Thursday, May 20, 2010

Officials: Don't legalize marijuana

WILKES-BARRE – The comment made by the 13-year-old boy pretty much
sums up why Carmen Ambrosino, head of an area drug treatment program,
opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

The teen, one of roughly 500 juveniles that Wyoming Valley Alcohol and
Drug Services expects to treat this year, was discussing his use of
drugs with a counselor, Ambrosino said.

"If marijuana was legal for medical purposes, I'd get a
prescription and I would not have to come here for treatment," the
teenager said.

Ambrosino recounted the comment during a press conference he organized
Wednesday to voice opposition to two bills pending in the state
legislature that would legalize marijuana to treat certain medical

Acknowledging the issue is emotionally charged, Ambrosino appealed for
calm as he addressed the roughly 50 people who attended the conference
in the rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse, hoping to stave off a
confrontation with a group of dissenters.

Supporters of legalization occasionally shouted out comments, but
Ambrosino and other members of his group, including Wright Township
Police Chief Joe Jacob, West Pittston Mayor William Goldsworthy and
Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll, were able to
speak without interruption for the most part.

House Bill 1393 and Senate Bill 1350 would establish "compassion
centers" that would dispense marijuana to persons with qualifying
medical conditions. The centers would be heavily regulated and patients
would be required to carry a special identification card.

The legislation is based on research that has shown marijuana to be
effective in treating numerous diseases and conditions, including
relieving symptoms associated multiple sclerosis, AIDS and glaucoma, and
in easing nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Ambrosino acknowledged there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana.
But he said the problems that would come with legalizing it for any
purpose would outweigh its benefits.

Among the key concerns is that legalization would give the drug a
legitimacy that would encourage people, particularly youths, to
experiment with it, he said.

He pointed to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan. He
said the study concluded that debate over the medical use of marijuana
was partly to blame for an increase in teen marijuana use in the United
States. Researchers concluded teens may believe that marijuana is safer
drug than others.

Ambrosino said he's also concerned because the list of conditions
and diseases marijuana is said to help has expanded significantly over
the years and now includes such minor medical conditions as cramps.

"We are unleashing a monster, and once it's unleashed, it will
never put a leash on it again," Ambrosino said.

Jacob and Goldsworthy said their primary concern is that legalization
would lead to abuses in the dispensing of the drug, which they say have
materialized in other states where it was legalized.

"It's not being used for what it's supposed to be used
for," Goldsworthy said.

Musto Carroll said she also believes legalization would lead to abuses
and would make it much easier for youths to acquire.

"Law enforcement is fighting so desperately to take drugs off the
street. This law does not support our efforts. It would undermine
them," she said.

But supporters of the legislation said the problems cited by law
enforcement are prevalent with any drug. The potential for abuse is not
a legitimate reason to deny medications to people who could benefit from
them, they said.

Gloria Polney, 45, of Wilkes-Barre, was among several people who support
the legislation who attended the press conference. She suffers from
several medical conditions, including arthritis and irritable bowl
syndrome, which marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating.

Speaking after the event, Polney said she currently takes several potent
medications that cause extreme side effects, including fatigue,
depression and hair loss. She'd like to try marijuana, but won't
because it's illegal.

"Marijuana doesn't have those kind of side effects," she
said. "It won't take the pain away. But this stuff (I take now)
doesn't take the pain away either. I just have more scary side
effects than I would with marijuana."

Jeff Stanton of Falls refuted the notion that legalization for medical
purposes would lead other persons, who don't need it for medical
reasons, to use the drug.

"Do you think people are just biting at the bit to go smoke pot once
it becomes legal? People who don't smoke pot, don't smoke pot.
They're not gong to do it just because it's legal," he said.

Ambrosino said he respects the opinions of others, including other area
treatment providers who support medical marijuana. But he holds firm to
his position.

"A lot of people think I'm blind to the research. There is some
legitimacy, but I believe the harm outweighs it," he said.
"I'm disappointed with my colleagues, but don't call me
uniformed. We just have a different point of view."

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