Medical Marijuana Policy Recommendations for President Barack H. Obama
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In the past three decades there has been an explosion of international research to investigate the therapeutic value of cannabis (marijuana). In the United States, research is stalled, and in some cases blocked, by a complicated federal approval process and restricted access to research-grade cannabis. Meanwhile, research teams in Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Israel, and elsewhere have confirmed – through case studies, basic research, pre-clinical, and clinical investigations – the medical value of cannabis.
Despite the fact that federal law clearly requires adequate competition in the manufacture of Schedule I and II substances, since 1968 the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has maintained a monopoly on the supply of cannabis used for legitimate research purposes. The Drug Enforcement Administration helps to protect NIDA’s monopoly by refusing to grant competitive licenses for the production of research-grade cannabis. In February 2007, U.S. Department of Justice-appointed Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner issued an Opinion and Recommended Ruling which concluded that granting competitive licenses would be in the public interest. However, the Bush Administration took no action, and the Administrative Recommendation is still pending.
A scientific consensus supports the therapeutic use of cannabis to control symptoms of serious and chronic illness. In the past decade, clinical research has clearly demonstrated that the use of cannabis, and its constituents, can safely and effectively treat symptoms of serious and chronic illness like nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, pain and spasticity. Indeed, a growing body of literature suggests that cannabis may hold the key to unlocking an array of treatments for HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and even cancer.
Despite overwhelming evidence which supports the therapeutic use of cannabis, federal law strictly prohibits its use, even for medical purposes. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court, in Conant v. McCaffrey, upheld a decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that physicians have a fundamental right to recommend the use of cannabis to their patients. Unfortunately, outdated federal policies make safe and legal access to cannabis next to impossible. Most patients have to break the law and place themselves (or their caregivers) in unnecessary and potentially harmful entanglements with the illicit market in order to gain access to cannabis legally recommended by their physician.
In contrast, thirteen states have passed laws which permit individuals living with a serious or chronic illness to use and obtain cannabis from authorized caregivers as recommended by a licensed physician without legal sanction. However, these state laws differ from the federal law and leave patients and their providers vulnerable to federal raids, arrest, and prosecution.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Raich, which did not invalidate state medical cannabis laws, state and local governments have been working overtime to ensure the governance and oversight of the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis in accordance with state law. Unfortunately, the proper implementation of state medical cannabis laws is stymied by federal interference. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has conducted scores of enforcement raids and employed intimidation tactics designed to undermine the effective implementation of state and local law.
The time for change is now; Executive leadership requires a focus on harmonizing the conflict between federal and state law and support for a comprehensive plan to ensure safe access for individuals who use cannabis to control symptoms of HIV/AIDS, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, and other serious or chronic diseases. The science and policy regarding the medical use of cannabis should not be obscured or hindered by the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana for general use. Scientific consensus coupled with state leadership has provided a solid foundation for federal policymakers to create a comprehensive plan to support long-term solutions for safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of individuals, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services for patients and their caregivers. We offer the following recommendations for action by the Obama Administration.
This document is predominantly a call for compassionate leadership. It is a call for specific changes to federal policy to meet the immediate needs of individuals who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes, their health care providers and medical researchers.
END FEDERAL RAIDS, INTIMIDATION AND INTERFERENCE WITH STATE LAW
ENCOURAGE ADVANCED CLINICAL RESEARCH TRIALS THAT MEET ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC STANDARDS
ENSURE THE QUALITY AND OBJECTIVITY OF INFORMATION DISSEMINATED BY FEDERAL AGENCIES
AUTHORIZE AFFIRMATIVE AND LEGITIMATE DEFENSES IN FEDERAL TRIALS
REMOVE CANNABIS FROM THE LIST OF SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES