Members of Congress are often eager to admit they’re not scientists. The trouble is, they also don’t like listening to scientists and have tried to keep them from shaping federal policy on issues from national defense to environmental protection to gun violence. Now, America’s ignorance-is-bliss Congress has come to fear what scientists might have to say about marijuana.
Earlier this month, the House Rules Committee rejected an amendment to a biomedical-research bill that would have directed the National Institutes of Health to investigate the benefits and risks of using marijuana for medical purposes – research that federal law currently hampers. The sponsors of the amendment hold conflicting views about the value of medical marijuana. Each side believes that more research will strengthen its case, but they have yet to convince House Republican leaders.
Gathering data is indeed an excellent way to clarify and advance debate. Nearly half of all states have legalized medical marijuana, but the political discussions involved in this process have been dominated by stories of heartbreaking suffering and frightening drug abuse. Ideology has played a role, too, with liberals and libertarians lining up against cultural conservatives.
Largely missing from the debate has been the most essential element: scientific evidence suggesting that marijuana does anything to alleviate physical suffering.
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A study released in June found weak evidence to support using marijuana to treat many conditions for which states have approved it, including nausea from chemotherapy, sleep disorders and Tourette’s Syndrome. It did better in treating chronic pain and spasticity arising from multiple sclerosis.
Protecting public health and safety requires arming both patients and lawmakers with better information.
This is excerpted from Bloomberg View