Albuquerque, N.M. – Arkansas voters are facing the decision about whether or not medical marijuana should be legalized in the state.
There has been much debate over the benefits of the medicinal value of cannabis and the impact legalization could have on the state.
In an effort to make sure voters are informed about this issue before heading to the polls, we traveled to New Mexico, a state that approved medical marijuana nearly 10 years ago.
Some Arkansas doctors, including Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, have been some of the biggest critics of medical marijuana, saying bluntly that it’s not medicine. We wanted to speak with doctors and patients in New Mexico to get their take.
Tim Reeves is a retired teacher. The father of three has been married to his wife for nearly 50 years. Eighteen years ago, he got the diagnosis that would change his life. Metastatic prostate cancer.
"I was not able to have surgery because they would have had to go all over my body," explains Reeves, a medical marijuana patient.
Three rounds of chemo failed to get rid of the cancer and left him with a string of other health problems. At age 67, he tried marijuana for the very first time.
"I don’t know what the answer is for other people, but I know it’s worked for me," he says.
Reeves got the go ahead from his oncologist, Dr. Annette Fontaine, who says she prescribes cannabis to about one in 20 of her cancer patients.
"The medical marijuana helps with the appetite, so they can maintain their nutrition during treatment. They’re having significant fatigue, having significant nausea. These are the patients that benefit the most," she says.
Dr. Fontaine says she used to prescribe the marijuana derivative Marinol before the full cannabis plant was legalized for medicine. It’s a drug that’s currently available in Arkansas, but she says the impact is not the same.
"I would say that there’s benefits from medical marijuana that is not available with Marinol," she adds.
Medical marijuana is grown by 35 providers in New Mexico. An operation just outside of Albuquerque owned by a company called Ultra Health, is one of the most advanced.
People with a government issued license can buy a variety of marijuana products at dispensaries across the state.
But it’s not just cancer patients. New Mexico doctors say they’ve also seen benefits for those with chronic pain, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and that it’s been a big help to children suffering from epileptic seizures.
"Doctors make difficult decisions about managing patients every day all the time, and yes, I think the community can trust the physician to do the right thing and prescribe it for the patient who will benefit," Dr. Fontaine says.
Reeves says he is one of those patients. Dr. Fontaine says his health and spirit have improved since he began using medical marijuana.
"It needs to be legalized and made an honorable thing just like any other medicine," Reeves says.