Yesterday, the influential AMA (American Medical Association) announced that it would cease its opposition to the concept of medical marijuana and instead advocate for a change in federal classification of the drug. From the LA Times:
The American Medical Assn. on Tuesday urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use, a significant shift that puts the prestigious group behind calls for more research.
The nation’s largest physicians organization, with about 250,000 member doctors, the AMA has maintained since 1997 that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive category, which also includes heroin and LSD.
In changing its policy, the group said its goal was to clear the way to conduct clinical research, develop cannabis-based medicines and devise alternative ways to deliver the drug.
“Despite more than 30 years of clinical research, only a small number of randomized, controlled trials have been conducted on smoked cannabis,” said Dr. Edward Langston, an AMA board member, noting that the limited number of studies was “insufficient to satisfy the current standards for a prescription drug product.”
This is still a relatively conservative position, as it doesn’t directly advocate the medical use of marijuana directly, but rather more research on the subject. I find this quite reasonable, because although marijuana has demonstrated some clear health benefits, harsh drug laws have severely limited the amount of quality clinical research on it, and our knowledge in this area is just not up to par with what it needs to be for a routine medical treatment.
It’s of note that the Obama administration has already adopted a more relaxed policy toward medical marijuana, making prosecution of medical marijuana users and dispensers no longer a federal priority. Still, these actions haven’t changed the underlying federal laws regarding marijuana–which remain overly severe–but have just altered the enforcement of them. Hopefully the increasing number of voices advocating for such a change–now including the AMA–will eventually be heard.
An interesting aspect of the AMA’s change in policy is that it fits in with a larger shift in the organization’s positions. Traditionally, the positions of the AMA have been on balance fairly politically conservative. However, this year, for example, the AMA has come out in favor of sweeping health care reform–despite its many years of trying to block similar reforms. This brings the position of the AMA more in line with the views of the physicians it represents. Arguably the most definitive survey on this subject to date (published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine) found that 72.5% of physicians support a public health care option (either or alone or with private options as well, the latter being by far the most popular view).
The fact that even the AMA is taking now these positions–both on health care reform and on marijuana laws–should be an indication of just how needed these changes are.
Hat tip to Meredith for pointing me toward this story.