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Medical Cannabis: A Matter of Patients, Not Politics (Part 3/3)

medical cannabis

This is the third and final installment in a three-part series on the topic of medical cannabis. Read the first article (medical cannabis law in the United States) here and the second article (cannabis as medicine and research limits) here.

Organizational Support for Medical Cannabis Legalization

Many organizations, including some of the most prestigious in the country, support the legalization of medical cannabis. Here is a partial list with their takes on the issue:

New England Journal of Medicine 1997

  • “Federal authorities should rescind their prohibition of the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat. The government should change marijuana’s status from that of a Schedule I drug … to that of a Schedule II drug … and regulate it accordingly.” —Editorial by NEJM editor Dr. Jerome Kassirer, January 30, 1997

National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM)

  • “Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation. … For certain patients, such as the terminally ill or those with debilitating symptoms, the long-term risks [associated with smoking] are not of great concern. … [Therefore,] clinical trials of marijuana for medical purposes should be conducted. … There are patients with debilitating symptoms for whom smoked marijuana might provide relief. … Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications.” —”Marijuana as Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” National Academy Press: Washington, DC. 1999

New York County Medical Society

  • “The definitive review of scientific studies … found medical benefits related to pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation. … While there are a variety of ways of supplying marijuana for medical use, serious consideration should be given to the 1997 recommendation … that the FDA reclassify marijuana from Schedule I and provide a consistent, safe supply.“ —testimony of Zebulon Taintor, representing the New York County Medical Society before the New York City Health Committee: February 23, 2004

American Nurses Association

  • “The American Nurses Association will:… Support the right of patients to have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis under appropriate prescriber supervision. Support the ability of health care providers to discuss and/or recommend the medicinal use of marijuana without the threat of intimidation or penalization. Support legislation to remove criminal penalties including arrest and imprisonment for bona fide patients and prescribers of therapeutic marijuana/cannabis.” —ANA Resolution: June 2003

American Medical Student Association

  • “The American Medical Student Association strongly urges the United States Government … to meet the treatment needs of currently ill Americans by restoring the Compassionate IND program for medical marijuana, and … reschedul[ing] marijuana to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, and … end[ing] the medical prohibition against marijuana.”  —AMSA House of Delegates Resolution #12 : adopted March 1993

Lymphoma Foundation of America

  • “Be it resolved that this organization urges Congress and the President to enact legislation to reschedule marijuana to allow doctors to prescribe smokable marijuana to patients in need; and, Be it further resolved that this organization urges the US Public Health Service to allow limited access to medicinal marijuana by promptly reopening the Investigational New Drug compassionate access program to new applicants.” —Resolution approved by Lymphoma Foundation President Belita Cowan: January 20, 1997

Kaiser Permanente

  • “Medical guidelines regarding [marijuana’s] prudent use should be established… Unfortunately, clinical research on potential therapeutic uses for marijuana has been difficult to accomplish in the United States, despite reasonable evidence for the efficacy of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and marijuana as anti-emetic and anti-glaucoma agents and the suggestive evidence for their efficacy in the treatment of other medical conditions, including AIDS.” —Kaiser Permanente study: “Marijuana Use and Mortality,” American Journal of Public Health, April 1997

National Association for Public Health Policy

  • “We … recommend the following … actions: The federal government should re-classify marijuana … out of the Schedule 1 category and allow their prescription where medically appropriate.“ — Reference: Position paper adopted by the National Association for Public Health Policy: November 15, 1998.

Find more statements from health organizations that support the legalization of medical cannabis here. See the list of organizations that support the Compassionate Care Act (New York State’s medical cannabis bill) here.

Patient/Caregiver Support for Medical Cannabis in New York State

On top of the growing body of scientific, non-anecdotal evidence of its efficacy, many personal stories exist. Here I’ve compiled a few that I found especially compelling.

“As someone living with stage four metastatic breast cancer, it’s hard for me to fathom why the New York state senate is denying me access to a medication that helps me tolerate the side effects of my chemotherapy and improve the quality of my life … I can’t believe that our state legislature is making criminals out of our sickest citizens. I beg the New York Senate to show a little mercy and compassion and pass the Compassionate Care Act without further delay.”

—Beverly McClain of Canaan, NY

“My family is in the process of leaving our home in Orchard Park, NY and relocating to Colorado because the New York state senate has refused to pass the Compassionate Care Act … It’s unconscionable that families like mine are forced to choose between watching our children suffer needlessly or moving out of state to get a medication that could save lives.  I urge the Co-presidents Klein and Skelos to stop playing politics with our lives and bring the bill up for a vote.“

—Wendy Conte; mother of Anna, who has Dravet syndrome

“…I want our elected leaders to see firsthand what a medical marijuana patient looks like…Medical marijuana helps me remain active and contribute to my family and my community.  The NY Senate needs to stop playing politics and pass the Compassionate Care Act immediately.”

