The medical marijuana debate recently took an interesting turn with the California Medical Association’s adoption of a policy that recommends the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
“CMA may be the first organization of its kind to take this position, but we won’t be the last,” said CMA President James T. Hay, M.D. through a news release issued Sunday. “This was a carefully considered, deliberative decision made exclusively on medical and scientific grounds. As physicians, we need to have a better understanding about the benefits and risks of medicinal cannabis so that we can provide the best care possible to our patients.”
The policy supports the argument made by several local medicinal marijuana supporters who have been battling against a number of recent setbacks. Some like Aaron Sandusky, founder of G3 Holistic’s Inc. in Colton, have become embroiled in legal fights with cities trying to push them out of town.
A number of cities, including Loma Linda, have amended land use ordinances prohibiting collectives from setting up marijuana dispensaries despite appeals in the past from G3 Holistics and Lanny Swerdlow, a medical marijuana activist and registered nurse and medical director of the THCF Medical Clinic and Patient Center in Riverside.
Swerdlow attended the Loma Linda City Council meeting unsuccessfully trying to make the case for the dispensaries during which the city banned the dispensaries.
The medical association’s board of trustees adopted the policy without objection at its Oct. 14 meeting in Anaheim.
The federal government currently lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug. That classification restricts the research and ability to study the substance. Part of the policy adopted by CMA emphasizes that the drug should be rescheduled in addition to being legalized, according to the news release.
“There simply isn’t the scientific evidence to understand the benefits and risks of medical cannabis,” said Paul Phinney, M.D., CMA board chairman. “We undertook this issue a couple of years ago and the report presented this weekend is clear – in order for the proper studies to be done, we need to advocate for the legalization and regulation.”
“We need to regulate cannabis so that we know what we’re recommending to our patients,” Phinney said. “Currently, medical and recreational cannabis have no mandatory labeling standards of concentration or purity. First, we’ve got to legalize it so that we can properly study and regulate it.”
But some, like Dr. Ricardo J. Whyte, MD, Medical Director Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine, are not convinced it is an appropriate action. He believes marijuana is not a harmless drug and has said in the past that it’s known to drastically reduce the interest in life and the levels of stress perceived. Some take the drug for anxiety, but the drug has been known to cause paranoia and anxiety, he said.
Worse, even with the current regulation, many seem to be easily getting prescriptions for pot.
“I’m encountering a number of patients who have been started on or given a card for medical marijuana for some fairly frivolous reasons,” he said. “It’s unclear that any serious diagnosing is taking place.”
He called the adoption of the policy unfortunate. “When something recommended by an organized medical association is published, it gives the issue credibility one way or the other,” Whyte said. “But my experience as a clinician is that I feel there’s more harm being done than good.”
The medical association reasoned however regulation of medical cannabis will allow for wider clinical research, accountability and quality controlled production of the substance and proper public awareness.
Physicians, who are currently only allowed to “recommend” medical cannabis, have been stuck in an uncomfortable position, since California decriminalized the drug in 2006.
“California has decriminalized marijuana, yet it’s still illegal on a federal level,” Dr. Hay said. “That puts physicians in an incredibly difficult legal position, since we’re the ones ultimately recommending the drug.”
CMA also recommends the regulation of recreational cannabis so that states may regulate this more widely used cannabis for purity and safety.