Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Contact: Forum:
Copyright: 1998 Chicago Tribune Company
Pubdate: 24 Dec 1998 
Author: Peter B. Bensinger, Former administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration Section: Sec. 1


CHICAGO -- The editorial "Groundswell for medical marijuana" (Nov. 8)
represents a serious misperception of what is best for America. The
editorial reports that there is growing recognition that marijuana may have
therapeutic value as medicine and that our government ought to move in this
direction. Such advice does a disservice to the public and is very

Why isn't marijuana medicine? Because federal law requires a substance must
be shown to be scientifically safe and effective and must be approved for
use by the Federal Drug Administration. Marijuana does not meet these
criteria. Marijuana contains an unstable mix of more than 460 chemicals.
Smoking marijuana produces 2,000 chemicals. Known carcinogens in marijuana
include napthalene, benzene and nitrosamines.

Are there other drugs available for chemotherapy patients? Yes. Marinol is
a synthetic pill with THC-active ingredients. Zofran is another approved
medication that has fewer side effects than marijuana, and it has been
found to be more effective as an anti-nausea agent.

Since when is burning leaves good medicine? Since when are the voters
responsible for determining what prescription drugs get stocked in our
pharmacies? In the early 20th Century, Congress passed the Food and Drug
Act to protect the public from snake oil salesmen, many of whom, in fact,
were selling opium and heroin and other products that failed to meet the
medical claims advertised. Now very carefully we watch what type of beef,
salad oil and pills are made available to the public.

Does the public know if a new drug is safe for heart disease or arthritis?
Scientists do, health experts do, the surgeon general does, the World
Health Organization does, the Food and Drug Administration does. Marijuana
does not qualify as safe or effective medicine in the views of any of these
professional organizations.

The fact that marijuana can pass in a referendum sponsored by the
pro-marijuana lobby is no basis to establish it as safe medicine. If this
were the case, then anytime someone wanted some smoking product to be made
available and was able to muster an adequate voting block to pass a
referendum, then we would have that new product on the shelf that could
lead to short-term memory loss, reduced immune system efficiency, loss of
motivation and vigilance, and at the same time could be as carcinogenic,
dangerous and unproven as marijuana.

The editorial board members have been leaders in molding public opinion and
reinforcing the need for justice. The Tribune's leadership and its
editorial opinions have been impressive. But I am disappointed that in this
case, the views expressed on marijuana are neither helpful nor safe.

Peter B. Bensinger 
Former administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 
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Checked-by: Richard Lake