California doctors' organization calls for legalizing marijuana

A client enters Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California.
A client enters Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California.
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California's largest professional group for doctors is calling for the legalization of marijuana - even while it maintains that the drug has few proven health benefits.

In a statement on the California Medical Association website, the president-elect says doctors are an "incredibly difficult legal position" when it comes to medical marijuana. That's because physicians have to decide whether to recommend a drug to their patients that the state has legalized for medical purposes, but remains illegal under federal law.

Dr. Donald Lyman wrote the policy paper for the CMA. On AirTalk Monday, he said that with no regulatory system of distribution, “we’re placed basically in the uncomfortable position of being a gateway person…and there is no gate.”

The CMA says it remains unclear whether cannabis is useful or not. It says that question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done.

“When I write a recommendation for cannabis, I have no idea what the stuff is that the patient will buy,” Lyman said on AirTalk. “It is not been passed through any kind of regulatory process that guarantees purity, strength and safety.”

The association acknowledged that there are health risks associated with cannabis use, and it proposed that it be regulated in the same way alcohol and tobacco are.

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, acting president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, also spoke on AirTalk. He agreed that research was needed but objected to legalization, saying that the state-altering substances still cause problems after becoming legal.

“The number one cause of death in the country is related to the use of these well-regulated substances, so we have a situation where we would only be adding to that burden,” Gitlow said.

The federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal drug with no medical value, and last week launched a new effort to shut down dispensaries.

The CMA is the first statewide medical association to support the full legalization of marijuana.

Lyman said laws surrounding cannabis will inevitably change. Aside from the unregulated marijuana industry in California, 17 states have decriminalized marijuana, meaning they will not enforce federal laws on the drug. The state of Colorado has a proposal for regulating marijuana much like alcohol, which will appear on the ballot next November.

“The best observation from the CMA office is that this train has already left the station,” Lyman said.