The bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice — which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration — from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. A similar amendment has been offered seven times in Congress, failing in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. The House finally approved it in May when it was offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.
The DEA has gone rogue. First, an agent describes marijuana regulation in Washington and Colorado as "reckless and irresponsible," contrary to the president's assertion that it's "important for it to go forward." Now, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart has criticized President Obama for, accurately, saying marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol to the consumer. In fact, the science says marijuana is dramatically safer than alcohol, for both the consumer and society.
It is unacceptable for our nation’s top drug cop to not understand the relative risks of America’s two most popular recreational drugs. That’s why we have started a Change.org petition calling on President Obama to fire Michele Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology.
This is the same person who once refused to answer the relatively simple question of whether marijuana is less harmful than heroin or crack cocaine. Her repeated refusal to recognize clear scientific evidence undermines the president’s mandate that "science and the scientific process guide decisions of [his] Administration." She’s got to go.
A new survey showing, among other things, a slight uptick in teen marijuana use, got considerable press yesterday and today. A widely-circulated Associated Press story, along with many other reports, included this claim: “The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drugs seem safer to teenagers, researchers said.”
Medical marijuana burst onto the national scene in 1996, when California passed the first effective medical marijuana law, Arizona passed a flawed initiative with similar intent (whose value turned out to be only symbolic due to its wording), and the Clinton administration went ballistic. It stayed a major issue in 1998 and 1999 as a further wave of initiatives passed and the Institute of Medicine issued a report giving a qualified endorsement to medical marijuana, which has been in and out of the spotlight ever since.
In 1996, the last survey taken before any medical marijuana initiatives passed, 11.3 percent of eighth graders reported current (past 30 days) marijuana use. For 10th graders the figure was 20.4 percent, and for 12th graders it was 21.9 percent. In 2009, after 13 years of medical marijuana laws that now exist in 13 states, the figures for current use are 6.5 percent for eighth graders, 15.9 percent for 10th graders and 20.6 percent for 12th graders.
The pattern is the same for lifetime use: In every age group, marijuana use is down, not up, since the medical marijuana debate hit the national stage. That’s even true in California, where the lack of tight regulation has led to the most allegations of abuse, according to the official California Student Survey. Alas, the state no longer seems to have the data posted online, but we compiled it (and other state surveys) here.
It’s a shame that researchers who’ve been enlisted in the war on marijuana choose to repeat unfounded propaganda rather then address the reality that their federal bosses prefer to avoid: Teen access to marijuana isn’t caused by laws that let sick patients use it, it’s caused by a failed policy of prohibition that prevents the sort of sensible regulation we apply to tobacco.
My recent post about medical marijuana and young patients got picked up by the folks over at OpposingViews.com. And that prompted writer Katherine Ellison, whose New York Times story I'd taken issue with to post the following response:
a couple corrections for you
Hi, Bruce --
For the record, my byline is Katherine, not Kathy. And I guess I can understand your frustration at not having a story that reflects your advocate's view of marijuana as a safe , cure-all drug, appropriate for all ages. However, I stand by my reporting, which I think was a responsible effort to bring awareness to an increasing problem of irresponsible doctors given way too much leeway with an untested drug on adolescents.
- kathyellison November 25, 2009 10:28AM
Oh dear. I generally don't like to get into fights with reporters, but I'm grateful that Opposing Views allowed me to post the following response:
First, Katherine, I apologize for using your name as you signed it on your emails to me rather than as published in your byline. Nevertheless, I find it frustrating that you appear to be deliberately misinterpreting both what I've written here and what I said on the phone during our lengthy conversation.
You know full well that I don't consider marijuana a cure-all and that I do not expect you to endorse my opinions in print. I do expect you, in reporting a scientific issue, to actually address the relevant science in a way that will enlighten readers.
Your story failed to explain meaningful scientific evidence provided to you by both me and Paul Armentano suggesting a positive effect of marijuana on ADHD as well as the biochemical basis for such an effect being plausible. You included a scientifically nonsensical quote from Stephen Hinshaw calling marijuana for ADHD "one of the worst ideas of all time" because marijuana disrupts attention and memory in normal people. But we know that the brains of ADHD patients don't work like those of normal people -- which is why stimulants like Ritalin have a calming effect, the exact opposite of their effect on most of us. Did you even bother to ask Hinshaw this obvious followup question?
You also included a cavalier quote from Edward M. Hallowell claiming that marijuana use "can lead to a syndrome in which all the person wants to do all day is get stoned, and they do nothing else" -- without bothering to note that this so-called "amotivational syndrome" has been debunked again and again. One example that I sent you, and which you apparently ignored, was the 1999 Institute of Medicine report commissioned by the White House, which states on pages 107-108, "When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but no convincing data demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics." Many other expert reviews have come to the same conclusion.
I am not asking you to agree with me or to tout marijuana as a cure-all, which it manifestly is not. As a longtime health journalist myself, all I am asking is for you to do your homework as a reporter.
