Petitions urge expanding medical pot conditions
Kim Kozlowski/ The Detroit News
Feeling anxious? Struggling with insomnia? Battling migraine headaches?
Medical marijuana could be the prescription for those ailments and more, according to more than 100 people who have petitioned state officials to add more conditions now allowed under Michigan’s cannabis law.
The petitions’ requests include ailments ranging from Parkinson’s disease, depression and anorexia to less serious health issues such as sore backs, feet problems and water fears.
Martin Chilcutt, a Navy veteran whose planes were shot at during the Korean War, submitted a petition to include post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition he’s lived with for nearly 50 years.
“Anything that will help the disabled veterans who are going through painful experiences should be available to us,” said Chilcutt, 76.
But not one of the petitions submitted to state officials since April 2009 have been acted upon, which irks supporters who are working to expand the law for those who need it.
Since voters passed a law in 2008 allowing for medical marijuana use, lawmakers have proposed scores of bills while police, prosecutors and judges have made arrests, conducted raids and issued major court opinions in an attempt to clarify what is widely regarded as a vague law.
Proponents say it’s ironic so many resources are being used in an attempt to clarify the law but nothing is being done to address a very clear section requiring officials to approve or deny petitions that have been sitting around for years.
“It’s unforgivable,” said Matthew Abel, an attorney who represents many medical marijuana cases.
“We can throw all kind of law enforcement at persecuting people who have some alleged technical violation of the law, but when there is something this clear it’s beyond the pale that the government doesn’t comply with something that is not a gray area. This is not gray area.”
The law requires a commission to be appointed, and for it to hold hearings on the petitions within 180 days and make a decision, but Abel notes that the panel hasn’t even been convened. He’s considering a lawsuit to get the state to respond.
Others think the lack of response is a conspiracy at all levels of government to undermine the intention of Michigan voters.
“The Legislature and the governor and particularly the attorney general are totally opposed to the medical marijuana law,” said Chilcutt, who has called state officials to find out why his petition has not been acted upon. “They are ideologically opposed to it. They have this irrational fear to it. I just don’t understand it.”
Officials say they have not acted on any of the petitions because of a lack of resources and are working on the 500-600 medical marijuana applications they get daily.
“We really haven’t done anything with them yet because the resources that would normally be handling those petitions are really needed to process apps,” said Rae Ramsdell, acting director of the state Bureau of Health Professions.
Patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV, ALS, Alzheimer’s agitation, pain and more can apply for a medical marijuana card, which are possessed by nearly 100,000 Michigan residents.
Some residents have had to go to court to get permission to use medical marijuana for conditions not covered by the law, such as Daniel Willett.
Fighting sleepless nights
The Millington resident received permission from a judge to use medical marijuana to help him sleep. This, he said, helps him avoid the vivid dreams that still occur three decades after serving in the Vietnam War as a medic, helping identify body parts of servicemen who were killed.
“When I smoke marijuana, I relax and can sleep. I don’t remember any of my dreams, so that’s good,” Willett said. “It’s been very advantageous.”
But rather than go to a judge, many have decided to lobby state officials to add medical conditions.
Over the past three years, the state has received 124 petitions to expand the list of conditions, most of them for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some petitioners included notes about why the condition should be included in the law.
“My body refuses to go to sleep,” wrote one petitioner in 2009, seeking to get insomnia added to the state’s 10 allowable conditions. “Cannabis helps me to sleep and cope with this illness. Please add insomnia to the list. … I’ve tried several medicines from my doctor that make me ill and my heart race.”
Another petitioner seeking to get depression added wrote: “Marijuana makes you feel happy, filled with laughter and joy.” .
Most of the petitions were submitted the first year after the medical marijuana law was passed, and none were submitted by an organization advocating for people with the diseases.
Some petitions included newspaper or Internet articles or summaries of studies published in scholarly journals.
One petition for anxiety included an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience about a study by Dr. K. Luan Phan, an associate professor of psychiatry at University of Michigan.
His 2008 study, which was conducted while he was at the University of Chicago, looked at healthy patients who were given a drug, dronabinol, that has the active ingredient in medical marijuana. It concluded that the amygdala, an area of the brain that processes emotional reactions such as anxiety, was calmer after the drug.
Although the study showed the brain’s response, it did not measure clinical anxiety.
Data not ready yet
Phan said that there are studies under way examining the effects of the active ingredient in marijuana to help ease anxiety. However, he said he would not promote marijuana as a treatment at this time.
“At the moment, with the existing data, I would not endorse the use of this illicit substance in the treatment of anxiety disorders because there is no data for or against it,” Phan said. “Most scientists at major medical centers who look at the weight of the evidence will conclude there is no empirical evidence that marijuana, marijuana-like compounds or cannabinoid-like compounds are an effective treatment for anxiety disorders.”
But some say marijuana is the only thing that works.
“I hate taking pills, they are so addictive,” wrote a petitioner seeking to get anxiety added. “Please help me!”