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Medical Marijuana No. 104

Adopted 1997
Reaffirmed 1998
Reaffirmed 1999
Amended 2001
Reaffirmed 2003
Reaffirmed 2004
Amended 2005

Thousands of patients and their doctors nationwide have found medical marijuana to be therapeutically beneficial, and several states have acted to legalize its use upon the recommendation of a doctor. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration has successfully argued before the Supreme Court that the Federal Government should have the power to arrest seriously ill people who use it, based on federal authority over controlled substances that preempts state laws related to public health.

Thus, people for whom the standard legal medical medical alternatives have not been safe or effective are left with two terrible choices: (1) continue to suffer, or (2) obtain marijuana illegally and face arrest and prison. Additionally, laws banning medicinal marijuana may force patients to obtain impure marijuana bought through a potentially dangerous criminal market.

In 1988, after reviewing all available medical data, the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief administrative law judge, Francis Young, declared that marijuana is "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known" and recommended that it be rescheduled to allow doctors to prescribe it.

A scientific survey conducted in 1990 by Harvard University researchers found that 54% of oncologists with an opinion favored the controlled medical availability of marijuana and 44% had already broken the law by suggesting at least once that a patient obtain marijuana illegally. A scientific survey conducted in 1995 by Belden & Russonello (a Washington, D.C.- based polling firm) determined that 79% of U.S. voters supported the idea of "legaliz[ing] marijuana to relieve pain and for other medical uses if prescribed by a doctor."

Therefore, ADA supports the enactment of legislation which reschedules marijuana allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients in need. This federal action is necessary in light of two Supreme Court rulings, 1) making it illegal to distribute medicinal marijuana (U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative S. Ct. May 14, 2001), and (2) making it illegal to consume or possess marijuana for medicinal reasons (Gonzalez v. Raich, S. Ct. June 5, 2005). ADA urges the U.S. Public Health Service to allow limited access to medicinal marijuana by reopening promptly the Investigational New Drug compassionate access program to new applicants.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires more clinical research on marijuana's therapeutic potential before the FDA will consider approving marijuana as a legal prescription medicine.

Federal agencies -- including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) -- are now inhibiting FDA-approved medicinal marijuana research by imposing bureaucratic impediments on medicinal marijuana research that do not apply to FDA-approved research of synthetic pharmaceuticals. One such bureaucratic hurdle is that NIDA - which controls the only legal domestic source of marijuana for research in the United States - refuses to provide marijuana for FDA-approved research unless the investigator's study protocol is first approved by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant-application review panel, even if an NIH grant isn't needed.

Therefore, ADA urges Congress, the FDA, NIDA, DEA and all other relevant federal agencies to take all necessary action to expedite unimpeded scientific research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana and specifically urges Congress to enact and the President to sign legislation that requires NIDA to provide marijuana for all FDA-approved research.

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Since 1978, 36 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation in support of medicinal marijuana - yet access remains stymied by the federal government's overriding prohibition of medicinal marijuana. Through legislatures and voter initiatives states are attempting to establish medical access to marijuana. While the Supreme Court's action reduces the practical benefit of state efforts, ADA should endeavor to generate public support as a crucial step toward persuading Congress to end the federal prohibition of medicinal marijuana.

ADA members and chapters should take whatever constructive actions they can to persuade their Representatives and Senators to support legalization of medical marijuana. Finally, ADA urges Congress to enact and the President to sign legislation that establishes a state's right to provide marijuana as a medicine to seriously ill patients, based on the time-honored state authority for protecting public health.

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No. 104

Social and Domestic Policy Commission