Congressional Research Service Report on Medical Marijuana

Big thanks to NORMLinFL in comments for pointing us to Congressional Research Service Report RL33211: Medical Marijuana: Review and Analysis of Federal and State Policies by Mark Eddy, Domestic Social Policy Division, November 10, 2008.

CRS reports are compilations and summaries of existing information, and are commissioned by Congress to provide background information to be used in helping them formulate policy. Ideally, they are intended to be a straightforward presentation of the available facts, without bias or political agenda (although some CRS reports I’ve read end up with perhaps unintended bias due to incomplete research methods and/or failure to ask the right questions).

This CRS report is one of the best I’ve read, and stands on its own as an excellent summary of the history, science and politics of medical marijuana.

Here’s an important part of its methodology:

In the ongoing debate over cannabis as medicine, certain arguments are
frequently made on both sides of the issue. These arguments are briefly stated below
and are analyzed in turn. Equal weight is not given to both sides of every argument.
Instead, the analysis is weighted according to the preponderance of evidence as
currently understood
. CRS takes no position on the claims or counterclaims in this

What follows is an attempt to analyze objectively the claims frequently made
about the role that herbal cannabis might or might not play in the treatment of certain
diseases and about the possible societal consequences should its role in the practice
of modern medicine be expanded beyond the places where it is now permitted under
state laws. [emphasis added]

An excellent approach which, since the evidence leans toward medical marijuana, leads any reader of the report to naturally see the reason and logic in supporting medical marijuana.

The report notes that it is unlikely for Congress or the Administration to reschedule marijuana out of schedule 1, but that puts them at odds with vast public opinion, the Supreme Court, and science.

It’s really something to read all the points in history of medical marijuana and see how narrow political self-interest in the DEA, FDA, HHS, etc. trumped science and medical/legal opinion at every turn.

And then, matter of fact statements sprinkled throughout, such as:

Many patients have found that they benefit more from the whole plant than
from any synthetically produced chemical derivative.87 Furthermore, the natural plant
can be grown easily and inexpensively, whereas Marinol and any other cannabisbased
pharmaceuticals that might be developed in the future will likely be expensive
Ö prohibitively so for some patients.88 […]

The federal government‰s own IND Compassionate Access Program, which has
provided government-grown medical marijuana to a select group of patients since
1978, provides important evidence that marijuana has medicinal value and can be
used safely. […]

The therapeutic value of smoked marijuana is supported by existing research and experience. […]

Smoking can actually be a preferred drug delivery system for patients whose
nausea prevents them from taking anything orally. Such patients need to inhale their
antiemitic drug. Other patients prefer inhaling because the drug is absorbed much
more quickly through the lungs, so that the beneficial effects of the drug are felt
almost at once. This rapid onset also gives patients more control over dosage. […]

Concerns that medical cannabis laws send the wrong message to vulnerable groups such as adolescents seem to be unfounded. […]

Marijuana grown for medical purposes, according to DEA and
other federal drug control agencies, can be diverted into the larger, illegal marijuana
market, thereby undermining law enforcement efforts to eliminate the marijuana
market altogether. […] GAO responded that in their interviews with federal officials regarding the impact of state medical marijuana laws on their law enforcement efforts, ‹none of the federal officials we spoke with provided information that abuse of medical marijuana laws was routinely occurring in any of the states, including California.Š116 The
government also failed to establish this in the Raich case. […]

The situation that Grinspoon and Bakalar described in 1995 in the
Journal of the American Medical Association persists a decade later: ‹At present, the
greatest danger in medical use of marihuana is its illegality, which imposes much
anxiety and expense on suffering people, forces them to bargain with illicit drug
dealers, and exposes them to the threat of criminal prosecution.Š131 […]

As for the charge that politics should not play a role in the drug approval and
controlled substance scheduling processes, medical marijuana supporters point out
that marijuana‰s original listing as a Schedule I substance in 1970 was itself a
political act on the part of Congress.

Scientists on both sides of the issue say more research needs to be done, yet
some researchers charge that the federal government has all but shut down marijuana
clinical trials for reasons based on politics and ideology rather than science.143 […]

The report concludes with a discussion about the politics of medical marijuana…

Is it cynical or smart for NORML and other drug reform organizations to
simultaneously pursue the separate goals of marijuana decriminalization for all, on
the one hand, and marijuana rescheduling for the seriously ill, on the other? It is not
unusual for political activists tactically to press for Ö and accept Ö half-measures
in pursuit of a larger strategic goal. Pro-life activists work to prohibit partial-birth
abortions and to pass parental notification laws. Gay rights activists seek limited
domestic partner benefits as a stepping stone to full marriage equality. Thus is the
tactic used on both sides of the cultural divide in America, to the alarm of those
opposed. […]

Rescheduling marijuana and making it available for medical use and research is not necessarily a step toward legalizing its recreational use. Such a move would put it on a par with cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, and methadone, all of
which are Schedule II substances that are not close to becoming legal for recreational use. Proponents of medical marijuana ask why marijuana should be considered differently than these other scheduled substances.

It is also arguable that marijuana should indeed be considered differently than cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, and methadone. Scientists note that marijuana is less harmful and less addictive than these Schedule II substances.

Acceptance of medical marijuana could in fact pave the way for its more generalized use. Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, has observed, ‹As medical marijuana becomes more regulated and institutionalized in the West, that may provide a model for how we ultimately make marijuana legal for all adults.Š151 Medical marijuana opponents have trumpeted his candor as proof of the hypocrisy of those on the other side of the issue. Others note, however, that his comment may be less hypocritical than astute.

This would be a good report to print and send to your Congressional Representatives (at both the state and federal level). Just to make sure they’ve seen it.

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