Medical marijuana scored a major public health victory in June when the American Nurses Association (ANA) adopted a resolution calling for research, education and supervised use of medical marijuana.
The ANA is America’s largest nursing association; it has hundreds of thousands of members, with chapters in 49 states. Its support of medical marijuana is a direct challenge to drug warriors, government-funded researchers, and Supreme Court rulings that have asserted that marijuana is a harmful drug with no medical value.
Passage of the resolution can be directly attributed to the work and vision of one medical marijuana advocate ? registered nurse Mary Lynn Mathre.
Mathre is a retired Virginia nurse and former NORML board member who co-founded the med-pot organization Patients Out of Time with her husband, retired navy commander Al Byrne.
Mathre is also an author and co-author of many articles and books about marijuana, including Cannabis in Medical Practice, and Women and Cannabis, both published by Haworth Press.
Byrne and Mathre have long been active as patient advocates and political lobbyists. They organized professional medical marijuana conferences in Portland and Iowa in the last three years.
In 1994, Mathre was the only nurse in the USA who had the courage to approach her state nursing association to ask if the group would support medical marijuana.
“Nurses are the people who provide the most direct care to patients,” Mathre recalls. “It was obvious to me that medical marijuana was very useful and had no serious side-effects. Patients were being hurt by a lack of information, and by police persecution, even in states where medical marijuana has been made legal. Nurses want patients to feel better, and we are often in situations where we would know that a patient was using marijuana, and then we were worried about what the drug warriors could do to the nurse and the patient. I decided to educate my colleagues about marijuana and ask for their help in making it more available to patients.”
Mathre met with the directors of the Virginia Nurses Association (VNA) in 1994, and convinced them to approve a pro-pot resolution and a “position paper” in 1995. After VNA signed on, Mathre sent letters to other state associations asking for their support, and received positive responses from several states, including the influential New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).
Yet by 1996, the ANA still refused to adopt Mathre’s entire proposal. The ANA did agree that registered nurses should receive education about the therapeutic use of cannabis, and that medical cannabis should be studied in “controlled clinical trials.”
“Since then, more and more research has been carried out, and we’ve seen lots of nurses who were formerly opposed to cannabis come on board to support this, especially after they’ve seen how it helps AIDS patients, and patients with chronic pain, neuralgia, and muscular spasticity disorders,” Mathre said.
Mathre traveled to Washington, DC in June to speak at the ANA annual Congress in support of the resolution that eventually passed.
The ANA’s recommendations are that patients should have safe access to therapeutic marijuana, that health care providers should be able to discuss marijuana with patients without threat of prosecution, that patients and med-pot providers not be subject to criminal penalties, and that the US federal government reclassify marijuana to remove it from its place in Schedule One on the controlled substances scale, a designation that places cannabis in the same category as heroin.
“It became obvious that the government’s war on medical cannabis users, and on doctors and nurses who facilitated such use, would go on and on,” said Mathre, “so I thought it important that we take a strong stand against the drug war policies, because all those policies do is cause pain and suffering to sick and dying people.”
? Patients out of time: www.medicalcannabis.com