Pass Broader Marijuana Bill Or Let Voters Decide

June 25, 2014

Last week the North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow neurologists to recommend an oil derived from marijuana compounds to certain patients suffering from epileptic conditions. The legislation was inspired in part by 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who made national news on CNN for a chronic, debilitating condition that could be relieved only through the marijuana-based treatment. Charlotte suffered up to 50 painful seizures a day before her parents discovered that an oil derived from a strain of marijuana that was high in the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) but low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) virtually ended her seizures entirely.

“She had gone from not being able to hold her head up to being able to walk and talk and use a computer in just months,” N.C. Rep. Pat McElraft explained during emotional testimony before her colleagues voted 111-2 to approve the treatment that may very well have saved Charlotte’s life.

Indeed, House Bill 1220 could bring much-needed compassionate relief to many North Carolinian suffering from epileptic conditions and for whom other treatments have failed.

But what about the countless other North Carolinians who suffer from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, or fibromyalgia? Or those struggling to deal with the nausea and appetite loss of chemotherapy and AIDS treatment, or the horrible trauma of post-traumatic stress disorder? A large and ever-growing body of scientific research has confirmed that marijuana can be a safe and effective treatment for these conditions and more, but the legislation approved by the N.C. House ignores the vast majority of those who could benefit from safe and legal access to marijuana. Studies have shown that THC can alleviate many debilitating conditions, such as the neuropathic pain and muscle spasticity that plagues sufferers of multiple sclerosis. In fact, synthetic THC is already legally sold and manufactured in the United States as the pill Marinol, but it is notoriously ineffective among many patients who say they react better to full-plant marijuana and are better able to control their dosage with other forms of delivery, such as vaporization.

Another N.C. bill, HB 1161, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, would place a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot that would allow licensed doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, ALS, and other debilitating conditions, and would create a regulated system so patients could access their medicine safely.

A poll earlier this year shows that 63 percent of North Carolinians would approve of such a medical marijuana program.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have approved similar laws that would allow doctors to recommend marijuana to patients with certain conditions that could be eased by marijuana compounds beyond CBD. The General Assembly should extend to those patients the same compassion House members showed to those suffering intractable epilepsy, listen to the will of the people, and either approve comprehensive medical marijuana legislation or place it on the ballot for the voters to decide.

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