April 20, 2006

FDA Speaks Out against Marijuana Legalization

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will publish a statement on Friday criticizing state measures to legalize the medical use of marijuana, calling them attempts to bypass scientific review.

The agency said it was posting the statement in response to requests from lawmakers and others, but advocates for legalizing marijuana said the FDA was making an unusual and inappropriate foray into politics.

"In response to inquiries, including from Congress, we are clarifying our position on the science," said FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro in an interview.

"The FDA continues to support medical researchers whose intention is to undertake rigorous, peer-reviewed investigations and well-controlled clinical trials, in line with the FDA's drug approval process," she added in an e-mail.

But Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project said he was puzzled by the FDA's decision. "It's fascinating that they are making what strikes me as essentially a political move here," said Mirken in an interview.

"There are plenty of herbal products that people use ... that are not FDA-approved. It really sounds to me like the FDA is inappropriately intruding itself into a political process and I have to say I find it very sad."

The issue of the medical use of marijuana has been long contested on the state and federal level. Some patients with diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma say only the herb provides relief, and sometimes their doctors agree.

But the federal government maintains that FDA-approved drugs, including a synthetic form of the active ingredient in marijuana, are adequate for these patients. The Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecutors say the medical marijuana movement is a thinly disguised effort to allow for recreational use of the illegal drug.


Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive schedule.

Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a bill that would allow the medical use of marijuana.

But 11 states have rebelled, most recently the Rhode Island state legislature which in January overrode Gov. Don Carcieri's veto of a law legalizing marijuana used for symptom relief.

Efforts are underway in several other states, including Minnesota and Illinois, to legalize marijuana use.

The FDA expressed concern about this.

"These measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process and are proven safe and effective," it says in the statement, made available to Reuters.

The interagency statement is to be posted at http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2006/NEW01362.html.

Tom Riley from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy applauded the move.

"Why does it get a special get-out-of-jail-free card by plebiscite?" he asked. "The medical marijuana ballot initiatives have been attempts to do an end-run around science. Let's takes it out the political realm and put it back into science where it belongs."