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Kerlikowske Attempts to Correct Misleading Medical Marijuana Comments

In an August 7, 2009 KOMO News interview ("Kerlikowske: Legal Pot 'Not in My Vocabulary'"), drug czar Gil Kerlikowske tried to douse the flames ignited by a late July appearance in Freso, CA during which the drug czar flatly denied marijuana's medicinal benefits. As he told the Seattle news outlet, "I certainly said that legalization is not in the president's vocabulary nor is it in mine [...]. But the other questioin was in reference to smoked marijuana. And as we know, the FDA has not determined that smoked marijuana has a value, and this is clearly a medical question and that's where I've been leaving it." He continued, "I should have said, 'smoked' marijuana and then gone on to say that this is clearly a question that should be answered by the medical community."

However, according to Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and other drug policy reform and patients advocate groups, Kerlikowske's correction did not go far enough. As ASA stated in an August 9, 2009 Opposing Views post, "Although it's nice to see a correction to his previous statement, and leaving it to the medical community is favorable to harmful and unnecessary law enforcement actions, the Drug Czar's position is still problematic." The group explains that "Just because the FDA does not recognize the medical efficacy of smoked marijuana [...] doesn't mean that such a position is factual." Indeed. At the moment, ASA "has a pending case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which argues against this assertion and uses a mountain of evidence to illustrate marijuana's medical efficacy." They provide not only links within the above cited statement but also follow it with sound medical research going back as far as 1999.

Moreover, ASA rightly contends that "the medical community has not offered any substantive alternatives" to smoked marijuana therapy. The government's go-to defense on this issue - Marinol, a pharmaceutical pill comprised of synthetic THC - "does not provide an adequate delivery system for people with nausea, takes too long to go take effect, is difficult to regulate dosages, and offers inferior efficacy to smoked marijuana for most patients that use it."

In concluding their rebuttal, ASA draws a parallel between Kerlikowske's oft-employed diatribe against prescription drug abuse (which he also discussed during the KOMO interview). As they state, "If the Drug Czar were to put two-and-two together, he'd find that many patients who use medical marijuana do so in order to scale down or completely eliminate the use of toxic pharmaceutical medication." The group then poses a pointed question: "If the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can conclude as far back as 1988 that marijuana is 'one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man,' why can't we see fit to recognize its medical benefits and allow patients in need to make use of it?"

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