Leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) is at it again. Just two weeks ago, DRCNet reported on how the author of the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision was using his position as chair of the House Government Reform Committee's drug subcommittee to advance new anti-methamphetamine legislation and as a bully pulpit to urge the Supreme Court not to approve states' rights for medical marijuana in the US (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/364/souder.shtml). Two weeks before that, he intimated in an interview on a Canadian television station that Canada could face border crossing slowdowns if it enacted its long-awaited legislation decriminalizing marijuana.
Now, Souder is going after medical marijuana again. In a December 3rd letter to congressional offices, Souder announced that he will this week introduce a bill directing the National Institutes of Health to study the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana and requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to post the information "and distribute it to those public health entities that advocate or recommend patients smoke marijuana."
"The FDA has failed to educate the public against a dangerous drug whose dangers have been kept from the public by those promoting its use," Souder warned his colleagues as he sought cosponsors. "Vioxx? No. Marijuana," he cautioned.
"The fact is smoking marijuana has no scientifically proven medical benefits," Souder continued. "Smoking marijuana puts users at risk for countless serious health problems and may worsen the conditions for which patients wrongly believe it is treating. And real medical alternatives exist for patients suffering from the conditions proponents of smoking marijuana claim it can treat. And again, patients who are smoking marijuana are being denied legitimate care that could improve rather than worsen their medical conditions."
Clearly, Souder believes the result of any such investigation would show that medical marijuana is either ineffective or harmful or both. In that respect, he shows a remarkable ability to ignore a growing stack of scientific evidence, prominently including the Institute of Medicine's 1999 study, that show marijuana to have medicinal properties.
"We have no doubt that an honest, objective evaluation of medical marijuana will show what every prior impartial evaluation has shown, that marijuana has great benefits for some patients and is safer than many commonly used prescription and over-the-counter drugs," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org). "Marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose, while acetaminophen -- the active ingredient in Tylenol -- is estimated to kill 458 Americans per year from acute liver failure."
But while medical marijuana proponents would dearly love to see an honest, unbiased review of the evidence on marijuana, they doubt that is what Souder is aiming for. "There are two red flags in Souder's bill suggesting he doesn't really want a fair study," Fox added. "First, he wants it done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose main role in medical marijuana research has been to obstruct it. Second, he is asking them to focus only on smoked marijuana, while growing numbers of medical users use vaporizers -- devices that allow them to inhale marijuana's therapeutically active components without the harmful irritants in smoke. For 17 months now, NIDA has been blocking researchers from obtaining 10 grams of marijuana for a vaporizer study. Sadly, NIDA's record does not indicate that it is capable of dealing with medical marijuana in an unbiased, impartial way."
Tellingly, the same day Fox was writing those words, NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow was in Vancouver telling Canadians why they should not decriminalize marijuana and she was relying on tired old bogeymen like "it's not your father's marijuana" to do so. Marijuana should not be legalized for any reason, she said, warning a bemused Canadian audience about the dangers of THC. "It is this chemical that can lead to the addiction," she said. "When people were taking marijuana in the past, they were consuming a very weak drug. The experiences that people may have had -- that are now in their 40s and 50s -- who say 'I never became addicted to that drug,' that does not necessarily pertain to the type of compound we're seeing today," according to a Canadian Press account of her remarks.
Skepticism about Souder's motives has extended to Capitol Hill, where Rep. Sam Farr Tuesday circulated his own "dear colleague" letter. "I would urge all Members to cosponsor this legislation, IF it were truly designed to produce an honest evaluation of the scientific data," wrote Farr, who earlier this year cosponsored the Patients' and Providers' Truth in Trials Act, which would allow a medical necessity defense in federal medical marijuana busts. "I am, however, skeptical that this will be the case, given that the bill only refers to 'smoked' marijuana and is proposing that the examination be carried out by NIDA, an agency which is actively blocking medical marijuana research while consistently highlighting and exaggerating the drug's negative consequences."
Like MPP's Fox, Farr also mentioned the vaporizer study blocked by NIDA. The blocked study is worth mention, Farr argued, because in his "dear colleague" letter, Souder specified a study of smoked marijuana. "Why should we think that NIDA, under the Souder bill, will study what it has already been able to study for the last year and a half, but wouldn't?" Farr asked.
An honest evaluation of marijuana, wrote Farr, would reach the same conclusion as DEA chief administrative law judge Francis Young, who, after a two-year study, found in 1988 that "marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known... It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance."
Farr accused the federal government of "obstructionism" in blocking medical marijuana research, but said it couldn't stop the truth. "Despite this obstructionism, there is still ample evidence to show that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine. I applaud Rep. Souder for seeking the truth -- but the truth must come from objective sources, not an agency already proven disposed to blocking the truth about marijuana."