|Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin: “Politicians should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they need”
Just weeks after a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Maryland failed last spring, the state senator who sponsored the legislation — Jamie B. Raskin of Montgomery County — found himself with a very personal perspective on the issue.
His doctor told him he had a “worrisome” mass the size of a golf ball in his colon. Raskin, 48, learned four days later he had cancer, reports Ann E. Marimow at The Washington Post.
“Public health is now personal for me,” Raskin said. “I know what it means for people to be living on the absolute edge of hope and despair, and politicians should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they need.”
Raskin, a Democrat, will be a leading voice on several issues during the legislative session, according to the Post, but when he talks about medical marijuana he’ll add a compelling personal story to the debate over whether Maryland should join 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing cannabis for medicinal use.
Raskin said he didn’t consider medical marijuana during his chemotherapy because of a family history of asthma and cystic fibrosis. But he insists that he and his fellow legislators should work “to relieve suffering.” Medical marijuana, according to proponents and patients, can ease pain and nausea and stimulate appetite for those suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
“When you get something like this, you spend most of your time thinking of your kids,” said Raskin, who has children ages 13, 15 and 18. “I want to be there to see my grandchildren get married one day.
Last session, Raskin joined with Republican Sen. David R. Brinkley of Frederick, a two-time cancer survivor, to successfully guide the bill through the state Senate with bipartisan support. The bill did not come up for a vote in the House in part because of concerns among timid “leaders” about the political implications of supporting pot in an election year — never mind the fact that a majority of Marylanders support medical marijuana.
In a May 2000 poll by the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, state voters were asked “Should physicians be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use?” Almost three-quarters of those polled — 73 percent — said “yes” to that question.
Three days after the September primary, Raskin underwent six hours of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to remove part of his colon. When he awoke, he was told the surgery was a “total success.”
After surgery, Raskin’s doctor recommended a final round of chemotherapy. Every other weekend through the end of this legislative session, Raskin will spend 48 hours hooked into a pump.
“I’ve survived the disease. Now I’m just trying to survive the cure,” Raskin said. “I only have a couple more months to go.”
Broad Support In Senate
|Maryland House of Delegates
|Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, M.D.: “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for patients to have access to the medicines that work best for them”
There is broad bipartisan support in the Senate to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, where the bill passed last year on a 35 to 12 vote. The path is less certain, however, in the House of Delegates.
Written by Delegate Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) — who is a doctor — the bill would allow the production and distribution of medical marijuana to seriously ill patients who receive a recommendation from a doctor. Morhaim said the bill is narrowly written to ensure a highly regulated system.
A key obstacle is the Judiciary Committee, headed by Del. Joseph F. Vallaria Jr. The Prince George’s attorney said he has “a lot of sympathy for those people who would like to experiment with medical marijuana” but that he still has reservations about the bill because of its conflict with federal law.
“How do you manufacture a product that is illegal?” said Vallario, a Democrat. “I’m looking for the federal government to do something.”
In the meantime, seriously ill patients continue to suffer in Maryland. Oh, and Del. Vallaria? These patients don’t want to “experiment” with anything. They just want some relief.
“I believe Chairman Vallario thinks government has got to serve the common good,” said Raskin, who remains optimistic about the bill’s prospects in the House. “We just need him to watch the testimony of people for whom medical marijuana is an absolute lifeline.
“I think we will move him,” Raskin said.