on Senate Bill 409, legislation that would make New Hampshire the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana. The difference is, Reichbach is a sitting justice on the New York state Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, by a veto- proof margin, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that under tightly controlled conditions would decriminalize the production, possession and use of small quantities of marijuana by patients with physician approval and qualifying illnesses like cancer, glaucoma and AIDS. The bill passed the Senate as well, but by a margin three votes short of the ability to override a promised veto by Gov. John Lynch.

Lynch vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2009 over fears that its passage would provoke widespread illegal use of the drug. SB 409, however, contains more than ample protections against that occurring. We urge him to let compassion triumph over fear and allow the bill to become law.

Failing that, we urge Sens. Andy Sanborn, Bob Odell, Jeb Bradley, Peter Bragdon, Chuck Morse and others who voted against the bill to change their vote. Plenty of evidence exists, albeit much of it anecdotal, to prove that a significant number of people unable to achieve relief by any other means have benefited from smoking small amounts of marijuana.

Many of those opposed to the bill cite opposition by members of law enforcement, but the case they make is weak. The bill allows a patient registered with the state to grow no more than four plants in a locked room whose location is known by the police. That person's caregiver would also be protected from prosecution but would be charged with a felony if he or she sold or gave marijuana to anyone other than the registered patient. Legalizing medical marijuana would have little or no impact on the supply of the drug on the street. The legal use of marijuana by someone who is terminally ill neither promotes or glamorizes drug use. It recognizes that marijuana is a drug that like many infinitely more dangerous drugs can in some cases be justified.

Patients now being helped by the drug must purchase it illegally or get it through friends who are committing criminal acts by helping. Law enforcement at the highest level - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder - has said the federal government won't prosecute medical marijuana cases. The same goes for local law enforcement.

Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate, though a fervent opponent of the bill, publicly stated that "law enforcement isn't going to the people who are dying and suffering and arresting people because they're using marijuana." Good. They shouldn't and don't because it would be cruel to do so.

Recently in these pages, Concord Dr. Seddon Savage, president of the American Pain Society, argued against the bill on medical grounds. Her arguments, too, were unpersuasive. Medical marijuana dosages aren't precise, at least yet, but they are controlled by how much the sufferer needs to take to achieve relief and overdosing is virtually impossible. Smoking marijuana would increase the risk of lung cancer and other maladies, but the people who would use are already either dying or living in misery.

Savage called a patient's ability to "manage the complex condition of chronic pain" themselves the most troubling aspect of the bill. But that is actually one of its attributes, for who better to know when relief has been achieved than the patient herself? Nor is it likely that permission to use marijuana medically means that a patient would stop receiving regular care by a physician. Allowing people whose suffering qualifies them to try achieve relief with marijuana is humane and the right thing to do.


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