Suffering Patients Need Medical Marijuana
If a doctor told you that you could either go blind in three years from glaucoma or break the law by smoking pot, which would you choose? If marijuana could prolong your life by allowing you to continue cancer chemotherapy without the unending vomiting and nausea, would you consider it? If cannabis could stop epileptic seizures that had plagued you since childhood, would you use it? This medicine can benefit patients suffering from these and many other afflictions, but it is being withheld; they are being denied a right granted to all living things—that of self-preservation.
“It’s not about drugs, it’s about letting men fight,” George McMahon told me when I was fortunate enough to speak with him about cannabis prohibition. McMahon is one of the last eight people in the United States currently receiving medical marijuana from the federal government. George was born with the need for drugs to help his condition—Nail Patella Syndrome (a rare neurological disorder). By the age of one he was being given beer, opiates before the age three, and had two forced addictions, to codeine and morphine, by the age of fourteen. He’s had every drug in the book, but marijuana is the one that helps: “This is damn good medicine, and it works the same every time.”
George was able to obtain marijuana through the federally regulated Investigational New Drug (IND) program, but it took him over two years to get past the repetitious paperwork. Few individuals were lucky enough to enter the program, and many didn’t last through the application period: “A lot of people tried to get in, and most of them have died,” says George. Later, 34 patients were approved for the program but were denied access to their medicine by the Drug Enforcement Administration (Gorman 27). In March 1992 the program was officially discontinued, leaving hundreds of ill patients without hope. McMahon’s daughter, who suffers from the same condition as her father, cannot obtain the drug either. By 1994, 36 states had enacted legislation to make marijuana available for medical use, but federal laws still inhibit the states’ wills (Grinspoon 17).
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug—having a high potential for abuse, having no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and lacking accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision. Schedule I drugs are not available to patients even by prescription and are only occasionally granted to researchers under strict guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration has, at various times, based its refusal of a schedule change for marijuana on claims that it lacks the authority to regulate the practice of medicine and that there is an absence of data necessary for approval. Yet as Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young observed in his review of another drug, MDMA, on May 27, 1986: