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Bill Backs Medical Use for Pot

Legislator says it's not legalization but helping sick in court


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Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Author: Christy Hoppe, The Dallas Morning News
Published: Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Dallas Morning News
Contact: [email protected]

Austin, Texas -- Chris Cain, a quadriplegic, said for 10 years he took the heavy prescription narcotics that weakened his spasms but left him in "a zombie-like state," unable to work, interact or venture out of his home.

Then a doctor recommended that he try marijuana, Mr. Cain told lawmakers during a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

Only a little stopped the spasms and allowed him to function. He got off the pills in 1994.

"I was able to start leaving my house and going to places with friends. I was able to start working again," Mr. Cain said.

Now 36, he runs a successful computer-based consulting business. Mr. Cain said marijuana gave him his life back.

And it has made him a criminal.

In July 2003, seven sheriff's cars and two police helicopters converged on his house in Kountze in southeast Texas. A misdemeanor amount of marijuana was seized. Mr. Cain said the officers took his computers and threw him in jail without nursing care.

The case remains pending, he said.

Under a bill by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, using marijuana for bona fide medical reasons would be an "affirmative defense" in court, resulting in dismissed charges. The bill also provides protection for doctors who wish to recommend marijuana to their patients.

"This bill is not about legalizing marijuana. It's about allowing sick people ... to defend themselves in court if they are arrested and tried," Mr. Naishtat said.

He also said that some doctors fear discussing marijuana with patients because they could face medical disciplinary actions.

Ten other states allow for medical uses of marijuana, which experts testified can be more beneficial than prescription drugs to treat such conditions as wasting disease, chronic nausea and severe muscle spasms.

"We shouldn't be treating patients like criminals," said Dr. Rael Nidess, a retired urologist who said he saw the benefits of marijuana, especially with multiple sclerosis patients he treated.

He said especially for terminally ill patients, marijuana works better in some cases than sedatives and other narcotics by providing pain relief but also allowing the patient to continue to function and communicate.

Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Terry Keel, R-Austin, said that the vast majority of his constituents in his conservative district favor allowing the medical use of marijuana. "This doesn't need to wait another session," he said.

About 10 people spoke in favor of the bill, with no one in opposition. The bill was left pending in committee.

Rep. Juan M. Escobar, D-Brownsville, said that after spending decades in law enforcement, he initially opposed the bill, but letters, phone calls and testimony has made him reconsider.

"I've got to look at my soul and say this is something we have to look at," Mr. Escobar said.

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