Mark Kleiman has a good post about some of the problems that are occurring in the unfortunate federal legal limbo of medical marijuana (like patients losing their jobs over drug tests): Cannabis, medicine, employment, and science
He notes that it won’t be solved unless/until cannabis is legalized at the federal level or a strain of cannabis is FDA approved.
For that to happen, the Federal government has to stop its current policy of obstructing clinical research.
Good stuff. But then he goes on to attempt to describe “our side,” complete with “medical marijuana” in scare quotes:
Many advocates of â€œmedical marijuanaâ€ tacitly or explicitly oppose the clinical-research approach, even though that puts them on the same side of the issue as the drug warriors and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They insist that no research is needed because they already know the answer. (To advocates, â€œdataâ€ is just the plural of â€œanecdote.â€) And they fear, quite correctly, that cannabis as a prescription drug would be no cheaper than illicit-market cannabis, and that actual prescriptions wouldnâ€™t be nearly as easy to obtain as California â€œrecommendations.â€
Maybe I’ve been too tough on Mark in the past, assuming that he was including me when he talked about legalizers. If he really knows advocates who oppose research, then that’s sad.
None of the drug policy reform advocates that I’ve met fall into that category. I welcome research. I demand it. More information is always better.
Here’s an important point, though. I believe, as do most of us, that there is sufficient research and sufficient knowledge of the properties of cannabis to confidently (and in a scientifically appropriate way) allow its use for a wide variety of medical purposes.
(So if a prohibitionist tells me “They can’t use medical marijuana until there’s more research,” I call bullshit, particularly given the fact that that person generally knows that the government has no intention of following through on research.)
We understand that data is not the plural of anecdote. However, in the case of cannabis, there are plenty of instances, even when levels of research sufficient to result in FDA approval (assuming that’s even a proper standard) have not been conducted, where the knowledge is sufficient for going ahead confidently with medical use. The Institute of Medicine report “Assessing the Science Base” suggested that “n of 1” trials would be a good approach for cannabis, rather than waiting, for example.
There’s also a significant difference between analyzing a drug that’s used for symptom relief and one used for providing a cure.
Broadly using cannabis to cure cancer would require significant study (see laetrile) because allowing the patient to use cannabis instead of other treatments could jeopardize the patient’s treatment options.
However, using cannabis to treat the symptom of nausea from chemotherapy chemicals requires only two things:
- Does it work for this patient? This is a simple matter of observation by the patient and his/her doctor.
- Is it safe? And we have decades of the lack of bodies to sufficiently demonstrate the safety of cannabis.
In most cases today, medical cannabis is being used for the second example, and therefore the supposed need to wait for additional FDA approval is merely harmful to current sick people. That doesn’t mean that more research shouldn’t be done. It should. Just that it should not prevent medical cannabis use now.
Mark also says
The more sophisticated among them will say explicitly (in private) that â€œmedical marijuanaâ€ is the best organizing issue for drug policy reform, and that FDA approval of cannabis as a real, live medicine (just like methamphetamine) would take a lot of the wind out of their sails.
I guess I just must not be very sophisticated.
Sure. I have said (publicly) that medical marijuana (not in quotes) is an excellent organizing issue for drug policy reform. That’s a simple fact. Once people see that medical marijuana exists and the sky doesn’t fall and people don’t turn into axe-wielding zombies, they’ll realize that they’ve been lied to all these years, and it’ll be easier to get them to be open to the truths about full legalization.
But I’m not using medical marijuana patients to further my cause. If the FDA approved a medical marijuana strain so that Julie Falco could get the medicine she needs to get through her day without having to resort to criminal activity, then I’d be absolutely thrilled, and I’d focus on legalizing cannabis and all other currently illicit drugs for recreational purposes.
The ones who use medical marijuana patients in harmful ways are the prohibitionists, who do everything that they can to block medical marijuana, because they also know that medical marijuana will cause people to learn the truth. And they’re willing to harm sick people in order to hide the truth. That’s despicable.
Maybe I’m hopelessly naive. Maybe there’s a bunch of drug policy reformers out there with bad motives who oppose research. I just haven’t met them.
Kleiman ends his piece strong:
The real mystery is why the Obama Administration, which has largely dropped drug-war language and ideology and is generally in favor of gathering and using scientific information to make policy, hasnâ€™t changed course on this issue.
Given the overwhelming support for the medical use of cannabis found in every poll and confirmed in several referenda, and given the fact that the DEAâ€™s own administrative law judge ruled in favor of breaking the research-cannabis monopoly and had to be over-ruled by the DEA Administrator, I would have thought the choice to let the science speak for itself would have been a no-brainer. But I would have been wrong.
The fact that policy that not only fits the President’s agenda and also has such popular support can be so easily squelched, just goes to show how profitably entrenched the prohibition lobby is in our government.