11/16/14 Bill Martin

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

James A.Baker III Conf.: "Is Texas Ready for Medical Marijuana?" Featuring William Martin, Ph.D., Director, Drug Policy Program, Baker Institute, Leslie Grady McAhren, Executive Director CG Corrigan, Amy Lou Fawell, President, Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana For Autism (MAMMA, Catharine A. Neill, Ph.D., Fellow in Drug Policy, Baker Institute, Vincent Lopez, Founder, Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics

Audio file



DEAN BECKER: A Houston music icon has passed away. He was a genuine blues and rock pioneer, Houston's own Little Joe Washington is gone but not forgotten.

DEAN BECKER: Gonna miss you Little Joe, thank you for all the great years of entertainment. We've got a great show lined up for you, by the way this is the Cultural Baggage show, this is Dean Becker. Today we're going to hear from a conference that was held at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy. First up, we'll hear from the Director of the Drug Forum there at the Baker Institute, my boss, Professor William Martin.

WILLIAM MARTIN: Efforts to change the laws regarding cannabis fall into three broad categories: Decriminalization, legalization for recreational use, and legal production/dispensing and use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, commonly known as medical marijuana. Decriminalization can include such measures as reducing the status of possession from a felony to a misdemeanor or to a violation comparable to a traffic ticket with corresponding reduction in penalties. Over the past 40 years Texas for example has reduced simple possession of small amounts from a felony that could result in a 10-year prison sentence to a class B misdemeanor that has a maximum of 180 days in jail.

Other states have decriminalized in other ways. Decriminalization is a significant advance over policies based on prohibition and punishment but as long as cultivation and sale remain illegal, criminals decide whom and what to sell – to whom and what to sell, and get to they keep the money. Using cannabis for therapeutic reasons has enjoyed far greater approval. Twenty three states and the District of Columbia have some system of medical marijuana. A ballot measure in Florida last week failed to get 60 percent of the needed vote, or 60 percent of the vote that was needed to pass, but it got 58 percent, which was more than the winning candidate for governor.

In a poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune earlier this year, 77 percent of respondents were open to some form of legal access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It is likely that the Texas legislature will be asked to consider bills in all three of these categories: decriminalization, recreational use, and medical use. But is Texas really ready for legal medical marijuana? That's the question we're here to consider tonight.

Our program will provide eight perspectives on this issue, including a grower and a dispenser in a legal system, New Mexico; a physician, an academic analyst, a veteran legislator, a movement advocate coordinator, and three speakers whose interest in the issue is deeper than political, economic, scientific and analytical concerns. For them, access to legal therapeutic cannabis is a matter of vital personal importance to their lives, even a matter of life and death.

DEAN BECKER: During this time of eternal war, I find it my sombre duty to report the death toll from the drug formerly known as marijuana is zero.

WILLIAM MARTIN: Our first speaker to keynote this event is Leslie Grady McAhren. She was among the first people licensed to grow and dispense therapeutic cannabis in New Mexico. She has set out with a conscious intent to one of the leading experts on therapeutic cannabis int eh world. As the program notes, she is now teaching accredited continuing medical education courses for physicians. Leslie's going to talk to us about the current state of therapeutic cannabis in the United States.

LESLIE GRADY MCAHREN: Good evening, everyone. I've just come in this evening to speak about some very tiny subjects, little ideas like health, safety, and freedom when it comes to cannabis – all extremely manageable and small. The notion here is that we're really at the intersection of policy and medicine, so I want you to think about this all really with, uh, with two ideas in mind, two conceptual perspectives.

So, the first is harm reduction. It's really about doing as much good and as little harm as possible at every turn, kind of like visiting a national forest, I describe it. Harm reduction's really about having strategies that reduce negative consequences associated with drug use. So it's where actual medicine meets the law.

The other thing, because we're at an academic institution I think it's interesting to have a lens on who's attracted to drug policy and what's interesting to these people. So, harm reduction itself I think is a very cool idea, everybody in medical cannabis should be familiar with it. In this case, it's really drug policy/public health. You can't make moves on drug policy without thinking how it will impact everyone, and literally everyone, from the unborn child to the hospice patient on their deathbed.

The classic example of harm reduction for those who may not be familiar is the idea of needle exchange. It's where you would get a clean needle if you're a drug user, an IV drug user, and that would prevent both injury to your own body but also the transmission of something like hepatitis C or AIDS. So really thinking about containing a problem, not merely fighting it, per se.

