On December 9, the AMA, the US' largest and most influential physicians' organization, passed a resolution calling for the government to stay out of discussions between doctors and patients concerning the potential use of marijuana as medicine. The recommendations were contained in a report approved by the AMA's House of Delegates. This was the first time that the historically conservative group has taken a favorable position on the issue.
At a press conference held on December 31, 1996, in the wake of the passage of Propositions 200 in Arizona and 215 in California, the Clinton administration threatened to revoke Medicare participation and DEA prescription licensing, and possibly to prosecute doctors who so much as discussed the issue with their patients. The administration is currently in court appealing a restraining order which prevents it from carrying out the threats.
"The AMA believes that effective patient care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions," the resolution said.
While the report avoided a wholesale endorsement of the medical use of marijuana, and made no recommendations concerning the legal status of the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of patients who currently risk arrest and imprisonment for their use of it, the report did recognize that a body of evidence exists which indicates its effectiveness. Significantly, the report notes, "Smoked marijuana was comparable or more effective than oral THC (Marinol)... in reducing nausea and emesis." Marinol is legally available by prescription in the US.
Finally, the report urges that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provide marijuana for FDA-approved research into marijuana's medical uses. NIDA, the only legal source of marijuana for research purposes, has steadfastly refused to provide marijuana for any study which is not being directly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH has funded many studies on the potential dangers of marijuana, but has refused to fund research into the plant's potential medical benefits.
According to Chuck Thomas, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, "The AMA's recommendations are a step in the right direction. It should now be easier for researchers to conduct the few remaining studies necessary to enable the FDA to approve marijuana as a prescription medicine."
NOTE: You can find the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) on the web at http://www.mpp.org. MPP has been working to inform the AMA, and they are continuously lobbying Congress on behalf of more rational policies on cannabis. Their work is vital to the reform movement, they are good guys, and they deserve your support. And make sure to tell 'em that DRCNet sent you.