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Wednesday February 1st

Lawmakers weed out medical marijuana

An N.C. proposal drew strong debate from critics and cancer survivors.

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Blunting the progress of medical marijuana programs that have been legalized nationwide — nearly two dozen in total — North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday voted to kill a proposal that would have launched a medical cannabis program in the state.

After an hour of testimony from military veterans and cancer survivors who have taken cannabis for pain relief, the House of Representatives’ Judiciary I Committee had little discussion before giving House Bill 78 an “unfavorable report” — meaning that the measure can’t be brought up again during the 2015 session.

Since 2009, the legislature has weeded out more than half a dozen proposed medical marijuana bills.

The defeat hit hard for Rebecca Forbes, who has become one of the faces of the medical marijuana movement in the state and has worked with Democratic Rep. Kelly Alexander for several years to drum up support for a medical cannabis program.

After Forbes showed up at a hospital in 2009 with organ failure, doctors told her that she would be dead by the morning.

“I left the hospital against advisement because they were telling me I wasn’t going to make it,” Forbes said. “And that’s when I started taking the cannabis oil.”

Five years after Forbes began her daily cannabis regimen, doctors biopsied the same kidney tumor and diagnosed Forbes with an aggressive case of lymphoma.

She underwent chemotherapy at the Duke Cancer Institute while taking 100 milligrams of cannabis oil daily — and she believes the cannabis alleviated the treatment’s agonizing side effects, which include uncontrollable shakes, fever and vomiting. She has been cancer-free for six months.

Forbes was one of more than a dozen people to speak in favor of medical marijuana on Wednesday. Three people spoke against it.

“The concept of medical marijuana essentially violates every sensibility of the way the people in our country believe medication should be approved and dispensed,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of N.C.

But Alexander, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said it would simply have brought the state into line with national momentum in favor of medical marijuana.

“We’re not plowing new ground,” he said.

Kevin Sabet, former White House drug policy advisor and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group, said though medical marijuana has been documented to ease cancer pain and spasticity — muscular spasms and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis and other muscular diseases — more research needs to be done in the area, and legalization efforts misrepresent the benefits of it.

“I think that there is potential to extract a medicinal property from marijuana just like with respect to those properties from opium or even cocaine actually,” Sabet said. “But that’s again very different than the claims being made by legalization advocates that it’s a miracle plant that’s good for anything.”

He also said Americans should be concerned about a retail pot industry forming as a result of medical marijuana legalization.

“We are on the road to creating another Big Tobacco if we continue down this path of marijuana legalization,” Sabet said.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-legalization group, said medical marijuana — both in extracted forms and crude plant form — should be a right to patients who can’t afford mainstream pharmaceuticals or don’t get relief from them.

“Presumably in a free-market society like ours, one would assume those individuals who don’t respond to a conventional treatment would have a legal option for an alternative treatment,” he said.

Smoking marijuana is better than other delivery methods and drugs because it provides immediate relief, he added.

“If you are sick and dying and throwing up from your cancer chemotherapy,” he said, “you don’t want to take a pill that takes 30 to 40 minutes to be absorbed into your stomach lining and then maybe have the same effect that you get instantaneously from cannabis.”

Dr. Kevin Baiko, medical director for the N.C. Cannabis Patients Network, said smoking marijuana has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing lung cancer.

One 2011 study by the University of Washington found that the association between marijuana and lung cancer is still unclear. The study found that the smoke from marijuana contains more of two known carcinogens — benzanthracene and benzopyrene — than unfiltered tobacco smoke.

Sabet said there is a profound link between marijuana and psychosis, though legalization supporters contend the correlation is not well established in research and is due to the demonization of marijuana in U.S. history.

“In a country where alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and coffee products are sold, it is immoral, it is insane, it is economically bizarre to arrest and punish cannabis consumers,” St. Pierre said.


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