Ted Simons: State Representative John Kavanagh wants to give voters a chance to repeal Arizona’s medical marijuana law which was approved in 2010. The measure would send the issue back to voters in 2014. Here to talk about it is Representative John Kavanagh and here to talk against the measure is Ryan Hurley of the Rose Law group. Good to have you here.
Ted Simons: Why should this be repealed?
Rep. John Kavanagh: Let me begin by saying I do not tread lightly into having the voters reconsider something which they passed. But this is an unusual situation. For two reasons.: first, what the voters wound up getting is far different from what they were told they would get if they passed this medical marijuana initiative. And in addition, it passed by the thinnest of margins. 423 -- 4200 votes statewide. The voters were led to believe that this would be a humanitarian medical program with a wide array of people with conditions. If you look at the ballot it list add whole array including pain admittedly, but when the dust settled, 90% of the patients have pain. Less than 1% have a glaucoma. Only 1.5% have cancer. Pain is easily fudged. Hard to disprove. If this were a medical program you would expect a balance in age and gender. Over half of the people are under 40. That should be the reverse. They should be older. There's more pain. It's almost all males. The last startling fact was when another agency did a survey of where children who use marijuana illegally get it, 11% were getting it from medical marijuana cardholders. The program just started.
Ted Simons: With all that in mind, why not let voters reconsider?
Ryan Hurley: Well, the voters have spoken on this three times over the past decade. I don't think they need a fourth time. The law and the measure was very clear about including chronic pain. It's a very real thing that a lot of people suffer from. The academy of pain doctors estimate that over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. That's nearly a third of the population. I got into this specifically because of patients. There are patients that are suffering. A conversation with a patient that had M.S., watched as he was unable to have a conversation because of severe pain and muscle spasms. He used his medication and he was able to have a 45-minute interview and conversation. During that interview he told us without this medication he would probably end his own life. That's why I got into this. That's why voters of Arizona passed this.
Rep. John Kavanagh: Again, the margin this last time was razor thin and what transpired since is totally different than what they expected. Let's not forget that no mainstream medical organization, neither the FDA, has approved medical marijuana for treatment of any of these conditions.
Ted Simons: Do you believe that someone can get relief, pain relief, relief from glaucoma, cancer, whatever, relief from marijuana?
Rep. John Kavanagh: Undoubtedly you can get it from heroin also, from anything that dulls pain or sedates you. We have a procedure in this country where you have to have clinical trials and prove not only did it do what it does but it's not harmful. That's not the case with marijuana. The American medical association says it's dangerous and it should be illegal and the only concession they make is they are open to more studies as I am, but until studies show that it works for what the conditions are, how can you let anybody prescribe it
Ryan Hurley: I would like to read something directly from a 2009 AMA report. It says results of short term controlled trials indicate smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite especially in patients with reduced muscle mass and may relive pain in patients with Muscular Sclerosis. That's one recognized medical benefit they have seen. They have called on the federal government to relax their standards so that research can be conducted. I think there's interesting precedent in Arizona, recent precedent, when the federal government doesn't do something they are supposed do we do it for them to protect the citizens of Arizona.
Rep. John Kavanagh: Clearly this subcommittee clearly identified yes, marijuana does work on pain and does relieve nausea. No one denies that. So does heroin. The question is should it be a prescriptive drug? There are better, safer things you don't do that. If I can quote that report, what they concluded was even though we're suggesting more studies, not the actual use of marijuana, they said this should not be viewed as an endorsement of state based medical cannabis programs, legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use meets the current standards of a prescription drug product. They are saying is, “it might help some people in some conditions,” but they are clearly stating there's no proof of that and until there is they are maintaining their position that it's dangerous and should be illegal.
Ryan Hurley: I think take that's an important point. The AMA will not make an official endorsement because the federal government will not allow the research required to prove the clinical trials we need. We're in a perfect catch 22. The only reason any of this evidence has come out is due to state marijuana programs.
Rep. John Kavanagh: Real quick, the AMA has not stood on the sidelines and refused to say this is okay. The AMA has said it's dangerous, it should be illegal and there are no studies that suggest that it should be used as medicine.
Ted Simons: As far as the law is concerned it's just been implemented. Why not give it a chance?
Rep. John Kavanagh: Because we already see what's happening. Instead of having a mosaic of different conditions, 90% of the patients are claiming to have pain. Instead of having balance in terms of age and gender it's 70% young male. Every red flag suggests that this is an abusive program.
Ryan Hurley: I would like to just read a list of some of the patients and their conditions that came into one of my client's dispensaries. Patrick, age 43, Fibromyalgia. Jenny, 60, bad hips, also lost a hand and foot. Daniel, 50, degenerative arthritis. Lyle, 27, epilepsy. Steven, 31, Krohn's Disease. So is there pain that is the vast majority of these, absolutely, but that doesn't mean it's not real.
Ted Simons: But there does seem to be a perception, by the critics of the law, that this is just for lack of a better phrase a sham, just a way to get marijuana into folks's hands not necessarily for medical purposes but just want a way to legalize what they are doing. How do you respond to that?
Ryan Hurley: I respond to that by the same way as I would as anybody who has to get a prescription. It's not like you walk in and walk out with marijuana. You have to go through a rigorous procedure with a doctor. Doctor looks at 12 months of previous medical records this. They have to do an in person physical examination, make a diagnosis of the underlying condition that causes the pain. If there's an abuse of the system there's a point we can regulate it.
Rep. John Kavanagh: First of all, with respect to the litany of patients, you could go to a witch doctor, to a charlatan or faith healer and they could read you a similar list of people with terrible conditions who are mistakenly thinking there could be help for them. With respect to the doctor's prescribing them, that's another shocking fact. Seven doctors have written one-third of the 31,000 prescriptions for medical marijuana. This suggests this is not legitimate.
Ted Simons: According to Representative Kavanagh that suggests something funny going on here.
Ryan Hurley: Not necessarily. There are a lot of doctors that are terrified to recommend this to their patients. You go to your ordinary family physician he may recognize you get benefit but he's terrified to lose his DEA license, terrified of the repercussions so he recommends you to somebody willing to take that risk.
Ted Simons: The idea of reconsidering this, this will be the first time, I’M going to ask you right now, why do we need to go through this again?
Rep. John Kavanagh: Because the voters do not allow the legislature to invalidate laws that turn out to be not as they were expected. We are required by the constitution to allow the voters themselves to do the reanalysis. That's what i'm doing.
Ted Simons: Are you suggesting voters didn't know what they were doing?
Rep. John Kavanagh: I am absolutely suggesting that. When the campaign was waged people against this initiative only raised about $10,000. Those who supported it raised almost $800,000. The message was totally one sided. They were led to believe that the AMA, the medical community, supports this when they don't. They were led to believe there would be a vast array of patients, not just people with pain, everything that was promised didn't deliver.
Rep. John Kavanagh: You know, I guess I have a little more faith in the voters of Arizona to read exactly what they voted for and to know what they voted for. I think that's confirmed by a recent poll that came out yesterday said 60% support the initiative as passed and as it's being implemented.
Ted Simons: Yet this would be the first time voters would be able to reconsider after the law is implemented. Why not?
Ryan Hurley: I think there's something that needs to be examined here. I need to make the point that law has not been fully implemented. We have had patients have had the ability to get their recommendation for two years, but the dispensary portion has been held up by a governor, by the district, the county attorney. We're only now starting to see the fully regulated implemented law as voters intended. It's time to let it play out.
Rep. John Kavanagh: It concerns me. If it has not been fully implemented and we have these problems now the longer stays in effect the more the problems. We're concerned we have 11% of children who use marijuana illegally getting it from cardholders. In Colorado where they have had more time to play this law out, a study by the Colorado medical school said that 75% of children get it illegally from cardholders. This is a program that has gone awry and is dangerous.
Ryan Hurley: I would like to make a point. What's missing from the studies is that teen use in medical marijuana states is down. In fact the same study that Representative Kavanagh cites in Arizona indicated the same thing. Over the past two years we have seen a decrease in teen use with the patient still having safe access.
Rep. John Kavanagh: That is not true. Those studies, 30-day usage, most reliable, it's down among eighth graders, but up among 10th and 12th graders. There are mixed results here.
Ryan Hurley: Over all it was down.
Ted Simons: We have to stop it there. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.