23 Feb 2011
Marijuana or “cannabis,” is one of the oldest known and, perhaps, most controversial illicit drugs around. Used for treatment for millennia particularly in China, India as well as the Middle East, it eventually became accepted in mainstream medicine in the West by the middle of the 19th century. However, in the United States, marijuana would later be subjected to prohibition. In the 1930s, the United States Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act despite the vehement objection of the American Medical Association (AMA) representative. By 1941, cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and with the passage of the 1951 Boggs Act, marijuana came to be regarded as a narcotic drug. With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act under President Richard Nixon, marijuana was declared to be without any accepted medical use and even regarded as unsafe even if used with medical supervision (Boire and Feeney 13-15 & 19-20).
Recently, there has been considerable debate as to whether marijuana can give medical relief that is at least comparable with currently accepted pharmaceutical drugs (Shohov vii). It is believed by medical marijuana advocates that the criminalization of the use or possession of cannabis in the U.S. is an unfortunate development that has deprived the country of the benefits of medical marijuana. While those who object to marijuana claim that it has no medical use whatsoever and is even unsafe, no less than a judge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Francis L. Young, described marijuana to be the “safest therapeutically active substance known… safer than many foods we commonly consume” (quoted in Roth). This paper will attempt to look into why the U.S. should act to legalize medical marijuana nationally.
One reason why the medical use of marijuana should be legally allowed is because congressional moves to prohibit it have been unsound from the beginning. The passage of the first legal step that led to the substance’s prohibition, Marijuana Tax Act was marked by deception. During the floor debate in Congress on the Tax Act, Congressman Fred M. lied outright in answering the query as to the position of the AMA on the bill. Vinson claimed that AMA, through its representative, Dr. William C. Woodward, expressed “one hundred percent” support to the bill when the truth is that the latter opposed it, saying that “it may serve to deprive the public of the benefits of a drug that on further research may prove to be of substantial value” (quoted in Boire and Feeney 19).
When the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, marijuana was placed under Schedule I, the category of substances that are supposed to have the greatest abuse potential, no medical value, and which are regarded as unsafe to use even under doctor supervision. However, the compromise classification (pending a federal research investigation) was done even without scientific evidence. The bias against marijuana seems politically motivated because President Richard Nixon engaged in “stacking the deck” when he later picked the members of the Shafer Commission tasked to determine the substance’s medical value (Boire and Feeney 21-22). Marijuana, at that time, was associated with the anti-war movement that opposed Nixon’s Vietnam War policy. Moreover, even when the Shafer Commission later came out with the report noting how marijuana could be useful in treating “glaucoma, migraine, alcoholism and terminal cancer”), Nixon rejected the body’s recommendations, including the withdrawing of criminal penalties for personal marijuana use (Boire and Feeney 22).
The chief argument for legalizing medical marijuana is the many evidence of its therapeutic benefits. A celebrated case of effective medical marijuana use involves the glaucoma of Robert Randall, the first American citizen allowed to receive federal marijuana supplies under the “Compassionate” Investigational New Drug program began in 1976. Randall managed to be part of such a program only after being acquitted in his criminal trial. The judge was convinced by medical evidence Randall presented in collaboration with several doctors that showed the effectivity of marijuana in treating glaucoma (Boire and Feeney 22-23).
There is also plenty of reference to the therapeutic benefits of marijuana in ancient or early texts. Ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia shows that marijuana, referred to as “hemp boiling compound” was used along with wine in anesthetizing patients during surgeries. It is also recorded that in 16th century China, cannabis was used as antibiotic, antiemetic, anthelmintic, treatment of leprosy, and in containing hemorrhages (Mathre 35-36).
That marijuana today presents medical benefits has been shown by many doctors, health experts and patients during the 1986 hearings in connection with the petition to reschedule marijuana. The testimonies during the hearings led DEA’s Young to rule that:
“The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people and doing so with safety under medical supervision” (quoted in Mathre 51).
Current studies show that marijuana may benefit cancer patients by relieving nausea that result from chemotherapy; increasing the appetite of AIDS patients; lessening spasticity and pain in patients with neurological disorders; treating long-term chronic inflammatory pain; and in helping autoimmune disease patients by suppressing the excessive activity of the immune system (Cannabis)
Another argument why marijuana should be allowed for medical use is the fact that it has considerable public support. Evidence for this is the number of states that held referendums and approved the legalization of marijuana, including Arizona and California (Roth). Today, a total of 14 states have already legalized medical marijuana (Stemple). A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that around 73% of Americans favor the legalization of medical marijuana in their states (Marijuana Survey). Perhaps, the strongest support for medical marijuana comes from the patients who stand to benefit from its effects. Numerous cancer patients strongly believe that marijuana presents greater effectivity than other treatments based on their first-hand experience (What’s the Problem). As earlier mentioned, patients themselves testified as to the medical benefits of marijuana during the 1986 hearings (Mathre 51).
The American public deserves access to the medical use of marijuana. The prohibition and eventual criminalization of marijuana were unsound and scientifically baseless. Evidence for the therapeutic benefits of marijuana abounds both in ancient pharmacopeia and in modern literature. The American public is well aware of the substance’s therapeutic benefits and safety under medical supervision. They have shown their approval of medical marijuana, including through referendums and surveys. The federal government should listen and show compassion to the patients in need by decriminalizing medical marijuana.
Boire, Richard Glen and Kevin Feeney. Medical Marijuana Law. Ronin Publishing, 2007.
Cannabis in the Clinic?: The Medical Marijuana Debate. 18 January 2010. Web.
Marijuana survey: Legalize it. 5 April 2010. Web. 18 January 2010.
Mathre, Mary Lynn. Cannabis in Medical Practice: A Legal, Historical, and Pharmacological
Overview of the Therapeutic Use of Marijuana. McFarland, 1997. Print.
Roth, Rebecca. (2001). Medical Marijuana. Web. 18 January 2010.
Shohov, Tatiana. Medical Use of Marijuana: Policy, Regulatory, and Legal Issues. Nova
Publishers, 2003. Print.
Stemple, Hillary. New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Jan. 2010.
Web. 18 January 2010. http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/new-jersey-governor-signs-bill.php
What’s The Problem? Web. 18 January 2010. http://www.duke.edu/~sgr5/p2.htm