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Medical Marijuana's Unhappy Anniversary

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Mar. 15, 00
Marijuana Policy Project
One Year After Release of Institute of Medicine's Landmark Report, Clinton Administration Ignores Major Recommendation. Now a full year since the Institute of Medicine urged the federal government to allow seriously ill people to use medical marijuana, the Clinton administration has thus far refused to comply.
On March 17, 1999, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its landmark medical marijuana report, concluding that "there are some limited circumstances in which we recommend smoking marijuana for medical uses." Marijuana Policy Project | We Change Laws The federally funded report urged the government to give patients immediate legal access to medical marijuana on a case-by-case basis. "One possible approach is to treat patients as `n-of-1' (single-patient) clinical trials," the report recommended. This would be similar to the federal government's "compassionate use" program which currently provides marijuana to eight patients nationwide -- but has been closed to all new applicants since 1992.
In December 1999, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued medical marijuana research guidelines explicitly rejecting IOM's compassionate-use recommendation. Marijuana Policy Project | We Change Laws A statement urging HHS to modify its new guidelines was signed by celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Richard Pryor, Woody Harrelson, comedian Bill Maher, and musicians Hootie & The Blowfish. Other signatories included scientist Stephen Jay Gould, Ph.D., former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, best-selling natural health author Andrew Weil, M.D., National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser, AIDS Action Council, New York State Nurses Association, National Black Police Association, Reagan administration official Lyn Nofziger, and hundreds of other patients, doctors, medical organizations, and concerned citizens. A similar statement was signed by 35 members of Congress.
"We find it disturbing that the Clinton administration would commission the IOM report and then reject its most important recommendation," said Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. "In the war against marijuana users, it's time to remove the sick and wounded from the battlefield."
PATIENTS ARE STILL BEING ARRESTED: Medical marijuana is currently illegal under federal law and most state laws. Patients can serve up to a year in federal prison for one medical marijuana cigarette and up to five years for one plant. Despite IOM's recommendation to create an exception to these laws -- especially for people with "pain or AIDS wasting" -- the war against patients continues unabated.
Two recent examples: On March 13, police raided the home of Mondovi, Wisconsin, resident Jacki Rickert, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes intense muscle spasms that frequently dislocate her shoulder and hip joints. Rickert's doctor had recommended that she use marijuana to treat her pain and muscle spasms. In fact, Rickert was preliminarily accepted into the federal "compassionate use" program in 1991, but the program was closed before her enrollment was completed. If the Clinton administration had not rejected IOM's recommendation, Rickert would not be in legal jeopardy today.