Should medicinal marijuana be legalized?

Paul Lachine/NewsArt

Paul Lachine/NewsArt

Moderated by Rick Badie

The General Assembly was a breath away from adopting legislation that would have legalized medicinal marijuana. A supporter of the such a law outlines what it must entail to ensure that patients who benefit from cannabis are granted access safely and legally. Meanwhile, a community activist questions how any state could legalize a drug that currently bypasses FDA testing and research.

Passion must prevail over politics

By James Bell

No one would have predicted that medical marijuana legislation — with near-unanimous support from the Georgia House and Senate, the governor’s office, law enforcement agencies and the public — would have failed to pass the General Assembly.

So goes House Bill 885, legislation that would have expanded an old law allowing the use of the cannabis plant — marijuana — for certain medical conditions.

Unfortunately HB 885 would not have delivered the medicine to patients who could benefit. It did not allow for in-state cultivation, and it limited the medicine to one compound: cannabidiol. Lawmakers looked to Colorado as a model of reform, but refused to consider and implement similar legislation that delivers safe and legal medicine to patients.

HB 885 would have allowed patients and caregivers to go to legal states, obtain cannabis products and transport them across state lines back to Georgia — in violation of various state and federal laws. Encouraging black-market smuggling of a controlled substance is not the approach Georgia should consider.

Cannabis has been safely used by mankind for thousands of years to treat numerous ailments. Today, it’s used to treat glaucoma, AIDS, Crohn’s, epilepsy, asthma, arthritis, pain, nausea and other conditions.

While the focus in Georgia was on treating children with epilepsy with one compound from the cannabis plant, whole plant therapeutics was discouraged and even demonized by some lawmakers. Patients and doctors should make decisions about what medical treatments are best for patients.

As director of Georgia CARE Project (Campaign for Access, Reform & Education), I offer legislators a more comprehensive approach to cannabis therapeutics. For Georgia law to provide effective protection for seriously ill people who engage in the medical use of cannabis, state law must:

• Define “legitimate medical use” of cannabis by requiring a person who seeks legal protection to have a medical condition that is sufficiently serious or debilitating, and have the approval of his or her medical practitioner.

• Avoid provisions that would require patients, physicians or government employees to violate federal law for patients to legally use medical cannabis.

• Provide at least one of the following means of obtaining cannabis, and preferably all three: Permit patients to cultivate their own cannabis; permit caregivers to cultivate cannabis on behalf of patients; and authorize nongovernmental organizations to cultivate and distribute cannabis to patients and their primary caregivers.

• Implement a series of sensible restrictions, such as prohibiting patients and providers from possessing large quantities of cannabis, and prohibiting driving while under the influence of cannabis, and so forth.

Moving forward, we should focus on better legislation similar to Senate Bill 432 offered by Sen. Curt Thompson. I commend the efforts of state officials and the public for engaging in this important medical and legal debate.

Perhaps 2015 will be the year that compassion prevails over politics in Georgia.

James Bell is executive director of Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education — Georgia CARE.

Medicinal marijuana needs more research

By Sue Rusche

Americans are confused about medical marijuana.

On the one hand, research shows some of marijuana’s components may become useful medicines. Two, Marinol and Cesamet, already are. Both are synthetic versions of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component. Doctors prescribe them to reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and AIDS wasting in patients for whom when nothing else works.

Two more, Sativex and Epidiolex, are undergoing U.S. clinical trials. Sativex is equal parts THC and cannabidiol. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors will prescribe it to treat advanced cancer pain, muscle spasticity, and neuropathic pain caused by multiple sclerosis. Epidiolex is purified cannabidiol that contains no THC. It is just beginning clinical trials here to treat seizures caused by Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.

Twenty states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Like the patent medicine makers of the 19th century, entrepreneurs are selling a number of marijuana products as medicines. Not one has been tested for safety or efficacy. Not one has been approved by the FDA. Not one can be prescribed by doctors. But that hasn’t stopped the “green rush” from cashing in on a variety of “medicines.”

