Friday, February 22, 2013

NH House Bill 573 - Medical Marijuana

NH House Bill 573 had a public hearing yesterday before the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. 

This is the 4th medical marijuana bill to go before this committee. They've passed all of the others. The stumbling block to passing a medical marijuana bill in the past was Governor Lynch, who was opposed to it, and (rumor has it) that opposition was based on information he received from his wife, Dr. Susan Lynch, a pediatrician. Governor Lynch was not a bold policy making governor, and going up against federal drug policy had little allure for him. 

Every other state in New England has legalized medical marijuana. 

I've testified on behalf of past bills. My husband, the late David Emerson died of multiple myeloma; cancer of the bone marrow and blood plasma. The disease made David's bones so breakable that eventually he could break a rib just breathing. Right after Christmas in 2008, David was having serious neck pain, and wound up in the ER one night. It was a busy night - Christmas holiday in a resort area - and until the XRays came back, no one paid us much attention. The XRays brought a team of 3 people with a backboard screaming for him to lay down, NOW. They strapped him in, immobilized  him, and sent him to Maine Medical Center in Portland. The bones in his cervical spine had deteriorated to the point where his head was in danger of falling off his neck. If it had, he would have been paralyzed. He had neurosurgery at Maine Med. A titanium infrastructure was fused to the remaining bones in his neck, and he was stitched up like Frankenstein. His head was going to stay firmly attached, but he was never going to be able to move it again. He also had to have a three week course of radiation to protect the remaining bone that the titanium was attached to. The radiation was aimed at his neck, and had the side effect of making everything he ate or drank taste like sheet metal. 

He badly needed to be able to drink and eat in order to get through the radiation and fully recover from the surgery, but he couldn't muster up any will to do it. Finally, a friend came by with a joint, which stimulated his appetite to the point where he could get past the taste long enough to eat and drink. 

David wasn't a criminal. He was a beloved member of the community; a respected historian, genealogist, and librarian. In the 10 years that I knew him, I seldom saw him drink. Once I saw him have 2 glasses of wine at a dinner party. That was the most I ever saw him ingest in a single setting. He wasn't someone who had any interest in getting a buzz on. Cancer made him a criminal. 

At least that's what the law would have us believe. I don't believe that for a second. That's why I go to these hearings.

It was the same old arguments. Law enforcement was there to oppose the bill. One cop went as far as to say that medical marijuana would make NH a mecca for drug users. Some mecca. Every other state in New England already has medical marijuana in place. The War On Drugs gives a lot of money to police departments around the nation, money they use to buy all kinds of fun toys. They want to keep those dollars coming in. 

Dr. Seddon Savage, a pain specialist spoke at length against the bill. She dismisses cannabis as "an herb" that is not a medicine, while ignoring the fact that it IS classified as a drug - and is part of the war on drugs. Savage spoke admiringly of synthetic cannabinoid drugs that are currently available in medical trials. She likes pharmaceuticals, which isn't surprising. Big Pharma courts doctors and gives them all kinds of free stuff. Rather incongruously, as she disparaged the "herb" she also made a case for its addictive properties. Savage did say that many people don't have access to comprehensive medical care. Undoubtedly her pain center is costly, and only covered by good insurance. Those folks who have lesser or no insurance are doomed to just be in pain, apparently. 

Tim Rourke from the Governor's Commission on Substance Abuse told us the horrible story about his baby being diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 15 months. His son was treated at Dana Farber in Boston, and NOT sent to an opium den. Yup, that's what he said. Up till the point where he got all prissy, his testimony was pretty good. He's seen terrible pain, so HE KNOWS. I sincerely hope his level of anti-pot prissiness is never tested by a sick and suffering adult family member. 

Representative Donald Wright from Tuftonboro spoke about his wife, who has Stage 4 breast cancer. She's involved in a clinical trial at Dana Farber, but her position in the trial was jeopardized when she began steadily losing weight because she was frequently nauseous and unable to eat. A nurse suggested marijuana. She smokes small amounts of marijuana, to help eat, and her weight has stabilized. She's still on the clinical trial. She's still ALIVE. 

What breaks my heart about these hearings is that those in opposition downplay the pain and suffering, and play up the notion that people of criminals and addicts. I defy anyone in opposition to medical marijuana to sit with the person they love most in the world, while they're in terrible pain or suffering from prescribed drug or treatment side effects and tell me that they wouldn't do anything, anything to stop the pain and suffering of that person. If you love someone you would do anything for them. 

The most painful testimony came from Clayton Holton. Clayton has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that has a wasting syndrome as part of it. He weighs 66 lbs now. He's been going to these hearings for years. He said his condition is getting worse, and he probably won't make it to another hearing. His time here is ending. The opiate drugs numb the pain, but when you take them, you have to lie down. That's not quality of life - it's ruining the time he has left. Oxycontin started making him very sick. Marijuana allows him to  have some quality of life, and when he started using it, he gained weight. He said it may have given him another year of life. Clayton said, "I need you to understand what it is to suffer, and that you can help." 

Damn right I cried. I'm crying again writing about it. I lived this with my person. The arguments are all bullshit. Don't talk to me about marijuana addiction while you're handing out prescriptions for Oxycontin. 

Maine has had medical marijuana longer than any other New England state. There has been no jump in marijuana use since their law took effect. Sick people aren't down at the schoolyard selling their stash to kids. 

As I've said before - we treat our sick and dying pets better than we do our sick and dying people. 

The representatives serving on the committee were mostly receptive and kind. They asked good questions. Most of them seemed fair minded. Representative Martel was the only one who stood out to me as being less than fair minded, when he asked a question of law enforcement guaranteed to get a very dramatic answer. Representative LeBrun refrained from bringing up "voluntary euthanasia."

At least this time around we have a new governor, and Governor Hassan has indicated in the past that she would be likely to sign a medical marijuana bill into law. I'll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry Susan that you and your beloved suffered so much. My thoughts are probably contrary to most but I feel that the Federal Govt. should take over and control medical marijuana and not leave this to the states. This way, we can bypass all the nonsense and at least have terminal patients comfortable wherever they live. It doesn't have to be smoked and can be delivered in so many forms which the govt/FDA can provide to sufferers. Too many people use this stuff purely recreationally and I know here in the valley it is a huge problem. At least our tax dollars would go to alleviating suffering if the Feds took it over.

edwardnorton2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.