Feature: Future Doctors Support Medical Marijuana

June 26, 2008

Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle

The Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American Medical Association (AMA) overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution urging the AMA to support the reclassification of marijuana for medical use at the AMA's annual conference in Chicago earlier this month. The resolution will now go before the AMA House of Delegates for a final vote at its interim meeting in November.

After a lengthy series of whereases detailing scientific support for therapeutic uses of cannabis, the MSS resolved that:

  • RESOLVED, That our AMA support reclassification of marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance into a more appropriate schedule; and be it further
  • RESOLVED, That this resolution be forwarded to the House of Delegates at I-08.

With some 50,000 members, the MSS is the largest and most influential organization of medical students in the US. The other major medical student group in the county, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which split from the AMA in the heady days of the 1960s to pursue a more socially activist agenda, endorsed rescheduling marijuana in 1993 and added its own resolution endorsing clinical research on medical marijuana in 1999. (AMSA claims 68,000 members, but also includes pre-med students.)

Those two organizations join a growing list of medical groupings supporting medical marijuana, including the AIDS Action Council, the Alaska Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the American Preventive Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the California Medical Association, the California Pharmacists Association, the Connecticut Nurses Association, Cure AIDS Now, the Florida Medical Association, the Los Angeles County AIDS Commission, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the National Association for Public Health Policy, the National Association of People with AIDS, the National Nurses Society on Addictions, the New England Journal of Medicine, the New Mexico Medical Society, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the San Francisco Medical Society, the Virginia Nurses Society on Addictions, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, and state nurses associations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to the medical marijuana education and advocacy group Patients Out of Time.

The most recent addition to that list was the American College of Physicians (ACP), which adopted a resolution called for rescheduling of marijuana and an expansion of research into its medical efficacy in February. With 124,000 members, the ACP is the country's second largest physician group, second only to the AMA.

But the AMA remains recalcitrant. Its most recent recommendation on medical marijuana, adopted in 2001, calls for further study, but urges that marijuana remain at Schedule 1 pending the outcome of those studies. The resolution passed by the MSS is designed to prod the organization forward.

The MSS may have some clout, but it can't do it alone, said Sunil Aggarwal, a University of Washington medical student who championed the resolution in Chicago. "If it's just us, we lose," he said. "Between now and November, we'll be trying to get different organizations within the AMA to stand with us. We'll be going after the state medical societies in all the medical marijuana states, and we'll be building alliances with groups that are our allies, like the ACP," he strategized. "We have to be careful, though. There are some forces that would like to quash us, like the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Even though they're a relatively new organization, everyone tends to defer to them on matters of addiction and substance abuse. If they say no, the AMA might get cold feet."

Medical marijuana advocates were pleased at the news. "This is a positive and necessary step in the right direction," said Dr. David Ostrow, a member of the AMA and Chair of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Board of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. "We are hopeful that the full house of delegates will follow the example set by the American College of Physicians earlier this year and vote to support this resolution, thereby placing the needs and safety of our patients above politics."

Whether the battle is won this year or not, Aggarwal and his colleagues are the wave of the future, he said. "The two organizations that represent medical students nationally have now both called for the reclassification of marijuana," he said. "We're the future doctors of America. These are the people who are going to be the leaders in American medicine, and now they are officially supporting medical marijuana," he said. "This is a big milestone."



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