WILLIAM MARTIN: Amy Fawell's commitment to making therapeutic cannabis legally available arises from what I think is fair to call a desperate need to respond to issues related to her son's autism. She and her good friend Thalia Michelle, an active conservative Republican, co-founded Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism – MAMMA – what a great acronym. I've been privileged to spend time with Amy Lou and Thalia, to hear their stories and to learn from them about their conviction that cannabis can change their sons' and their families' lives, and to be inspired by their indomitable determination to make that possible. Welcome Amy Lou Fawell.

AMY LOU FAWELL: I'm going to cry. Just telling you, right now.

As an advocate for medical marijuana, I have met and talked to patients and caregivers across the state of Texas. I'd like to tell you a story about a Texas mother and her son Max, not his real name. Max's mom became a felon the moment she transported cannabis across state lines. She continues her criminal activity by giving it twice-daily to her 19-year-old severely autistic son. Max is self-injurious, aggressive towards others, and suffers from grand mal seizures.

At age 9 he started banging his head with his arm, against tabletops, and through walls. It got worse. In one incident a few years ago, he got so angry in a parking lot that he banged his head against their car windshield until it shattered. At age 17, Max started having grand mal seizures. Mom tried many drugs to stop them. Certain drugs did work but the main side effect was aggression. Max missed most of his senior year because of his severe behaviors, and his mother spent most of his senior year locked in her bedroom to protect herself from her son.

As his primary caretaker she was also his main victim. She has had handfuls of her hair pulled out, been gouged by his fingernails, beaten until bleeding, deep wounds that took weeks to heal. She has scars the size of Max's open mouth along her jawline on both sides.

The final drug they tried this past summer is called Vimpat. While on Vimpat the violence escalated to beyond the pale. One evening, Max pushed his mother to the ground and jumped on her repeatedly. She thought she was going to die. She couldn't call the police for help because she was afraid they would take him away from her, because despite everything she wanted to take care of her son. After these episodes she would literally have to hold Max and reassure him that he was loved and forgiven so that he wouldn't try to kill himself with more headbanging.

He was filled with remorse and self-hate for who he was and what he did to his mother. Desperate, she tried medical marijuana in the form of transdermal patches derived from whole-plant cannabis. It has been nothing short of a miracle. She started using them on a typical morning. Max was angry and pacing so she applied a THC patch and quickly went to lock herself in her room. After 30 minutes she didn't hear anything so she went to check on him. He was in his room, sitting on his bed, calm and smiling. Sincee that day over two months ago, he has not had one aggression. The headbanging has also stopped. The anxiety and OCD that fueled these outbursts is almost gone.

To control his seizures she added a CBD patch and she continues to tweak the ratios, right now they're about 1:1. CBD-only patches did not help with behaviors, and THC-only patches did not control seizures. As a result of medical marijuana, Max and his mother are able to leave the house, to talk walks, go to church, and run errands. The quality of their lives has greatly improved. She now admits that before medical marijuana she couldn't really handle Max, but with it she can take care of her son.

Max is nonverbal but he can communicate by independently typing on a keyboard and here's what he has to say: “I'm so pleased with my new marijuana patches. Got new life now. Already thinking about the future. I feel really good. God is watching out for me.”

Surely in Max's case, breaking the law is necessary to prevent a harm worse than the one the law is aimed at preventing. Legally speaking it's what you call a necessity defense. What's criminal is to withhold this god-given plant from children who are sick, suffering and dying.

Max is not alone. One point two children – 1.2 million children have autism in the United States, and 53 percent of these children exhibit violent behaviors. It's epidemic, we don't know what causes it, we don't know how to fix it, and we don't know how to keep it from happening to the next child. Since 1970, autism rates have risen over 14,000 percent. If you haven't been personally effected by autism, you will be. It used to be one in 10,000, and now it's one in 68 children, or one in 47 boys, and that doesn't even count kids that are under 4 because these CDC statistics are from 2010.

However, despite the fact that 23 states have medical marijuana laws, not one of them has autism as a qualifying condition. The question is not, is, the question is why not cannabis for autism, and sadly the answer is because we don't have the research. I say it's time for the research to be done. For two reasons, we have overwhelming anecdotal proof of children making global improvements on cannabis. That's what epilepsy started with, anecdotal reports. And secondly, science is on our side.

Anecdotally, MAMMA gets reports from around the country of children with better socialization, improved language skills, cognitive gains, reduced anxiety which leads to improved behaviors, and reduced seizure activities for the one-third of children with autism who also suffer from seizures.

Science is on our side because autism is medical and cannabis is medicine. Underlying issues of autism include inflammation, oxidative stress, auto-immunity, and a myriad of GI Disorders. Cannabis is an anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxidant, it regulates the immune system, and qualified conditions in many legal states allow for various GI diseases such as crohn's, colitis, nausea, and wasting disease.

