( marijuana )
A few of the many editorial boards that have endorsed medical access to marijuana include: Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Miami Herald; New York Times; Orange County Register; USA Today.
Donald Abrams, Roslyn J Leiser, Starley B Shade, Joan Hiton, Tarek Elberk
STUDY / REPORT|
Janet B. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A. Benson, Jr., Editors
The release of the delicately worded report, at a morning news conference here, prompted a flurry of political maneuvering. Proponents of state initiatives to legalize marijuana for medical purposes seized upon the findings as long-awaited evidence that it had therapeutic value. They called on the Clinton Administration, and in particular Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which requested the study, to ease its steadfast opposition to the initiatives.
"This report has proved McCaffrey wrong," said Chuck Thomas, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit organization in Washington that lobbies for the legalizatlon of medical marijuana. "We never said marijuana was a panacea and a be-all or end-all. What we have said is there are some patients whodon't respond to existing medications, and this report confirms that." But the study is unlikely to change the Administration's position. The Department of Health and Human Services, which is already financing some research involving medical marijuana, issued a written statement noting simply that it would continue to finance the work. And General McCaffrey, speaking in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, said, "This study seems to suggest that there is little future in smoked marijuana." General McCaffrey politely praised the analysis as a "superb piece of work" and said he would take the recommendations under advisement. But he said there was "enormous confusion in law enforcement" about how to handle the issue, and added, "We've got people with mischievous .agendas at work."
While the study's authors said they had been surprised to discover "an explosion of new scientific knowledge about how the active components of marijuana affect the body," they added pointedly that the future of marijuana as a medicine did not lie in smoking it. Marijuana smoke, they said, is even more toxic than tobacco smoke, and can cause cancer, lung damage and complications during pregnancy.
The true benefits of marijuana, the experts said, would only be realized when alternative methods, like capsules, patches and bronchial inhalers, were developed to deliver its active components, called cannabinoids, to the body without the harmful effects of smoke. So far there is only one cannabinold-based drug on the market, Marinol, manufactured by Unlined of Somerville, N.J. It comes in pill form and was approved in May 1985 by the Food and Drug Administration for nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, as well as for anorexia and weight loss associated with AIDS. Some patients have complained that Marinol is more expensive than marijuana and then they do not feel its effects as quickly. The researchers recommended that the Government pay for research that would speed the development of more cannabinoid drugs, and were particularly keen on the promise of inhalers. But, recognizing that such methods might take years to perfect, they also recommended that people who did not respond to other therapy be permitted to smoke marijuana in the interim.
"Marijuana should only be smoked in circumstances where the long-term risks are not of great concern, such as for terminally ill patients or those with debilitating symptoms that do not respond to approved medications," said Dr. John A. Benson Jr., former dean of the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine and one of the study's two lead authors. "Even in these cases, smoking should be limited to carefully controlled situations."
Dr. Benson and his co-author, Dr. Stanley J. Watson Jr. of the Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan, announced their findings in a stately wood-paneled lecture hall at the Institute of Medicine here. As the two scientists spoke, a handful of people sat quietly in the audience, wearing fire-engine red T-shirts with white block lettering that blared: "Medical Marijuana Patient." Among them was Jim Hardin, a 48-year-old Virginia man who testified before the panel and whose story was among several personal anecdotes included in the report. Mr. Hardln suffers from Hepatitis C, a disease that is destroying his liver, and uses a wheelchair. He said smoking marijuana helped him cope with the intense nausea and rapid weight loss the disease has caused.
"I lost 95 pounds," Mr. Hardin said. "I tried everything: 35 different pills. Finally, doctors told me to go to Europe and try marijuana." He did just that~ in November 1997, visiting the Netherlands, where a doctOr prescribed one to two grams of marijuana per day. Here in the United States, Mr. Hardln said, he obtains the drug "from a network of care providers that are willing to grow a safe and clean cannabis."
Also In the audience was Joyce Nalepka of America Cares, a parents' anti-drug group based in Maryland that has been critical of efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use. "I'm concerned about the message we are sending," Ms. Nalepka said. "Kids interpret things differently than adults. What they're going to hear is, 'Marijuana is good for something.'"
The report contained some surprising findings. It concluded that, despite popular belief, marijuana was not useful in treating glaucoma. While the drug can reduce some of the. eye pressure associated with glaucoma, the effects were short-lived, the report found, and did not outweigh the long-term hazards of using the drug. In addition, the study found that there was little evidence for marijuana's potential in treating movement disorders like Parkinson's disease or Huntington's disease, but that it was effective in combating the muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.
So far, voters in seven states, California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have approved initiatives intended to make marijuana legal for medical purposes. But doctors are often afraid to write prescriptions because the Federal Government has threatened to prosecute them, and patients often have difficulty obtaining the drug, in part because the Government has moved to shut down the marijuana buyers' clubs that had been distributing it. In the District of Columbia, meanwhile, the November ballot contained a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, but Congress intervened and prevented the vote from being counted. Advocates for the medical use of marijuana demonstrated in Los Angeles yesterday after the release of a Government-commissioned report that appeared to support some of their positions.
The policy was originally established to ensure uniform quality standards for marijuana used in research and was generally supported. However, the substance then became extremely difficult for researchers to obtain. Under the new policy, which loosens these restrictions, private researchers, including physicians, will be allowed to buy and use it for studies. A senior administration official said the change could "open the door" to a flood of research proposals and studies. The issue has been the subject of intense national debate and political pressure. Advocates insist that the laws forbidding the medical uses of marijuana are cruel and inhumane. Opponents argue that sanctioning marijuana for any purposes only gives a green light to illegal drug use and would further encourage it.
