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Medicinal marijuana forum to be held

“There are varying levels of skittishness surrounding the issue of medicinal marijuana,” said Don Regis-Bilar, host and organizer of the Lake Tahoe Medicinal Marijuana Forum 2001. The event will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 9 at 3071 Sacramento Ave. There is no charge. For information call (530) 544-6959 or e-mail dregisbilar@earthlink.net.

Known to longtime locals as the high-profile publisher of the Tahoe Reader, published from 1985 to 1993, Regis-Bilar gained the reputation for not shunning controversial issues.

“Even among ourselves we have struggled with the concept of holding a public forum on medicinal marijuana,” he said of his co-organizers, Kathy Farrell of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, Douglas County Librarian Patty Timmens and 20-year resident Sue Barton.



“It has become a bi-state issue in that voters in both Nevada and California have passed laws allowing for medicinal marijuana,” Farrell said. “At the South Shore we are influenced by issues on both sides of the border.”

“I was a little naive going into this,” Regis-Bilar said, “at how political it would all become.”




“I don’t have a political bone in my body,” Barton said. “I see the fundamental motivator behind permitting marijuana for medicinal purposes as being compassion and humanity.”

“Exactly,” Timmens said. “I am uncomfortable with this issue because the laws are so vague. There is a lot of confusion surrounding them and the federal government maintains that there is no legal use for marijuana.

“At the same time,” she said speaking of her brother who died in April, “I watched Jeff suffer through acute liver failure and I know it eased his pain.”

The foursome are hoping that the event will nurture an informative dialogue between the public and a panel that includes Cecile Crofoot, program manager for the implementation of Nevada’s Medicinal Marijuana Law, AB453; Dale Gieringer, executive director of the California office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; and South Lake Tahoe City Council member Bill Crawford.

“This is an interesting historical time in which there are reportedly a significant number of medicinal marijuana cardholders at the South Shore,” Regis-Bilar said. “But the only way they can obtain marijuana is through the black market where there is not regulation, no quality control and no price monitoring. The last thing a critically ill person needs is to introduce marijuana into their system which has not been grown organically and is possibly contaminated with a variety of toxins.”

The organizers hope that the forum will clear up some of the confusion, but do not view the event as a debate.

“The laws allowing medicinal marijuana exist and the big question is ‘now what?’ Surely there must be a better way for people to find relief from their pain without the fear, stigma or shame often associated with marijuana,” Farrell said.

“We’re hoping for a lot of public input, Barton said. ” We’re hoping to determine what local interest levels there are in helping our fellow citizens who need assistance.”

Timmens said, “Everyone has a right to their opinion at this forum. We just need to listen to one another, exchange ideas and learn more about this issue affecting members of our community who deserve our attention and compassion.”

A partial list of the businesses supporting and sponsoring the Medicinal Marijuana Forum are Ernie’s Coffee Shop, Nel’s Tahoe Hardware and The Tahoe Hemp Company.

As to why he is supporting the forum, Paul Bruso, owner of Ernie’s Coffee Shop, said, “The voters of California and Nevada have determined that the use of medicinal marijuana should be legal. It is my belief that the use of medicinal marijuana should be legal. it is my belief that many people suffering from severe or terminal illnesses find that the use of medicinal marijuana alleviates much of their suffering. I fully support its use when prescribed by a licensed physician.”

Nokomis Murin, manager of The Tahoe Hemp Company explained her support, “We believe that it should be an individual’s choice and that one shouldn’t have to put their personal freedom at risk to find relief from pain. The key to it is education. We hope that the forum will help inform the community about the positive aspects of marijuana.”

The four organizers are part of an informal group, the Friends of Patrick Bennett, which was formed to give a face to AIDS via Bennett who died of the illness in 1997. He was the editor and co-founder of the Tahoe Reader and was the longest sitting commissioner for the City of South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Department. The group continues to conduct events as a way to honor Bennett and bring awareness to humanitarian issues.

Bennett was prescribed marijuana by his physician, Neil Flynn, M.D., professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Davis. Flynn has said, “I firmly believe that medical marijuana is medically appropriate as a drug of last resort for a small number of seriously ill patients. Over 20 years of clinical experience persuade me of this fact. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Almost every patient I have known to have tried marijuana achieved relief from symptoms with it.”

Regis-Bilar, who was Bennett’s primary caregiver during the last two years of his life said, ” I administered intravenous chemotherapy to Patrick up to nine hours a day. I witnessed personally the profound health benefits marijuana had for him.

Farrell, who has a 12-year-old daughter, said, “I tell her that the saddest thing about the issue is that there are individuals, like Patrick, who might be able to get some relief from marijuana but cannot obtain it legally without tremendous difficulty. And those circumstances are very different from someone who just wants to get high or smokes socially.”

“Unfortunately the two issues are not cleanly separated and legalizing the medicinal use is threatened by the recreational use.

When asked what makes the Friends of Patrick Bennett work Farrell said, “We all genuinely enjoy each others company.”


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