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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 4, 2010

Stirring the pot
Voorheesville student spurs debate on medical marijuana

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Cardboard posters calling out in rounded, deliberate letters are part of the high-school landscape.  A multi-colored sign posted on a cafeteria wall, though, stopped Tyler Cooper, a junior, in his tracks.

Five years ago, his uncle died after a drawn-out battle with cancer.  Nearing his third year of remission, his cancer returned — first to his heart, then spreading to his lung.  Since the growths couldn’t be surgically removed, he had to undergo intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment, said Donna Cooper, Tyler’s mother.

The severe nausea and lack of appetite that followed the treatments was painful and made it hard for him to maintain his weight, she said.  He began using marijuana to help settle his stomach and allow him to get some nutrition, Ms. Cooper said.

“His doctors were very aware,” she said, and their attitude was, “Keep up the good work.  You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Although 14 states have allowed for the use of medical marijuana, its use is not allowed in New York.

“It’s a heartache for a mom,” Cooper said of watching her brother-in-law have to break the law to medicate himself.

Tyler Cooper remembered that time and how his uncle had used marijuana when he read one of the messages, written in green magic marker on the high-school poster:  “Marijuana doesn’t have medical benefits.”

The poster was made by Sandra Vorse’s eighth-grade health class, which chose to discourage the use of illegal drugs as its advocacy project, she said.  The group of about 25 students found a website called Above the Influence, which is part of a program directed at youth by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which produces the Above the Influence campaign, has an operating budget of $44 million for 2010.

The content that the students printed from the website and attached to the bottom of their poster, regarding marijuana’s potential for medicinal purposes, uses essentially the same language as the Drug Enforcement Agency.  “There is no consensus of medical evidence that smoking marijuana helps patients. Congress enacted laws against marijuana in 1970 based in part on its conclusion that marijuana has no scientifically proven medical value,” states the DEA in its position on marijuana.

“In large measure, the marihuana issue is a child of the sixties, the visual and somewhat pungent symbol of dramatic changes which have permanently affected our nation in the last decade,” says a 1972 report commissioned by then-President Richard Nixon.  “Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high,” the report concludes.  “We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem.”

The 1972 report includes a history of marijuana’s uses through history — in China, India, Egypt, and in America from the mid-19th Century to the 1970s.

In 2004, Robert Meyer, of the Food and Drug Administration, addressed a Congressional subcommittee on the “potential merits of cannabinoids for medical uses.”

The FDA determines what drugs will be available for use by the public.

“Despite its status as an unapproved new drug, there has been considerable interest in its use for the treatment of a number of conditions, including glaucoma, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea,” he said of marijuana.  Congress has marijuana listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, which makes it difficult to obtain for scientific testing.  The American Medical Association adopted a policy in November that supports a review of the drug’s Schedule I status, since it limits research access.

“In March 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a detailed report that supports the absolute need for evidence-based research into the effects of marijuana and cannabinoid components of marijuana,” Meyer said.

Vorse’s students were fulfilling one part of a six-pronged curriculum, which includes: decision making, advocacy, relationship-management skills, self-management skills, goal setting, and stress management. 

“We are advocates of Above the Influence and this is Above the Influence’s stand,” she said of the students’ perspective — their assignment wasn’t to research the topic itself, but to support an organization with which they were sympathetic.

The debate is far from settled on the worth of marijuana for medicine, Tyler Cooper says, and, like other controversial topics discussed in school, both sides should be presented to students.  He expressed his views this week in a letter to the Enterprise editor.  Cooper supports the use of medical marijuana, but says, “Why don’t they teach both sides?”

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