SAN FRANCISCO -- The leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, urged medical marijuana supporters Thursday to further spread the message of cannabis' health benefits.
And spirits were certainly high.
For the first day of its 38th annual three-day conference, NORML activists and leaders talked about the increased public support for medical marijuana, as well as recreational use.
The conference continues through Saturday at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco.
”We have turned a corner -- that is absolutely clear,” said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, as a skunky scent wafted faintly through the back of the room.
Throughout the rest of the day, lawyers, doctors and other experts spoke not only about medical marijuana's importance and its growing support in the public, but also reminded people that there is a distinction between medical and recreational use.
St. Pierre said the presence of medical marijuana advocates has grown at NORML, remarking on the increased registration numbers for the conference's medical marijuana-only day.
Since the conference began dedicating one day toward medical marijuana specifically two years ago, the conference has seen those days' registrants grow from about 100 to more than 300.
”This is unavoidably the best turnout we've ever had,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “I think it really epitomizes this sort of corner that we've turned on this issue and sort of this tipping point that we are at.”
Armentano emphasized that research with marijuana overseas is showing that marijuana does not only treat symptoms, but the underlying disease conditions, as well.
He said 79 percent of the 80 percent of Americans who say they are in favor of medical marijuana in surveys probably don't actually know anything about marijuana as a medication.
”They know the tip of the iceberg. ...They really don't understand how uniquely safe and uniquely effective ... marijuana is as a medicine,” he said.
Speaking with dry humor and getting some laughs from the audience, Armentano discussed how increasing overseas research is showing that marijuana can treat several diseases, improving not only quality of life but also hampering progression of a disease.
He listed autoimmune disorders -- such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes, Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's disease, cancer, and even Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, as diseases that can be treated with marijuana.
The day also featured panels of experts who discussed the rights of individual patients, caregivers and collectives, as well as larger cooperatives and dispensaries.
One panel focused specifically on medical marijuana in Michigan, Colorado and Oregon.
David Bearman, a doctor and vice president for Credentialing & Quality for the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, said the recognition of marijuana as a medicine that can help with many ailments -- as well as the increased support from more prominent people -- may be helping to change the image of medical marijuana to the general public.
He said he thinks there will be a day, soon, when any doctor will be able to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes without patients being seen as criminals.
”Early in my years, I'd prescribe to people who would break into tears when they got their recommendations because they didn't want to be breaking the law,” he said.
To watch part of the conference from Thursday's session or see it streamed live online, go to www.norml.org
Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org