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Cannabis as Medicine-What’s Happening

Suzanne Wills


Drug policy chair

Cannabis (marijuana) was removed from the U. S. pharmacopeia in 1941 over the objections of the American Medical Association. At the time there were over 100 uses listed for the drug in the medical literature. Since 1996 Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have voted to allow the sick to receive, possess, grow or smoke cannabis without fear of state prosecution. In 1999 the U. S. drug czar’s office commissioned a report on cannabis from the Institute of Medicine. It stated in part, "The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."

This month the British Home Office has begun to receive the results of the first major medical cannabis trials in the world. Twenty-three patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and arthritis were given daily doses of cannabis by spraying it under the tongue. Preliminary results suggest that 80% derived more benefit from cannabis than from any other drug. One physician said “The results have exceeded what I dared hope for.” Other researchers predicted that cannabis would follow aspirin and penicillin as a “wonder drug” prescribed for a wide variety of conditions.

On July 31, 2001 Canada became the only country in the world to have fully legal production, distribution and use of medical cannabis for about 300 patients. The Dutch parliament is considering legislation that would add cannabis to the pharmacopeia supported under the public health insurance plan.

Meanwhile in the United States the Drug Enforcement Administration has continued to enforce the federal ban on the sale of cannabis for medical purposes as Asa Hutchinson, the new head of the agency, promised it would.

On September 28, 2001 DEA agents raided the offices of Dr. Marion Fry in El Dorado County, California. Dr. Fry is an outspoken advocate of the use of cannabis and a cancer patient herself. She was handcuffed and detained for several hours, but was not arrested. Agents seized all of the office’s patient records.

Several days later the DEA raided one of the largest cannabis clubs in California, West Hollywood, where more than 900 mostly cancer and AIDS patients, bought the drug. The club’s bank account and all of its computers and patient records were seized. Susan Dryden, a spokesperson for the U. S. Justice Department said “The recent enforcement is indicative that we have not lost our priorities in other areas since September 11.” Local officials were supportive of the club. The City of West Hollywood had co-signed the mortgage for the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center and had helped the club become a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilman Steve Martin said “This was a serious effort to provide relief for people who were ill. The Bush administration is forcing sick people to become criminals.”

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