Waiting to inhale

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Waiting to inhale

Postby budman » Tue Sep 19, 2006 10:48 am

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote:Waiting to inhale
Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The San Francisco Chronicle

YVONNE Westbrook of Oakland uses medical marijuana to control the spasms of multiple sclerosis. Valium left her with a heavy, drugged feeling. "A few tokes and the spasticity calms right down," she noted in the documentary "Waiting to Inhale," which will be shown at the Oakland International Film Festival on Thursday.

Irvin Rosenfeld sees marijuana as "a muscle relaxing anti-inflammatory" that helps him with multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis. Without it, he explains, he would be dead or on disability, not a stockbroker who pays taxes.

Berkeley's Jed Riffe, who made the documentary, also taped a debate in Washington, D.C., last week on medical marijuana. David Murray from the White House drug czar's office spoke against legalization of marijuana, while two drug-war opponents, Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, and Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, spoke in its favor.

Murray was not exactly in an enviable position. A former colleague had canceled last minute. So there he was, taking an unpopular position alone, debating two opponents and a moderator sympathetic to legalization, columnist Clarence Page, as well as an audience filled with people who -- I'm guessing here -- either just want to smoke pot to get high or (worse for Murray) have a sick loved one such as Westbrook or Rosenfeld.

(Riffe tells me he issued tickets to both sides so the audience would be balanced, but apparently the pro-medical marijuana crowd was more motivated.)

Murray argued that doctors are not "the principal proponent" of pushing "smoked marijuana as medicine." True, the American Medical Association isn't pushing for medical marijuana. But the California Medical Association has supported medical marijuana. More important, doctors across the country have recommended marijuana to patients -- at the risk of their own careers.

Indeed, it was doctors who sued first the Clinton administration, then the Bush administration, to fight federal efforts to keep them from recommending marijuana, as permitted by Proposition 215, the medical marijuana measure passed by California voters in 1996. The doctors won. And here's something I learned from Nadelmann: the federal government had to pay more than $700,000 to reimburse groups such as his for the legal fees they incurred fighting the bad policy.

Last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can prosecute medical-marijuana patients even in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Too bad for sick people: Federal law trumps state law.

Murray sees that as a good thing. Opponents of legal medical marijuana argue that it can increase teen recreational usage. Kampia countered that California teen marijuana usage actually has declined since 1996. But Murray scored a point when he noted that if marijuana becomes "normalized," usage will go up.

Personally, I think marijuana use should not be a crime for anyone, sick or not. But medical marijuana is a separate issue. And the government has managed to outlaw more serious drugs -- morphine, cocaine -- while allowing doctors to prescribe them when necessary.

When you watch "Waiting to Inhale," you see how much the medical marijuana debate is about completely different approaches -- corporate/government versus homeopathic.

Murray argued that marijuana should have to go through all the regulatory hurdles that other drugs must pass. Take Marinol, a legal pill-form of marijuana that is FDA approved.

But many users claim they use marijuana because it has freed them from costly and sometimes overly powerful prescription drugs. One plus for marijuana is its ability to titrate: Smokers can instantly determine the dosage they need, whereas if they take Marinol, they have to wait an hour or more to see if they took enough, too little or too much.

Epileptic Valerie Corral of the Santa Cruz marijuana collective WAMM said that "living under pharmaceuticals" was like living under water. And: "To think that there was something I could grow myself that cost me absolutely nothing." For Corral, growing marijuana is like growing aloe vera to relieve sunburn -- there is no regulation, no pharmaceutical company, and no need for it.

E-mail: dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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