What other medicine is out there that has the potential to safely treat behavioral symptoms and address the underlying issues of autism as well? Instead, to control behaviors, autistic children are commonly put on anti-psychotics such as Risperdal, Abilify, and Seroquel, at early ages and kept on them for years.

Does this TV commercial for Abilify sound familiar? Call your doctor if your depression worsens or you have unusual changes in behavior or thoughts of suicide or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements as these could become permanent. High blood sugar has been reported with Abilify and medicines like it and in extreme cases could lead to coma or death. Other risks include increased cholesterol, weight gain, decreases in white blood cells which can be serious, dizziness on standing, seizures, seizures, trouble swallowing and impaired judgment or motor skills. Yet they won't give kids cannabis.

My husband and I did everything we were supposed to for my son. Told you. Early diagnosis, that's what they tell you to do, get early diagnosis, intense behavioral, dietary and biomedical interventions for his entire life. But my Jack is pretty much the same kid he was at age two, except now at age 15 his teachers are afraid of him. I'm not saying that medical marijuana will help every child with autism or even my son. I wonder what Jack would be today if 10 years ago we could have tried it? I wonder what he will be in 10 more years if we can't?

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”! Thirst, obesity, high fever, rigid muscles, shaking, convulsions, sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, uncontrollable movements, tardive kinesis, stroke, diabetes, coma, and death. Time's up! The answer, from Bristol-Meyers Squibb: Aripiprazole, or Abilify, for psychosis and schizophrenia. Probably for use after you smoke some of that high-grade marijuana the government keeps talking about.

WILLIAM MARTIN: Now I want to introduce to you Dr. Catherine Neill, the Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute.

CATHERINE NEILL: I'm going to be talking to you guys a little bit about how other states have been able to get medical marijuana legalized and what some effective tactics may be for Texans to try to get their legislature to legalize medical marijuana. I believe that it's only a matter of time before all 50 states do legalize, however we would like to see this process pick up the pace a little bit, and so we're trying to look at ways to do that.

If you look at some of the other states so far that have legalized medical marijuana, a lot of them are traditionally liberal or libertarian states so you think of places like Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and places like that. The current climate right now is very good for medical marijuana, there's a lot of momentum behind the issue. Part of this has to do with evolving views among the public and growing acceptance that marijuana really can be good medicine. And some of this is coming from the increasing data on medical benefits, we're seeing more and more studies come out every day, some of the ones were mentioned, attest to the ways that medical marijuana can be helpful and can help with ailments in ways that other things like opioids can't do.

Another kind of side issue to this is that people are really getting tired of the war on drugs. One side effect of the war on drugs is that we've collected lots and lots of data on it, and we've been able to see a lot of evidence that shows that the war on drug has created a lot of violence and its been ineffective at reducing supply or demand, not only of marijuana but other drugs as well. And so right now I think that a lot of the public is getting kind of tired of fighting this war, spending a lot of money on it, and that tiredness carries over to support for things like marijuana and medical marijuana as well, as a sort of first step towards further legalization.

DEAN BECKER: Opening up a can of worms and going fishing for truth, this is the Drug Truth Network. Drug Truth dot Net.

WILLIAM MARTIN: Vincent Lopez is rapidly becoming a legendary figure in the movement to allow those who need it to have legal access to cannabis. As your program notes, Vincent has dealt with muscular dystrophy for most of his life. Cannabis has not cured him, but regular use has made his life better, as he will tell you. Last year he founded the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics to provide a safe place for medical cannabis patients to share their experiences. Vincent is a writer, a publisher, a tireless advocate, and to many a true hero.

VINCENT LOPEZ: The question comes down to, is Texas ready for medical marijuana? As Texans I believe we've been ready for quite some time. We would have passed years ago, but with no open ballot initiative we are bound to a different set of legislative processes. But we know who we need to educate, who we need to be talking to, and the conversation that needs to be happening. We know the voice of patients and we shall be silent no more.

It's hard not to turn away from the fact that one day, my own physical mobility will cease to exist and that I will not be able to self-medicate. This in turn would fall onto my caregiver, which happens to be my mother. Therefore she needs to have protection, and I fight to see that she has it. It's never good living in fear, for fear is a sickness that can keep us from facing reality, that can inhibit us from looking beyond ourselves, that can blind us of our own true courage. In stepping out of the cannabis closet, I had always been familiar with the feelings of fear and intimidation, but nothing compared to the weight I was carrying by not coming out, by not saying anything, by living life in secret.

