August 11, 1993
LABOR AND HUMAN
Iowans for Medical Marijuana
P.O. Box 4091
Des Moines, IA 50333
You contacted me once again concerning the medical use of marijuana. I always appreciate your correspondence on this issue.
I certainly respect and admire your single-minded focus on making marijuana available to people with chronic diseases. However, I am afraid that we have a fundamental disagreement about the proper way to evaluate this issue. While your letter is well considered and documented, I think there is a critical difference between the point you are arguing, concerning the safety and efficacy of marijuana as a treatment, and the point I am making, concerning the proper role of Congress in this issue.
As you know, under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is in Schedule I, the most restrictive drug classification. Drugs within this classification have "no currently accepted medical use in treatment." At the time of passage of this law, marijuana was placed on the list of Schedule I drugs, because at that time it was believed that marijuana conformed with the statutory requirements for such inclusion. To be placed in Schedule II, it would have to be shown that marijuana has a "currently accepted medical use in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions."
In my view, the Congress does not have the scientific expertise to make this judgment, and should defer to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate the medical value of marijuana as a treatment. The FDA has the substantive medical knowledge to determine whether marijuana is a safe and effective treatment, and determine whether there is a "currently accepted medical use" for the drug. The role of the Congress is to determine the applicable standards to evaluate drugs, leaving expert judgements applying those standards to the medical experts.
Your point concerning the Office of Alternative Medicine does not undermine this position, in my view. I support consideration of alternative medicines, and I would not exclude marijuana from such studies. But such studies must be undertaken by competent medical researchers, using accepted scientific methods. In the statutory language quoted above, the operative question is whether or not the drug has a currently accepted medical use. Clearly, this is a medical determination, rather than one within the legitimate purview of Congress.
It is not clear from your most recent letter the specific action you are requesting me to consider. I believe that the drug scheduling framework in law has worked reasonably well, and I do not support restructuring it to accommodate the use of marijuana. As you noted, I support efforts to research alternative treatments. However, I think there is a big distinction between a bee pollen treatment for allergies, which to my knowledge has no psychoactive properties, and a drug like marijuana, which is under schedule I because it has a "high potential for abuse." I maintain my confidence in the FDA's expertise in this area.
Again, Carl, thank you for contacting me.
United States Senator
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