Marijuana strains are sold to patients by “budtenders,” the person at a medical marijuana dispensary or clinic who tends to the patients’ needs. That person works with you and helps you decide what will be the ideal medicine for you to purchase and in what quantity. Budtenders are not required to be trained in medicine or pharmacology.

Marijuana edibles are marijuana-infused food products such as chocolate chip cookies, fudges, chocolate bars, caramels, gummy bears, ice cream bars, cakes and so on. Emergency rooms are treating Colorado toddlers and preschoolers who ate edibles and overdosed. A Wyoming college student who ate one of these cookies died of a combination of marijuana intoxication and a fall from his Colorado hotel balcony.

Marijuana concentrates leach THC out of plant material with solvents. The waxy substance that results is 75 to 100 percent THC and can be vaporized. Similar to e-cigarettes, e-joints enable patients to inhale the THC vapors.

One of the most worrisome aspects of medical marijuana is contamination. Independent, certified labs routinely find that marijuana contains mildew, mold, pesticides, and sometimes even E. coli and other pathogens. No state requires marijuana medicine-makers to test for contaminants. Colorado, for example, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, won’t require such testing until later in 2014.

Advocates are lobbying many states this year to legalize a Colorado cannabidiol oil for children with epilepsy. Georgia rejected this path and chose to go down the research road to protect them. Thanks to the wisdom of Gov. Nathan Deal, the knowledge of state Rep. Sharon Cooper, and the passion of Rep. Allen Peake, Georgia will be the first state to provide safe, legal, pharmaceutical cannabidiol to these children.

Sue Rusche is president and CEO of National Families in Action.

27 comments Add your comment

William Johnson

April 24th, 2014
1:34 am

Shameless polititians only have dollars signs and or hanging onto power by any means..Including the head of state. Mr. Deal, could care less about any georgians children that could benefit from the medical properties from marijuana. Heck, we have over 200,000 of the poorest people in the state that is denied health care by not expanding medicaid. This would be free, 15,000 more jobs, less hospitals and clinics closing, and hundreds of millions dollars flowing into the georgia economy. Politicians say what they think we want to hear??? They think we are stupid or dumb..BREAKING NEWS ‘ OUR EYES ARE WIDE OPEN ‘ Correct me if iam wrong ! Is it not the Governor who is entrusted to improve the lives of it”s people in georgia??? Hospitals closings and loss of those jobs and peoples lives being put at risk for political stunts. Perhaps, Gov. Deal, should consult with kentucks governor after he starts listening to state citizens.

Sue Rusche

April 21st, 2014
10:30 am

To the parents of children who suffer from rare forms of epilepsy: Our hearts go out to you. We totally understand why you are fighting so hard for your children.

Here are some things you might want to read:

A brand new study about the impact of marijuana on the brain:
http://www.sfn.org/Press-Room/News-Release-Archives/2014/Brain-Changes-Are-Associated-with-Casual-Marijuana-Use-in-Young-Adults

An account about contaminants in marijuana. The newspaper left out a qualifier in my op-ed and that is that marijuana needs to be tested for contaminants in an FDA-certified lab. States haven’t gotten there yet: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/01/university-of-new-haven-marijuana_n_4369402.html

A warning from the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment: http://onlineathens.com/health/2014-04-12/colo-health-director-warns-ga-families-beware-miracle-cure-marijuana

An account of the need for more research from Minnesota Medicine:
http://www.minnesotamedicine.com/Portals/mnmed/April%202014/Onthecover_Bell_0414.pdf

Finally, I want to correct a misunderstanding about the FDA process. Yes, clinical trials take a long time to get a new drug approved, many years in fact. But FDA provides a program that gives access to an Investigational New Drug (IND) to patients for whom nothing else works while those clinical trials are taking place. An IND is a drug that has met the first test FDA requires: that it is safe to give to humans. Safety is determined by testing in animals to ensure there are no lethal or dangerous side effects. GW Pharmaceuticals’ drug, Epidiolex, meets that test, which is why FDA has allowed it to begin clinical trials in the U.S. seeking FDA approval.

