Should Marijuana Be Legal In Our State?

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Some are pushing for the legalization of marijuana. A new Gallup poll shows for the first time since the poll started 40 years ago, a majority of Americans favor legalizing pot.

20 states have legalized medical marijuana. For the first time ever, two states also allow recreational use: Washington and Colorado. Several groups and lawmakers are fighting to make pot legal here in North Carolina, but others say not so fast.

"If you've ever had flu, 104 degree temp or something along that line, that's how I feel all day, every day," said Tom Harper.

Harper served in the Army, is a father of two, and was self employed 20 years. But since then, he's been diagnosed with severe fibromyalgia. Harper says the aches and pains from the chronic disorder were so bad he considered suicide.

"I did consider that alternative before they started helping me. It was that serious," Harper told WITN's April Davis. "I'd set a date because every doctor would either say 'You're either here for drugs' or 'We can't help you.'"

Harper said he found relief with two strong pain-killers, but then the FDA pulled one off the market. That was when Harper said he discovered marijuana helped him manage his pain.

"It allows me to set the pain aside," said Harper. "The pain is still there, but it's easier for me to ignore. The marijuana, what that will do is add anywhere from 5-8 hours a week- the time I'm actually able to be up around, aware and doing things."

Harper's experience led him to the group the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network a few years ago. Now Harper is the president of the organization, helping others fight to legalize medical marijuana in our state.

A bill was introduced this year in our state to legalize marijuana, but it was quickly put on an unfavorable calendar meaning it won't be back up for consideration until 2015.

Representative Kelly Alexander, who was one of the bill's sponsors, said he has spoken to people across party lines who support legalizing marijuana for two reasons: personal freedom and scientific ethics. Meaning if it can help someone sick get better we need to make it accessible.

Dr. Thomas Penders, an East Carolina Psychiatrist, says there are proven medical benefits with marijuana use.

"The active ingredient, THC, is now an approved substance by the FDA," said Dr. Penders. "It's known as dronabinol and it's used for cancer chemotherapy."

Dr. Penders added there is no medical consensus about marijuana.

"Doctors are all over the block on marijuana. Some are very negative on it and some feel it's very helpful," noted Dr. Penders.

Many agree it is not fair to compare marijuana to alcohol.

"It's clear that in terms of toxicity it's nothing like alcohol. Alcohol, we know, does kill brain cells if it's used in large amounts for large periods of time," said Dr. Penders. "It's also important to point out there has never been a documented case of death from overdosing with marijuana or even use of marijuana."

One concern some health professionals cite is how pot is used.

"The American Society of Addiction Medicine has come out clearly against the use of smoked medical marijuana primarily on the basis that smoked products are not really beneficial. At the same time they realize that the active ingredient in marijuana THC and cannabidiol have potentially good benefits."

Dr. Penders also is also concerned marijuana can make mental issues worse, as well as growing use among teens. He believes more research needs to be done, but that is difficult because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

"The federal government has listed it as a Schedule I drug and the criteria for being a Schedule I drug is to have no useful medical value. So we're saying it has useful medical value, but the federal government says no it doesn't."

Harper said government control is not the answer.

"We would specifically prefer that we would be able to grow our own medicine in our own backyards," said Harper. "When the state gets involved, you get the unnecessary taxes and you start putting burdens on there that are just not necessary."

Harper said he constantly fears getting arrested and hates buying drugs from a dealer, but that he does not want to leave North Carolina. Harper said he will keep up the fight to legalize medical marijuana here.

"I've got 2 daughters already showing symptoms of fibro," said Harper. "I don't want them to have to buy this in the back alley like I have to."

Harper added the pot is expensive. He pays $350 an ounce, which lasts him about two to three weeks. But Harper added the marijuana is still less expensive than some powerful pain killers. Without insurance, one pill prescription would cost $450.