Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doctors Light Up a Joint as AMA Steps into 21st Century

"Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest
therapeutically active substances known to man."
-- DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young
Docket No. 86-22. 1988.

Doctors Light Up a Joint
by Norm Kent
Better late than never, I suppose.

After decades of burying their head in the sand, the country's largest physician group, the American Medical Association (AMA), has reversed its long-held position that marijuana has no medical value. Now that the whole country has caught on, they have decided to jump into the ocean and see if they can’t swim and catch up to the ship that has left shore.

This is why the gay rights battle and pot advocates have so much in common. This decision is like the American Psychiatric Association saying there is nothing wrong with homosexuality years after gay rights professionals have formed coalitions in professions from law enforcement to medicine.

Nevertheless, to their belated credit, the AMA has called for a review of marijuana's status as a ‘Schedule 1’ drug with ‘no accepted medical use’ under the federal Controlled Substances Act. As a ‘Schedule 1’ controlled substance, in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and LSD, the federal laws for possession remain unduly harsh and the public access even for medical testing remains severely limited.

Reducing marijuana's federal classification even just to Schedule 2 -- the same class as cocaine, methadone, oxycodone and morphine -- would allow for more testing on the medical effects of marijuana. Since the government’s purported unwillingness to accept marijuana as an herb with medicinal value has been based on their allegation that all we have is limited anecdotal evidence, the scheduling conundrum becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The powers that be have been shouting we do not have enough evidence to reclassify while inhibiting the very research which could prove it. Politically savvy perhaps, but morally unconscionable.

Consequently, the rescheduling of marijuana is a critical battle that marijuana advocates must win. There is a terrible comfort zone the political left can succumb to if we find satisfaction that a particular administration is easing off on law enforcement. Political power is temporary. Those in office today can be voted out tomorrow. But those in office tomorrow will still have to follow the law in effect on that day. Thus, battles must be fought in courtrooms and legislatures. Laws must be changed now to insure change is permanent. Rescheduling initiatives must go forth.

Social activists have to understand that without pressure centrists will drift to the comfort zone of the right. The reason close to a million Americans are still getting arrested every year for marijuana possession is because so many people could care less about the laws and assume it is perfectly okay to light up where you want when they want. But some of you wind up like the South Florida judge, Lawrence M. Korda, who had spent 30 distinguished years on the bench. He decided to light up a single joint during a rock concert in a Hollywood, Florida park, and after a series of humiliating front page articles documenting his arrest, was forced to resign his position.

You can’t let up if you have the ball. For marijuana reformers, like gay rights proponents, the wave is on our side. We can’t get off the board. You have to ride it out and carry it to a new tomorrow. Yes, gay marriage may have lost a 31st state vote in Maine last month, but more significantly, scores of communities nationwide are extending homosexual couples the rights and privileges afforded heterosexuals, under the umbrella of domestic partnership ordinances. If your community is not, contact a city commissioner near you today.

It's been 72 years since the AMA has officially recognized that marijuana has therapeutic benefits. It’s been 30 years since Administrative Law Judge Frances Young ruled that rescheduling should occur. He was overruled by Presidents, politics, and the DEA. See Fred Gardner’s article about Judge Young here online in Counterpunch from early this Spring:

After three decades, it is time to honor Judge Young’s decision that cannabis has the capacity to provide medically based options in pain relief treatment. We know what they are, from taming nausea for cancer stricken patients to reducing neuropathic pain in those so suffering, whether from AIDS or multiple sclerosis or comparable ailments.

As stated by Aaron Houston of the successful Marijuana Policy Project, "Marijuana's Schedule I status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it's been a major obstacle to needed research." The truth is more people died from spinach last year than pot. And a thousand people a year, I understand, overdose from aspirin. You don’t die from pot, just maybe ‘jones’ out a bit if you don’t have it.

The government has maintained a legally inconsistent position for decades regarding the scheduling of marijuana as an illegal drug with no justifiable medical uses. Even today, our government continues to operate the remnants of its once popular ‘Compassionate Use Protocol’ program, which allows the DEA to distribute marijuana cigarettes under a prescription to those deemed medically worthy to receive it. New applications have been denied for two decades. Only four patients are still alive who still receive medical marijuana thusly.

Ask yourself this: how can the government go into court and say there is no medical use for marijuana when its own DEA was and has been distributing it to dozens of patients for two decades? It is a case we must undertake again.

In changing its policy, the AMA said its goal was to clear the way to conduct clinical research, develop cannabis-based medicines and devise alternative ways to deliver the drug. But it is a lot more than that. Now it is time to pressure your congressman to pressure the Obama Administration to pressure the DEA to insure that the rescheduling occurs, and marijuana is removed from that list of drugs which can still lock your ass up in prison for years. Make no mistake about it. This change is not just about medically based research. This change is about insuring your freedom. It’s about preventing future lawmakers from using the ‘drug war’ as a tool to inhibit your liberty.

Freedom is a nice thing to have, and repressive pot laws are a stupid reason to take it away.

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