Pubdate: Sun, 15 Nov 2009
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Times-Standard
Author: Thadeus Greenson, The Times-Standard
Referenced: Executive Summary of AMA Report
Referenced: Recommendations of AMA Report
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - United States)


The nation's largest doctors group took a step toward supporting 
medical marijuana last week, urging the federal government to review 
marijuana's status as a controlled substance in order to facilitate 
more medical research on the drug.

"This has, I think, profound implications," said Greg Allen, a local 
attorney and longtime medical marijuana advocate.

Currently, marijuana remains classified federally as a Schedule 1 
controlled substance, in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and 
LSD. That status makes it very difficult to conduct legal medical 
testing on the drug in the United States, as it can only be done with 
a permit from the federal government, which has historically been 
loathe to give them out.

Reducing marijuana's federal classification even just to Schedule 2 
- -- the same class as cocaine, methadone, oxycodone and morphine -- 
would allow for more testing on the medical effects of marijuana, 
medical proponents argue.

At a semi-annual policy meeting held last week, the American Medical 
Association voted to adopt a resolution urging that marijuana's 
status as a federal Schedule 1 controlled substance be reviewed with 
the goal of conducting more clinical research and developing 
cannabinoid-based medications.

The resolution clearly states that it in no way is endorsing 
state-based medical marijuana programs, the legalization of marijuana 
or that it should be seen as a statement that scientific evidence on 
the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a 
prescription drug.

However, the resolution marks a large policy change for the AMA, 
which has treated medical marijuana with much caution in the past, 
reportedly even voting down a similar resolution eight years ago.

In a statement, Dr. Edward Langston, an AMA board member, said the 
resolution is entirely designed to facilitate more research.

"Despite more than 30 years of clinical research, only a small number 
of randomized, controlled trials have been conducted on smoked 
cannabis," Langston said. "Federal drug approval is achieved after 
appropriate scientific and regulatory review to establish safety and 
efficacy. The limited nature of rigorous scientific studies on the 
therapeutic use of cannabis is insufficient to satisfy the current 
standards for a prescription drug product."

A big reason for the lack of rigorous scientific studies is 
marijuana's longstanding status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, 
Allen said.

"When it comes to research and technology, I think the United States 
is one of the forefront nations, and for us to not be involved (in 
this research) is just ridiculous," Allen said. "The U.S. would be a 
major player in any sort of research. Yet, we've been basically out 
of this for 30-some-odd years."

Even some longstanding critics of medical marijuana are at ease with 
the AMA's decision.

"I have not a concern about it," said Roger Morgan, a co-founder of 
Californians for Drug-free Schools. "Obviously, it's a change in 
direction for them. But, I think if they conduct more studies they 
will end up with the same answer they've had before: That smoked, 
crude marijuana is not medicine."

Mason said the studies also have the potential to do some real good, 
if researchers are able to find a way to extract some of the 
compounds in marijuana that have medical properties to be 
administered to patients in another form.

"If they can offer pills and suppositories that can still provide 
relief, that's a home run," he said.

But, really, Mason said he doesn't expect to see any changes, no 
matter how much the drug is studied.

"I don't think new study will provide any new answers," he said. "I 
think it's properly classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance now."

Eureka attorney Neal Sanders, who specializes in medical marijuana 
cases, said even a reclassification of marijuana to a Schedule 2 
substance probably wouldn't have much of a impact on criminal cases 
in California. Still, Sanders said the AMA vote is big news, 
especially when considered with other developments, like Attorney 
General Erick Holder's recent announcement that federal authorities 
would no longer prosecute users and dispensaries in states that allow 
medical marijuana.

"I think the big import for California is it tends to show that a 
mainstream medical group has made a determination that marijuana 
needs to be looked at as a valid medicine, and that the feds should 
get on board and allow studies to go forward that would either verify 
that or not," Sanders said. "It's showing that the powers that be -- 
the American Medical Association, doctors and the Attorney General's 
Office -- are all recognizing that marijuana needs to be looked at 
and considered a bit differently than other drugs."

While Allen said the AMA's resolution could have profound impacts, he 
cautioned against thinking it represents a sea change on the issue or 
a magic bullet toward decriminalization. The fact is, Allen said, 
marijuana has a very strong and entrenched opposition.

"Law enforcement views (marijuana), and will always view it, as a 
jobs issue," Allen said. "And, really, I think that's a significant 
part of the organized opposition. That opposition will continue to do 
anything to keep it from becoming legal or decriminalized."

Allen said true medical research and clinical studies, done outside 
of government hands, might help move both the medical marijuana and 
the legalization movement farther down the road. Reclassifying 
marijuana as something other than a Schedule 1 controlled substance, 
Allen said, is a key step.

"It's basically a war and not a battle, and it appears it is going to 
go on for a while," he said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake