If you’ve tracked us at all on the issue, you know Family Council has serious concerns about current efforts underway to legalize marijuana for “medical” use in Arkansas. That’s because the current proposal blatantly defies federal law and does not put the needs of patients first.
Here’s the kind of medical marijuana we support:
Step 1. Assess Marijuana’s Known Health Problems
Before we talk about legalization, let’s reiterate the known health threats posed by marijuana in its raw form.
- We know marijuana is not always safe for mental patients.
- We know young children who use marijuana are at increased risk of developing mental illness later in life.
- We know that marijuana has more tar and carcinogens in it than tobacco, and we can safely extrapolate that many of these carcinogens are likely to be present even if marijuana is ingested by some means other than smoking.
- We know there is already a very serious criminal element associated with marijuana.
- We know that not all marijuana plants are equal, and that potency and effects will vary from plant to plant depending on the variety of the plant and the conditions under which it was grown.
So how do we search out marijuana’s potential medical applications without putting patients at risk? The answer is to follow the laws in place governing medical drugs.
Step 2. Reschedule Marijuana in Congress
Congress and the DEA keep lists, also called ‘schedules,’ of drugs. Schedule I substances are the ones with high risks of abuse and no known medical uses. Marijuana appears on this list.
Schedule II substances are those with high risks of abuse, but some medical uses. The opium plant appears on this list because even though it can be used to make heroin, it can also be used to make morphine, codeine, and other opiates commonly employed in modern medicine.
Schedule II substances are still heavily regulated, and it is crime to possess them without authorization. However, authorization for clinical testing of a Schedule II substance is easier to acquire than for a Schedule I substance.
If the federal government puts marijuana on the list of Schedule II substance, the scientific community can conduct testing to see what medicinal properties—if any—marijuana possesses while simultaneously continuing to keep it out of the hands of drug dealers and addicts.
If—and only if—these tests prove that the cannabinoids (the active ingredients) in marijuana have medicinal properties not currently available to patients, then doctors should proceed to Step 3.
Step 3. Extract or Synthesize the Cannabinods
THC is the most well known cannabinoid in marijuana. There is already a synthetic form of THC which can be administered in pill form. However, medical marijuana proponents maintain that there are other cannabinoids besides THC in marijuana, and that these cannabinoids have medical applications.
If the scientific community determines that these other cannabinoids have medicinal qualities, they can devise methods for extracting or synthesizing them.
Once that is done, they can proceed to Step 4.
Step 4. Seek FDA Approval
Currently, medical marijuana is the only “prescription drug” in America that is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and not necessarily filled by a pharmacist. Many states that have legalized “medical” marijuana do not hold it to the same standards as less serious drugs, such as high-dose Ibuprofen and prescription decongestants, and the law proposed in Arkansas would potentially let most users grow their own marijuana at home.
The reason marijuana does not fall under the FDA’s jurisdiction goes back to the fact that marijuana is currently a Schedule I substance under federal law, thus placing it in the purview of the DEA. The FDA only deals with legal drugs; the DEA deals with the illegal ones.
As derivatives of a Schedule II substance, however, the cannabinoids extracted from marijuana could be approved by the FDA. The FDA could issue standards and regulations controlling the illnesses for which cannabinoids can be prescribed; dosing standards for cannabinoids; and methods by which the cannabinoids are administered, much as it currently does with other prescription drugs.
If the FDA finds that the cannabinoids are not actually medically relevant, have too many serious side-effects that would threaten public health, or other significant issues, it could limit the scope of the drugs’ application or deny it approval altogether; conversely, if the FDA finds the cannabinoids make significant additions to modern medicine, it could expand the prescription of cannabinoids. That is the legal way by which drugs and their prescriptions are regulated.
Step 5. Keep It In the Hands of Doctors and Pharmacists
If marijuana has medicinal properties, the cannabinoids are extracted or synthesized, and the FDA approves them for public use, then it falls to the doctors and pharmacists to manage the cannabinoids in a healthy manner that abides by all FDA recommendations, rules, and regulations and all federal laws. Users will not be permitted to grow their marijuana, it’s true, but then we do not let codeine users grow their own opium poppy plants either.
As a Schedule II substance, marijuana and its derivatives would need to be handled and prescribed by knowledgeable doctors and pharmacists. That is the only way public health and the health of the patients can be protected.
If There Are No Medical Applications…
If at any point during the process outlined above it is discovered that marijuana actually has no additional medical application or that the medicinal qualities are so fraught with side-effects and health complications as to render it dangerous or impossible to properly prescribe, then marijuana and its derivatives should not be authorized for medicinal use. Period.
If the marijuana plant has legitimate medicinal qualities, like the opium plant and others, then it should follow the very same path of testing and approval as every other drug.
However, the no-holds-barred approach to legalization that we see in Arkansas and elsewhere is simply inexcusable. It poses a serious threat to patients’ health and to the public health as a whole, and it is patently illegal under federal law.
We are a nation of laws. Those laws should be followed when furthering modern medicine. They cannot be ignored out of convenience or political expediency. That is something everyone should be able to support.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.