Pubdate: Sat, 24 Feb 2007
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2007 Chicago Tribune Company
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Medical marijuana has had a lot of successes. Eleven states have 
legalized the therapeutic use of cannabis for people whose doctors 
think they can benefit from it. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the 
right of physicians to recommend pot to their patients. A 1999 report 
by the federal government's Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded, 
"Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of 
cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea 
and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."

But elsewhere, medical marijuana has stalled. Most states still don't 
allow it, and even in those that do, federal laws still ban the 
possession of cannabis. That means sick people who need marijuana for 
symptoms that don't respond to approved drugs must either do without 
or risk going to jail. Despite the IOM's call for more research, 
studies have been few and far between. As a result, the therapeutic 
value of cannabis remains largely unknown and untapped.

Recently, there were a couple of advances that may help to erode the 
federal government's stubborn resistance. The first was a study in 
the journal Neurology that found smoking pot can relieve 
pain--including a condition found in AIDS victims that is often 
impervious to other pain drugs, even powerful opiates. Said Donald 
Abrams, a physician and professor at the University of California, 
San Francisco, "There is a measurable medical benefit to smoking 
cannabis for these patients."

But such research is hard to come by. That's because the federal 
government is the only legal source of marijuana for clinical 
studies, and its monopoly presents some serious problems.

One is that it often rejects applications by scientists seeking 
supplies for their research. Another is that those who do get the 
stuff find its quality to be unreliable. By contrast, the government 
allows licensed private laboratories to supply such drugs as heroin 
and cocaine for scientific investigations.

An administrative law judge for the Drug Enforcement Administration 
recently ruled that a professor at the University of 
Massachusetts-Amherst should be allowed to grow marijuana in a 
licensed facility. Judge Mary Ellen Bittner found that some reputable 
scientists have been denied access to the government's supply and 
that providing an alternative source "would be in the public interest."

Whether that decision will actually change anything remains to be 
seen, since the DEA has the option of rejecting her recommendation. 
That would be a shame. If the government is so sure that marijuana 
has no medical value, it should welcome this sort of research. If it 
refuses to facilitate such studies, it must fear knowing the truth.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman