OLYMPIA: Washington State University and the state Department of Health will start looking for ways to make medicinal marijuana available to the seriously ill, under strict controls, through an appropriation provided in this year's operating budget.
The psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to ease the adverse effects of chemotherapy, and the symptoms of glaucoma, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses. But the synthetic drugs containing THC currently available for medical use may not provide effective relief to all patients in need.
The funding for the study came through the efforts of state Senators Jeanne Kohl, D-Seattle and Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane. The two senators co-sponsored a bill (SB-6744) that would have provided funding for two studies on medicinal marijuana. That bill was used as a model for the appropriation provided in this year's budget.
The funds will be used by Washington State University, in conjunction with the state Board of Pharmacy, and the state Department of Health to conduct research on cultivating marijuana in a tamper-free environment. The study will also determine the appropriate organization to manufacture and distribute the drug for medical use.
Another appropriation will be used to fund a clinical study administered by the state Department of Health under the controlled substances abuse therapeutic program, in statute since 1979.
The study will be limited to patients under a physician's care. Only patients receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, or suffering from glaucoma, AIDS or HIV-related illnesses, multiple sclerosis, or other life threatening illnesses would qualify for the study. Patients will be informed of the experimental nature of the program, and the risk and side effects of the treatment.
Preliminary results of a statewide poll conducted by EvansMcDonough the weekend of March 2nd-3rd indicates a public willing to allow marijuana to be used for strictly medicinal purposes. The statewide survey of 400 voters found that 78 percent favored making marijuana available for patients if prescribed by a doctor.
Sharon Gilpin, who worked with EvansMcDonough in conducting the survey, said the results were a complete surprise. "I know the people in the Northwest tend to be compassionate, but the high number was totally unexpected," she said. Gilpin said people who are concerned about the rising cost of health care are willing to look at alternatives to the high cost of fighting diseases such as AIDS and cancer.
"This is a great start that will lead to what we hope is a promising finish," said Dr. David Edwards, an Olympia physician and medical coordinator for the Washington Hemp Education Network, an agency working on informing the public on the potential benefits of medicinal marijuana. "I expect the results to have a positive effect in our effort to provide organic marijuana to patients under strict medical guidelines."
Joanna McKee, who works with AIDS patients and who has used marijuana under a physician's care to ease chronic pain of a serious spinal injury, said she is confident the study will confirm what other tests have shown: the positive effects of medicinal marijuana. "The medical community is so focused on using chemicals to combat illness, they ignore a simple, organic solution that's readily available," she said. "This test will provide the answer to those who still question the effectiveness of THC."
Sen. McCaslin said if the results of the state study on THC is similar to others conducted, organic marijuana could be a boon for the seriously ill. "It will not only aid them in their physical recovery, it could prove to be a psychological boost as well," he said. The Spokane Republican said getting physical relief from their pain will help many patients keep a positive attitude. "It will help them look ahead to a brighter future," he said.
Kohl said the study is the first step towards getting needed medicine to those who desperately need it. "If the synthetic drug is not working for a patient, it only makes sense they should be able to have access to organic marijuana." The Seattle Democrat said the studies will not legalize marijuana, nor the use of marijuana for medical purposes. "But if THC does help the seriously ill, we should find a sensible and legal way to cultivate and distribute it to those in need."
Sen. Kohl and Sen. McCaslin both applauded the assistance of Sen. Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle and Rep. Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor for their efforts in getting the funding for the study included in the budget.
For interviews: Sen. Jeanne Kohl (360) 786-7670 or (206) 285-1869 Sen. Bob McCaslin (360) 786-7606