My turn: Chance of abuse doesn't mean drug should be illegal

Posted: Wednesday, April 06, 2005

This is in response to proposed legislation Senate Bill 74 and House Bill 96. My wife and I met in Elfin Cove in 1984 while she was doing whale research. We are both biologists. One year after our marriage she was in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. Today she can barely speak and is virtually a quadriplegic lady with a strong will and mind. Recently she wrote to Alaskans about her medicinal use of marijuana. Though I do not use marijuana, when I saw her suffering from extreme spasticity, pain, loss of vision, and tremors, I became open to the idea of allowing her to.

Nancy had never smoked a cigarette, let alone a joint. I was reluctant to find a source to buy from, but my compassion for her drove me to purchase some. She had difficulty inhaling the irritant; initially it had no effect. With persistence, she finally experienced relief from chronic pain. We had been considering having some tendons severed since no medical approach gave her relief. Her jiggling eyes became still, and she could actually read for the first time in years. She felt like she could "take a vacation" from her MS.

Legislators should revisit the history of pharmacology around the world. Should Ritalin be outlawed because it is abused by some? No, Ritalin should be controlled and used responsibly. The list of chemicals that can be either beneficial to quality of life (or detrimental if abused) is long and historic. Western medicine has become quite adept at handling some symptoms, but ignore as "shamanism" anything natural that has not been proven by the American Medical Association in a double blind study. More than 60 percent of our pharmaceuticals were derived from natural sources. More than 8 percent of the world's population still relies on the natural forms of medicine. Because it is possible for a chemical to be abused does not mean that it should be outlawed. It should be controlled, and society (not politicians) should judge its efficacy. Millions of prescriptions given every year are based on unknown side effects that doctors and pharmacologists cannot explain the etiology of. They don't know why it works; it just does. Due to my stress, I have been prescribed highly addictive drugs. Yet while I have legitimate access to drugs (with addictive properties), I am forced to skulk around in the dark to buy some cannabis to ease my wife's suffering.

As long as young people feel invincible, they will experiment with pot regardless of your laws. As long as compassionate people care for loved ones, they will ignore the higher stakes and purchase it. Filling the jails with these harmless, useful people will do no good. Seeking to study, legitimize, and regulate marijuana's use is the only reasonable course. I do not like to support the flippant and irresponsible use or dealing of drugs. But I have no legal and legitimate access to a natural non-addictive herb to relieve my wife's pain.

I will not stop providing comfort to a loved one. I purchase marijuana for my severely disabled wife, and I administer it to her. You can arrest me, but I will not disclose the source of her marijuana. If you lock me up and withhold Nancy's relief, please make certain that you care for her and understand that she is a quadriplegic with impaired vision, difficulty breathing and speaking, fed by a tube, eliminating urine through a tube, and remember to have her muscle relaxing pump (attached to her spine) refilled every fifty days (so she is not in a painful fetal position). Then please explain to her why, although God gave mankind healing plants, the legislature has vetoed God's intent. When you disconnect her life support (at her end) tell her that the suffering was all worth it for society's salvation from "Reefer Madness" and that I love her.

So give me a break, "Capital Hill," you don't know the history of pharmacology or the integrity of doctors, policepersons, lawyers, judges, and disease sufferers that use marijuana for legitimate and harmless reasons. I admire my wife for speaking up; I applaud her tenacity that gives her strength to battle through challenges that you will never begin to understand, every day of her life.

• Steve Andison is a biologist and Juneau resident.



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