The federal government still obstructs medical marijuana research (NYT, 1/19/10). It isn’t being done because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a monopoly on the legal supply of marijuana. Marijuana is the only major drug for which the federal government controls the only legal research supply and for which the government requires a special scientific review, and it rarely grants access. NIDA sees its role as focusing on the negative consequences of marijuana use. A spokesperson said, “We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

Doctors have known cannabis’ (marijuana) medicinal qualities for millennia, and were routinely prescribing it until quite recently for eating disorders, neurological diseases, insomnia, arthritis, and digestive diseases. There are 14 states that have already legalized the use of medical marijuana, but clinics, doctors and patients are continually harassed. If we want to study the risk/benefit profile and its abuse potential, then we have to do the research.

How have we gotten into this the demonizing of marijuana? It all goes back to 1970, when in one of his first acts as President, Richard Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Marijuana was declared a Schedule I drug (along with heroin, ecstasy, LSD and peyote). This is the only category that prohibits its use whether medically indicated or not. Drugs like cocaine, codeine, OxyContin, and methamphetamine landed in the less restrictive Schedule II and III, which permits prescription-based medical use.

Congress placed the marijuana into Schedule I only temporarily, pending reconsideration when it received a forthcoming report by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. Nixon appointed this study group, and when their deliberations were concluded, the Commission recommended decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal use and distribution in private of small amounts of marijuana not involving a profit.

When Pres. Nixon heard the Commission’s recommendations (we learned 30 years later when audiotapes were released), he was livid and demanded “a goddam strong statement on marijuana”. He added an anti-Semitic touch to those advocating decriminalization… “you know it’s a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish… I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know there’s so many, all the great psychiatrists are Jewish.”

Pres. Nixon prevailed, marijuana stayed in schedule 1, and NIDA and the DEA continue to refuse to license legitimate research. If we want good science, we have to fund real science, and get away from this Nixonian marijuana madness that classifies it as an illegal Schedule I drug. Let’s follow Nixon’s words and finally make “a god damn strong statement on marijuana”.