By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2000; Page A10
CUDAHY, Calif. May 11 -- Vice President Gore today backed away from his earlier support of medical marijuana, saying he sees "no reliable evidence" that it is an effective pain reliever.
During a candidate forum in New Hampshire last December, Gore said that "where you have sufficient controls, I think that doctors ought to have that option." In that session, Gore said he opposed legalized marijuana, but he also bemoaned the lack of flexibility given doctors to treat terminally ill patients.
"I think that where the alleviation of pain where medical situations is concerned, we have not given doctors enough flexibility to help patients who are going through acute pain," he said at the time. "Many of us have seen that for ourselves. It's all too easy to come up with this reason or that reason why a doctor can't use what is going be most effective for the alleviation of pain."
But today, when asked by a student where he stood on a medical treatment that is legal in this state, Gore took a stronger stance against use of the drug.
"Right now, the science does not show me, or the experts whose judgment I trust, that it is the proper medication for pain and that there are not better alternatives available in every situation," he said during a school visit in a low-income neighborhood southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Gore's position on the issue has shifted several times and in some respects resembles the variety of comments he has made on the Elian Gonzalez case.
During the televised session in New Hampshire, he responded to more than one question by stressing the need for doctors and patients to decide on the best course of pain treatment. He recounted how doctors prescribed medical marijuana for his late sister Nancy's lung cancer. And although it did not bring her relief, Gore said, "if it had worked for her, I think that she should have had the ability to get her pain relieved that way."
Afterward, in a news conference, he revised his position, stressing that there was "inconclusive evidence" on the efficacy of medical marijuana and saying he preferred to wait for more solid research.
Today, Gore appeared to be hardening his second stance.
"Right now it is my belief and understanding that there is no reliable evidence that it is a superior effective treatment for pain in any situation where there is not a better alternative available today," he said.
As they did in December, Gore's aides were quick to try to clarify the vice president's remarks today. They stressed that in his news conference four months ago--and today--Gore focused on science.
Gore, who has acknowledged smoking marijuana in the Army and as a Tennessee journalist in the 1970s, said he sympathizes with terminally ill patients and their family members.
"Anyone who has been in a situation where a loved one or family member
is suffering and cannot find relief from pain is very impatient with the
notion that they're going to be denied a medically effective relief for
that pain because of some other societal concern," he said, "because they
do not believe there are not ways to limit the availability strictly to
those in the circumstances where it's really needed for that purpose."