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State Top Health Official says Voters Should Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Issue

Phoenix, AZ – If approved by voters in November, Proposition 203 would let
doctors recommend marijuana to patients with various medical
conditions. Individuals with state-issued marijuana cards would
be allowed to purchase 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks
from state-regulated non-profit dispensaries. State Health
Director Will Humble said there are ailments and side effects of
treatment that probably respond well to marijuana, including
reducing nausea from chemotherapy and promoting appetite in
people with wasting syndrome. But what worries Humble is that
people with chronic and severe pain also would be able to get the

(You know, that's really kind of the Trojan horse in a way in the
initiative. That really opens it up to literally tens of
thousands, if not more than 100,000 people over time. And it's
not a very effective, or an effective treatment at all, really,
for pain.)

Humble said his fears of the possibility for abuse were confirmed
when he checked with counterparts in Colorado which already has
very similar laws. He said three-fourths of the marijuana cards
in that state were issued for pain. And they went largely to
individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. And he said a very small
percentage of people were given cards for the things where there
is some medical evidence that marijuana works. Humble said he
believes it is his role as health director to analyze the measure
and what's likely to occur if it passes.

(There would be some numbers of people, I won't call it a
handful, but maybe a few hundred people that may benefit every
year. But, in exchange, we'll be giving tens of thousands to
medical marijuana cards to people to manage their pain. And it's
not an effective pain management strategy.)

That got an argument from Andrew Myers. He's the chairman of the
campaign being funded by the national Medical Marijuana Project
to make Arizona the 15th state with this kind of law.

(Marijuana is a reasonable and effective treatment for pain,
particularly for neuropathic pain. In fact, many of the currently
existing pain medications that are prescribed for neuropathic
pain are notoriously ineffective.)

Beyond that, Myers chided Humble for saying there are recognized
medications that have been approved for pain treatment. He said
most of these are more addictive and more dangerous than
marijuana, drugs like OxyContin and other opiates.

(And what he's basically saying is he would rather have patients
taking narcotics than marijuana. And that's fine. But I think
there are many medical professionals who would disagree with him
on whether taking narcotics chronically or using marijuana
chronically is going to have a more negative impact on that
patient's long-term health.)

But Humble said narcotic drugs are just one tool that doctors
have to treat pain, with over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen on
one end and things like OxyContin on the other.

(Even things like acupuncture have been shown to be alternatives.
So there are pharmaceutical alternatives that are FDA approved,
other pain management strategies. Even biofeedback. There's
psychiatric alternatives.)

Humble said his decision to oppose the measure was all about
debunking some of the arguments by proponents and has nothing to
do with his personal feelings about marijuana. He even fessed up
to having inhaled himself as a student at Northern Arizona
University in the late 70s. For Arizona Public Radio this is
Howard Fischer.