The case for medical marijuana just keeps getting stronger. Recently completed studies conducted on various University of California campuses show that marijuana can alleviate neuropathic pain attributed to a variety of ailments such as amputations and HIV.
This most recent research only reaffirms what many scientists and medical personnel have known for years, that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine for a wide range of ailments.
It is astounding that medical marijuana remains such a contentious issue in both national and local politics given the widespread support medical marijuana has garnered from leading public health and medical associations.
The Institute of Medicine concluded quite simply, “nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana.” Numerous other institutions have stated their support for medical marijuana, including the American College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Nurses Association to name a few.
Despite the preponderance of support among scientists and medical officials, only 14 states have legalized medical marijuana, a testament to an outdated and misguided classification of marijuana based more on misunderstanding and political expediency than on science.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the government considers it to have “a high potential for abuse, no currently acceptable use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”
This is a curious conclusion considering that it contradicts a large amount of scientific literature, clinical studies and legal opinions. Dependence on marijuana has been shown to be rare, short lived and mild, and the effectiveness of its use to treat pain and a variety of ailments is well documented.
As for its safety, the Drug Enforcement Administration former Administrative Law Judge Francis Young stated, “Marijuana is the safest therapeutically active substance known to mankind “¦ the evidence clearly shows that marijuana is capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision.”
The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance is dubious both legally and ethically. Federal agencies like the DEA are required by law to make drug classifications based on scientific and medical considerations, a standard that has been repeatedly ignored in the case of marijuana despite growing research on the subject.
The refusal to accept scientific evidence and the advice of doctors is disturbing ethically, as it implies a hierarchy of considerations in the formation of medical policy that all but ignores medical research and patient well-being.
With regard to the 14 states with medical marijuana laws, the Obama administration has halted DEA raids of dispensaries operating legally under state law. While this is an important first step, it doesn’t address the underlying injustice of determining drug availability democratically on a state-by-state basis. There’s a reason the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t defer to the ballot box to decide which drugs are made available.
After all, would you really want the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to base its Toyota safety findings on a public ballot? These agencies exist to provide the type of expert and informed decisions in specific jurisdictions that a generally uninformed public doesn’t have the expertise to make.
In the realm of medicine and public health, doctors, scientists and medical professionals alone should have the final word in determining what is and isn’t available for use. Unfortunately, in the case of medical marijuana, the decision has been left to bureaucrats and ballot boxes.
Public opinion has no place in determining whether a cancer patient gets treatment for pain or whether a person with HIV wasting syndrome is allowed to take marijuana to restore appetite. Patients have a right to know the best and most complete set of treatment options available when they see a doctor. The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance and dismissal of its medicinal uses violates this right, a violation the government must remedy.
Although the cessation of DEA raids has so far been the extent of Obama’s medical marijuana policy, studies such as those recently completed on UC campuses may force his hand. The gap between research-based scientific evidence on marijuana use and the DEA’s rigid stance on the issue is growing and threatens the credibility of the DEA and its review process.
The government cannot ignore the growing scientific and medical consensus forever. It’s only a matter of time before the roadblocks to medical marijuana are lifted.