Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama: Smoking marijuana should be a medical option.

By Lex Alexander

Rocky Hoveland of Greensboro suffers pain from spine, neck and back injuries.

For a long time, he took prescription painkillers. But the drugs often left him dazed, if not null and void.

Then about 10 years ago, he began using marijuana to treat the pain. He found that it didn't eradicate the pain, but it made it more manageable.

"It keeps me from being in that haze of wanting to sleep all day or feeling hung over all day," he said. The prescription medications "were making me lay down, and I ain't one to lay around."

Hoveland and others like him are pushing for North Carolina to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. And they have become part of a national trend.

In November, Michigan became the 13th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

That popular-vote referendum was just the most recent decision in a long-running debate: whether it should be legal for people to use, grow and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.

On one side: sick, suffering patients, many ofwhom are dying. For at least some of them, cannabis eases symptoms of illness or side effects of treatment.

On the other: a federal government that believes marijuana's benefits are too few and its side effects too risky for the drug to be legalized, even to the highly restricted level of cocaine.

Billy, a Davidson County man who didn't want his full name used , once took the prescription painkiller Dilaudid every day after lingering neck and wrist injuries, experiencing some of the same side effects as Hoveland.

Dilaudid "didn't do much" for the pain, he said. "And I got hateful. My family didn't want to be around me."

Marijuana has helped him, too, he said. "Now I'm up and around, hiking and fishing," he said. "Marijuana focuses my mind away from the pain. I'm still hurting, but it's not that important anymore."

Proponents of legalization in North Carolina are ramping up their efforts.

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