Marijuana has been used extensively as a medical remedy for more than five thousand years. In the early 1900s, medical usage of marijuana began to decline with the advent of alternative drugs. Injectable opiates and synthetic drugs such as aspirin and barbiturates began to replace marijuana as the physician's drug of choice in the twentieth-century, as their results proved to be more consistent than the sometimes erratic effects of the hard-to-dose potencies of marijuana (Grinspoon). The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made cannabis so expensive to obtain that its usage as a medical remedy in the U.S. came to a halt. Although now illegal in the U.S., marijuana continues to be used for both medical and recreational purposes by many Americans. There are a variety of opinions both for and against the re-legalization of marijuana today. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the legalization debate is whether marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes.
All drugs, both prescription and non-prescription, are federally 'Scheduled' by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). A drug's scheduling under Federal law is determined "according to [its] effects, medical uses, and potential for abuse" (Claim V). In this classification system, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, grouped with heroin, LSD, hashish, methaqualone, and designer drugs. These are drugs having "unpredictable effects, and [causing] severe psychological or physical dependence, or death" (Claim V).
A closer analysis of the DEA's Federal Scheduling system reveals that, according to various studies by physicians on both sides of the legalization debate, marijuana does not meet the requirements of a Schedule I drug, but not those of Schedule II. The difference between the two classes is that Schedule I drugs may lead to death, while those on Schedule II are less likely to do so. Proponents of legalization cite information that indicates marijuana is a relatively "safe" drug. "There is no known case of overdose; on the basis of animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is 40,000 to 1" (Grinspoon). Even some opponents of marijuana legalization support reclassification. Two physicians, in a widely distributed opinions piece entitled "Marijuana Smoking as Medicine: A Cruel Hoax", wrote; "While the reclassification of THC to Schedule II might be understandable, this would not be the result of smoking the crude drug marijuana, which would as a result become more available and more readily diverted for non-medical use" (Nahas). Although this evidence clearly does not support the legalization of marijuana, it highlights one of many discrepancies that cloud this smoky debate.
Lester Grinspoon, MD, is a proponent of the medical legalization and re- classification of marijuana. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Grinspoon wrote an article entitled "A Plea for Reconsideration". In this plea, Grinspoon suggests that marijuana should be reclassified to a Schedule II class drug, so that it might be legally prescribed. He writes:
In a 1990 survey, 44% of oncologists said they had suggested that a patient smoke marihuana for relief of the nausea induced by chemotherapy. If marihuana were actually unsafe for use under medical supervision, as its Schedule I status explicitly affirms, this recommendation would be unthinkable. It is time for physicians to acknowledge more openly that this present classification is scientifically, legally, and morally wrong. (Grinspoon)
Like many other physicians fighting for the re-classification of marijuana, Dr. Grinspoon makes claims only towards the drug's medical benefits. However, their rhetoric in calling the issue "morally wrong" suggests that they may have other motives as well.
Furthermore, the fact that "44% of oncologists"...