April 20, 2006
David Boaz, The Guardian (UK)
The US food and drug administration states today that "no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use". In making this assertion, the FDA ignores aedu/readingroom/books/marimed/'>250-page report issued in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific advisory body. That review of the literature found marijuana to be "moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and Aids wasting".
Many patients have testified to the unique value of smoked marijuana in their efforts to deal with glaucoma, nausea, severe pain and other conditions. The FDA rejects those personal stories. It also ignores the complication that the US government refuses to allow scientific research on the effects of marijuana.
Of course, to a libertarian this medical debate is beside the point. Why should federal bureaucrats be able to decide what treatment a patient will pursue? Each patient should be free to choose his own medicines. It's one thing for the government to offer information and advice; it's quite another to threaten to arrest patients who use unapproved medicines or the people who supply those medicines.
Critics also object that the FDA is intruding in state political battles. Several states have passed initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana, although the supreme court ruled in 2005 that the federal government can overrule such state laws and continue prosecuting patients, doctors, and other providers.
The war in Iraq is bad enough. But the war on drugs has lasted longer and cost more money and more American lives. And neither Democrats nor Republicans are talking about withdrawal.
David Boaz is the executive vice-president of the libertarian Cato Institute, a non-profit-making public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington DC.