Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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NU hosts panel to discuss legalization of medical marijuana

In her more than 20-year struggle with multiple sclerosis, Julie Falco had problems with every treatment she tried.

“Everything I took, valium, anti-depressants, had side effects,” the Chicago resident said. “It made me feel worse. I forgot what the disease was supposed to feel like.”

Seated in her wheelchair, she opened a small plastic container and took out the one treatment she claimed had helped – marijuana, baked into a small brownie.

Falco explained her situation to about 50 students and area residents at a panel discussion and documentary showing on medical marijuana held Wednesday night at Fisk Hall.

“Everything that I was taking, five or six drugs simultaneously, I’m off all of them now,” she said. “Just cannabis, and maybe a little Tylenol with Codeine.”

The panel consisted of Falco, University of Chicago medical ethicist and internist Bruce Doblinand documentary filmmaker Jed Riffe. Hosted by the Northwestern chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the event began with a showing of Riffe’s film “Waiting to Inhale.”

The documentary, which was directed and produced by Riffe, charted the debate over medical marijuana, including Drug Enforcement Agency raids on small nonprofit growers and the federal policy that keeps marijuana a Schedule One substance considered to have no medicinal value.

Both Doblin and Falco said they support bills to legalize medical marijuana in Illinois. Last year’s bill was voted down in the State Senate by a narrow margin.

“Even if Illinois passes the legislation, the federal policy remains the same,” Doblin said. “Our hope is that (if) enough states go this route, it will make Washington change its mind.”

Sources in the documentary and Falco claim marijuana treats a host of symptoms associated with serious illnesses, from reducing MS patients’ pain to reducing nausea felt by AIDS patients and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Since beginning to take marijuana to treat her MS symptoms, Falco said she became a member of the Illinois chapter of NORML and Illinois Drug Education and Legislation, or IDEAL.

The medical applications of marijuana and the penalties of state law create a conflict for doctors, Doblin said.

“It puts me in an incredibly awkward position,” he said. “I see patients who I think this could help. (Agencies) still deny it has any medical properties, and that’s just absurd.”

Outside the auditorium, NORML and SSDP members passed out marijuana leaf buttons and pamphlets and took down audience members’ names and contact information.

Taylor Kirch, a member of NORML and SSDP and a Weinberg sophomore, said the documentary and panel cast the debate in human terms, rather than just laws and statistics. The documentary featured accounts by sick and dying patients who view medical marijuana as their best option, including some who have been threatened with prosecution.

Falco said the documentary reminds her of a wider community of the sick who still need medical marijuana.

“It makes me cry every time,” she said. “Those are my stories too. It is like any medication. I finally found something that helps me and it’s illegal. That’s insane.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
NU hosts panel to discuss legalization of medical marijuana