All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for December 2002

Medical Marijuana Use Still Infrequent in US

Friday, November 29, 2002
Reuters Health
New York

Four states in the US currently permit doctors to prescribe marijuana to their patients to help them with their ills, but a new report shows that only a fraction of the doctors and patients who reside in these states take advantage of this opportunity.

According to findings from the US General Accounting Office, in Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon--three of the states that permit the use of medical marijuana--only 0.05% of the patient population has requested the drug. Of those that have, the report notes, most were over 40 years old and, in the two states that included information about patients' gender, most were men.

California, the fourth state that permits the use of medical marijuana, did not have information on who uses the drug for medicinal purposes.

Hawaii and Oregon also submitted findings on physician prescribing patterns, and found that less than 1% of Hawaiian doctors and 3% of doctors in Oregon have requested their patients receive marijuana. Most doctors prescribed marijuana for patients with conditions that were extremely painful or marked by muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis.

The report notes that whether or not medical marijuana might muddle the ability of police to control the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes remains unclear. However, interviews with law enforcement officials from the four states suggest that allowing medicinal marijuana has not changed how they deal with recreational pot use.

Some officials noted, however, that it might become more difficult to prosecute cases involving marijuana if the defendant can claim the drug was needed for medical reasons.

The law that permits doctors to prescribe marijuana to their patients in these four states has always been in conflict with federal law, and last year the US Supreme Court unanimously upheld the federal ban on marijuana.

In response to the report, the US Department of Justice cautions that issues such as how medical marijuana can facilitate drug trafficking and whether state and federal law enforcement agencies can cooperate over marijuana use remain unclear.

The justice department adds that scientists continue to debate whether marijuana has medicinal value.

© Copyright 2002 Reuters