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Cancer Changes Lawmaker's Mind on Drug

Discussion in 'Medical Marijuana Usage and Applications' started by Superjoint, Jan 4, 2004.

  1. By Steven Walters
    Source: Journal Sentinel

    Madison -- After doctors removed his cancerous prostate, Gregg Underheim was frozen by uncertainty: Had the cancer spread? Would he need chemotherapy and, if so, would the treatment itself make him miserably ill?
    Underheim, chairman of the Assembly's Health Committee and a Republican, began thinking of others who had waged brave and painful battles with cancer. Some, like his father, had lost the fight.

    He also engaged in an internal debate about whether those suffering from cancer should be allowed to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, to cope with the pain of the cancer and the nausea often caused by the treatment.

    That consideration alone was a major shift for a legislator who in the late 1990s was quoted in High Times magazine opposing the legalization of marijuana.

    In the end, he decided to buck his party's leadership and introduce a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical reasons.

    "Certainly, having gone through what I went through makes you think about things differently. That affected my decision on this," said Underheim, of Oshkosh.

    "I bumped into a couple of people - going through my episode - of people who had chemo. We sort of talked about things, and how violently ill people got, how miserable life was for a period of time."

    His father, then him

    His own father had died of colon cancer in 1986, although he had fought it with a strict diet and alternative medicines.

    Years later, Underheim, 53, himself showed signs of cancer. He tried to ward off the disease by eating gardens of vegetables, losing weight and drinking gallons of green tea.

    Eventually, however, biopsies confirmed doctors' suspicions and he underwent surgery in June 2002. He then waited several agonizing days for test results, which provided good news.

    The cancer had not spread.

    "That was a day of great relief, but you think about things like that while you're waiting to hear what the outcome was," he said. "You're wondering about chemotherapy, that kind of stuff."

    Those months of emotional churning and internal debate prompted him to change his mind about the medicinal value of marijuana.

    "If you do the chemo, for a period of time you really feel miserable," he said. "Then, just as you're getting better, it's time to do another chemo. I've talked to a couple of doctors who say it's worthy, certainly, of looking at."

    Stiff opposition

    Underheim knows his bill faces tough sledding, particularly among his fellow Republicans, who control the Legislature and wish the measure had again been floated by a Democrat.

    Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) said Underheim's bill has "got a big mountain to climb - I think he understands that the odds are stacked against him."

    Told that Underheim plans a public hearing on his bill this year, Gard said, "It's a free country."

    Underheim knows the election-year political reality, so he has a fallback position he could accept: a compromise that would result in thorough research of the medicinal value of marijuana.

    But he said that it could cost up to $2 million for an institution like the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics to do such a study - money state government doesn't now have. Hospital officials declined to comment on the issue, saying they had not seen a final copy of Underheim's bill.

    But Paul Wertsch, president of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said his organization supports research on the potential medical use of marijuana - if those who participate don't have to smoke it.

    The medical society "supports research into whether smoked marijuana may be therapeutic for certain patients, but marijuana should not be generally used until scientific evidence is available regarding its safety and efficacy," Wertsch said.

    "Research should be directed toward developing a smoke-free, inhaled delivery system for marijuana to cut the health risks related to the combustion and inhalation of the drug."

    Public open-minded

    Underheim said he doesn't believe the average citizen would object to his bill.

    "I think the public is much more comfortable with this than policy-makers are right now," he said.

    Having seen his father take alternative medicines, and using a strict diet himself to combat cancer, Underheim is willing to endure any soft-on-drugs political flak.

    "Medical marijuana falls into that category of stuff that's 'alternative' in its approach right now," he said.

    No, Underheim said, he didn't smoke marijuana after his prostate surgery. And he won't say whether he ever has.

    "This really isn't about my past personal habits," he said. "This is really about a public policy question . . . . I was young so, so long ago.

    Underheim conceded that there are unresolved issues associated with his bill - particularly the question of how to distribute marijuana to the critically ill.

    "If you're going to do this - if you're going to legalize - you've got to make sure that the opportunities for abuse, and recreational use, are not enhanced by people using it for medical purposes," he said.

    His bill specifies "if you have (marijuana) legally, you cannot provide it to anyone else - even someone with a medical problem," he said.

    "We specify also that, if you have a prescription and you provide, you lose the prescription. You are no longer able to have the drug provided to you. We're trying to be very, very serious about making certain that the people don't misuse (marijuana), and this is truly a medical question."

    Even the terms used in the public debate over his bill are important, he said. That's why when quizzed about the measure while on a UW-Oshkosh student radio program, he objected to the term "munchies."

    "If you're serious about this bill, you can't use the language of the drug culture to talk about this in medical terms," he said. "That's the fastest way to undermine serious interest in it as a medical question."

    Note: Illness leads Underheim to introduce bill for use of medical marijuana.

    Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
    Author: Steven Walters
    Published: January 1, 2004
    Copyright: 2004 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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    Is My Medicine Legal Yet?
  2. I hate to hear of anyone getting Cancer,


    It just kills me when someone like this, who has used his power to help keep this medicine illegal, now feels justified to use it. I hate to say it, but if this Underheim dude was in a position of power, in my area, I'd probably try to do what I can to get him out. I know thats biting off my nose to spite my face but, To me, about the only thing worse than a snitch, is a hypocrite. Speak out about it, denounce it's benefits, help keep it illegal, then when you need it, it some how is supposed to be OK? I know I'm wrong feeling this way, but I can't help it. I just get the feeling that this dude feels he is better than the general public.

    Oh yeah, Mr. Underheim, I bet is was just a softening of your heart that suddenly changed your mind on med. mar. You got to watch your dad die of Cancer, and you only took close to twenty years, to realise that Marijuanna might be beneficial to chemo patients?............ If you ask me, the dude is just worried about the Cancer returning.

    Sorry I got off on this, like I did. I know I'm wrong, but this is just how I'm feeling.

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