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Should marijuana be legalized for medical purposes?


Dave Fratello

There is no question that if marijuana were any other drug, decisions about its medical use would be up to doctors and patients. Instead, today, the politics of the drug war intervene. Patients and doctors who get involved with medical marijuana face potentially grave risks. And government seems committed to maximizing the fear and uncertainty faced by those who might benefit using it.

It need not be this way. Scientific and medical texts going back thousands of years point to medicinal properties for marijuana. Modern scientific studies, including six sponsored by U.S. states in the 1970s and 1980s, demonstrate that smoked marijuana reduces nausea and reduces pain for many patients, especially those facing cancer chemotherapy and glaucoma.

More to the point, thousands of patients and their families and doctors have experienced and witnessed the medical benefits of marijuana. They have told others. They have testified at public hearings and appeared in the mass media. They have contributed to books and research studies on the drug. The phenomenon is real.

Those who say the evidence is not yet good enough miss the point. The evidence is clearly good enough to make two declarations now: 1) decisions about marijuana for medical use belong in the hands of doctors and patients, and 2) there is no reason at all to subject medical patients who use marijuana for legitimate medical purposes to the risk of arrest, jail, fines, and public embarassment.

Conclusion: Because current laws deprives doctors and patients of this freedom, and classify patients as criminals, all such laws should be changed.

Science should be free to pursue more definitive data on marijuana. Doctors and patients can only benefit from such new information.

But the political controversy that follows marijuana should not stretch all the way into doctors' offices and into patients' hospital rooms and homes. The drug war's generals should declare a hasty retreat from this front.


Dave Fratello is communications director for Americans for Medical Rights, a national group based in Los Angeles that is currently sponsoring ballot initiatives in six states to allow medical use of marijuana. He can be contacted by email at:

CADCA's mission is to build and strengthen the capacity of community coalitions to give them greater power to prevent and reduce substance abuse. The organization supports coalition members with technical assistance and training, public policy, media strategies and marketing programs, conferences and special events, implementation of workplace programs, and the creation of mobilization strategies surrounding current drug-related national issues.


Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America

The passage of two state referenda (California & Arizona) legalizing the possession of marijuana for "compassionate, medical" use has launched a polarizing national debate. Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) has become increasingly concerned as the medical marijuana issue evolved from an unlikely "niche" campaign to law in two states. The language crafted in the California and Arizona bills allows a broad interpretation about what constitutes medical use, and creates considerable confusion for regulatory and enforcement sectors.

The California and Arizona initiatives are of great concern to CADCA for two primary reasons:

1. The initiatives have created serious confusion for our youth about the use and abuse of marijuana at a time when the rates of experimentation and habitual use are going up among 12-17 year olds. The message that these initiatives send is that marijuana is medically benevolent and therefore is not a harmful drug.

In addition, these initiatives can only increase access to marijuana for a young population who will be damaged by drug use. All available research indicates that smoking marijuana regularly is developmentally very dangerous, and that it increases the risk of developing memory, learning, and emotional disorders, as well as a host of smoking-related problems.

2. The initiatives have thrown out all of the accepted rules of medical research and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The rigorous FDA approval process is designed to protect consumers who cannot possibly conduct their own research. An approved drug must demonstrate that it causes no harm when taken properly, and that it shows a demonstrable and consistently positive effect on the medical condition in question.

The argument promoting medical marijuana is that the drug is a folk medicine miracle which is being kept from a needy public because of administrative apathy and industrial influences. This is simply not true. Smoked marijuana has been extensively researched, and has not yet been documented to be a safe and effective medical treatment. Instead, it has been shown to be a likely cause of many negative health effects. Furthermore, there are many approved drugs currently available which are appropriate, safe and effective treatments for the same ailments marijuana allegedly helps.

The bottom line in the medical marijuana debate is that Propositions 200 and 215 have very little to do with compassion for the terminally ill. These initiatives are dangerous and misconceived responses, not solutions, to the medical needs they purport to serve.

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