The program FDA offers is called a physician-initiated Expanded Access IND program. This is what the governor hopes to set up. It will involve a principal investigator at Georgia Regents University who will coordinate a statewide program that will enable other pediatric neurologists to be sub-investigators. Georgia children will be able to enter the program as soon as it is up and running. They will not be assigned to a control group or an experimental group. Instead they will receive Epidiolex for the entire time clinical trials are being conducted—unless an unforeseen safety issue arises and all trials are stopped (as were trials with estrogen stopped a few years ago when it seemed women who took that drug were more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not take it).

A number of steps are involved in setting up an expanded access program but if all the players act promptly, such a program can begin within a matter of months. National Families in Action has promised to do everything we can to assist in this effort to make sure your children will get the best, safest, most effective version of CBD oil available as soon as possible. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

April 19th, 2014
5:48 pm

Tony Cain,

My condolences go out to you and Rodney’s family. I don’t think anyone should die after being arrested for possessing marijuana. In a case like Rodney Graham’s, the only recourse is to determine if there is further cause to sue or for criminal prosecution.

The shock of being incarcerated for a few hours, not to mention a few years, is enough to cause irreparable psychological damage. Moreover, Rodney should not have put himself in that position. If he had his prescription drug on his person instead marijuana, it is highly probable he would be alive today.

Nevertheless, if a person is arrested and has a medical condition, it is the responsibility of the jail staff etc to maintain his health. Family members told the staff about Rodney’s critical need for antibiotics but they did not adequately respond. In fact they failed miserably and are attempting a cover-up.

When the law enforcement becomes accustomed to giving directives to the public, it rocks their world when a member of the public returns a directive. While in distress, if Rodney Graham said, “you need you to get my antibiotics right away! A statement as such could have sealed his fate via inaction.

Once again, my condolences go out to you and the Graham family. I hope Rodney’s death encourages you to work toward changing the intolerable conditions and attitudes in jails and prisons. But we should not forget that Law Enforcement Officers are one of our necessary evils.

Amen?

Tony Cain

April 19th, 2014
3:07 pm

To Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Dear Jesus, how much harm is done when a young man or woman goes to jail for months or years because of possession of marijuana? Did you read my previous posting about Rodney Graham’s death in Douglas County, Ga for possession of an insignificant amount of marijuana? Do you think the penalty for possession of marijuana should be DEATH?

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

April 19th, 2014
6:38 am

If there are children suffering from debilitating seizers, 5, 10, 20, 40, 100, per day, providing medicinal marijuana for their use is worth risking. Urgency and common sense should rule the day.

But the legalization of marijuana for healthy citizens at the risk of damaging their brains is unacceptable.

Amen?

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

April 18th, 2014
7:20 pm

When each of my three boys reached the age of 12, I sat them down for a man to man talk if you will. In a nutshell, went something like this. “Son, there are some people in every area of people activity that really don’t appreciate our values. Putting it in those terms does sanitize it.

Therefore it is important that you abide by the law. If you break the law, and are caught in the clutches of the criminal justice system, you afford those people the opportunity to demonstrate just how they feel about you under color of law. Don’t ever put yourself in that predicament.

Don’t use illegal drugs, specifically marijuana. There are scientists etc in this world and in our country that will spike weed with every subtle toxin known to man. So if you decide to smoke marijuana, please remember that you are putting your brain at risk.

Eat healthy and get plenty of exercise. Both practices will limit the risk of going to the hospital and having to take the drugs prescribed by the doctor. There are people determined to cause harm to Americans via illegal and prescription drugs. The risk is one and the same.”

Unfortunately, my wife and I did not have a girl. But if we had one, we would have named her Kimberly. And oh yes! I would have sat her down at the age of 12 for a man to woman talk too.

Amen?

Kim

April 18th, 2014
2:48 pm

It sickens me to see the excuse “the marijuana effects on the brain”…… hmmm Please educate me on the effects of seizures and FDA approved AED drugs on the brain…. I actually have the proof living in my home….It has devastated his brain. There is scientific studies that show that Medical Cannabis is actually healing the brain…. lets get both sides of the story out there please. Lets keep an open mind here folks!!!!