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Originally published Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 12:06 AM

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Medical-marijuana hearing to consider expanding its use

State officials will hold a public hearing tonight to discuss whether patients with depression or certain anxiety disorders should be allowed to use medical marijuana as part of their treatment.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Public hearing

A public hearing to discuss whether patients with depression or certain anxiety disorders should be allowed to use medical marijuana will be at 7 p.m. today at the SeaTac Radisson Hotel, 17001 Pacific Highway S., SeaTac.

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State officials are poised to decide whether patients with depression or certain anxiety disorders should be allowed to use medical marijuana as part of their treatment.

State law limits the legal use of medical marijuana to patients who have been diagnosed with a "terminal or debilitating medical condition."

That includes people with cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis and several other diseases that cause pain or nausea which is "unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications."

But on July 20 a petition was submitted to the Medical Quality Assurance Commission, which is responsible for determining which conditions are approved for medical-marijuana use, asking that they add bipolar disorder, severe depression and anxiety-related disorders to that list.

The commission will hold a public hearing tonight in SeaTac to consider the petition.

Petitions like this are uncommon, according to Blake Maresh, the executive director for the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. This is the first to come to a hearing in Washington in more than five years.

Members of the commission and the osteopathic board aren't supposed to discuss the petition before the hearing, said Maryella Jansen, the executive director of the commission.

Dr. Greg Carter, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington and the first researcher to document the effectiveness of cannabinoids (chemical components of marijuana) in treating the symptoms of ALS, said that marijuana is generally regarded as safe by many doctors when used responsibly.

"It's much safer than opiate medications like OxyContin because you cannot overdose on cannabis," he said.

He noted that he doesn't personally treat psychological conditions, but that there is evidence in medical literature that it's useful to treat even bipolar disorder and anxiety.

"I think that's valid," he said. "Some of the earliest physicians that were looking at medical marijuana were psychiatrists."

Carter is not involved with the petition to change the state regulations.

After hearing testimony from both sides, the panel of six people — three from the commission and three from the osteopathic board — will deliberate in a closed session before making its recommendation to both groups.

The commission and the board are expected to issue a written order with their decision within the next few weeks.

Molly Rosbach: 206-464-2311 or mrosbach@seattletimes.com

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