Pubdate: Mon, 24 Apr 2006
Source: International Herald-Tribune (International)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2006
Note: Reprinted from The New York Times
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


The Bush administration's habit of politicizing its scientific
agencies was on display again last week when the Food and Drug
Administration, for no compelling reason, unexpectedly issued a brief,
poorly documented statement disputing the therapeutic value of
marijuana. The statement was described as a response to numerous
inquiries from Capitol Hill, but its likely intent was to buttress a
crackdown on people who smoke marijuana for medical purposes and to
counteract state efforts to legalize the practice.

Ordinarily, when the FDA addresses a thorny issue, it convenes a panel
of experts who wade through the latest evidence and then render an
opinion as to whether a substance is safe and effective. This time the
agency simply issued a skimpy one-page statement asserting that "no
sound scientific studies" supported the medical use of marijuana.

That assertion is based on an evaluation by federal agencies in 2001
that justified the government's decision to tightly regulate
marijuana. But it appears to flout the spirit of a 1999 report from
the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences.

The institute was appropriately cautious in its endorsement of
marijuana. It said the active ingredients of marijuana appeared useful
for treating pain, nausea and the severe weight loss associated with
AIDS. It warned that these potential benefits were undermined by
inhaling smoke that is more toxic than tobacco smoke. So marijuana
smoking should be limited, it said, to those who are terminally ill or
don't respond to other therapies.

Yet the FDA statement does not allow even that much leeway. It argues
that state laws permitting the smoking of marijuana with a doctor's
recommendation are inconsistent with ensuring that all medications
undergo rigorous scrutiny in the drug approval process.

That seems disingenuous. The government is actively discouraging
relevant research, according to scientists quoted in Friday's New York
Times. It's obviously easier and safer to issue a dismissive statement
than to back research that might undermine the administration's
inflexible opposition to the medical use of marijuana.
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