Divided opinions on medical marijuana

West Central Tribune readers are weighing in on coverage of a medical marijuana bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature. Judging from the responses, sentiments are similar to public opinion in the rest of the U.S.: Most people favor making the drug legal for medical use.

For anyone who’s interested in reading the entire bill, the House version can be found here and the Senate version here.

This issue has been on legislators’ radar screens for the past few years. This year it seems to be gaining considerable traction, probably due to a combination of public support and to lobbying efforts by groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project. Clearly there’s a lot of muscle behind this effort; tax statements indicate the MPP is at least a $4 million organization.

It’s also pretty hard to argue with firsthand stories from patients, such as this advertising video that was making the rounds last year.

Of particular note: The Obama administration has said it won’t aggressively enforce federal drug violations for medical marijuana use in states where such use is legal. This policy shift may be making medical marijuana laws more palatable – and possibly easier to pass – in states where medical marijuana proposals are under consideration.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, the scientific basis for using marijuana as medicine is not especially strong.

For a closer look at the medical application of marijuana, here’s a 2007 report prepared by the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs. While it doesn’t take a stand one way or the other on legalization, it notes that there’s a shortage of sound data on the medical safety and effectiveness of marijuana, and calls for more research.

Perhaps the most in-depth study was conducted by the Institute of Medicine in the late 1990s. According to the authors,

The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation… The effects of cannabinoids on the symptoms studied are generally modest, and in most cases there are more effective medications. However, people vary in their responses to medications, and there will likely always be a subpopulation of patients who do not respond well to other medications.

The IOM’s recommendation was similar to that of the AMA: further study to determine clinical effectiveness and safety.

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