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New England Journal of Medicine Endorses Medical Marijuana; San Francisco Medical Society Releases Study; New York Times Editorial Welcomes Debate


February 1997

On January 30, the New England Journal of Medicine endorsed the medical use of marijuana for terminally and seriously ill patients and criticized the federal response to new laws in Arizona and California that allow for its use (Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., "Federal Foolishness and Marijuana," New England Journal of Medicine, January 30, 1997, Volume 336, Number 5, p. 366; Associated Press, "Medical Journal Says U.S. Stance Against Marijuana is 'Inhumane,'" Washington Post, January 30, 1997, p. A2; Terence Monmaney and Eric Bailey, "Journal Assails U.S. Stand on Medical Pot Use," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 30, 1997, p. A1).

The journal's editor, Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., made the following points: (1) The "federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane." (2) Marijuana may have long-term adverse effects and may lead to addiction, but that those issues are irrelevant in those patients. (3) Federal policy is hypocritical since doctors are allowed to prescribe morphine and meperidine. Excessive doses of such drugs could "hasten death," while "there is no risk of death from smoking marijuana." (4) It is difficult to quantify marijuana's therapeutic benefits in controlled experiments, and that, given marijuana's safety margin, it is more important that a seriously ill patient feels relief from the drug than whether a controlled trial "proves" its efficacy. In addition, the editorial contends that "federal officials are out of step with the public" given that dozens of states have eased restrictions on medical marijuana and public polls consistently favor it.

Kassirer argues that the government should reschedule marijuana from Schedule I (considered to have the greatest "potential for abuse" with no medical use) to Schedule II (considered to have equal potential for abuse but with a medical use) to allow for some medical uses of marijuana, and that the government should be the sole provider of the drug to ensure its proper distribution and use.

He concludes that the central conflict "is between the rights of those at death's door and the absolute power of bureaucrats whose decisions are based more on ideology and political correctness than on compassion."

San Francisco Medical Society Holds Press Conference

On the day the NEJM editorial was released, the San Francisco Medical Society held a press conference to unveil a study that contradicts White House "drug czar" Barry McCaffrey's repeated assertions that there is no evidence of marijuana's therapeutic benefits. Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy and author of the study, said, "We based the study completely on peer-reviewed medical articles, and all our research came to the same conclusion -- that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine." Zeese added, "McCaffrey said there is not a shred of evidence to prove that marijuana works, and we've shown that the evidence amounts to much more than a shred." Kevin Zeese's study, "Research Findings on Medicinal Properties of Marijuana," appeared as the centerfold in the January 1997 issue of NewsBriefs. (Glen Martin, "Medical Journal Blasts U.S. on Marijuana for the Sick," San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 1997, p. A1)

New York Times Editorial Welcomes Debate

In an editorial by the New York Times on January 31, the paper stated, "The journal's voice is a welcome ddition to the widening national debate over marijuana as medicine. It is rooted in compassion for the seriously ill who may be suffering needlessly because of broader concerns about society's drug problem." ("A Medical Opinion on Marijuana," New York Times, January 31, 1997, p. A30).

The New England Journal of Medicine editorial is located at

A copy of Kevin Zeese's study can be obtained by contacting the NewsBriefs office or contacting Kevin Zeese, Common Sense for Drug Policy, 3619 Tallwood Terrace, Falls Church, VA 22041, Tel: (703) 354-5694, Fax: (703) 354-5695, E-mail: