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Doctors attempt to reclassify marijuana

By Hempology | February 18, 2008

Seattle Times, WA
16 Feb 2008
Eric Bailey


SACRAMENTO, Calif.  — A large and respected association of physicians is calling on the federal government to ease its strict ban on marijuana as medicine and hasten research into the drug’s therapeutic uses.

The American College of Physicians ( ACP ), a 124,000-member group that is the nation’s largest for doctors of internal medicine, contends that the rancorous debate over marijuana legalization has obscured good science that has demonstrated the benefits and medicinal promise of cannabis. 

In a 13-page position paper approved by the college’s governing board of regents and posted Thursday on the group’s Web site, the ACP calls on the government to drop marijuana from Schedule I, a classification it shares with illegal drugs such as heroin and LSD that are considered to have no medicinal value and a high likelihood of abuse.

The declaration could put new pressure on lawmakers and government regulators, who for decades have rejected attempts to reclassify marijuana.  Bush administration officials have aggressively rebuffed all attempts in Congress, the courts and among law-enforcement organizations to legitimize medical marijuana.

Clinical researchers say the federal government has resisted full study of the potential medical benefits of cannabis, instead pouring money into looking at its negative effects.

A dozen states have legalized medical marijuana, but federal prohibition has led to an enforcement tug-of-war.  Given the conflicts, most mainstream doctors have steered clear of medical marijuana.

The ACP position paper calls for protection of both doctors and patients from criminal and civil penalties in states that have adopted medical-marijuana laws.

“We felt the time had come to speak up about this,” said Dr.  David Dale, a University of Washington medical professor and the ACP’s president.  “We’d like to clear up the uncertainty and anxiety of patients and physicians over this drug.”

Medical-marijuana advocates embraced the position paper as a watershed event that could help turn the battle in their favor.

Bruce Mirken, a San Francisco spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the ACP position is “an earthquake that’s going to rattle the whole medical marijuana debate.” The ACP, he said, “pulverized the government’s two favorite myths about medical marijuana — that it’s not supported by the medical community and that science hasn’t shown marijuana to have medical value.”

But officials at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said calls for legalizing medical marijuana are misguided.

“What this would do is drag us back to 14th-century medicine,” said Bertha Madras, the drug czar’s deputy director for demand reduction.  “It’s so arcane.”

She said guidance on marijuana as medicine ought to come from the U.S.  Food and Drug Administration, which is unlikely ever to approve leafy cannabis as a prescription drug.  Two oral derivatives of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, have won FDA approval, and the agency is also in the early stages of considering a marijuana spray.

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