Vice President Al Gore, speaking before a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, appeared to endorse a serious break with Clinton Administration policy regarding the medicinal use of marijuana when he advocated giving doctors "flexibility" on the issue. At a press conference following the event, however, Gore retreated quickly back to the party line on the need for more research before any change in policy could be considered.
In response to a question from the town hall audience, Gore gave responded that doctors and patients "ought to have the option" to use marijuana to relieve suffering. "Where the alleviation of pain in medical situations is concerned, we have not given doctors enough flexibility to help patients who are going through acute pain," he said. "Many of us have seen that ourselves."
To prove this last point, Gore again referred to his sister's battle with cancer, claiming that her doctor had prescribed marijuana to her, but that it had not produced "the desired result" and she had stopped using it. Asked how her doctor procured the marijuana, Gore said, "it came in a prescription container with a label on it." Gore's sister was treated at the Vanderbilt Hospital, and, he noted, her doctor was the former head of the American Lung Association.
Gore admitted to the audience that the position he was advocating was at odds with the stated position of Clinton Drug Policy chief Barry McCaffrey.
At a press conference following the public event, however, Gore was quick to retreat to the party line.
"If the research shows that there are circumstances in which there is no alternative for alleviating the pain that doctors believe can be alleviated through the use of medical marijuana, then under certain limited medical circumstances -- if the research validates that choice -- then it should be allowed. We are not at that point."
Chris Lahane, press secretary for the Gore Campaign, told The Week Online that "Al Gore believes that more scientific research needs to be done, but that after that is accomplished, if the findings are favorable, only then should we should consider making it available under tightly controlled conditions."
Asked whether the untold thousands of patients currently using marijuana to relieve suffering should be arrested, as is current federal policy, Lahane said that Gore "is strongly opposed to the legalization of marijuana through the state referendums and initiatives that he has seen."
Richard Evans, a Massachusetts attorney and member of the national board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Week Online that "what was said by the candidate is not as important as the fact that he addressed the issue. We must continue to force candidates and public officials to treat the issue seriously."
Currently, there are 13 states that have compassionate use programs on the books, under which doctors could theoretically prescribe marijuana, under research conditions, if they could succeed in getting a supply of cannabis from the federal government. Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Week Online that Gore's sister must have been part of the Tennessee program that has since been discontinued.
"The results of the Tennessee program showed that for most of the participants, marijuana was effective. In fact, compared with pharmaceutical THC, the doctors there found smoked marijuana to be 23% more effective. The only subgroup that did not seem to benefit were lung cancer patients, who presumably had trouble handling the smoke. Al Gore's sister, as he has stated publicly, had lung cancer, and so it is not surprising that it did not have the desired effect in her case."
"The question," Thomas continued, "is whether Al Gore, as President, would order the federal government to resume supplying marijuana to the state programs, which are themselves part of the research that he claims does not exist."