There is still no medicine in marijuana, the DEA insists

March 20, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has made a new try -- the fifth in the past 20 years -- to bar doctors from using marijuana as a medicine.

This week's ruling by the agency's administrator, Robert C. Bonner, may face a revived challenge in federal court. Four times before, the U.S. Court of Appeals here has rebuffed the DEA's refusals to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana as a treatment for disease or illness.

Mr. Bonner, in a sharply worded 46-page ruling, turned down a plea first made in 1972 to reclassify marijuana so that it could be prescribed by doctors. "By any modern scientific standard, marijuana is no medicine," he declared.

"Beyond doubt," he added, "the claims that marijuana is medicine are false, dangerous and cruel. Sick men, women and children can be fooled by these claims and experiment with the drug. Instead of being helped, they risk serious side effects."

Marijuana is now on the government's list of the most dangerous drugs, indicating that it has no "accepted medical use." Mr. Bonner's decision reaffirmed that listing. As long as marijuana is on that list, it cannot be prescribed by doctors in ordinary medical practice and can be used only in experiments. Currently, 13 individuals nationwide are using marijuana in such experiments.

Those advocating marijuana as a medicine contend that it can have some effect in treating glaucoma, AIDS, cancer, spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, and vomiting. The advocates argue that millions of patients could benefit from it as a medicine.

Allen St. Pierre, a spokesman for the leading group in the 20-year fight to clear marijuana for use as a medicine, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said his group probably would not go back to court again. "We must now put this right on the doorsteps of the legislators," he said.

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