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National Medical Marijuana Day


November 1994

On Nov. 15, thousands rallied around the country against the government ban on the use of marijuana as a medicine. In Washington DC, National Medical Marijuana Day was sponsored by the Emergency Coalition for Medical Cannabis (ECMC), a group made up of doctors, clergy, activists, patients, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Cannabis Action Network (CAN).

"We have been listening to Prozac but ignoring marijuana," NORML National Director Richard Cowan said at a press conference. "We insist that the government stop arresting sick people -- and we will not go away."

"What this [ban] constitutes is holding a group of patients hostage to an ideology," said John Morgan, M.D., professor at City University of New York Medical School. "The government has no right to tell people what to do with their bodies."

Lester Grinspoon, M.D., author of Marihuana, The Forbidden Medicine (Yale Univ. Press, 1993, 184 pp.) and professor at Harvard Medical School, listed some of the ailments and diseases that can be treated effectively, safely, and cheaply with marijuana: epilepsy, migraine headaches, asthma, labor pain, depression, chronic pain, menstrual pain, cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma, muscle spasms, and AIDS wasting syndrome. He said that medical cannabis is an overall better medicine than those that are currently used to treat these ailments because of marijuana's versatility, minimal toxicity, and low cost. The government ban against medical use of cannabis, he said, is "ignorant and cruel."

Later in the day, approximately 200 people protested in front of the White House. Patients who have found that marijuana helps them cope with chronic pain or nausea spoke about their experiences.

Jackie Rickert, who suffers from a rare connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, expressed her disappointment with the Clinton administration's refusal to lift the ban on medical use of marijuana. At a campaign stop in August 1992, she met with Clinton, who promised to "do everything in his power" to help her. Since then, she has seen no progress.

"We started believing that the system works," she said. "We tried the system, and it doesn't work. All it took was the stroke of a pen, [but] nothing has happened. Don't make patients suffer. ... Don't take the word of the President with a handshake and a look in the eye."

Rickert had been admitted to the government's Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) program, which would have allowed her to use marijuana under the supervision and approval of her doctors. In 1992, however, the Bush administration closed the program and Rickert has been unable to obtain her medicine. The Clinton administration has refused to re-open the program (see July 1994 NewsBriefs, "Clinton Administration Sticks with Bush Policy," p. 6-7). Currently eight people, who were admitted before the program was closed, are allowed to use marijuana for medical reasons.

Margaret Lang of Winnipeg, Canada, has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since she was 9 years old. She discovered that using marijuana alleviates her pain and allows her to move about. "Why do I have to stay in my house and be illegal?" she said.

Jim Montgomery of Sayre, Oklahoma was left paraplegic after a construction accident in 1972. He was convicted of marijuana possession in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. He is now out on bond and was able to travel to Washington to attend the press conference and rally. "We don't want to feel like criminals, but that's what they [the government] makes us out to be," he said.

Other demonstrations were held in over 40 cities. Please send us information and/or pictures from National Medical Day events in your area. We will feature them in future issues of NewsBriefs.