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Medicinal marijuana

The rights and medical needs of patients have been sacrificed to the government's failing war on drugs.  Patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions often find that marijuana is the most, sometimes only effective treatment; yet those who do use marijuana as medicine are subject to arrest, incarceration, seizure of assets and other criminal sanctions.  Many more never find out that marijuana could have helped them, and suffer needlessly as a result.

Currently, only eight patients in the U.S. receive legal medical marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), as part of a defunct federal program. NIDA holds a monopoly on legally available research marijuana, but has refused to dispense it for medical research, except when the research itself is federally funded -- and only one such study has been approved during the past two decades.  Meanwhile, government officials point to a lack of research as justification for continuing medical marijuana prohibition and the criminalization of patients.

The same officials ignore, even deny the existence of substantial medical marijuana research conducted during the 70's and early 80's, much of which yielded positive results.  Based on the research and on strong anecdotal evidence, the Drug Enforcement Administration's top administrative law judge, Francis Young, ruled in 1988 that the DEA's ban on medical marijuana was "arbitrary and capricious" and that marijuana should be moved to schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, prescription availability. Judge Young described marijuana as "the safest therapeutically active substance known to man." Federal legislation doesn't make DEA judges' rulings binding, however, and DEA administrator Robert Bonner overruled Judge Young for political reasons.

In response to the federal government's intransigence, voters in California, Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado* and the District of Columbia** have approved medical marijuana by doctor's recommendation, through ballot intiatives, and more than 20 state legislatures have enacted some form of medical marijuana legislation.
*Colorado's initiative was disqualified by Colorado Secretary of State Vicky Buckley for insufficient petition support just before the election, though it remained on the printed ballots. The initiative's sponsors successfully sued the State for improper disqualification, and Colorado will now pay a large portion of campaign costs for a new initiative in the 2000 election. Following Ms. Buckley's death this year, several dozen signed, unchecked petitions in a drawer of her desk.

**In the weeks before the November 5, 1998 elections, Congressman Robert Barr (R-Georgia) added an amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill which forbade using District funds for any initiative that lessens the current criminal penalties for marijuana. Because the ballots had already been printed, District residents voted on Initiatve 59 anyway, and the Barr amendment was interpreted by the board of elections to preclude tallying the votes.

The results of the vote were finally made public in late September, 1999. As predicted by exit polling during the election, Initiative 59 passed by nearly 70% of the vote. However, Congress is unlikely to allow cancer and AIDS patients to use marijuana without the threat of arrest in the federal government's own back yard. It is expected that Congress will excercise it's right (according to the District's charter) to nullify any initiative approved by District voters.


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National organizations:

Marijuana Policy Project The MPP is a Washington, D.C. based lobbying and advocacy organization, working on Capitol Hill and at the state level to make marijuana safe and legal for all patients, fight harmful marijuana-related legislation, and reform draconian sentencing guidelines for marijuana cultivation.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws For almost 30 years, NORML has served as an informational resource to the national media, coordinated statewide chapters and campus marijuana reform activism, and acted as a national clearinghouse for general marijuana reform efforts.

Search The Week Online archives for our coverage of medicinal marijuana

Read Common Sense for Drug Policy's Drug War Facts about medicinal marijuana

The Schaffer Library includes the Medical Marijuana Master Reference from DRCNet's online library at druglibary.org

The Lindesmith Center's online library contains a focal point on medical marijuana research

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