The news of a shift in administration policy was welcomed by marijuana medical advocates who have been clamoring for more research. "For the last 22 years, the federal government has had a lock on the use of whole smoked marijuana for studies -- they grow it at the University of Mississippi ... and activists and reformers and legitimate scientists have wanted to have access to it to conduct studies and have had no luck," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation. A senior administration official said the change was supported by Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who has in the past opposed the medical uses of marijuana. The official predicted that the accessibility would "increase the likelihood that we finally get honest-to-God scientific answers on this very important issue."
In August, the Supreme Court barred the California organization from distributing marijuana while the government pursued its appeal. Justice Stephen G. Breyer did not participate in the case. His brother, a federal trial judge in San Francisco, previously barred distribution of marijuana only to have his decision reversed by a federal appeals court. California's 1996 law authorizes the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes upon a doctor's recommendation. The Oakland group said its goal is "to provide seriously ill patients with safe access to necessary medicine so that these individuals do not have to resort to the streets." But the federal Controlled Substances Act includes marijuana among the drugs whose manufacture and distribution are illegal. In 1998, the federal government asked a judge to ban the Oakland group from providing marijuana. Judge Charles Breyer issued a preliminary order imposing such a ban. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, and last May, Breyer issued a new order allowing the Oakland group to provide marijuana to patients who needed it. In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Justice Department lawyers said the appeals court "seriously erred" in deciding federal law allowed a medical-necessity defense.
3/26/01 / Lawrence Journal-World / NATION
Cannabis club defends marijuana therapy
OAKLAND, CALIF. (AP) - A few years ago, an author writing about death asked ailing AIDS patient Michael Alcalay how he was accepting dying. "I'm not accepting it," Alcalay retorted. Alcalay is alive today thanks in part, he believes, to doses of marijuana that helped him keep his medicines down and appetite up as he fought the disease. On Wednesday, Alcalay will be in the audience as lawyers try to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that federal anti-drug laws shouldn't prevent marijuana from being given to seriously ill patients for pain relief. "Once the justices recognize what's really at stake in this case, if any semblance of justice prevails then so will we," said Robert Raich, an attorney representing the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. The cooperative is a distribution club operating under California's Proposition 215, the voter-approved law that allows the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes on a doctor's recommendation. That's where Alcalay used to get his marijuana. But he's had to look elsewhere since the federal government sued the cooperative and five other Califorma pot clubs in 1998 to prevent them from distributing the drug. A federal judge sided with the government. But last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "medical necessity" is a legal defense.
California officials, including Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, argue that the state has the right to enforce its medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 1996. Distribution clubs sprang up because Proposition 215 is silent on how patients will get marijuana, outside of growing and harvesting it themselves. The Supreme Court is not looking directly at Proposition 215, but rather at whether medical necessity may be used as a defense against federal drug bans. It's unclear whether the justices will rule on that general issue or rule more narrowly on how lower courts have handled this case. If the court says "Yes" to the necessity defense, it could make it easier to distribute medical marijuana in California and the eight other states with similar laws - Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Nevada and Colorado.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer has recused himself because he is the brother of Charles Breyer, the federal district judge who ordered the club to stop distributing marijuana. The club remains open, but only to sell legal hemp products and maintain a membership database. Advocates say marijuana is a reliable and nontoxic therapy that in some cases is the only relief for suffering people. That point of view was endorsed recently by the Institute of Medicine. The institute, which was asked to examine the issue by the White House drug policy office, said that because the chemicals in marijuana ease anxiety, stimulate appetite, ease pain and reduce nausea and vomiting, they can be helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy and people with AIDS.
Institute officials also warned that smoking marijuana can cause respiratory disease and recommended development of forms of the drug that could be taken in other ways.
Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, voted against the bill because he said it could open up the legal use of marijuana. Garner's proposal would prohibit the sale of any product that is 100 percent ephedrine, unless anyone 18 or older buys it from a pharmacist. He said the product is currently sold at convenience stores where children can easily purchase it. Fifteen states currently have laws limiting the sale of ephedrine, Garner said. Rep. Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said his two teen-age children told him that ephedrine was a problem among their peers. "We shouldn't be selling products like this," he said.
The bill also would create an official state law that would allow judges to require people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol to install an interlock device on their car. In order to start the car, a driver would have to blow into the device. If the device detects a certain level of alcohol, the car won't start. Administrative procedures allow judges currently to require the device, but Rep. Doug Spangler, D-Kansas City, said he wanted to make it a state law so that it is used more often. There is a business that sells the device in his district, he said.
ARIZONA: Voters sustained Proposition 200 ( the 1996 reform initiative that passed with 65% of the vote.) Prop. 300 would have prevented doctors from prescribing a Schedule I drug until the FDA approved medical marijuana: Yes: 43%, No: 57%. Prop. 301 would have required imprisonment instead of treatment for some nonviolent drug offenders: Yes 48%, No: 52%.
CALIFORNIA: 56% of voters approved Proposition 215 for medical marijuana in 1996.
COLORADO: Prior to the election, a court ruled that the pro-medical marijuana Amendment 19 did not have enough signatures. Since the ballots were already printed, Coloradans voted and approved it according to an exit poll: Yes 60%, No 40%.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: A congressional appropriations bill passed in October prevented the city from spending its money to count or to certify any medical marijuana initiative, including Initiative 59. Since ballots were already printed, voters voted and approved it according to an exit poll: Yes 60%, No 40%.
NEVADA: Voters approved Question 9 on medical marijuana: Yes 59%, No 41%. Voters must approve it again in the year 2000 for it to take effect.
OREGON: Voters rejected the legislature's attempt to re-criminalize marijuana possession in Measure 57: Yes 33%, No 67%. Voters approved Measure 67 allowing medical marijuana: Yes 55%, No 45%.
WASHINGTON: Voters approved I-692 allowing medical marijuana: Yes 59%, No 41%.