Doctors should decide if it's the best treatment for patients.
At a time when researchers are plunging into the rainforest in search of new medicines, there's growing consensus that a humble herb easily cultivated here may help patients struggling with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other painful, difficult-to-manage conditions.
The herb, whose slim, multi-pronged leaf makes it instantly recognizable, is marijuana. The Minnesota Senate has already approved a measure that would make Minnesota the 13th state to legalize its medical use. The House will likely vote this spring. Lawmakers, as well as the governor, should give the bill careful yet open-minded consideration and make it a reality.
For those in whom marijuana conjures up Cheech and Chong movies, support for the measure may come from surprising corners. Well-known Republican Steve Sviggum was a coauthor in 2007. Now leading the fight is Andover Republican Rep. Chris DeLaForest, who rightly believes it's a matter of keeping government out of the exam room.
There's solid and growing data on the medical benefits of marijuana and its active compound for treating neuropathy (which causes extremity pain), multiple sclerosis, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and chemotherapy-induced nausea and appetite loss. While other treatments are available, there are situations in which marijuana may work best. Doctors should be able to make this call.
The New England Journal of Medicine has editorialized in favor of marijuana's medical use. In January, the nation's second-largest group of physicians, the American College of Physicians, weighed in, also in favor.
Still, some respected Minnesota law-enforcement organizations vehemently oppose the measure. Among them: the Minnesota Chiefs of Police, the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association and the state's County Attorneys Association. A main objection is that unscrupulous physicians will green-light virtually anyone's use of marijuana. That's a valid concern. Reporters for ''60 Minutes" found one Californian who got the OK to smoke pot because of pain from high heels.
At the same time, California's original law was 11 lines long; Minnesota's is nine pages, and written more tightly to limit abuse. Unlike California, it requires qualifying patients to register and carry an ID card. Patients, who must have a health professional's approval to qualify, are also not allowed to grow their own; they'd buy marijuana from a registered nonprofit. There's still potential for abuse. But as Oxycontin illustrates, that can happen with any prescription drug.
Most western states and a handful in the northeast protect patients whose doctors have decided marijuana is the best treatment option. For the most part, the laws have worked well, without the worst-case scenarios feared by law enforcement. It's time for Minnesota to ensure that its sickest patients have all the treatment options they need.
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