Medical Marijuana: The Debate Continues

Medical marijuana debate has multiple dimensions: medical, political, personal

Linda Yelvington rattles off her list of ailments: Severe scoliosis. A prosthetic hip. Cervical degenerative disc disease. DeQuerin’s syndrome in both wrists. Arthritis. Breathing problems from diminished lung capacity because of scoliosis.

The 54-year-old woman then rattles off a list of painkillers she has taken for her health problems.

Author: Derek Spellman

Linda Yelvington rattles off her list of ailments: Severe scoliosis. A prosthetic hip. Cervical degenerative disc disease. DeQuerin’s syndrome in both wrists. Arthritis. Breathing problems from diminished lung capacity because of scoliosis.

The 54-year-old woman then rattles off a list of painkillers she has taken for her health problems.

“None of them are working right,” Yelvington said of the legal drugs, listing some of their side effects.

It has been several months since she has taken her preferred painkiller — marijuana — because it's not legal in Missouri, USA.

She contends it works just as well, if not better, with fewer side effects. Yelvington, who started taking marijuana years ago, is well-versed in studies about marijuana's medicinal use.

Asked if the issue of legalizing marijuana for medical use is personal or political for her, she replied, “I think it’s a compassion issue.”

Activists, meanwhile, are gathering support for a statewide initiative that would ask Missouri voters to approve medical marijuana.

The forthcoming debate will likely have two dimensions — one medical and political. Both will be personal.

‘Not harmless’

On the medical debate, both sides cite research and a roster of supporters to back their claims.

A local physician said a lot depends on whether the discussion is about someone who is terminally ill and in agony or whether it is about someone who will have to deal with the long-term effects of using the drug.

“Marijuana is not harmless,” added Matthew Miller, a medical oncologist from Freeman Health System.

The medical debate is also attended by a political debate about whether the marijuana issue is an act of compassion for the dying, or a Trojan horse for outright legalization of recreational use of the drug.

Yelvington, a member of the Joplin chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), acknowledged that she would likely advocate for the outright legalization of marijuana even if she didn’t have medical problems. She also acknowledged that the debates over medical marijuana and outright legalization overlap.

Still, she and a number of activists said they believe the two issues can be separated to an extent. They also reject claims that one automatically leads to the other.


I must interject here: the people against Marijuana always claim that it will lead to Cocaine, Heroine, Crack etc. Let me throw a spanner into the works here, does tobacco lead to harder drugs? Smoking tobacco is worse than smoking THC's (found in Marijuana for pain). The people that move to harder drugs is usually due to something else not because they smoked dope - get real people! The people who are drug addicts are not usually people in chronic pain from an illness, all you need do is look around at the drug addicts and see for yourself! On another note the people who say we should not allow people in chronic pain to use Marijuana are usually pain free themselves so I ask -what do they know anyway? Are OTC drugs any better? Are the drugs prescribed by Drs any better for our health? Drs claim "drugs prescribed are herbal anyway because majority of the content is from a plant" well back at ya where Marijuana is concerned, this too is a plant that grows wild so why disallow people to use it?


But there are skeptics.

Notoriety
The Joplin area gained a measure of notoriety in recent years for marijuana activism. Joplin has been host to the Cannabis Revival and already seen one push to put a question to voters about lessening penalties for possession of the drug. That petition did not get the required number of signatures for the ballot.

Missouri Southern State University recently ranked No. 20 on High Times magazine's list of the top 20 colleges for marijuana activism. And earlier this year, the then-mayor of Cliff Village, south of Joplin, claimed that his board of trustees had passed a "symbolic" ordinance that would have legalized the drug inside the village for medical use, although a number of residents later disputed whether that ordinance was ever actually passed.

Yelvington, who moved to Goodman from Kentucky in March, said she first experimented with marijuana decades ago, as many others did.

"I didn’t equate it with pain relief at the time," she said, although in later years she said she discovered it worked better for her as an antiphlegmatic and for curbing depression and muscle spasms.

But now that she is lives in Southwest Missouri, she turns to legal painkillers.

"I have to, because I can’t have medical marijuana in Joplin," she said.

Yelvington said she has family in Missouri and she would like to stay, but she has not ruled out moving to California, Colorado or New Mexico, which have medical marijuana laws in place. Ten other states also allow some form of medical marijuana, according to NORML.

But even in states that have legalized medical marijuana, it is still technically illegal for doctors to prescribe their patients marijuana under federal law, according to Keith Stroup, the legal counsel and founder of NORML. Instead, in those states, patients must have proof that doctors "recommend" marijuana for their patients.

But the patient is still "left to your own imagination" in how they go about obtaining the marijuana, Stroup said.

A few states allow the operation of not-for-profit "dispensaries" that act as cooperatives to supply patients, but otherwise a patient either must grow the plant themselves, have a designated caregiver cultivate the plant or obtain it on the black market, Stroup said.

Even patients in those 13 states who use medical marijuana are still violating federal law, Stroup said. The practical effect, though, is one of sparing the patients from penalties under local and state laws, which spares them from federal investigation. More than 99 percent of marijuana cases are handled on the state and local level, he said.

I hope this lady wins her fight against medical marijuana and I also hope the people who are against can just stop to think for one minute how they would cope if they had chronic pain to fight every day they woke up!

I had Scoliosis surgery 20 years ago and I have suffered as a result ever since, all I have ever been offered is pills, pills and more chuffing pills. I have tried marijuana for pain and have to agree that it works better for muscle spasms (a common complaint of mine).

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