Marijuana issue often exploited for political gain

April 30, 2006

Emily Powers, The Rebel Yell (UNLV)

Every morning, eight individuals living in eight different parts of the country wake up, draw open the curtains, pour their coffee and smoke. They don't smoke cigarettes, but joints provided by the federal government. This arrangement is 16 years old and perfectly legal. Known as the Compassionate Access Program of 1978, and sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal government pays the University of Mississippi, along with a North Carolina manufacturer, $62,000 a year to grow a "consistent, reliable source of research-grade cannabis" to roll up and ship Federal Express, in sealed tins of 300 each, to the patients' doctors and pharmacists. Mr. Rosenfeld, who resides in Florida, is one of those eight individuals who receives a free can of marijuana each month. Some may call him one of the fortunate few to benefit from this program, but he suffers daily from a painful and rare bone disorder and is permitted to smoke only to relieve his pain.

Before Rosenfeld, before the FDA reports and before the Compassionate Access Program, the medical use of marijuana was practiced throughout history and throughout much of the world. For thousands of years, marijuana has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments and diseases. The more recent maladies it has been used to alleviate include AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain and cancer. Until 1937, marijuana was even legal in the United States for all purposes. Now, federal law permits use among only eight of the millions of Americans suffering from these diseases who could benefit from medical marijuana.

Last Thursday, the FDA issued a one-page, poorly documented statement claiming that there are "no sound scientific studies" supporting the medical use of marijuana. This statement completely contradicts not only thousands of years of medical history but numerous scientific studies conducted by our own federal government and funded by the FDA. Has the FDA already forgotten about the 1999 report commissioned by the White House and issued by a panel of 11 highly regarded scientists from The Institute of Medicine? While the infamous 1999 report was careful not to directly endorse marijuana, it did endeavor to accurately and honestly measure the drug and its effects and did find that marijuana contains strong medicinal value. While scientists noted that the benefits of marijuana were limited by the toxic effects of smoke, they agreed that the drug should be given to patients who are not responding to other therapies because marijuana contains "active ingredients useful for treating pain, nausea and severe weight loss."

The new and highly controversial FDA statement issued on April 20, and drafted with the help of other federal agencies (and perhaps with the administration's personal input as well), does not allow any leeway for patients and does not acknowledge any of the positive effects of marijuana that were previously mentioned. The new brief further argues that, "state laws permitting the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation are inconsistent with ensuring that all medications undergo rigorous scrutiny in the drug approval process."

We all must ask ourselves whether this an issue of science or politics. Where do we draw the line between law and reason? A substance that was legal in this nation for 200 years, a substance that, for nearly 30 years since its prohibition, has been grown, distributed and even funded by the federal government, is suddenly found under the most conservative presidency to have no positive effects by a one-page report that cites no sources and documents no evidence. Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, claims that the recent brief on marijuana is "a very good statement so that people can clearly see what the policy of the United States government is." Remind me again what the policy of the U.S. government is. For some reason, I remember the National Institute on Drug Abuse issuing a statement in 1999 supporting the medicinal value of marijuana. For some reason, I remember the government creating the Compassionate Access Program to legalize some medical marijuana use in 1978. For some reason, I remember the federal government paying off universities and farmers to harvest weed for eight ailing citizens.

Let's not forget, Clinton admitted to smoking marijuana. Gore admitted to smoking marijuana. And President Bush, though he refuses to issue a formal statement (as he always does when it comes to these things), probably smoked marijuana as well. And these cases weren't even for medical purposes. Recreational, perhaps, but certainly not medical. What is the policy of the U.S. government when it comes to marijuana? Maybe my memory serves me wrong. Maybe I'm hallucinating. Or maybe the U.S. government is.

As many states have organized committees and citizens and proposed legislation in support of state laws legalizing this practice, the timing of this hasty and hollow statement seems a little bit too convenient. Evidence in the 1999 report and evidence in this new 2006 report is disingenuous, if you even want to call what was issued recently "evidence." After seven years of relying on the most comprehensive and detailed reports ever issued in this country, are we suddenly going to ignore all of the scientific evidence supporting the medical benefits of marijuana and now turn to the FDA's flimsy, one-page opinion paper on why marijuana is evil? It's almost as ludicrous as rejecting scientific evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution and replacing school textbooks with Bibles. Although, I suppose that in this day in age anything is possible.

In the United States of America, there exists not only a clash between religion and science or religion and politics, but now science and politics as well. We have seen firsthand the reach of executive power in this nation. We have seen firsthand the president's opinions become policy. However, just because an administration disagrees with a theory, or with sound scientific evidence, doesn't mean the evidence doesn't exist or it shouldn't be used to promote the common good. The current administration does not have to endorse medical marijuana, but they do not hold the right to tamper with science or censor the truth. It is quite alarming that "the government is actively discouraging relevant research," according to scientists quoted in the New York Times. False statements like the one issued by the FDA work against science and work against the welfare of the people.

It is obviously far safer and far more convenient to fabricate a brief, dismissive statement rather than support research or pursue further investigations that may be beneficial to millions of Americans. God forbid such research undermine the administration's adamant opposition to the medical use of marijuana.

The New York Times notes that normally, decisions issued by the FDA are well-thought out and well-researched, reflecting the opinions and perspectives of multiple scientists and then proceeding to render an opinion as to whether a substance is safe and effective to use. This time, the FDA simply issued an elementary one-page brief asserting that "no sound scientific studies" supported the medical use of marijuana. To me, this is proof enough that the president was involved.

Freedom of choice is one that I guess we as Americans no longer value in this country. Go ahead federal government: take our rights away. Invade our privacy. Invade our homes. Wiretap our phones. Tell us what we can and cannot do with our own bodies. Dictate what the children should be reading in our schools. Hide the truth. Tell us lies. Contradict yourselves. What we don't know won't hurt us … right?

The harmonic words of the preamble Constitution seem to have faded over the past few years. These words, which once rang loud and clear and echoed from the peaks and valleys of our Constitution, have now disintegrated into a dull whisper.

It is only when you turn off the television, it is only when you turn off what the government wants you to hear and listen to your own voice that you can hear the symphony of those symbolic words: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"

Justice. Tranquility. Welfare. Liberty. These sacred values are merely lip service this day in age. They are the lip service of a president who fails to protect or enact them. "I wouldn't answer the marijuana question," President Bush once said during a 1998 private discussion secretly taped by Doug Wead .

"You know why I won't answer it?" Bush said. "'Cause I don't want some little kid doing what I tried. You gotta understand, I want to be president, I want to lead."

Oh, he's leading us alright. The administration and the FDA are hand in hand leading us away from an era of medical marijuana, away from an era where patients' rights are valued and respected, away from an era where science and doctors can do their job.

Maybe if patients promise not to inhale we can call it even. Or maybe not.

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