Saturday, May 9, 2009 | 7:17 p.m.
About a dozen advocates for medical marijuana rallied Saturday outside the Regional Justice Center -- a symbolic location because the issue is medical and not criminal, said organizer Beth Soloe, chairwoman of Nevada NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The rally was intended to generate understanding about the facts of medical marijuana -- mainly that it is legal in Nevada.
“More people need to be more willing to talk about it and stop being scared,” she said.
Nevada is one of 14 states to allow residents to possess and grow marijuana for the medical treatment of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and for chronic or debilitating medical conditions.
Proponents of medical marijuana said the negative stigma associated with the plant continues to prevent it from getting to people who would benefit from its medicinal effects.
Sixty-five percent of voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2000 amending the state constitution to recognize the medical use of marijuana.
The law took effect in October 2001 and allows authorized Nevadans to grow up to seven plants -- only three mature -- and possess an ounce for their own use.
The laws are too strict, said Soloe, who favors full legalization of marijuana and a system operated by the government to take the burden off the end users.
“We’re talking about people with cancer that are dying and old people, sick people and people with pain and are crippled. They can’t be expected to be botanists and grow plants,” she said. “You have just everyday Joes out there trying to grow pot in their closet for their friend because their friend is too sick to grow it for themselves. That doesn’t work for what we need for patients.”
After hurting his shoulder playing high school football, Jonathan Parsons sought pain relief from his doctor.
Instead of granting him comfort, the prescription drugs hooked him for more than five years and made him groggy and short-tempered, he said. He eventually found solace from medical marijuana.
Parsons, 29, and his brother James started a nonprofit organization called Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada that helps people enroll in the state program.
The cost to register in the state program is $150 annually, but with doctor charges, fingerprint fees and a charge for producing the identity card the cost is closer to $500.
As of March 30, there are 564 people enrolled in the Nevada Medical Marijuana program.
James Parsons said the number of Nevadans who need medical marijuana is in the hundreds of thousands based on the number of people who use prescription pain killers.
Nevadans per person use more hydrocodone -- the ingredient in the drugs Vicodin, Lortab and Norco -- than residents of any other state, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data. Nevadans rank fourth nationally in per-person consumption of methadone, morphine and oxycodone, the main ingredient in OxyContin.
“We don’t have a growing problem, it’s a dead-on epidemic,” Parsons said. “There’s no reason why responsible adults shouldn’t be able to at least look into (medical marijuana). Everybody has the choice of what they can and can’t put into their body.”
Henderson resident Gerald David Hart, 20, is working with the Parsons brothers on obtaining his medical marijuana identity card. He said he doesn’t like taking medication for his ankle injury and suffers from seizures.
“Marijuana is the only thing to make me calm and make the pain go away,” he said.
Although several states have legalized medical marijuana, possession and distribution is still illegal by federal laws. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana clinics that operate in compliance with state laws.
There is a form of medical marijuana that the federal government does endorse -- Marinol.
Available by prescription in a pill, Marinol is produced by Solvay Pharmaceuticals and is the synthetic form of THC -- the psychoactive ingredient contained in marijuana.
It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration for relieving symptoms associated with chemotherapy for cancer patients and to assist with loss of appetite with AIDS patients.
The FDA does not approve medications that can be smoked, saying it is a poor way to deliver medicine and can contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are byproducts of smoking.
Proponents of smoking medical marijuana say Marinol is too expensive.
The Nevada Senate is reviewing a bill (SB262) that would impose stricter penalties on marijuana except on those people in the state medical program.
Several of those rallying in Las Vegas said the laws need to be revamped but harsher penalties are not the answer. The medical marijuana law is based on flawed logic, James Parsons said.
“It’s one thing to have a program but if everything that happens toward the program is more of a deterrent, then how do you expect to get anywhere,” Parsons said. “It’s almost like a direct defiance to the voters that made and wanted this to happen.”