For Ailing, an Illicit Necessity

For Ailing, an Illicit Necessity
Posted by CN Staff on February 10, 2009 at 17:09:21 PT
By Lauren R. Dorgan, Monitor Staff
Source: Concord Monitor 
New Hampshire -- Suffering from cancer of the blood and bones and from debilitating chemotherapy that readied her for a bone marrow transplant, Evalyn Merrick came home from the hospital in 2002 to a simpler problem: She couldn't eat. Drinking water was painful, remembers Merrick, now a Democratic state representative from Lancaster. Persistent nausea made eating solid food impossible. She doesn't remember much - was it yogurt that she tried to eat? Did the foodless stretch last a week, or more? But she does remember fear.
"It was scary, because when I had the strength to stand up and look at myself in the mirror, I looked like somebody out of Auschwitz," Merrick said. A friend suggested she try smoking marijuana to calm her body. She did - just one puff, she said. Then, she asked her husband for a drink of nut brown beer. He bought some, she said, and poured it into a tiny glass. "And it stayed down, and it felt good," Merrick said. "It was the first time that I had some kind of relief to my system." It was illegal. But to her mind, it was a medical necessity. Now, Merrick is the prime sponsor of a bill that would make it legal under New Hampshire law for seriously ill patients to take marijuana by prescription. A dozen other states permit medical marijuana, including Vermont. "In a nutshell, the intent of this bill is to provide physical and mental relief from debilitating (diseases) and protect seriously ill patients from arrest and jail," Merrick said. Merrick's bill, House Bill 648, would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from a "debilitating medical condition," such as cancer or HIV, and they would be allowed to keep the plants and a few ounces of marijuana. Patients would be registered with the state. Her latest amendment, she said, would allow each patient to keep a maximum of six plants and 2 ounces of the drug. Merrick has spent a lot of time writing and rewriting the bill - she wants it to be tightly crafted because she wants to leave "no wiggle room" for her bill to be interpreted as a step toward decriminalization. A hearing date for the bill has not yet been set. Meanwhile, Merrick continues to undergo treatments for her own multiple myeloma, a cancer that has caused tumors on her bones. She says, evenly, there is "no cure for it. So I keep using what's available, and thank God for modern medicine and research." A quick-to-smile Long Island native who supported her husband, Rick, through medical school and became a fitness instructor so she would have time to raise her two children, Merrick is far from a lifelong politician. Asked why she ran for the House, she talks about inequities in the health care system, seeing local fundraisers to help pay for a transplant - a $1,000 dance to help pay for a half-million-dollar procedure. "It's not right," she said. So she ran for the House in 2006 on the suggestion of her son, Scott Merrick, who was already a Democratic state representative inaugurated as a 19-year-old college student. Evalyn Merrick went door-to-door throughout her Coos County district, hearing stories of lost jobs and lost health care. Scott Merrick, now 23 and in his third term as representative, says that he was essentially returning the favor. "She and my dad are the reason I got involved in politics," he said. "So I guess it kind of goes around." In 2007, as a freshman legislator, Evalyn Merrick championed a medical marijuana bill on the House floor that narrowly failed by nine votes. "That's incredible," Scott Merrick said. "That takes a lot of guts." But Evalyn Merrick said it wasn't that hard. "I wasn't nervous," she said. "I felt compelled to speak out because I could identify with the suffering."  Medical Opinion   The New Hampshire Medical Society isn't taking a position on Merrick's medical marijuana bill, said Janet Monahan, the group's deputy executive vice president, who says she will be monitoring the legislation. Because marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and doesn't come in a regular form, it's hard for the medical association to support it, Monahan said, because doctors don't always know exactly what they're prescribing. Marijuana's active components, cannabinoids, "do have medical benefits," said Seddon Savage, a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine and pain medication and who sits on the board of the New Hampshire Medical Society. Cannabinoids have been studied for use as treatments for pain, nausea and lack of appetite, she said. While drug companies have tried to incorporate synthetic cannabinoids into medicines, so far the drugs available in the United States have not been as "bioavailable," and therefore as effective, as smoked marijuana has, Savage said. "One of the problems with the currently available cannabinoids is . . . they don't have all the constituents that smoked marijuana has," Savage said. But Savage has her eye on a new cannabinoid drug, Sativex, an oral spray recently approved in Canada that is in the trial phase with the FDA, and which she said has proven to be an "excellent pain drug." Savage, who is not taking a position on medical marijuana, notes that the act of smoking comes with harmful side effects. And she adds that the lack of a regularized form of marijuana makes it hard for physicians to prescribe. "In general, in medicine, we like to have some level of certainty about what it is we're actually providing patients," she said. To Rep. Jim Pilliod, a pediatrician and a Republican co-sponsor of Merrick's bill, marijuana is a "very mild, controlled substance" compared with other drugs that are regularly prescribed, such as codeine or morphine derivatives. Pilliod said he's seen two terminally ill friends turn to marijuana to ease end-of-life pain. In one case, "it made her able to talk to people, able to stay awake," while other pain medications failed. "I could have ordered narcotics for them, but they'd tried that and it didn't work," he said. National medical organizations have not entirely agreed on medical marijuana. The American Medical Association has been studying the medical-marijuana issue for years, according to its website. The American College of Physicians, which represents doctors of internal medicine, made headlines last year by calling for the government to let up on its ban on medical marijuana and to allow more marijuana research. The report concludes: "Evidence not only supports the use of medical marijuana in certain conditions but also suggests numerous indications for cannabinoids. Additional research is needed to further clarify the therapeutic value of cannabinoids and determine optimal routes of administration. The science on medical marijuana should not be obscured or hindered by the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana for general use."  