While I was still the editor of JAMA, I was in Boston in January, 1997, to do my regular teaching at Harvard. I dropped in to see my friend Jerry Kassirer, the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Little did I know that Jerry was in the midst of a firestorm of protest for his just-published editorial called “Federal Foolishness and Marijuana.” Jerry told me that he received more response to that editorial than anything else he had ever written.
Six months later, at Brown University, David Lewis and 36 other distinguished physicians founded Physician Leadership for National Drug Policy [now Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy] (www.plndp.org). PLNDP was begun to persuade the United States to deal with psychoactive drugs by applying scientific best evidence rather than the myths, lies, religion, and ideology our country had been using.
In 2005, I published a Webcast Video Editorial on Medscape, demanding that the U.S. government reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug. The response to that editorial was mostly supportive. Opinion was changing.
Fast forward to 2010. In this publication, more than 80% of some 1,800 (and counting) physicians in a current MedPage Today survey responded that marijuana should be reclassified from Schedule I. Great progress!
As a forensic pathologist, I know that tobacco and alcohol kill every day in most American cities, legally. To my knowledge, marijuana has never toxicologically killed any one.
There was that one student at UCLA who choked on a bolus of weed while trying to destroy the evidence when the cops broke in. And there may have been one man in the Netherlands who smoked multiple consecutive pipe loads of high-grade hash, successfully killing himself. It is true that if one takes marijuana leaves, seeds, and stems, cooks a soup, and shoots the “pot porridge,” one gets really sick, as we reported from LA County years ago. And, it is obvious that flying an airplane or driving a car while stoned is a very bad idea.
I don’t use grass myself and I don’t recommend it; but for patients with terminal HIV or cancer, if they find palliative relief from medical marijuana, why not?
As to the broader question of recreational use, regulation, and taxation, I suspect that there will be a lot of unintended consequences when that first American state takes those legal steps, probably fairly soon.
George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more health policy news.