Pubdate: Wed, 17 Feb 1999
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 1999 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Page: A2
Contact:  1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229
Author: Patrick McMahon
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AIDS activists are concerned that a study due out next month may set back
for years their hopes that marijuana will be approved for AIDS patients,
and they are urging the White House drug czar to intercede.

A coalition of 17 organizations across the country fears that the report
will stop short of recommending medical marijuana as suitable for AIDS
patients, and instead call for more research.

"Terminally ill patients cannot afford to wait for years of research to
prove something they already know: Medical marijuana works," the activists

In a letter to be released later this week, they are seeking help from
retired Army general Barry McCaffrey, director of National Drug Control
Policy, who ordered the study.

They are asking McCaffrey to help break a "bureaucratic logjam" and help
speed government approval of marijuana for AIDS patients.

"Our request is simple," they say in the letter, "Just as promising AIDS
medications have been made available prior to final Food and Drug
Administration approval, so too should marijuana, when recommended by a

"We want to see that study before we comment on it," says McCaffrey
spokesman Bob Weiner. As for speeding FDA approval for AIDS patients, he
says his office will defer to the FDA and the National Institute on Drug

"It's their call," Weiner says. "We've always said that science, not
politics, should dictate what is safe and effective medicine in America."

The statements from McCaffrey's office drew a frustrated response from
Steven B. Johnson, policy director of the Northwest AIDS Foundation in
Seattle, the largest AIDS social service agency in the Northwest.

"The General clearly doesn't know what's going on in the front lines in the
fight against AIDS," Johnson says.

At issue is a study reviewing the scientific research that has been done on
medical marijuana's effectiveness. It is being conducted by the National
Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

It is due to be released in mid-March.

The activists say in a statement that "this is the first time that AIDS
groups have come together to call for legal, immediate access to marijuana."

The coalition comes together as the states of Washington, Oregon, Alaska,
and Arizona are implementing ballot measures approved last November
allowing physicians to recommend marijuana to treat cancer, AIDS, glaucoma,
multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and nausea and seizures.

Marijuana is categorized by the federal government as a Schedule I drug,
along with heroin. It is not approved for any medical use, and it is
against federal law for physicians to prescribe it.

The letter to McCaffrey takes note of the FDA approval process that has
been streamlined for several medications important to patients living with

"Thousands of Americans, many of them living with HIV, use marijuana as a
medicine illegally, putting themselves at risk of arrest and prosecution,"
the letter says. "People should not have to risk their health or jail to
receive needed medical care."

The letter goes on to say, "Science and compassion should dictate our
nation's policy regarding medical treatment." 
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