AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005-1022
(202) 662-1760
FAX: (202) 662-1762
      (202) 662-1032

May 4, 1998

The Honorable John Conyers
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Conyers:

On behalf of the American Bar Association I am writing to express our opposition to H.Res. 372.  This resolution says the House of Representatives is "unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use."

We sympathize with the motives of the sponsors of this resolution.  The American Bar Association has repeatedly declared that it deplores the use of marijuana and, like all Americans, we are very disappointed that the use of marijuana by teenagers has increased so dramatically since 1992.

However, American Bar Association policy "recognizes that persons who suffer from serious illnesses for which marijuana has a medically recognized therapeutic value have a right to be treated with marijuana under the supervision of a physician..." (emphasis added).

There are scores of articles in the medical literature describing the therapeutic potential of marijuana and its many constituent compounds.  There have been numerous controlled, double-blind, randomized trials comparing marijuana with other medications.   In the case of relief of nausea, in particular, there is evidence that marijuana is superior to Compazine® and Torecan®, two common anti-emetic medications.

Regarding glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in America, marijuana lowers intraocular eye pressure.  It should be noted that new medications for glaucoma have been developed since this research, but these medications present serious side effects that may make them unusable for many patients, as did many of their percursor medications.   The Federal government currently makes marijuana available to two persons for the treatment of glaucoma under their pbysicians' supervision.

Convulsions associated with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, spinal cord injury, paraplegia and quadriplegia can also be treated with marijuana and its constituent compounds.  The Federal government makes marijuana available to at least two multiple sclerosis patients.  There is great potential for expanded treatment of veterans, who have a high incidence of spinal cord injuries, paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Expert physicians, convened by the National Institutes of Health in February 1997 at the urging of ONDCP Director Barry McCaffrey to examine the medical utility of marijuana, reiterated in their discussion that, based on the literature, marijuana has positive medical effects for these conditions.

However, because marijuana is a drug with a demonstrated potential for abuse, the American Bar Association "supports federal legislation to establish a program under which [seriously ill] patients can be treated with marijuana under the supervision of a physician and under such controls adequate to prevent any diversion or other improper use of medicinal marijuana" (emphasis added).  The patchwork of local regulations that have arisen in the wake of Proposition 215 in California makes the recommendation of the American Bar Association for federal legislation more urgent.

As you know, cocaine is one of the most abused drugs in the nation.  However, cocaine is legal for medicinal use in the United States.  In the Controlled Substances Act, Congress developed a regulatory regime for medicinal use of cocaine.   There is no evidence that crack addicts or other illegal users of cocaine use it because of cocaine's legal status in medicine, or because such status creates an inconsistent message about cocaine's dangers.

As noted above, the American Bar Association continues its longstanding opposition to substance abuse, including marijuana use, other than in this limited, controlled medical situation.  The Association deplores the use of illegal drugs and supports imposition by legislative bodies of appropriate sanctions to discourage their use, including casual use.  The Association supports the establishment of educational and prevention programs as widely as possible to discourage the use of marijuana and other harmful drugs.

Many members of the American Bar Association work tirelessly to fight the problem of drug abuse, and we commend you and your colleagues for your many efforts in this regard.   But we believe our policy appropriately balances the needs of seriously ill patients, the regulatory requirements of the government, and the nation's responsibility to prevent illegal use of marijuana.

We urge the House to defeat H.Res. 372.


Robert D. Evans