Legalize Pot, Doctors Say

The California Medical Association says marijuana should be legal and regulated.

By Sharon Bernstein
|  Monday, Oct 17, 2011  |  Updated 2:43 PM PDT
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Jars full of medical marijuana a Los Angeles dispensary.

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The California Medical Association on Sunday called for the legalization of marijuana, saying such a move will allow doctors to better study the drug and counsel their patients about its use.

In states like California, where marijuana is legal with a doctor’s prescription under state law, but illegal under federal law, doctors are in a bind, said Dr. Paul Phinney, president-elect of the doctors’ group.
 
“We have suggested that the substance be reclassified so that better research can be done on it,” Phinney said. “So we can find out what the real benefits and risks are and what the appropriate doses might be.”
 
Phinney said he was skeptical that marijuana would in the end be found to have many significant medical uses. Still, he said, legalization would make it easier to study, and give doctors better information about whether or not to prescribe it. It would put doctors on a stronger footing to discuss the negative effects of marijuana with their patients, including the possibility of getting lung cancer from smoking too much, and the possibility and impact of addiction.
 
In a white paper released Sunday, the organization said that both medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized and regulated.
 
“The public movement toward legalization of medical cannabis has inappropriately placed physicians in the role of gatekeeper for public access to this botanical,” the white paper said. “Effective regulation is possible only if cannabis is rescheduled at the federal level.”
 
If the federal government decriminalizes pot – or at least loosens the restrictions on it – then doctors will be better able counsel patients on possible side effects, Phinney said.  And instead of obtaining their marijuana in a gray market of unregulated dispensaries, patients will either get it from their regular doctors if it becomes a regular prescription drug, or buy it over the counter if it winds up being sold and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, the organization said.
 
But Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officers Association Coalition, said the doctors’ position is irresponsible.
 
Federal law already provides for making a drug available to be prescribed by doctors if it is proved to have medical uses he said. For example, he said, doctors are still allowed to prescribe cocaine in limited circumstances, though they rarely do.
 
“Certain isolated compounds in cannabis can have medical uses, but there’s no reason to use crude marijuana,” Brooks said.
 
Driving deaths involving marijuana have gone up since several states decriminalized its medical use, Brooks said, and pot use can increase symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
 
CMA officials believe they are the first state medical association to call for the legalization of marijuana.
 
The national physician group, the American Medical Association, has called for cannabis to be reclassified, though not necessarily made fully legal. Currently, pot is considered one of the most dangerous drugs, classified as “Schedule 1” by the federal government  along with heroin. If it is moved into another category, the AMA says, it can be better regulated and studied.

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