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Strong opinions about medicinal marijuana

by Nick Delgado

Guam - The discussion on the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use went on for about two hours last night at the Legislature. Aside from all the different opinions presented, it seems most at the forum agree that the decision on the issue should be left in the hands of the medical professionals. 

Forum co-chairperson Susan Boggs said, "Our school topic was chosen and it serves this purpose, medical marijuana is always controversial and definitely a resilient subject."  The theme, "Going Green in Medicine" is fueled by controversial legislation introduced by Senator Rory Respicio that would enable his Compassionate Healthcare Act of 2010 for Guam. The legislation would legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes only as well as create centers where the drug would be distributed.

The forum included a panel of experts in the medical, criminal justice and political field. But it was obvious as nearly all agreed who should take the lead on the issue. Oncologist Dr. Arnold Wax said, "Any kind of medical policy should be driven by medical science, we are the experts in what we do, we have the most literature, we know the ways to run studies devise them properly and come up with the best date available."

The event's moderator, UOG's Dr. Ron McNinch, also asked the panel to compare the addiction of alcohol and tobacco to marijuana. It was a question physician Dr. Chris Dombrowski was eager to clarify, saying, "There are soft addictions and there are hard addictions, in the 25 years that I've experienced addictionology, I've never seen one person come into rehab for an addiction for cannabis," adding, "there is something - they are self-medicating themselves for whether its boredom, anxiety, stress, tension, depression what have you, so I don't believe in recreational drug use, to me it's all medicinal."

Aside from addiction, Dr. Wax explained the negative impacts, saying, "Marijuana, alcohol can be dangerous to other people, and the last thing you need is innocent people being hurt by someone's habit."

Panel member Joey Lopez also emphasized the unfortunate possibility of children and others getting a hold of the drug and who are not authorized to use it.  "The alcohol is accessible and its too accessible to the youth, the tobacco is too accessible to our youth, you cant regulate that and now we're going to add on marijuana on top of that, I have an issue with that," he said.

"Let's face it," added registered nurse Mark Cain, "the kids are bored. I mean, they are either looking at alcohol, pregnancy, marijuana - whatever they can get their hands on."  He also expressed the need for more control.

But it is control that Dr. Thomas Shieh says is something they don't possess.  He said, "Doctors we cannot prescribe marijuana simply because it's a schedule one drug, we can recommend it but we can't prescribe it."

In the meantime, Senator Respicio stood behind the intent his legislation, saying, "What drives me to put this issue out is recognizing that here on Guam we have high instances of cancer."

While some on the panel feel legalization of marijuana would financially benefit the government, others still question if Guam is ready to take a chance in having the drug end up in the wrong hands.  "If we tighten those controls and this mechanisms and we ensure greater restriction, not necessarily restriction in access but greater restriction in terms of the general public accessing it then I think that would be the right direction to take," noted Senator Frank Aguon, Jr.

Aguon, who chairs the Legislative Committee on Health, says he has witnessed a good number of people interested in this issue. He adds that he will be working with Senator Respicio to the make necessary amendments before it makes it onto session floor.

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