No longer could I live in silence knowing I had an answer in cannabis for the painful muscle spasms, the stiffness an contortion I endure, the loss of appetite and sleep. If there's an answer in cannabis then I shall not stay silent. This is my body and how I choose to alleviate the pains of my body is solely up to me. When it comes to the rights of medical cannabis patients in Texas, it is imperative that we do not make the previous mistakes made by other states. It is imperative that we secure our right and freedom of choice to medicate as we choose with what we choose.

Too many rely on what our, rely on what our own physicians tell us over our own minds and perceptions. But let's remember that there is no better moderator of our bodies than ourselves. We need to stay focused to the sole objective that not only fuels our purpose but also fuels the trial and truth that we all embody.

War is a malignant disease and idiocy a prison, and the pain it causes is beyond telling or meaning. And being a patient of Becker muscular dystrophy, a deteriorating muscle disease, I know firsthand about the consumption of disease and disability and the longterm detrimental effects it can have on the mind and on the spirit. It's a battle within itself, contending with a terminal disease, a dragon that will never leave your side, that will always be a part of you.

This kind of trial can be a whisper in the ear, reminding you of your difficulty and all that you should fear. That your only purpose in life is to simply wait to die. If you can relate then you know the darkness of the dragon that lurks within, and though these dragons may consume our bodies you also know the bravery and courage embedded in us, to keep fighting back harder than ever before. I simply say that there is no man, or no law greater than the eternal confrontation that what we're having to endure.

What can any man or law do to me that this affliction hasn't done to me already? And while for some there's a cure, there are others where there is no turning back, where there are no irreversible changes to be had. Let's understand that cannabis is a not a cure for my condition, but an alleviator of my own choice. There's not much more I can do to stop the continual progression of this disease. My muscles will continue to deteriorate, my mobility will continue to suffer, and my pain will continue to increase.

It's in accepting this fact where I am awakened and inspired to the bigger picture and responsibility that extend beyond my own life and onto future generations to come. When I first got involved I was only seeking the legality of a medicine that had become significantly, significantly beneficial for me in regard to the symptoms of Becker muscular dystrophy. Unaware I was of what more my eyes and heart would see, not just within myself but within many others.

Let it be known that the canons of truth are upon you, when a child is suffering with disease and/or disability, in seeing the system that is waiting for them, in seeing the amount of distrust the bureaucratic process can bring onto an already difficult, painful, and desperate situation. The canons of truth are upon you when families are jumping onto the Texas exodus to Colorado, having no other alternative due to the illegality of medical cannabis here in Texas. The canons of truth are upon you when a child is incapable of even having a voice, or the ability of full-on expression.

The canons of truth are upon you when the medicinal properties of cannabis can bring a child out of that darkness, out of that epileptic, catatonic state. There is no greater inspiration than looking into the eyes of a child. It invokes an irreplaceable feeling that truly reminds us all of the sacrifice we must all make for them. I gladly give my life four times over to be the voice for them. No real legalization can exist unless it protects the rights of all, therefore we need to keep with the knowledge that each word of what we express has its own power, time, and place.

We must have an awareness of our own strengths and weakness and understanding of the process of legislation. And we must always seek a higher aim than just momentary satisfaction. Keep in mind that our actions of today greatly effect the outcomes of tomorrow. We cannot ascend beyond the entrapment and binding clutches of isolation, desolation and fear if we allow the repercussions they inflict on us. It's about facing that dragon eye to eye and conquering the ultimate chess game from within. Not about turning away out of fear or denial. It's about becoming something you thought you never could be and taking to heart that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

It's how we wield our inner strength that enables us to confront our demons so courageously and without fear. Let me say: if Jesus were here today he wouldn't sway and neither should we. Go to the ones who've been separated from their families due to this ridiculous drug war, go to the ones who've been forgotten, neglected, abused, and misunderstood, go to the ones tormented lost and left behind, go to the ones consciously unaware of their true potential and the knowledge and nature's medicinal truth.

How much longer shall we suffer these injustices? The death of our liberties, the wretchedness and consumption of disease? How much longer shall we allow these mighty mountains of desperation to exist, and suffer the depravities of our own mental silence? We win this journey by being that book of knowledge, by being that magician, and by being that machine. And really, by simply making ourselves immortal. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I hope you've enjoyed this listen to the recent conference at the James A Baker III Institute for Policy Studies at Rice University. The whole hour and fifty five minutes is out there on their website, bakerinstitute dot org slash videos. Folks, it's time to end this drug war and as always I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful!

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggae and the Unvarnished Truth. Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.