Medical Marijuana: An Overview

November 15, 2000

Marijuana has been found to relieve symptoms of many serious diseases, including asthma, glaucoma, muscle spasms, and loss of appetite and nausea due to AIDS wasting syndrome and chemotherapy treatment. Many professional medical associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the New England Journal of Medicine have publically supported prescriptive access to marijuana. The federal government, however, has long opposed the legalization of marijuana for medical use. It continues to list marijuana asa Schedule I drug: "unsafe, highly subject to abuse, and possessing no medical value." 

Source: ACLU Spring Spotlight 98, among others. 


Health Dangers of Marijuana Use Largely Myth:

Although the government has long opposed marijuana legalization in the name of public health and safety, every independent commission appointed to evaluate the dangers of marijuana use has found this claim to be unsubstantiated: 

  • For example, President Nixon's National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse concluded in 1972, after years of research, that, "[t]here is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of natural preparations of cannabis." Despite the fact that it had been established in the hopes of finding fuel for just the opposite conclusion, the commission recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the recommendation of the commission his administration had appointed.   

    Source: "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," the Report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (available at above site)

  • In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences released its findings that, "[o]ver the last forty years marijuana has been accused of causing an array of anti-social effects including . . . provoking crime and violence, . . . leading to heroin addiction, . . . and destroying the American work ethic in young people. [These] beliefs . . . have not been substantiated by scientific evidence."   

    Source: Analysis of Marijuana laws conducted by National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, 1982 (available at above site).

  • A report released in March of 1999 by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine, the end result of two years of government-funded research, concluded that marijuana has beneficial medical effects, ranging from pain reduction, particularly for cancer patients, to nausea reduction and appetite stimulation, in certain circumstances. The report strongly recommended moving marijuana to the status of a schedule II drug, available for prescription by doctors. It also stated that many of the drug's supposed ill affects are false or unsubstantiated by scientific evidence. Among these are:   
    • the supposed anti-motivational or anti-social affects of the drug;    
    • that legalizing medical marijuana will increase overall use of the drug;    
    • that the drug more addictive than other drugs available for prescription;    
    • that its side affects are more harmful than those of other drugs;   
    • that marijuana serves as a gateway drug;   
    • that marijuana causes brain damage;   
    • that marijuana causes fertility problems; and   
    • that marijuana shortens life expectancy.

    Source: National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine 1999 report: "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base" and the Marijuana Policy Project.

  • To find out more about this important study, and its reassuring answers to many common questions concerning the dangers of marijuana use, visit the Marijuana Policy Project. Also read the Project's Medical Marijuana Briefing Paper 2000.

Popularity of Medical Marijuana Legalization:

  • A 1999 Gallup Poll found that 73% of Americans favored legalizing the prescription of marijuana by doctors.   

    Source: April 9,1999 Gallup Poll Press Release (available at above site).

  • Since 1996, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State have approved ballot initiatives legalizing medical marijuana. 

Government Strong-arming in Response to Medical Marijuana Initiatives:

  • The federal government, worried that the states were breaking rank, was quick to respond. When California passed its medical marijuana initiative in 1996, the government responded by threatening to arrest doctors who recommended the drug to patients. It again used gag-tactics in its attempt to shut up the voters of the District of Columbia, blocking the release of the election results of their medical marijuana ballot initiative in 1998. 
Statistics image