Doctors, cancer therapists, opthamologists, and the Drug Enforce-ment Administration's own chief administrative law judge agree that marijuana has medical value. President Bush should order the Food and Drug Administration and DEA to join in helping make marijuana avail-able, by prescription, to the tens of thousands of seriously ill Americans who could benefit from its use. It is fully within the president's power to take this action. There is no reason to delay this compassionate step for one more day.
FDA Should Reinstate Its Medical Marijuana Program
Last July, the Public Health Service and FDA announced the shut-down of the so-called "compassionate IND (investigative new drug)" pro-gram, which provided government-grown marijuana to sufferers of glau-coma, cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS. The cancellation — announced but not yet official — came at a time when even greater need for the pro-gram was showing. Hundreds of applications had begun to flow in from AIDS patients and their doctors, who understood the medical benefits marijuana has for symptoms such as the "wasting syndrome" faced by late-stage AIDS sufferers.
The reasons given by the administration for closing down the pro-gram had little to do with science or medicine. PHS Director James O. Mason cited his concern that wider use of the compassionate IND pro-gram might undermine the administration's broader anti-drug effort. But such reasoning is fallacious. Most Americans can easily see the difference between medical uses of a drug and non-medical uses. Otherwise cocaine, morphine and other opium-derived drugs — all used medically — would be perceived much differently today.
DEA Urged to Transfer Marijuana to Schedule II By Its Own Chief Judge
The DEA has used the same reasoning to fight the reclassification of marijuana for almost two decades. But at each critical juncture in the battle, the agency has faced defeat in objective forums. Among these was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last April 26, where a three-judge panel unanimously agreed DEA was being "unreasonable" in its persistence in the medical prohibition. In 1988 the agency's own chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, had urged that mari-juana be moved to DEA's Schedule II, allowing prescription of the drug by doctors.
The most flaccid argument against medical marijuana is that it is not medically effective, or that other drugs are as good or better. The administration and its defenders should try telling that to the doctors and patients who have found otherwise. Instead of taking the government's word, they are going out and purchasing the drug through illicit channels, risking arrest for relief. As a result, many have faced criminal prosecu-tion. Sufferers of any disease should not be forced to buy their medicine on the street.
Every day tens of thousands of seriously ill Americans suffer need-lessly because of the Bush administration's intransigence on medical marijuana policy. Mr. Martinez can help eliminate the absurd stigma preventing marijuana's legitimate medical usage by assuring the nation that medical use and non-medical use of the drug are different.The presi-dent should then order the responsible federal agencies to do everything in their power to give patients with a demonstrated need access to the drug.