Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marijuana has its day

Kitty Alvarado
Special to the Valley News
Friday, April 24th, 2009.
Issue 17, Volume 9.

'Four-twenty' may have started out as a '70s term that refers to the
code for the time of day teenagers would meet to smoke marijuana, but
today's 4/20 has turned into a holiday for those who want to make the
drug legal.

In Temecula outside Visions smoke shop, a small group gathered to
listen to music, barbecue and rally behind the cause.

Antonio Gonzalez, a young man at the rally who owns a medical
marijuana delivery service, said he sees firsthand what the drug has
done for people in pain.

Gonzalez said he's in high demand: "I have a lot of patients who
aren't able to operate motor vehicles - patients who really can't
even get out of their chairs and walk to the bathroom - they rely on

A patient in Lake Elsinore who suffers from muscular dystrophy, a
genetic disease that deteriorates the skeletal muscles, has tried
every medication for her condition and uses marijuana to get some
relief and independence, said Gonzalez.

"She really has no mobility at all [and is] unable to do things
herself," he explained. "[She] pretty much she needs to be helped
with everything.

"She's really etchy and shaky and cannabis slows her down and allows
her to do things herself that normally she needs help for."

California has been at the center of the controversy since 1996, when
voters passed a law making it the first state in the country to allow
marijuana for medical use.

Those with conditions approved by a doctor are issued an
identification card, which they can use to fill prescriptions at
dispensaries that began to pop up at strip malls throughout the state.
Over the past couple of years the Drug Enforcement Administration has
raided more than 80 dispensaries because the use of marijuana
violates federal law.

Those who need cannabis for what they say are legitimate medical
reasons argue that criminalizing the drug makes them feel ashamed.

One woman we met said that even though she has an ID card and suffers
from debilitating anxiety, she hides her marijuana use and didn't
want us to use her name.

"Some people in my family found out that I was smoking it and got
upset because it's illegal and didn't bother to ask if I had a
medical condition," she said. "Nobody else knows I have a card; I'm
afraid they would judge me."

"I'm a grown woman, not some kid that's trying to get high," she
added. "The card is my little secret."

Those opposing the legalization of marijuana say that making the drug
legal would make California's drug problem worse because it is a
gateway drug.

They claim that identifications are abused and that those who use
marijuana medicinally are only making excuses because they could be
using legal prescription drugs to treat their illnesses.

People who use the illegal substance to treat a medical condition say
marijuana was their last resort.

"I've tried everything for my anxiety - all different kinds of
prescriptions - and they kept upping the dose and nothing worked,"
said the woman who wished to remain anonymous.

Everyone who needs it for medical reasons should have the right to
use it just like any other prescription drug, she stated, but she is
torn about making it legal for recreational use.
"I haven't formed an opinion yet," she said. "I just don't know."

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill in
February that would make it legal for adults 21 and over to use
marijuana like alcohol, with the same restrictions, and tax its
estimated $14 billion annual revenue.

Many say this makes sense for a state with a $42 billion deficit;
others say that money won't begin to repair the problems the
legalization of this drug will unleash.

Bill 390's March committee hearing was postponed but because, like
all bills that have a fiscal impact, if it doesn't get a date by May
1 it won't come up again until next year.

Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore), who represents the 66th
District, said that if and when the bill comes up he will vote no.

"I don't think California needs more people getting stoned while at
work, driving or when caring for their children," he said.

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