The Supreme Court ruling last week that determined federal drug laws banning the medicinal use of marijuana trump state ones allowing them, went almost unnoticed by major evangelical policy groups. Focus on the Family said they had no one to respond to the issue, and Family Research Council said they no longer follow drug issues.
However, Concerned Women for America chief counsel Jan LaRue said she was delighted with the decision. "Marijuana has no legitimate medical use," she said. "That has been demonstrated over and over again."
But marijuana does have medicinal qualities, says Dónal O'Mathúna, a lecturer in health-care ethics at Dublin City University and co-author of Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook (Zondervan, 2001). "Some people, such as the women who brought the case that the Supreme Court ruled on, report that they receive great benefit from smoking marijuana," says O'Mathúna. "These benefits are primarily in relieving chronic pain, reducing nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite in people with diseases that cause weight loss, and lowering intraocular pressure in glaucoma."
Still, whatever benefits smoking marijuana has are limited, O'Mathúna says, who is a fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Association. "To prevent nausea and vomiting, smoking marijuana is about as effective as taking tablets made from a purified drug isolated from the plant," O'Mathúna says. "However, both were much less effective than conventional drugs used to treat nausea and vomiting."
"Some people will feel better, or at least feel different, after smoking marijuana. But there are risks associated with this," O'Mathúna says. His Alternative Medicine notes that marijuana smoke contains a higher number of cancer-causing carcinogens and more tar than tobacco, and that studies have shown an increased risk in cancer for marijuana users. The drug is also associated with pregnancy risks, weakened immune system, and decreased mental capacity.
Such risks justify its stringent control under federal laws, LaRue says. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive of five schedules. "Schedule 1 drugs are illegal. They cannot be prescribed, they have no known medical use, and they're not accepted as safe in medical use," says LaRue.
The schedule listing for marijuana is even more restrictive than for hard drugs. Cocaine, methadone, and LSD are listed as Schedule 2, O'Mathúna says, because though they have a high potential for abuse, they do have some medical use.
While often a champion of states' rights, LaRue says she supports the federal government's precedence over states laws that allow marijuana for medicinal use. "Congress is the one that controls drugs and what drugs can move through interstate commerce." Although many medicinal users grow marijuana at home, the Court held it has a significant impact on interstate commerce. "Congress can regulate things that are entirely intrastate because of the aggregate affect it has on interstate commerce," LaRue said.
"Think about how difficult it would be for law enforcement," LaRue said. Police could never determine if marijuana found during a drug bust would be used medicinally or not, she said.
LaRue also applauded the court for not changing the law. "The Court said, and I really appreciate it, 'what these plaintiffs are asking the Court to do, the Court doesn't have the authority to do. And that is to excise for them an exemption from the federal drug laws.'" Medical marijuana users should ask Congress to change the law, LaRue said. They have vowed to do that, according to The Washington Post.
O'Mathúna says there is one other option for those who do not respond to conventional treatment. "Such patients might want to test whether smoking marijuana is useful. Setting up a research protocol to test this could be justified, just as it is done with other drugs for which the benefit is unclear." The Investigational New Drug application could be used in conjunction with a doctor for research purposes.
But such an approach may not satisfy the most avid of medical marijuana users. (One woman said she needed to smoke weed every two hours.) "This program would need to be highly regulated," says O'Mathúna, "and would be very different from the approach taken by the exemptions addressed by the Supreme Court this week."
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Articles elsewhere include:
Doctors are Subject to Federal Pot Laws | The U.S. Supreme Court says the federal government has every right to prosecute those who provide marijuana for "medical" purposeseven if individual states have legalized it. (Focus on the Family)
The medical pot hysteria | With everything else going on in the world, it's good to know that the federal government is being vigilant when it comes to the really dangerous people: those unrepentant chronic-pain patients who viciously insist on using marijuana to relieve their suffering. (Cathy Young, Boston Globe, June 13, 2005)
Should medical marijuana be legal? | Supreme Court ruling leaves decisions for patients (ABC News, June 11, 2005)
Medical Marijuana, a Casual User's Tale | Although I had a hard time believing someone like me might qualify as a medical marijuana patient, there it was in cold print. (Lessley Anderson, The New York Times, June 12, 2005)
Blessing marijuana for mercy's sake | Support for permitting medical use is growing among major religious denominations (Washington Post, June 26, 2004)
In this 1988 Campus Life article, Michael W. Smith admits to using pot after he moved to Nashville.