A New Kind Of Drug Reform

A New Kind Of Drug Reform
Posted by FoM on April 15, 2000 at 13:58:24 PT
By Doug Smith
Source: Arkansas Times 
This is not the first time that someone has proposed an initiated act to loosen the Arkansas drug laws. It is the first time that the proposal seems serious.Not that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is certain of a place on the November general election ballot. Chances are, the backers will fail to get the 56,000 signatures they need by July 7; they're far short at the moment. 
But they'll come closer than anyone else with a drug proposal in Arkansas, and they're already committed to start working immediately toward the 2002 election if they fail this time. The Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas (ARDPArk), a group formed last August, has managed to raise a little money, print brochures, provide speakers for interested groups, and even sponsor a two-day satellite TV conference on medical marijuana, with a host of expert witnesses speaking from the campus of the University of Iowa. The conference was available in Arkansas, for continuing-education credit, at both the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas Center for Continuing Education in Fayetteville on April 7 and 8. About 25 Arkansans paid to attend the conference ($25 for one day, $50 for both), according to Denele Campbell of Fayetteville, president of ARDPArk.All this is unprecedented for a drug initiative in Arkansas, a state that is largely intolerant of drug use and specifically disallows the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Previous drug reformers, unfunded and unorganized, made little effort to gather the signatures necessary to put their proposals on the ballot. It helps the ARDPArk cause that support for medical marijuana is growing nationwide.Campbell said last week that ARDPArk had gathered signatures of only 4,000 or 5,000 registered voters. But, she said, volunteers are stepping up their efforts, and should have more success in the warmer weather. People are more inclined to stop and listen in good weather, she said. "If we don't get the signatures we need, we'll destroy the petitions to protect the privacy of everyone who has signed," Campbell said. And then start a new campaign, with two years to work on it. Campbell said ARDPArk knew last fall, when it decided to sponsor a medical marijuana act this year, that time was short. "We decided it was important to get the issue before the public," she said. "We've raised nearly $4,000 in contributions. We had a benefit concert last week in Northwest Arkansas that raised $500. We received a grant from the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington to sponsor the teleconference. The Foundation supports a variety of drug reforms." Only half a dozen people were present when a reporter sat in on the UAMSteleconference Friday morning, but an ARDPArk spokesperson said that 13 had paid the registration fee at Little Rock, and most of them had signed up for the continuing-education credit. The speakers in Iowa included physicians, nurses, lawyers and social scientists. A broad conclusion was that more clinical trials of medical marijuana are needed. More specifically, various speakers said that the most promising uses of marijuana are appetite stimulation and the relief of pain and nausea; that "in most cases, there are more effective medications," but that patients respond differently and marijuana might be best for some; that there is a risk of dependency but that is equally true of other medications now in use, and that marijuana is less addictive than cocaine, heroin, tobacco or alcohol.Although the federal government remains strongly opposed, seven states have enacted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana. A dozen more, counting Arkansas, are pondering the question. The state medical marijuana laws are functioning despite federal opposition, Campbell said. ARDPArk insists that sometimes, for some people, marijuana works better than anything else, and that doctors should be allowed to prescribe it as a last resort. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act provides for the state Health Department to license people whose physicians have prescribed medical marijuana. The patient or the patient's primary caregiver would be authorized to grow marijuana. Patient, physician and primary caregiver would be protected from criminal prosecution. Opponents argue that medical marijuana is a step toward general legalization. "We say people can distinguish between medical use and recreational use," Campbell said.Campbell is a piano tuner by trade. She said her family had lived in what is now Northwest Arkansas since before statehood. Dr. Frank Wilson attended the Little Rock teleconference as a representative of the state Health Department and found it "interesting." The Department is keeping abreast of the issue, he said. The Health Department said in a written statement that it "agrees with the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration and an expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health, that smoked marijuana not be legalized . . . The ADH wishes to point out that Marinol, a derivative of marijuana and the principal cannabinoid contained in marijuana smoke, is approved for use by the FDA and is available for Arkansas physicians to prescribe for their patients." Campbell said there are many problems with Marinol. Among them: It is prohibitively expensive for many patients. Because it is taken in pill form, it aggravates the nausea and loss of appetite that many patients seek relief from. It is slow to take effect.Contact: arktimes arktimes.comPublished: April 14, 2000Copyright: 2000 Arkansas Times Limited PartnershipMAP Posted-by: Keith Brilhart News Article Courtesy Of MapInc. MapInc. 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