ANNAPOLIS – When Darrell Putman got so sick from the cancer in his body that only smoking marijuana would stimulate his appetite, his wife did the only thing she could — she turned to her teen-age relatives to find the drug.
Shaleen Murphy knew that if she was caught buying the illegal drug for her husband, they could have lost their house, their farm and could have done permanent damage to their children.
But neither she nor the couple’s friends could deny the positive effect smoking marijuana was having on Putman.
“He told me ‘I can finally have a good laugh again,'” said Bill Hanrahan, Putman’s friend. “You have no idea how much that means to someone who is going to die.”
Marijuana should be available to terminally ill patients to ease their suffering, Murphy told a House committee Thursday, in support of a bill to eliminate state penalties on medical use of marijuana.
The bill would allow patients with “certain medical conditions” — including cancer, epilepsy and AIDS — to use the drug with a doctor’s recommendation. Federal law prohibits physicians from actually prescribing marijuana.
But opponents fear that allowing medical use of marijuana could be the first step toward legalization, and that allowing limited use would send children the wrong message about drug use.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, denied charges that letting patients like Putman use the drug would lead to legalization. The delegate is no relation to Shaleen Murphy.
Murphy said he introduced the bill after hearing the story of Putman, a cancer sufferer who used marijuana after other medications failed. Putman, a former Green Beret, died in December after a difficult bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Delegate Murphy commended Putman’s courage in bringing attention to this issue and named the bill in his honor.
Cancer patients sometimes use marijuana to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and loss of appetite. Maryland has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation, said Delegate David Brinkley, R-Frederick, a co-sponsor. He said cancer treatments can be very traumatizing to the body.
“The goal of aggressive cancer therapy is to poison you severely,” Brinkley said.
Marijuana is beneficial for patients with chronic pain, glaucoma and vomiting, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. The drug can also be useful for patients suffering the effects of AIDS.
During his illness, Putman was weak and unable to keep food or medication down, said his brother, Wayne Putman.
Although the marijuana was immediately effective, Darrell Putman worried considerably that its use could get him arrested, Hanrahan said.
“The fact that he should even be bothered by this, while he was fighting for his life, offends me,” Hanrahan said.
Opponents included the Maryland medical society, which noted the federal prohibition on doctors prescribing marijuana. Murphy was asked why he wasn’t working first to change the law on the federal level.
“When I become drug czar under President McCain, that’s what I’ll do,” Murphy said.