Lately there has been a small burst of media fascination with what by most accounts is a rare occurrence: Use of medical marijuana recommended by a physician by patients under 18. Any psychoactive drug, including marijuana, should be used with caution in children, but there is no reason that these infrequent cases should be shocking. Indeed, they should be taken as signposts on the road to urgently-needed research.
Sad as it is to contemplate, kids do get deadly illnesses like cancer and AIDS. Medical marijuana dispensary operator Charles Lynch faced an enhanced federal prison sentence for providing medical marijuana to 17-year-old cancer patient Owen Beck, who survived his cancer partly thanks to Lynch’s help, and who attempted to testify on Lynch’s behalf but was barred from doing so. And millions of young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been prescribed stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, whose side effects can include psychotic symptoms and interference with growth, not to mention sudden death when used by patients with some preexisting heart conditions.
Unfortunately, a story in Sunday’s New York Times looking at marijuana as a treatment for young people with ADHD managed to avoid shedding much light on the issue. Instead, the focus seemed to be on sensational quotes ("worst idea ever," "safer than aspirin") rather than a serious look at the science.
Writer Kathy Ellison did briefly reference a study in the journal Schizophrenia Research, but without properly explaining it. Of the 25 young people with ADHD in this study, the marijuana users scored healthier than non-users on nearly every measure of mental functioning, including specific measures of hyperactivity and disorganization. This was particularly striking because in the same study a separate group of individuals at genetic risk for schizophrenia were made worse by marijuana. The published study includes a discussion of the biochemical mechanisms by which marijuana might help ADHD. This is consistent with published case reports that have found a beneficial of THC on ADHD.
Meanwhile, ABC’s “Good Morning America” did a more respectful job in reporting on the mom of an autistic child who says that a small amount of marijuana, administered under a doctor’s care, has literally saved her child’s life. Others have told similar stories.
We don’t know nearly enough yet to state definitively that marijuana is helpful for youthful ADHD and autism. But we do know enough to say that proper research is urgently needed, and that this is a serious enough issue that the media need to treat it seriously.
David Nutt, removed as chair of the British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for daring to speak the unwanted truth that marijuana is safer than alcohol, is speaking out again, this time in the pages of The Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals. Unfortunately, you can read only the first few lines of Nutt’s column unless you pay for full access (correction: you have to register but don't have to pay -- thanks to Just Legalize It for pointing this out), but he makes a critical point that many politicians surely won’t like: “The control of cannabis use through regulation rather than criminalisation has proved safe and effective in the Netherlands, and was indeed suggested in The Lancet as far back as 1963.”
Maybe someday governments will base policy on facts and data. It sure would be nice.
For some time we’ve been pointing out the massive pile of evidence that THC and other cannabinoids have potential as anticancer drugs. A new study out of Thailand demonstrates that THC can fight cholangiocarcinoma – cancer of the bile duct. This is a rare but deadly form of cancer, with only 30 percent of patients still alive after five years, according to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. Based on these new lab results, the Thai researchers conclude, “THC is potentially used to retard cholangiocarcinoma cell growth and metastasis.”
In its official response to the AMA’s recent call for a review of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug (barring any medical use) under federal law, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy stated that it would defer to "the FDA's judgment that the raw marijuana plant cannot meet the standards for identity, strength, quality, purity, packaging and labeling required of medicine."
While we’re not used to factual accuracy from ONDCP, in this case they’re wrong not once, but twice.
First, there is absolutely no reason that plant medicines can’t be standardized and controlled for purity and potency. Indeed, the Netherlands has been doing just that for years, with medical marijuana distributed in Dutch pharmacies that is “of pharmaceutical quality and complies with the strictest requirements,” according to the Dutch government.
Second, the FDA has never said that a natural plant product can’t be a medicine. Indeed the agency has a lengthy “Guidance for Industry: Botanical Drug Products,” specifically designed to aid developers of plant medicines. The document not only doesn’t rule out plants as medicines, it even states, “In the initial stage of clinical studies of a botanical drug, it is generally not necessary to identify the active constituents or other biological markers or to have a chemical identification and assay for a particular constituent or marker.” Given that the active components of marijuana are already well-known and extensively researched, marijuana is well ahead of where the FDA says plant products need to be to start the process of seeking FDA licensing.
Yes, the FDA did put out a press release in 2006 saying that “smoked marijuana” had not been shown to be a safe and effective medicine. That statement was utterly unscientific, as we pointed out at the time, but it was absolutely not a declaration that the plant could never be a medicine.
There has long been reason to think that marijuana may be helpful to some patients with bipolar disorder, as certain cannabinoids have been shown in lab and animal studies to have effects that ought to be beneficial. Now, a new study from the University of Oslo finds that marijuana use is associated with better neurocognitive functioning in bipolar patients. In various tests of memory, learning, etc., bipolar patients who used marijuana did better than those who didn’t use it – the exact opposite of what the researchers found in patients with schizophrenia, a condition marijuana can sometimes worsen. “The findings,” the scientists write, “suggest that cannabis use may be related to improved neurocognition in bipolar disorder.”