HAMBURG — I had to take a deep breath, before beginning this column. I wrote my freshman research paper on marijuana, while I was in college, and exposed myself to all kinds of horror stories about drug abuse.
I educated myself about the many side effects, learned how long cannabis stays in a user’s body and read up on federal laws regulating controlled substances.
So, when I first heard about various states’ quests to allow the use of medical marijuana for people with serious illnesses, my first reaction was one of disapproval.
Then I read about several little girls whose lives may depend on marijuana.
Charlotte Figi, 5, of Colorado, had lost her ability to eat, talk and walk. She experienced more than 300 seizures every week and, according to USA Today, her heart stopped beating more than once, during a seizure.
Charlotte’s parents discovered a marijuana oil that was low in the chemical that makes recreational users high. At their wits’ end, they decided that anything was better than watching their little girl suffer, and tried the cannabis oil.
“The effect ... was immediate,” USA Today reported. “The girl’s seizures dropped to two or three a month. She walks and talks and eats normally. Her parents continue to give her a twice-daily dose of cannabis oil.”
Our sister paper, The Orchard Park Sun, recently featured Anna Conte, an 8-year-old Orchard Park resident who suffers from Dravet syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy.
For years, the girl’s parents and doctors tried medication after medication and treatment after treatment without success, until they discovered Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana that is low in the ingredient that causes a high.
But Anna lives in New York, which does not yet allow medical marijuana use. As does Morgan Hintz of North Salem, who is 2 years old and suffers from severe epilepsy. The parents of both girls are beseeching New York politicians to change state law and legalize medical marijuana.
“If a status seizure does not kill Anna, the medications will,” Wendy Conte, Anna’s mother, said. “Her organs are failing.”
During his State of the State address on Jan. 8, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would be issuing an executive order to initiate the establishment of a medical marijuana program in this state.
While this would be good news for people suffering from extreme illnesses, many skeptics have said that the plan could be unworkable, as it would both violate national regulations and depend on hospitals’ and doctors’ breaking federal laws.
“We’re pleased to learn Gov. Cuomo is among the 77 percent of Americans who recognize the legitimate medical benefits of marijuana,” said Marijuana Policy Project Director of State Policies Karen O’Keefe. “If the governor and legislators agree that medical marijuana can help people battle serious illnesses, they can and should adopt a system that will actually allow them to use it.”
USA Today recently reported that “20 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana for patients with conditions such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.”
That publication also quoted Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the MPP, as saying, “It’s really difficult for politicians to stand there and say, ‘No, we are going to let your kid suffer because it is not politically prudent for us to do this.’”
Still, federal law continues to prohibit the use, sale and possession of marijuana in the United States. The department of justice still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
But that same department has said that it will not challenge marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington state, as long as “the states prevent out-of-state distribution, sales to minors and drugged driving, among other conditions,” according to Denver Kush Club Dispensary co-owner Joaquin Ortega.
If the federal government can look the other way for a state’s recreational drug allowances, surely the laws should be changed, to allow sick people to get the help they need.
Interestingly, after the country of Portugal decriminalized all drugs, drug use went down by half, after 10 years. “Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge, at the same time,” Forbes explained.
I am not advocating for the federal legalization of recreational marijuana use, though.
But, if sick people in our country can be successfully treated, or even cured, by the legalization and careful administration of certain strains of marijuana, taking steps to help these individuals just makes sense.
I cannot imagine being the parent of a sick child and knowing that there is a substance out there that could help him or her, but realizing that this cure is being kept out of reach, by lawmakers.
The MPP said that the New York State Assembly has passed the Compassionate Care Act, “medical marijuana legislation, four times, but modern, effective medical marijuana legislation has not been given a vote in the state Senate.”
According to a Siena poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers support medical marijuana. Go ahead and add me to that list.