MPP's Follow-Up Report on the Institute of Medicine's Medicinal Marijuana Hearing in New Orleans : January 1998
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) held its second of three medicinal marijuana hearings on January 22-23, 1998, in New Orleans. The topic was "Acute and Chronic Effects of Marijuana," which focused mainly on the potential health risks of marijuana use. The public testimony portion was held on Thursday, January 22, and the scientific sessions were held on Friday.
In December 1998, the IOM will release a report detailing its findings and making recommendations for future research. This report will be limited to scientific and clinical issues; it will not address policy and legal issues. The Marijuana Policy Project's (MPP's) goal is to make the study investigators aware that thousands of marijuana-using patients are living in fear of arrest and prison, so that the recommendations in the report accurately reflect this emergency.
The MPP arranged for seven speakers to testify on Thursday:
In addition to the MPP's entourage, only three people testified
In sum, it was a 9-1 near-shut out. A clear and compelling case was made that marijuana should be legally available as a medicine, and the IOM study investigators, Stanley Watson, M.D., and John Benson, M.D., listened attentively and compassionately.
*Scientific Sessions* On Friday, prominent experts selected by the IOM presented testimony:
Most of the myths of marijuana's extreme dangers were dispelled. The few claims of harm that emerged -- such as possible immune system and pulmonary damage -- were essentially insignificant when compared to the side effects of countless legally available medicines. In sum, a compelling case that marijuana is too dangerous to be used as a medicine was *not* made.
Extremely favorable articles, focusing primarily on the patients, were written by the _New Orleans Times-Picayune_ and the Associated Press (AP). The AP article featured a photo of medicinal marijuana user Barbara Douglass.
The local ABC and CBS affiliates also provided good coverage. News stations across the nation also ran local stories giving their perspectives on the hearing, e.g., the CBS affiliate in Tampa and the NBC affiliate in Chicago.
*Background and Conclusion*
On January 3, 1997, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey announced that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy would pay theInstitute of Medicine $1 million to conduct an 18-month "comprehensive review" of "the health effects and potential medical use of marijuana."
The Marijuana Policy Project immediately began working to influence IOM to make the report as favorable as possible. IOM is not a government agency, and it has a reputation for being quite objective, regardless of the source of funding. Indeed, in the past IOM has issued reasonable reports regarding drugs.
The MPP has been in contact with the IOM study directors for this project from the start, has sent them useful information, has recommended doctors and patients as expert witnesses, and has helped ensure that the study's "principle investigators"quot; are unbiased. But the most important endeavor is to make sure that each hearing -- open to public testimony -- is filled with supportive doctors and patients.
The patients' testimony served to (1) remind IOM that the issue is patients, not cannabinoids, and (2) help attract favorable media coverage. The New Orleans hearing, as well as last month's hearing in Irvine, California, accurately conveyed that medicinal marijuana is effective and safe enough to be used as a medicine.
Most importantly, the public testimony at the New Orleans hearing focused on the fact that patients can be arrested and imprisoned for using their medicine. The MPP is hopeful that the IOM will recognize this emergency and follow the MPP's suggestions for the final report.
*MPP's Suggestions for the IOM's Medicinal Marijuana Report*
The MPP urges the Institute of Medicine to state the following: