GW Hospital could stock marijuana

GW Hospital will provide marijuana for patients in its medical center if D.C. voters pass an initiative to legalize the drug for medical use, officials at GW’s Ambulatory Care Center said.

Washington residents will vote Nov. 3 on Initiative 59, the “Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998.” If passed, the law will allow physicians to prescribe marijuana for treatment of diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

“If (marijuana) were legal, we would stock it,” said Michael Grover, head pharmacist at the Ambulatory Care Center’s pharmacy. “Presumably there wouldn’t be any restrictions other than those for other drugs.” Grover said although his pharmacy would stock marijuana, he is not sure whether the plant would be grown on the hospital premises. Either way, he said physicians would have to find a way to obtain marijuana for their patients.

“We will develop policies to deal with medicinal marijuana ( if Initiative 59 is passed),” GW Hospital spokeswoman Amy Pianalto said.

She said the hospital will develop and implement policies that are consistent with the city’s law.

Initiative 59 will “permit seriously ill individuals to legally use marijuana for medical treatment when recommended by a licensed physician,” according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Web site.

To facilitate access to marijuana, the initiative also legalizes the “possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana for illnesses,” according to the DCBOEE.

Wayne Turner, listed by the DCBOEE as the official proponent of Initiative 59, said he is “not advocating use of marijuana but advocating access to it.” Turner said he believes marijuana is an effective way to alleviate the pain suffered by patients with diseases such as AIDS, cancer, cataracts and glaucoma.

“Doctors, right now, are already advising patients to use marijuana,” Turner said. “Some patients say (marijuana) helps their pain.”

Grover said many patients in GW’s medical center could benefit from access to marijuana, notably the cancer and AIDS patients the GW Ambulatory Care Center serves.

Under the current law, anyone who uses marijuana for any reason is subject to arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration.

Aziza Nassar, a resident physician at the GW Hospital, said she does not believe marijuana is a useful drug.

“There are other alternative treatments which work just as well.” Nassar said. “This is an addictive medicine.”

“I would probably not recommend marijuana,” said Barbara Goudarci, another doctor at the GW Hospital. “It’s not necessarily the best thing to use.”

The Family Research Council also is opposed to Initiative 59, said spokesman Chad Nykamp. Nykamp said if marijuana truly is a medicinal drug, then it should be tested and approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

“The motivating factor (behind the push for Initiative 59) is suspect,” Nykamp said. “The medical aspect is disguised for the ultimate goal of marijuana legalization.”

“(Initiative 59) has a natural constituency because so many families here in D.C. have been touched by AIDS and cancer,” Turner said.

Turner said the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a local health services provider that deals mainly with AIDS-related patients, has been supportive of the initiative. Carol Schwartz, the Republican candidate for D.C. mayor, also has endorsed the ballot proposal.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.