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FDA reiterates stance against marijuana for medical purposes

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Food and Drug Administration again rejected the use of marijuana for medical purposes in a statement released April 20, saying there are “alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana.”

Numerous inquiries from Congress prompted the statement, which officials say clarifies the federal government’s intention to continue enforcing laws against marijuana.

The FDA, in bolstering its long-held position, said marijuana meets the three criteria for placement on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act — the most restrictive classification of drugs.

“Marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” the statement said. “Furthermore, there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful.”

Two potential repercussions from the statement are that states debating laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes would back down given the federal government’s solid stance against it, and that further efforts to research the potential medical benefits of the drug would lose speed.

Eleven states have enacted laws allowing medical marijuana, but the FDA expressed discontent with such legislation.

“These measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process and are proven safe and effective under the standards of the [Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic] Act,” the FDA said.

Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico are among the latest states to consider the legalization of medical marijuana.

“We’re going to have members of state legislatures say, ‘But even the FDA has said there’s no medical value,’” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which works to loosen drug laws, told The New York Times. “That’s where it’s going to hurt.”

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government has the power to arrest anyone using marijuana, even if it is for medical purposes in states with medical marijuana laws.

Rep. Mark Souder, R.-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on drug policy, has said the promotion of medical marijuana “is simply a red herring for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Studies have continually rejected the notion that marijuana is suitable for medical use because it adversely impacts concentration and memory, the lungs, motor coordination and the immune system,” the Associated Press reported.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in previous discussions about marijuana that it is a gateway drug likely to lead to more harmful substance abuse.

“[A]s any former or current drug user knows, marijuana is only the starting point,” he said. “It is the gateway that has led to the destruction of the lives and futures of millions of people who moved on to other drugs in search of greater highs,” he said.

Duke also said he is not convinced marijuana provides a significant level of pain relief.

“Most people in severe pain who use marijuana are also taking other pain-killing drugs in combination with the marijuana because the marijuana by itself is just not adequate,” he said. “The American public is not being told the whole story about this by those who support the decriminalization of marijuana.”

The FDA’s most recent statement on the drug conflicts with a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, a panel of highly regarded scientists within the National Academy of Sciences. That review found marijuana to be “moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting,” The Times noted.

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