Doctors want better marijuana for study
Jean Whitney
San Mateo County Times
January 24, 2003

Nearly two years after its launch here, doctors conducting a groundbreakingmedical marijuana study want better quality weed from the federal government.

The study leaders also want to allow more sick people to participate, but arestymied by stringent eligibility requirements.

"The study continues but it is going slowly for a variety of factors," said Dr.Dennis Israelski, director of medical research in San Mateo County and chief ofstaff at San Mateo Medical Center.

The County has waited at least six months for a response from federal agencies,officials said.

The 3-year County study seeks to discover whether marijuana "cigarettes" can besafely dispensed to HIV-AIDS and cancer patients to treat symptoms and sideeffects of disease treatment.

However, some believe the apparently low-grade marijuana used in the program --grown at the University of Mississippi by the federal government -- hasdiscouraged participants who can treat themselves with the drug through otherchannels.

And stringent physical requirements on often terminally ill patients have alsoslowed membership in the study.

The first HIV-AIDS participant, Phillip Alden, who dropped out of the studywhen he came down with bronchitis, said he would re-join if the marijuana wereof better quality.

"I certainly hope they get better quality pot," Alden said. "If they wanted meto re-enter the study, I would. I would love to see the study succeed."

Alden also said he objected to the cigarette papers that the marijuana wasrolled in, believing they contained toxins.

San Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevin, a former San Francisco policeinspector, had waged a campaign since 1997 to bring about the County's medicalmarijuana study. It was launched in April 2001 at the County's medical center.

"This is not a cannabis club we're talking about. It's a very tight, closed,secure program," Nevin said.

When the County got initial state and federal approvals in 2001 -- includingapprovals from federal law enforcement agencies under the Clintonadministration -- it was considered groundbreaking.

County officials hoped the study would not only provide relief to patients, butwould begin to bridge the gap between Proposition 215, the successful 1996state ballot measure that allowed medical marijuana, and existing laws thatcriminalize the drug.

"They need to supply us with something more meaningful for our trials," Nevinsaid. "We're losing patients."

Nevin frequently refers to personal testimony of the late Joni Commons -- theCounty's deputy director of health services -- as his inspiration for themedical marijuana study. Commons struggled with breast cancer and said shefound relief from treatment only through the use of marijuana, according tothose who knew her.

Israelski -- medical director of the study -- also sees a need for anon-smokable form of marijuana for pain relief from chronic disease.

"The County is well-positioned to lead in this effort because of theenlightened leadership here and the environment of dynamic change at San MateoMedical Center," Israelski said.

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