This first-person report has been re-printed with the permission of Dale Gieringer, Coordinator, California NORML, who testified at the proceeding.
Medical marijuana patients and advocates delivered powerful testimony at the Institute of Medicine's first public hearings on medical marijuana in Irvine last Sunday (Dec 14). Panel investigators Dr. Stanley Watson of U. of Michigan and Dr. John Benson of Oregon Health Sciences U. listened attentively to a dozen personal accounts by seriously ill patients, including Todd McCormick, author Peter MacWilliams, Jo Anna McKee (Washington Green Cross), Marvin Chavez (Orange County Co-Op), Etienne Fontan (Cannabis Alliance of Veterans), Kenneth Smuland (WAMM), Lynnette Shaw (Marin Alliance) and Bonnie Metcalf (Yuba County Co-op), among others.
The investigators treated the testimonials seriously, asking questions about differences in dosage patterns, responses to different kinds of cannabis, unusual interactions and adverse side effects. A single hostile witness came to testify, Sandra Bennett of the Northwest Center for Health & Safety, a prominent critic of medical marijuana. Ms. Bennett sheepishly admitted that she was in hostile crowd, then went on to relate how her son had died of cocaine, which Dr Lester Grinspoon had called safe, making his opinions on medical marijuana unreliable, and how the study of Rick Doblin and Mark Kleimann was likewise unreliable, both being notorious drug reform advocates. She also professed to having an intractable medical problem of her own, irritable bowel syndrome. Speaking immediately after her, I took the opportunity to note that California NORML had heard of an amazingly wide spectrum of anecdotal uses of medical marijuana, one of which was indeed irritable bowel syndrome! (This amused Dr. Benson, who told us that he was not only a colleague of Ms. Bennett at OHSU, but had actually treated her as a patient.)
I went on to argue for the need for making club-grown cannabis available to researchers, and for developing safer smoking devices. The IOM also heard strong presentations from non-patient advocates Anna Boyce, Jeff Jones, Chris Conrad, and Ellen Komp. The day before the hearings, a group of us met the IOM team at a site visit of the Oakland cannabis buyers' club. We were impressed by their sincerity, open-mindedness, scientific honesty, and sympathetic line of questioning. They did not express doubts about whether cannabis is medicine, but rather expressed interest in how it worked, what different effects might be produced by different varieties, how research should proceed, etc. Having observed the IOM team, I can confidently predict that their report will put a final end to the talk of marijuana as "Cheech and Chong" medicine.
Dale Gieringer, (415) 563-5858 // [email protected], 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco, CA 94114