Has the time come for the US to legalize medical use of marijuana under federal law?


Marijuana use is illegal in the U.S. under federal law, classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug. At the state level, medical marijuana permission varies: in 15 states and Washington, D.C., the use of medical marijuana has been passed into law; 17 other states had bills introduced, but never passed; and 5 states have bills pending.

There is evidence that cannabinoids, the active components of marijuana (cannabis), are effective in treating several medical conditions. A 1999 Institute of Medicine report evaluating health benefits of smoking marijuana concluded that it might mitigate some conditions and recommended approval of its use for terminally ill patients. Drug decriminalization advocacy groups, including DPA, LEAP, and NORML, actively campaign for medical marijuana legalization at state and national level.


Support for use of medical marijuana is not universal: DHHS, NIDA, and DEA, do not recommend marijuana for the treatment of any disease due to lack of accepted standards for drug purity, potency, and quality, suggesting that use of smoked marijuana for medical purposes has a high potential for abuse, carrying health risks associated with tobacco smoking. The American Cancer Society is against legalization and recommends retaining marijuana in Schedule 1, proposing use of other antiemetic drugs/combinations as being more effective than synthetic marijuana drugs as first-line therapy for chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting.

We support the AMA and ACP, who both call for the rescheduling of marijuana out of Schedule I, so that further research can be conducted to clarify marijuana’s therapeutic properties, safety, and standardize dose/routes of drug delivery.


3 Responses to “Has the time come for the US to legalize medical use of marijuana under federal law?”

  1. drah2010 Says:

    This issue became a reality for me when caring for my mother through stage 4 breast cancer. She happened to live in a state where medical marijuana is not legal, but after watching her suffer through the horrendous side effects of chemo, a family member obtained some from another state. I can not tell you the difference it made for her – – after having to use some pretty persuasive arguments to get her to do something essentially illegal. But she was suffering so badly from a variety of effects, some small, some significant, but all adding up to really challenging weeks. And the marijuana helped to take the edge off of the suffering, ease her nausea (in a way that NONE of the prescribed medications had been able to do – – some of which had their own side effects), enabled her to eat a bit & just relax. Can you imagine how hard it is to relax when facing the Big C? While she had valium & ativan, they couldn’t help with the nausea. While she didn’t use it for long, she was relieved to have something on hand for the worst of times. And two years after her death, there’s no guilt on my part. I wish she would have had more during her remaining time if it would have put her at ease.

  2. hopkinsblogger Says:

    Thank you for posting on this salient and controversial issue.

    I too, agree, that we should push for additional research on the health benefits of marijuana and, more particularly, on those chemical components of marijuana that provide relief to persons suffering from late-stage cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases. However, in my opinion, as a part of our research we must also seek to find the safest method for delivering the pharmaceutical benefits of marijuana, without legalizing or promoting smoking of any type, or at the very least, we should legalize marijuana smoking only in controlled environments where it will not adversely affect general population health.

    We now know definitively that tobacco products and smoke have created a public health disaster, and there is growing evidence that marijuana smoke may be genotoxic, cause lung disease, and be causally related to a variety of other serious health problems. See, e.g., tp://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx9000286 and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080123104017.htm.

    Although these health effects may not be of direct concern to a person suffering from terminal cancer, as public health advocates, we also need to concern ourselves not only with smokers, but also with persons exposed to second-hand smoke and with individuals who take up marijuana smoking due to increased availability and societal normalization.

    It is ironic that we in public health push for bans on and reductions of tobacco smoking, while simultaneously looking to legalize and normalize another form of smoking that may eventually have equally far-reaching negative public health consequences. To the extent that we do legalize marijuana ingestion or smoking for persons afflicted with terminal or chronic diseases, we need to do so in a way that does not adversely affect the health of the general population and create a second public health smoking crisis caused by marijuana, rather than tobacco.

  3. drah2010 Says:

    Your points are strong ones, from a public health perspective. Have to admit that mine were from the perspective of a caregiver. But thank you for bringing attention to this important matter, because indeed, it would be great if there were a medication that could somehow encapsulate the active ingredients that help with patients, in a form that wouldn’t cause secondary problems.

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