Legislative Outlook   Last year, the New Hampshire House took a surprising step on marijuana policy: Lawmakers voted by a wide margin in favor of a bill that would broadly decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. That bill would have made a dollar fine the only penalty for possession of one-quarter ounce or less. Gov. John Lynch swiftly threatened to veto that bill, which garnered no support in the Senate and died there. This year, Matt Simon, the executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, calls medical marijuana his group's top priority for the year. "I think the Legislature is ready to pass a medical marijuana law," Simon said, a change he sees as a "moral imperative." He points to the fact that two senators - Democrat Martha Fuller Clark and Republican John Gallus - have signed on as co-sponsors of Merrick's bill. To Simon, broad decriminalization and medical marijuana are "very different issues." Medical marijuana, to his eyes, has wider support and fewer detractors. His group touts a survey showing lopsided support of legalizing medical marijuana in New Hampshire: 71 percent favored and 21 percent opposed, according to a Mason-Dixon Polling and Research poll in April 2008. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. His group has set up a website - - that features the stories and pictures of five New Hampshire residents who've suffered from conditions such as multiple sclerosis and cancer and either used - or wish they'd been able to use - marijuana. But there are some overriding challenges to changing state marijuana laws. The biggest one: federal law. Nothing the New Hampshire Legislature does can override federal drug laws that make possessing marijuana illegal. This makes medical marijuana distribution a real challenge. Vermont, for example, has 126 registered medical marijuana patients and 24 registered caregivers, according to Sheri Englert, the marijuana registry coordinator. Their law requires a doctor to fill out a portion of the application, she said, and she then verifies it. But there's no legal, sanctioned way for people to obtain marijuana in Vermont. "The law just provides that they're just allowed to possess specific amounts of growing or usable marijuana," Englert says. "There's no provision in the law to allow me to make any recommendations or suggestions at all." California, which has permitted medical marijuana for more than a decade, has seen federal agents routinely raiding medical state-sanctioned marijuana dispensaries over the years. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 upheld the right of the federal government to enforce U.S. law prohibiting marijuana possession. Merrick, in her bill, argues that state law changes can nonetheless be effective, noting that 99 percent of marijuana arrests come under state law, not federal law. So, the bill reads, "changing state law will have the practical effect of protecting from arrest the vast majority of seriously ill patients who have a medical need to use marijuana." Source: Concord Monitor (NH)Author: Lauren R. Dorgan, Monitor StaffPublished: February 10, 2009Copyright: 2009 Monitor Publishing CompanyContact: letters cmonitor.comWebsite: http://www.concordmonitor.comURL: Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #6 posted by Hope on February 11, 2009 at 09:29:31 PT
Case not closed.
No one needs to be arrested for having, growing, transporting, or using cannabis... medicinal or not.Free people should not take government arrest so casually. It's very dangerous. If we get used to it... we're the proverbial boiled frog... and that is what has been happening to our country. We are taking people getting arrested and hauled away to jails, far too casually. It should be very important when people are arrested.
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on February 11, 2009 at 07:45:43 PT
Related Article From The Nashua Telegraph
Lawmakers Start To Get Traction on Medicinal Marijuana A Growing Advocate Two Sides, Four BillsPublished: Wednesday, February 11, 2009URL:
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Comment #4 posted by bhones on February 11, 2009 at 06:06:44 PT:
They Don't Have A Clue!
I just can't understand people fighting aginst a cause that they know nothing about (Clueless). Why do they fear a plant so much? You can watch comercials for drug companies with very disturbing side effects for their products and that you can become dependant on them; where's all these protesters at to help fight aginst the drug companies? Marijuana should be treated like sudafed, it should be behind the counter to keep from our youth and you show an ID to purchase it over the counter. you shouldn't need a presription. it should be available too all responsable adults. Case Closed!!!
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Comment #3 posted by John Tyler on February 10, 2009 at 21:54:23 PT
You just have to get enough people that medical cannabis has helped to overwhelm the willfully ignorant. It seems to be happening. How about that Michael Phelps cannabis fiasco? I was afraid some petty little sheriff or something would want to try to make a big deal out of this minor smoking incident. This whole thing will be a big mess, cost a lot of money, mess up some peoplesí college time or worse, and ultimately make cannabis prohibition look even more stupid than it is now. 
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on February 10, 2009 at 20:25:36 PT
This is a very long article
and I haven't got it all read yet. But I can see this Merrick woman is quite admirable. 
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Comment #1 posted by HempWorld on February 10, 2009 at 18:48:02 PT
Change is coming ...
Why do they keep schmoking this illegal stuff? Just take Marinol when you are nauseous and when you throw it up (cause you feel like pukin') just take another one, repeat until you have wasted at least several pills and you are ready to pass out from retching ...Ok, now we got cancer survivors making law, absolutely awesome, this is going to get us somewhere sometime ...
On a mission from God!
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