Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2011
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: A14
Copyright: 2011 Los Angeles Times


What is it that makes marijuana more frightening to the federal 
government than cocaine or morphine? The Drug Enforcement 
Administration has steadfastly, over decades, listed marijuana as a 
Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no medical value and that the 
potential for abuse is high. Cocaine and morphine, far more dangerous 
and habit-forming, are listed as Schedule II because they have some 
medical value.

Last week the DEA ruled once again, a decade after it made the same 
decision, that marijuana is a potentially dangerous drug without 
known medical benefits. During the intervening 10 years, though, nine 
more states passed medical marijuana laws, bringing the total to 17. 
Two years ago, the American Medical Assn. recommended changing the 
classification of marijuana to Schedule II, which would make it 
easier for researchers to obtain the drug for medical studies.

In March, the National Cancer Institute reported: "The potential 
benefits of medicinal cannabis for people living with cancer include 
antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief and improved 
sleep." However, it stopped short of endorsing marijuana as a medical 
treatment, concluding that there was too little evidence.

The cancer institute and the DEA are right that there's not enough 
scientific evidence about the medical uses of cannabis. But the 
biggest reason there is so little proof, one way or the other, is 
that the federal government is paranoid about legitimate research on 
the drug and has refused to relist it as Schedule II. The few and 
scattered studies that have been completed, in this country and 
around the world, have not proved marijuana's potential benefits, but 
by and large, they have produced some promising findings. In the late 
1990s, both the New England Journal of Medicine and the Institute of 
Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that 
marijuana appeared to have some medical uses and recommended more research.

Those recommendations went unheeded, and no wonder. All 
research-grade marijuana in this country is under the control of the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose mission is to research the 
addictive properties of drugs, not their potential medical benefits.

Our prescription is for better knowledge. Oversight of research-grade 
marijuana should be shared with an agency whose primary mission is 
medical research. Marijuana should be listed as a Schedule II drug to 
facilitate further research. The findings should be submitted to the 
Food and Drug Administration, just as clinical trials are for any 
other drug. Then the nation can base its marijuana policy on 
information, not on entrenched fears or a patchwork of possibly 
well-intentioned but under-informed state medical marijuana laws.
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