Although the decision does not invalidate laws in the 11 states that have approved medical marijuana, it does prevent protection from prosecution of users and doctors who prescribe the drug (Henderson).
The 11 states that have legalized medical marijuana use include Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington (Medical). Eight states did so through the initiative process, while Hawaii's law was enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor in 2000. Vermont's law was enacted by the legislature and passed without signature in 2004, while Rhode Island's law was enacted by overriding the governor's veto in January 2006 (Medical). From 1978 to 1997, 35 states and the District of Columbia passed legislation recognizing the medicinal value of marijuana. These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Missouri, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Medical).
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report on medical marijuana, stating, "The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation" (Medical). Upon examining the question whether medical use would lead to an increase of use among the general population, the report concluded that:
At this point there are no convincing data to support this concern. The existing data are consistent with the dea that this would not be a problem if the medical use of marijuana were as closely regulated as other medications with abuse potential...this question is beyond the issues normally considered for medical uses of drugs, and should not be a factor in evaluating the therapeutic potential of marijuana or cannabinoids" (Medical).
The report noted that marijuana was not a completely benign substance and did have a variety of effects, however apart from the harms associated with smoking, "the adverse effects were within the range of effects tolerated for other medications" (Medical). Based on all 15 studies, the report did note that regular cannabis users performed worse on memory tests, yet the magnitude of the effect was very small.
The small magnitude of effect sizes from observations of chronic users of cannabis suggests that cannabis compounds, if found to have therapeutic value, should have a good margin of safety from a neurocognitive standpoint under the more limited conditions of exposure that would likely obtain in a medical setting" (Medical).
Yet, despite the established medical value of marijuana, physicians are not allowed to prescribe it, however they are permitted to prescribe cocaine and morphine (Medical).
Numerous organizations have endorsed medical access to marijuana, including: the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Bar Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, AIDS Action Council, British Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, Consumer Reports Magazine, Kaiser Permanente, Lymphoma Foundation of America, National Association of Attorneys General, New England Journal of Medicine, to name but a few (Medical). Other organizations have favorable positions (unimpeded research) on medical marijuana, including the Institute of Medicine, The American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, Australian Commonwealth Department of Human Services, Federation of American Scientists, and the National Academy of Sciences (Medical).
In 1988, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis L. Young ruled:
Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known....[T]he provisions of the [Controlled Substances] Act permit and require the transfer of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance...In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care" (Medical).
Opponents to the legalization of medical marijuana generally refer to the fact that the FDA has approved the only psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, THC, that has been found useful for pain relief, as Marinol, in pill form through a prescription (Zimmer). Marinol is a Schedule IT drug with limited medical use and high potential for abuse. It is an anti-nausea drug for cancer patients who fail to respond to other drugs, and is prescribed as an appetite stimulant for patients suffering from AIDS, and has not been found to be safe and effective for any other condition (Zimmer). According to one study, patients preferred Marinol over smoking marijuana 2 to 1, and based on a study by the IOM, the risks of marijuana on the immune system were such that it favored development of a smoke-free inhaled delivery system to provide purer forms of THC (Zimmer).
One doctor compared smoking marijuana for the THC to eating moldy bread in an attempt to get penicillin (Zimmer). A prominent oncologist declared he could manage pain with legal drugs in 99% of his patients. Moreover, there are newer and better medications for chemotherapy patients than Marinol, such as Zofran, which as been hailed as a "miracle" drug (Zimmer). Furthermore, crude marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals which, when smoked, become thousands, whereas, pharmaceutical drugs are of a single ingredient and of a known dosage (Zimmer).
Opponents to legalization also claim that marijuana is addictive and leads to the use of other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. They also claim that it can cause respiratory diseases and mental disorders including depression, paranoia, decreased cognitive performance and impaired memory (Zimmer). Drug czar Barry McCaffrey and other federal officials oppose leniency on the question of medical marijuana stating that it "sends the wrong message" and undermines government efforts to suppress marijuana's recreational use (Zimmer).
In May 2006, the Washington Post revealed: "The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer" (Kaufman A03). Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years and has often been used by the federal government to prove the harmful effects of marijuana, said that the new findings "were against our expectations" (Kaufman A03).
With such glowing recommendations and support from a myriad of medical organizations and even the government's own DEA office, it is puzzling why marijuana is illegal at all, particularly for medical purposes. Arguments against legalization of medical marijuana are simply not logical or founded in scientific research. It is not logical that a physician can prescribe morphine, but not marijuana, or the fact that alcohol and cigarettes, both highly addictive, are legal. Moreover, synthetic THC has been found to be more toxic over prolonged use than natural marijuana. Could this be a conspiracy by the drug companies?
Earleywine, Mitch. Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific
Evidence. Oxford University Press. 2002. Pp. 9,10,11,14,16. Retrieved July 26 from Questia Online Library.
Henderson, Stephen. "Court loss for medical marijuana: Users in the 11 states that allow it can still face federal prosecution, justices ruled by 6-3, while not invalidating laws in those states." The Philadelphia Inquirer. June 07, 2005. Retrieved July 26, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Kaufman, Marc. "Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection." Washington
Post. May 26, 2006. Pp. A03. Retrieved July 26, 2006 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html
Medical Marijuana." Drug War Facts. Retrieved July 26, 2006 at http://www.drugwarfacts.org/medicalm.htm
Merrett, Jo. "If Queen Victoria and Moses were cannabis users is it really that bad? POTTED HISTORY…