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H.H.S. Announces New Medical Marijuana
Research Guidelines; Disregards IOM
Recommendations That Terminally Ill Have
Access

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Summer 1999

On May 21, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released guidelines for researchers interested in performing studies of the medical efficacy of marijuana. The guidelines came two months after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported on their two-year study which confirmed the medical value of marijuana while debunking some marijuana myths [See NewsBriefs, March-April 1999, p. 3] (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Restrictions Eased for Studies on Marijuana as Medicine," New York Times, May 22, 1999; Marlene Cimons, "Marijuana Research to Get Boost From Likely Policy Shift," Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1999; Associated Press, Reuters, and Stephen Barr & Juliet Eilperin, "Marijuana Research Rules Loosened," Washington Post, May 22, 1999; Associated Press, "Marijuana for research made more accessible," Chicago Tribune, May 22, 1999, p. 6; Paul Recer, "U.S. eases research use of marijuana," Rocky Mountain News, May 22, 1999, p. 38A).

Only a few scientists are engaged in research because the Government required that all studies be funded by NIH. In recent years only three studies were approved. Starting December 1, the Clinton Administration will sell government-grown marijuana to researchers and permit them to procure their own financing. Mike Nevin, a member of the Board of Supervisors in San Mateo County, CA, which in 1998 allocated $500,000 for studies of marijuana in cancer and AIDS patients, said, "This news today gives us great hope. . .We are hoping the Federal Government will grant us the ability to do this study...we are willing to pay."

Bill Zimmerman, executive director of Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) and author of Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You?, said, "Today's announcement shows the first real commitment to medical marijuana research in a generation." Although he praised the new policy overall, Zimmerman was critical of the guideline's failure to include the IOM's recommendation that patients who have no other medical alternatives should have access to marijuana while the research is being conducted. He said, "We have not forgotten this key policy recommendation, and we will fight to see it implemented as soon as possible" (Press Release, "Feds Begin to Bend on Medical Marijuana," Americans for Medical Rights, May 21, 1999).

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a D.C.-based nonprofit that had a major project to provide information to the IOM study, is cautiously optimistic. Chuck Thomas, director of communications for MPP, said, "We are pleased that the guidelines will make it easier to do more research, but this will not help patients who are currently risking arrest because they need to use marijuana right now." Thomas and Zimmerman both point to the IOM recommendation that the federal government provide marijuana to patients in "n-of-1" clinical trials prior to FDA approval of the drug. Thomas said, "In effect, the Clinton Administration is therefore supporting the continued criminalization of these patients while the research drags on" (Press Release, "Federal Government Releases Medical Marijuana Guidelines: MPP Cautiously Optimistic," Marijuana Policy Project, May 21, 1999).

National Institutes of Health - 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, Tel: (301) 496-4000, Web: <www.nih.gov>. The medical marijuana guidelines are available at: <http://www.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not99-091.html>.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - 200 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C. 20201, Tel: (202) 690-7000, Fax: (202) 690-7203, Web: <www.os.dhhs.gov>.

Institute of Medicine - National Academy of Sciences, I.O.M., Room FO-3018, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20418, Tel: (202) 334-2352, Fax: (202) 334-1317, E-mail: <iomwww@nas.edu>. To order a copy of the report, call (800) 642-6242. The report is on-line at <http://www/nap.edu/readingroom/records/0309071550.html>.

Bill Zimmerman - Americans for Medical Rights, 1250 6th St., Ste. 202, Santa Monica, CA 90401, Tel: (310) 394-2952, Fax: (310) 451-7494, Email: <amr@lainet.com>.

Chuck Thomas - Marijuana Policy Project, P.O. Box 77492, Washington, D.C. 20013, Tel: (202) 462-5747, Fax: (202) 232-0442. MPP's critique of the guidelines is on-line: <http://www.mpp/org/hhs-rev.html>.