Patients requesting more rights in accessing medical marijuana

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Some patients with debilitating conditions praised the regulations proposed by the Department of Public Health, noting the DPH has listened to their concerns and revised its first draft. However, they still proposed changes in the regulations.

In a public hearing held April 22 at the DPH office, Steve Saling, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, asked the DPH not to limit a patient to a single marijuana dispensary. Using a voice recording device to communicate his views, he said, “Every treatment center [dispensary] will produce different varieties of medication, and as a patient I should have flexibility to try different brands of medicine until I find what best relieves my symptoms.”

As a patient with motor neurone disorder, Saling said marijuana provides him relief from ALS as it works as a muscle relaxant. “It calms the constant spasms in my muscles and rigidity in my joints without making me even weaker as happens with other medicine,” he said.

Scott Murphy, an Iraq combat veteran, raised concern about the draft’s definition on debilitating conditions. He asked for a broader definition of the term, saying that besides PTSD, there are other stress-related conditions experienced by veterans.

“I ask the DPH to also consider other chronic conditions that are causing a lot of suffering to veterans. And the qualifying conditions should be decided by their doctors,” Murphy said.

The same view was voiced by Linda Brantley, president of the New England Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, who said that debilitating has been defined too narrowly. “Medical marijuana has proven effective as a preventative measure for people struggling with nausea from chemotherapy and some of the after effects of cancer as well, including chronic pain,” she said.

The rights of patients receiving chemotherapy were also raised by Karen Munkacy, a physician and breast cancer survivor. She is asking the DPH to allow children suffering from cancer to use marijuana during chemotherapy. The draft regulations, considering the baneful effect of marijuana on children brain development, only limit the medicine to dying children.

“As a physician I have seen children go through cancer chemotherapy treatments and it is an unspeakable horror. We have many excellent anti-nausea medications, but they don’t always work. When they don’t, children go through agony,” she said.

Munkacy explained that the effectiveness of medical marijuana derives from its active ingredient called Delta 8 THC, which is available only in the plant, not in pill, nor any other form.

She said if only the dying children are eligible for medical marijuana, then it is not legally available for the 80% of children who live longer than 6 months after their cancer diagnosis.

“Childhood cancer is rare, but distraught parents, who are already dealing the nightmare of their child having cancer, shouldn’t also have the nightmare of buying their children’s medicine from back alley drug dealers,”she said.

Munkacy, who is also a board member of Americans for Safe Access, an organization promoting safe and legal access to cannabis, then proposed a requirement in the matter. “For the child to get this medicine, besides the parents or guardian consent, two doctors must agree that the child needs medical marijuana,” she said.

After hearing from the public, a small team in the DPH works on the draft again. Cheryl Bartlett, interim deputy commissioner of the DPH, said, “We will work quickly to synthesize public comment, and where necessary and appropriate, to amend the regulations.” Then, the team will present its new draft to the DPH council on May 8, and if the regulations be adopted by the council that day, they will go into effect by May 24.

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