California Medical Association recommends marijuana legalization

The 35,000-member California Medical Association, the state’s largest doctor group, has called for the legalization of marijuana.

The decision by CMA, which has long supported the use of medicinal marijuana in cases of medical necessity, makes the group the first major medical association in the country to recommend marijuana legalization, the CMA noted. The announcement followed a gathering of CMA delegates at the group’s weekend annual meeting in Anaheim. The CMA’s official statement can be seen here.

The recommendation for legalization was accompanied by the CMA’s skepticism of about the medical values of marijuana, noting it has few proven health benefits. But determining its medical properties requires research, and that makes legalization beneficial to expedite scientific inquiry, the CMA said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 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,” the Times quoted Lyman. “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.”

In recent weeks, the federal government has launched a crackdown in California against medical marijuana dispensaries, including the owners of properties on which the facilities are located and the media outlets that carry advertisements for the disputed clinics.

The disparity between federal and state law over marijuana use has caused confusion in California, and not only among doctors. Dispensaries have sprung up across the state to provide marijuana to patients, representing a substantial economic force, including newspaper advertising.

Some in law enforcement were unhappy with the CMA’s new position.

“”I wonder what they’re smoking,” John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association, told the Times.  “Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana — how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence — it’s just an unbelievably irresponsible position.”

The CMA has long believed that the use of medicinal marijuana under certain circumstances is allowable.

A decade ago, the CMA filed a brief in support of medicinal marijuana with the U.S. Supreme Court, which was hearing the case of the federal government’s opposition to an Oakland marijuana cooperative. The case arose out of voter-approved Proposition 215 of 1996, which said marijuana should be legalized for medicinal use.

“As doctors, we support the use of medical marijuana as compassionate relief when necessary,” said Dr. Jack Lewin, the CMA’s CEO at the time. “in cases of extreme discomfort or wasting, when patients are undergoing chemotherapy or are suffering from AIDS or other diseases, evidence shows that marijuana can be an effective treatment.” The California Nurses Association and the National Pain Foundation joined the CMA in the March 2001  brief.

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