A plea to legalize medicinal marijuana

March 11, 2002|By Fernando Mosquera

FOR MOST, the question of whether to legalize medical marijuana use in Maryland is an abstraction. Not for me.

The Maryland House of Delegates literally will be voting on my right to live a normal, healthy life when it considers the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act. The bill would legalize the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill Marylanders.

There is strong scientific evidence for medical marijuana's safety and efficacy.

The Institute of Medicine reported in 1999, "Nausea, appetite loss, pain, and anxiety ... all can be mitigated by marijuana." Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar have written in The Journal of the American Medical Association, "One of marijuana's greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety."

But scientific journals don't tell the whole story.

I have been fighting Crohn's disease, an illness characterized by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, for more than 10 years. The symptoms of the disease completely derailed my life, beginning when I was 10. I was afflicted with intense, piercing stomach pain and never-ending diarrhea. I lost 40 pounds and became extremely weak. Instead of attending school with my friends, I was stuck in the bathroom all day, anguishing in pain and despair.

My doctors first tried to treat my illness with Prednisone, a steroid drug that, along with reducing inflammation, can cause psychosis, stunted growth, high blood pressure, weak bones and glaucoma. Instead of improving my condition, Prednisone made my life worse, creating mood swings and stunting my growth during adolescence. Desperate for any alternative, I even attempted an "elemental diet": breakfast, lunch and dinner fed through a tube that ran up my nose and down to my stomach. None of the treatments worked, and the constant pain and diarrhea kept me in and out of classes from elementary school through high school.

After high school graduation, I went to California to write for a video game magazine. California had passed Proposition 215, the nation's first medical marijuana law. There I discovered - legally - that smoking marijuana before and after meals controlled my symptoms. Finally I had found something that worked.

The first half of last year proved difficult for the video game industry, publishing and the economy in general. I found myself feeling physically great, but emotionally drained. The magazine for which I had been writing ran out of money, and I suddenly was unemployed 3,000 miles from my family and support structure. Overwhelmed by homesickness and a desire to further my education, I returned home to Maryland where I could attend college near the family and friends I missed so much.

But in Maryland I can't use my medicine without fear of arrest and jail. My doctors are delighted that medical marijuana works so well for me, but they are afraid to officially recommend marijuana to me, fearful of official reprisals for prescribing an illegal drug.

The alternative is Marinol, a legal prescription medicine that contains a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in natural marijuana. Marinol would be ideal, if it worked properly. Instead, its effects are too intense. One dose incapacitates me for more than four hours. Smoking marijuana controls my illness while allowing me to function normally.

For Marylanders like me, for whom doctors would be willing to recommend marijuana if it were legal, it is crucial that the use of medical marijuana become legalized in Maryland. To arrest those who need marijuana as medicine is cruel and pointless. Let those of us who require it fight our illnesses in peace, without fear of jail.

Fernando Mosquera, 20, is a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a volunteer intern at the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington.

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