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November 13, 1995

Congressman Barney Frank Introduces Federal Legislation To Make Marijuana Available By Prescription

        Washington, DC:  U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a federal medical marijuana bill in Congress on November 10 that would permit physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients for a number of serious illnesses.
        The Frank medical use bill is modeled closely after a 1981 federal medical marijuana proposal co-sponsored at that time by Rep. Newt Gingrich, now Speaker of the House, and three other Republicans.  The bill would reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II and would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide for controlled domestic cultivation to provide a legal supply of medical marijuana.
        Although much more research is needed, it is clear from both limited scientific data and rapidly accumulating anecdotal evidence that marijuana is a valuable aid in reducing pain and suffering for patients with a number of serious ailments, and that it is less toxic and costly than the conventional medicines for which it may be substituted.
        Marijuana is an effective means of overcoming the nausea and vomiting induced by cancer chemotherapy as well as the nausea and loss of appetite associated with the wasting syndrome of AIDS.  It is useful for various spastic conditions including multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, and quadriplegia.  It lowers interocular pressure in people who suffer from open-angle glaucoma.  For some people with epilepsy, it is the only anticonvulsant that works.  It has been used for centuries as an analgesic and its medical potential has been endorsed by both the National Academy of Sciences and the Australian Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health.  In 1988, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis J. Young declared that marijuana fulfilled the legal requirements for currently accepted medical use in the United States, finding marijuana to be "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."  His order was overruled, not by any medical authority, but by the DEA itself.
        Results from a recent poll conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union demonstrate that 85 percent of the voting public favor the medical use of marijuana.  Thirty-six states have adopted legislation facilitating the medical use of marijuana, but none of these state measures can be implemented until Congress amends the law.  The introduction of Rep. Frank's legislation provides Congress with that opportunity.
        Many seriously ill patients in this country are already using marijuana to reduce their pain and suffering, even though they must risk arrest to obtain and use it.  As a result, informal "buyer's clubs" have formed in many cities to supply marijuana to the seriously ill.  Some of these clubs are small and almost clandestine; a few, such as the one in San Francisco, operate openly and serve several thousand clients on a regular basis.  The fact that thousands of seriously ill Americans would risk arrest to obtain marijuana as a medicine attests to the need for medical marijuana legislation.
        Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon M.D., co-author of Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine (Yale University Press, 1993) says the Frank medical marijuana bill "is a compassionate and humane proposal which would provide relief from pain and suffering to thousands of seriously ill Americans.  These are people with life-threatening illnesses who cannot obtain relief with available medication.  It is both unscientific and unconscionable for the federal government to continue to deny an effective medication to these patients.  Rep. Frank's proposal would allow this decision to be made by the patient and the treating physician."