- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

NEW YORK The U.N. agency in charge of drug policy yesterday rejected arguments that marijuana should be legalized, but it called for further study of its potential medical uses.
"Adding another drug to the same category as alcohol and tobacco would be a historical mistake," given public health policies aimed at fighting abuse of both substances, the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in its annual report.
But it urged further research "into the possible therapeutic properties and medicinal uses of cannabis or cannabis extracts," emphasizing that any decision be based on scientific and medical evidence.
So far, eight U.S. states have approved marijuana for medical use, and a half-dozen nations are considering similar exemptions to anti-drug laws.
"We have to decide this on the merits, not on whether Aunt Sally wants to light up," said Herbert Okun, the U.S. representative on the Vienna-based INCB.
Medical marijuana has become a divisive political issue in the United States and many other developed nations, as governments attempt to update their drug laws.
Proponents of medical marijuana say it eases pain and stimulates the appetite, making it valuable in countering the side effects of cancer, chemotherapy, some AIDS symptoms and glaucoma.
Opponents say that approval for medical use is a first step toward legalization, which they fear will divert drug use from a fringe group into the general population.
The United States is one of a half-dozen nations that are currently engaged in government-sponsored research into the medicinal properties of marijuana.
In November, two University of California researchers received approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration "to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis compounds as an alternative for treating certain debilitating medical conditions."
The researchers will use marijuana cigarettes supplied by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said at the time that the study is consistent with established U.S. policy "that the question of whether marijuana has any legitimate medical purpose should be determined by sound science and medicine."
But Mr. Hutchinson also said: "Historically, the research has shown no medical benefit from smoking marijuana."
At the United Nations yesterday, Mr. Okun warned that no study was likely to be accepted as definitive in such a highly politicized atmosphere.
"The findings won't be accepted by everyone," he said.
In the United States, eight states Oregon, California, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Colorado and Nevada have passed laws that allow patients to smoke marijuana with a doctor's prescription.
The Supreme Court said in May that it is illegal to distribute marijuana for medical purposes. But the ruling hasn't settled the issue in the United States.
This month, DEA agents raided a San Francisco buyers club, confiscating 600 plants and arresting four persons.
Many in the city reacted with outrage, and Mr. Hutchinson was heckled during a speech that afternoon.
The Bush administration also announced recently that it will revoke student aid for any applicant who fails a drug test.

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