Web Exclusive: Marijuana Research Stifled By Drug Policies
Posted: November 3, 2012 at 6 a.m.
The choice facing voters on Issue No. 5, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, is complicated by key points that are not widely known. A common argument is that more research is needed to prove marijuana an effective medicine, and if that research could be done, and Food and Drug Administration approval granted, then everything would be fine.
In fact, this is a classic Catch 22. The scientific community has struggled for years to gain permission to conduct this research. Such studies are never approved. Approval must come from multiple federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has billions of dollars of vested interest in the status quo.
FDA approval requires millions of dollars in studies with test subjects, including humans. Not only are such studies blocked by federal policy, no pharmaceutical company will make that investment for financial reasons. How could they recoup their cost when the drug in question can be grown by the patient at almost no expense?
After state medical marijuana laws began passing in the 1990s, increasing pressure for scientific information caused the federal government to commission a study through the National Academy of Sciences, which produced “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," a thorough investigation of all scientific research on marijuana from before the federal bottleneck. The study concluded that while “there is a broad social concern that sanctioning the medical use of marijuana might increase its use among the general population ... at this point there are no convincing data to support this concern.”
The study stated that “Present data on drug use progression neither support nor refute the suggestion that medical availability would increase drug abuse. However, 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.”
Subsequently, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services promulgated new rules regarding marijuana research that require that any studies must either be structured to show harm resulting from the use of marijuana or to develop a derivative (new pharmaceutical). Researchers are not allowed to obtain a supply of marijuana for research purposes if their project goals have to do with the safety or medical use of the natural substance.
For a review of scientific research on medical marijuana, see http://americansforsafeaccess.org/section.php?id=125.
The government continues to refuse research requests that would prove natural marijuana safe and effective for medical use, while at the same time urges opposition to medical use with the argument that marijuana hasn’t been proven safe and effective.
This is similar to the government’s refusal to reschedule marijuana to a different classification than Schedule I, which by definition refers to substances “without medical value.” Yet at the same time, an ingredient of marijuana (a synthetic version of the key ingredient THC, sold under the brand name Marinol) is approved for medical use.
Marijuana prohibition was never based on scientific information. Cannabis was widely used as medicine for more than four thousand years, as recently in this country as the 1940s. It was the zealot Harry Anslinger who in 1937 stood before Congress in support of proposed legislation to outlaw cannabis and stated the following reason for marijuana prohibition: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
This kind of racism about marijuana, as well as social pressures from the 1960s, are responsible for the hysteria around marijuana that prevents its legal medical use.
To see major studies commissioned on marijuana law since 1894, visit http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/studies.htm.
The essential information for voters to consider in this matter is that sick and dying people need legal protection to use marijuana; that anyone who wants to abuse marijuana can do so now; that anyone with a vested interest in status quo is not a neutral source of information about this subject (pharmacists, law enforcement, prosecutors); and that in 17 states where state law protects patients, the federal government follows its stated policy not to arrest medical marijuana patients.
If you or a loved one faces a critical medical situation where marijuana helps, should you be arrested for using it? That is the nightmare Issue No. 5 seeks to remedy.
Denele Campbell of West Fork is executive director of the Drug Policy Education Group, a nonprofit educational organization, and co-founder of Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas, a nonprofit political lobbying group.