—Susan Rusinko of Auburn, NY; living with multiple sclerosis

Read more stories of patients and caregivers speaking in support of medical cannabis here. Watch videos of patients and caregivers speaking in support of medical cannabis here.

Important Points and Taking Action

    • Understand the political and economic reasons for the current federal position on medical cannabis.
    • Understand the differences in issues between legalization of medical cannabis and legalization of recreational cannabis.
    • Do your own research. Read and analyze the scientific evidence pertaining to medical cannabis that has been gathered. Keep in mind that all medications have negative side effects.
    • Cannabis should be treated as any other medication and should be studied and regulated. It should be used under guidance of a health provider with prescribing capability, who knows the patient’s full medical history, for conditions which can be ameliorated by its use.
    • Notify your legislators of your support for Schedule modification and increased research for medical cannabis. Find your local legislators’ contact information here.
    • Notify your legislators that you support the legalization of medical cannabis prescription. 15 U.S. states are currently considering medical cannabis legalization. Whether or not your state is one of these 15, please find contact information for your local legislators here and notify them of your support.
    • New York residents: [Update 7/20/2015: The Compassionate Care Act was passed by the New York State legislature in June 2014.] As the Compassionate Care Act (CCA) was not included in the New York State budget this session, it must now be passed as a stand-alone bill. While gaining additional support for the Compassionate Care Act in the New York State Senate is important, it is imperative that the bill be allowed to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Every day from now until June 19, 2014 (preferably during standard business hours), please call: Senator Klein and ask for a vote in the Senate on the CCA as a stand-alone bill (518-455-3595), Senator Skelos and ask for a vote in the Senate on the CCA as a stand-alone bill (518-455-3171), and Governor Cuomo and ask for his support in passing the CCA as a stand-alone bill (518-474-8390). Please have your NY home zip code ready to give to the staff member who answers the phone. It should take approximately 3 minutes total to make all three calls- this is a quick and easy task, as well as highly effective. If you have additional time, please also contact your local NY Senator and ask them to publicly support the CCA (find your local Senator’s contact information here).
    • Your voice matters.

Millions of patients in the United States suffer unnecessarily every day from debilitating symptoms caused by disease due to the lack of support for research on medical cannabis and due to its federal (and in some cases, state) illegal status. Under regulation and supervision by a licensed medical professional, medical cannabis use can decrease the pain and suffering of these individuals with low risk of dependence, a low side effect profile, and minimal detrimental health impact. Become informed, understand the facts, and question and challenge the long-standing notions of medical cannabis. Fight for the right to medicine. After all, this is a matter of patients, compassion, medicine, science, and quality of life improvement, not opinions, personal morals, religious ideals, taboo, or politics.


Thank you to Dr. Mitch Earleywine, PhD, who authored the main reference of this article and also provided additional feedback.

Thank you to Will Jaffee for being the editor of this article, and to the entire staff of in-Training.

Thank you to Gretchen Gunn, Steven Obrzut, Alex Sadasivan, Elizabeth McIntosh, Eric Martin Nyberg, and Eric Brown for their assistance in the Compassionate Care advocacy group on Medical Student Advocacy Day in January 2014. Thank you also to Phyllis Ying for her help as leader of the public health advocacy group, and to her, Ajay Major, and Xin Guan for their organization of Medical Student Advocacy Day.

Thank you to Julie Netherland (Drug Policy Alliance), Gabriel Sayegh (Drug Policy Alliance), Alexis Posey (Drug Policy Alliance), Anna Saini (VOCAL-NY), Compassionate Care NY, and all members and advocates of these teams for their advocacy work regarding the Compassionate Care Act.

Author’s note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Albany Medical College, Albany Medical Center, in-Training, or any affiliated organization.

Arielle Gerard Arielle Gerard (7 Posts)

Contributing Writer and in-Training Staff Member

Albany Medical College

Arielle is currently a Class of 2017 MD candidate at Albany Medical College, and received her BA in Psychology from UCLA. She has a passion for advocacy and quality of life improvement in various fields, and is completing a Distinction in Advocacy in support of federal reclassification of cannabis, which will allow for an increase in cannabinoid research in the United States and may lead to increased safe access to whole-plant cannabis for patients who could potentially benefit from its use.