Along with other supporters of legalizing marijuana, now there is the California Medical Association. The CMA that includes 35,000 doctors has adopted an official policy that recommends the legalization and regulation of cannabis. California Medical Association adopted the new stance at its annual meeting Friday in Anaheim.
The board of trustees of the CMA, the largest physician group in California, adopted the policy unanimously at its meeting in Sacramento, according to a statement on the CMA website.
California is one of 16 states where medical marijuana is legal, making it possible for doctors to recommend the drug to their patients.
Dr. James Hay, the president-elect of CMA, said that existing laws put doctors in an uncomfortable position. “California decriminalized its medical use, yet if a physician recommends it to a patient we are violating federal law.” Hay said.
The group adds that they want regulation. As it stands, according to a statement put out by CMA, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, which means that study and research of the drug is limited. “Think it ought to be regulated, better controlled, no control over what’s in marijuana. If we don’t know what’s in it, we can’t do any kind of scientific evaluation,” Hay said.
Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group's new policy, attributed the shift to growing frustration over California's medical marijuana law, which permits cannabis use with a doctor's recommendation. That, he said, has created an untenable situation for physicians: deciding whether to give patients a substance that is illegal under federal law. “It's an uncomfortable position for doctors,” he said. “It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for.”
The California Police Chiefs Association opposes the CMA’s new policy. But Bill Piper, the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that marijuana policy should not be solely in the hands of the government. “Drug use is a health issue and for too long we have let law enforcement and federal bureaucrats decide policy. CMA is saying let’s treat medical marijuana as a health issue,” Piper said.
Dr. Igor Grant, head of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis at UC San Diego, defended the drug's therapeutic use. “There's good evidence that it has medicinal value,” he said. “Can you say it's 100% bulletproof? No. But the research we've done at the center shows it's helpful with certain types of pain.”
Though the group references studies done by organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Institutes of Health, spokeswoman Molly Weedn said that, to her knowledge, no other medical organizations were consulted in the formation of the policy.
Yet even without the support of other groups, Hay says that to not legalize marijuana would hurt patients more than help them. “I’m concerned that it has driven underground substance that may have both benefits and harms that we don’t know enough about,” Hay said. “It’s made protecting public health more difficult than it [existing laws] was made to do.”
Piper said CMA is one of the best organizations to spearhead the type of action. “California definitely a trend-setter for this issue,” Piper said. ” It’s a growing trend among voters and medical community that the last people to get it are the politicians in D.C.”
The group acknowledges some health risk associated with marijuana use and proposes that it be regulated along the lines of alcohol and tobacco. But it says the consequences of criminalization outweigh the hazards. Lyman says current laws have “proven to be a failed public health policy.” He cited increased prison costs, the effect on families when marijuana users are imprisoned and racial inequalities in drug-sentencing cases.
Opinion polls show that state voters continue to be in favor of medical marijuana but are divided on the question of total legalization. A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 51% opposed to complete legalization and 46% in favor.