February 28, 1997
Mr. Carl E. 0lsen
Post Office Box 4091
Des Moines, Iowa 50333
Dear Mr. Olsen:
Thank you for your further correspondence on the issue of medical marijuana. It is apparent that this is an issue on which we will continue to disagree. However, I do appreciate your thoughts on the subject.
Currently, the President has called for the Institute of Medicine to do a thorough research of the scientific studies on marijuana to see if anything has changed in recent years. Numerous similar reviews have occurred in recent years, and all have reached similar conclusions. The Institute of Medicine conducted a similar scientific review in 1982, and concluded that while there may be some therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives and synthetic analogues, further research was needed. The National Institutes of Health completed a similar review in 1994, concluding that "there is no evidence to suggest that smoked marijuana might be superior to currently available therapies for glaucoma, weight loss associated with AIDS, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis or intractable pain." And in the final ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Circuit) on the challenge of DEA's refusal to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, a ruling I am sure you are familiar with, the court stated:
We are not impressed. . . . [O]ur review of the record convinces us that the Administrator's findings are supported by substantial evidence. . . . It recited the testimony of numerous experts that marijuana's medicinal value has never been proven in sound scientific studies. The Administrator reasonably accorded more weight to the opinions of these experts than to the anecdotal testimony of laymen and doctors on which petitioners relied. The Administrator noted that "with one exception, none of [these doctors] could identify under oath the scientific studies they swore they relied on."
The effort to control dangerous drugs here or abroad does not mean that various individuals will not still try to smuggle these illegal drugs into the country. Nor does this mean that we no
February 28, 1997
longer have unscrupulous business enterprises that promise salvation through snake oil products. Over the past 60 years, the FDA has developed a careful, proven method for testing and approving drugs. This process is the standard to which the rest of the world measures the safety and effectiveness of their drug approval system.
Certainly, I want to provide relief for people who are sick and dying. Should new research surface proving that smoking marijuana does have medicinal value, I would support its use for medical purposes. But even then, it should occur only under proper medical supervision and should conform with the prescription procedures under which other medicines are administered. But current information seems to indicate otherwise.
In l993, a study published in the journal AIDS
found that HIV-infected smokers developed full-blown AIDS twice
as quickly as people with the virus who don't smoke.
In July of 1996, the American Cancer Society announced that it has "no reason to support the legalization of marijuana for medical use."
The National Eye Institute also reports that "there is no scientifically verifiable evidence that marijuana or its derivatives are safe and effective in the treatment of glaucoma."
But perhaps Dr. William M. Bennett, a professor of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology at Oregon Health Sciences University explained it best in a letter to the editor that was published in The Oregonian, January 12, 1997:
To suggest to a patient that he or she smoke or ingest marijuana would not only be bad medicine, it would be malpractice.
Masking the symptoms of a disease with a stupefying drug like marijuana can lead to problems in diagnosing and treating a medical condition. Further, there may be adverse interactions if the patient is taking regular prescription medication, particularly when there is absolutely no way to measure or control the dose. I believe it is mean, deceptive and heartless to equate advocating marijuana as a medicine with being "compassionate and caring."
There are legal, effective medicines that are currently available that meet all of the guidelines established by the FDA. This includes Marinol, which is a legally available, FDA-approved form of a marijuana extract that is currently being used as a treatment for nausea and AIDS wasting syndrome. In addition, there are many other medicines that have been developed and
February 28, 1997
received FDA approval that do not have the hallucinogenic side effects that come with smoking marijuana. These are medicines that meet scientific standards and do not rely on anecdotes and testimony for validation.
Furthermore, I am concerned about an issue apart for the possible medical value of smoking marijuana. I am concerned about kids. More and more kids' at younger ages are using drugs, particularly marijuana. This is a trend we cannot afford to ignore. We must, for our kids sakes, ensure that drug use is not normalized and use glamorized.
Thank you again for taking the time to communicate your views to me. Although we continue to disagree on this issue, I hope you will keep me advised of your opinion.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator