Editorial from USA Today

Re: Medical Marijuana

July 18, 1996

Our View

Anti-drug focus keeps marijuana from the ill

Many who suffer from various diseases could benefit from marijuana. But they're denied relief.

In the war on drugs, thousands of Americans are suffering from friendly fire.

They are, for the most part, patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS who are doomed to needless pain and weightloss syndrome because lawmakers won't approve the medicinal use of marijuana.

Marijuana is one of the least toxic medical compounds in the world. It poses far fewer pulmonary risks than tobacco and is less addictive than alcohol. It is even less deadly than aspirin, which causes at least 1,000 deaths a year.

Despite its benign qualities, marijuana is versatile and effective. It has been used to treat pain, depression and spasms. It has been used to help prevent glaucoma-related blindness and appears effective in battling weight loss in AIDS patients. It also has been widely used to mitigate nausea caused by chemotherapy. Indeed, a study by researchers at the Kennedy School of Government found that 44% of the surveyed oncologists had recommended marijuana to at least one patient for nausea.

Polls find public support for marijuana's medicinal use running from 65% to 78%. And 22 states have acted to endorse medicinal marijuana, often either by authorizing state-sponsored research or simply allowing physicians to prescribe it despite federal prohibitions that keep such laws from going into effect. California's Legislature has twice passed laws enabling such use. Both were vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson, forcing a third attempt in the form of an initiative on the November ballot.

Opponents say the medical value of marijuana is anecdotal. But those anecdotes number in the thousands and date back thousands of years. Penicillin was approved for use with far less experience and data - six patients, to be exact.

Obviously, studies are needed to better assess marijuana's efficacy. Several, including one done in New York state, have shown marijuana to be an effective alternative to other anti-nausea treatments. And the Food and Drug Administration has endorsed additional research.

But why make today's suffering patients wait, particularly those with diseases that make the potential side effects look trivial?

Medicinal marijuana use doesn't betray the nation's war on drugs. Illegal use or trafficking can still be prosecuted. Moreover, there's no reason to fear that the new leniency will increase drug use. The same concern has been expressed about needle exchange programs, used to prevent the spread of AIDS among heroin addicts. But numerous reviews, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, show no resulting increase in heroin use.

It is entirely possible to fight the drug war without harming innocent civilians in the process. But lawmakers must be careful to choose the right battles. Therapeutic marijuana use isn't one of them.

Opposing View

Marijuana isn't medicine

According to experts, marijuana has no scientific value and actually may be harmful.

By Eric A. Voth

The saga of "medicinal" marijuana continues to unfold. Two new chapters are coming forth which should be of major concern:

California will vote Nov. 5 on a ballot initiative which dramatically liberalizes the availability of crude, smoked marijuana for individuals.

Arizona will consider an initiative which would make all of what the law calls Schedule I drugs available as medicines. This means heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy, marijuana, etc., could be prescribed to patients who allege benefits.

Marijuana is not a safe and effective medicine.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has clearly defined that marijuana is not a medicine.

The National Institutes of Health have reviewed the issue and determined that crude marijuana adds nothing to the treatment of sick patients, actually adds risk to patients and has no scientifically proven benefits over existing medicines.

Neither the American Cancer Society nor the American Medical Association supports smoking marijuana as medicine.

Voters should realize that the move to legitimize marijuana or other illegal drugs as medicines is driven by organizations seeking to generally legalize drugs.

The smoke screens they lay down are very similar to the deceit and misrepresentation by the tobacco industry which have drawn so much criticism from the public. To support marijuana or other illegal drugs as medicines is like suggesting that tobacco should be allowed as a medicine for anxiety or weight loss.

Marijuana as a medicine is part of the grand scheme of "harm reduction" advocates who will also propose such things as decriminalization of drugs and needle exchanges. These are flawed policies which do not seek to actually reduce drug use.

Needle exchanges, for instance, do not clearly demonstrate reductions in disease, do not reduce drug use and do not deal with product liability and exposure issues surrounding the handing out of thousands of needles to addicts.

It is tragic that the proponents of medicinal marijuana and harm-reduction policies are taking advantage of cancer and AIDS sufferers to further their social agendas.

Let's provide sick patients with good medicine rather than stepping back to the days of potions and herbal remedies.

Eric A. Voth, a physician and drug-treatment specialist, is chairman of the International Drug Strategy Institute.

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