PCG in Sun Times - Illinois moving closer to humane pain treatment

Commentary, Other Views
Chicago Sun-Times
December 3, 2010

A number of severely ill men and women who support the legalization of medical marijuana wept openly in the hallways of the state Capitol Tuesday when the SB 1381 did not pass the Illinois House. Their hopes for victory had been high.

They will have to wait a little bit longer. In chronic and often acute pain, with breaking the law the only path to relief, their wait is not easy.

Supporters of the bill came within four votes and will have a second chance in January. As the votes were being tallied, the bill’s sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), opted for “postponed consideration.” This is a procedural step one can choose when a bill has more than 47 but fewer than the 60 votes needed for passage.

Although the bill did not pass, what happened in Springfield Tuesday represents a major step forward. The bill is now on the floor of the House. The “yes” votes included several key converts. Supporters now know exactly where they must seek the remaining four votes.

Perhaps most importantly, the more that advocates seek to legalize cannabis as medicine, the clearer the reasons become why this is the humane and right path.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Montel Williams, the TV talk show host, traveled from New York to tell his story, especially to legislators still on the fence. He has been a victim of multiple sclerosis since just before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy 30 years ago. As his symptoms gradually worsened, he became addicted to drugs that required ever higher doses and limited his ability to live an acceptable life.

Finally, in desperation and on a doctor’s advice, he turned to cannabis, which he now uses daily. Every day is a struggle, but he has taken control of his disease. He can function well most of the time with the help of marijuana.

What is so striking is how Williams’ story matches those of several of the patients I have come to know while working to pass SB 1381: crippling addiction to OxyCotin and other prescription drugs, with stupor, depression, escalating doses and lives spiraling downward. Then, quite literally, salvation through cannabis: the ability to live a normal life.

The simple truth is that when it comes to pain relief, legal drugs are harmful, and the helpful drug is illegal. Is this not crazy? Many in medicine, law enforcement, government and the church are perpetuating this nonsense. Cannabis is being blackballed when it needs the light and rigor of research so that we can understand how it relieves pain, which it clearly does.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Rep. David Miller, a Chicago dentist, noted that it is time for us to move into the 21st century when it comes to analyzing and understanding cannabis. We need to start in the individual states because only as this happens will the federal government be challenged to open up the field.

This is a difficult bill to pass because there is little downside to not voting for it. That is why the 56 representatives who stepped forward on Tuesday deserve praise and gratitude for their compassion and political courage. It is critical to find just four more who will join them by early in the New Year.

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