On Monday the New York State Assembly approved the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would allow people suffering from "serious conditions" such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use marijuana for symptom relief. The 95-to-38 vote came three days after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed the medical use of cannabis as "one of the great hoaxes of all times." Mike Riggs noted Bloomberg's remarks on Friday, but it is worth highlighting how woefully misinformed this supposedly smart and scientifically sophisticated technocrat is on the subject of marijuana's therapeutic utility. First of all, note that Bloomberg was not merely complaining that some people fake symptoms so they can get the doctor's note that is required to obtain cannabis from dispensaries in states such as California and Colorado. Here is the exchange he had with radio host John Gambling on Friday :
Gambling: I think it's been very interesting to watch…the push here in [New York] and across America to legalize marijuana—medical marijuana.
Bloomberg: Yeah, right, medical, my foot [?]. Come on. There's no medical. This is one of the great hoaxes of all times.
It is worth listening to the podcast of the show (beginning at the 21:20 mark) just to hear the haughty derision dripping from the billionaire busybody's voice. Contrary to what his dismissive tone suggests, Bloomberg has no idea what he's talking about.
Cannabis has been employed as a medicine for thousands of years, and it is beyond serious dispute that the plant has useful therapeutic properties. Back in 1985, the Food and Drug Administration approved Marinol, a capsule containing a synthetic version THC, marijuana's main active ingredient, for treatment of the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. Seven years later the FDA approved Marinol for treatment of AIDS wasting syndrome. There are various reasons why some patients prefer cannabis to capsules, having to do with ease of administration, quickness of onset, the ability to adjust doses, cannabinoids absent from Marinol, and the psychoactive effects of THC metabolized by the liver. In any case, FDA approval of Marinol means controlled, double-blind clinical trials have shown that the main active ingredient in marijuana relieves nausea and restores appetite. Other research has shown that cannabis is an effective treatment for neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis, an application for which the cannabis extract Sativex has been approved in several countries. There is also evidence that marijuana relieves spasticity in M.S. patients and various other painful conditions.
Although Bloomberg evidently is unaware of this evidence, it has had a noticeable impact on medical opinion, as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) notes:
Last week, Mayor Bloomberg ran afoul of medical science when he called medical marijuana "one the great hoaxes of all time." A day earlier, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine released a survey of physicians finding that 76% of those surveyed would approve medical marijuana for use to reduce pain in a cancer patient. That same day NY Physicians for Compassionate Care announced that more than 600 New York physicians from all across state support medical marijuana and want to be able recommend its use to seriously ill patients who might benefit from its use.
Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy concedes marijuana's medical potential, although it questions the propriety of letting patients consume the whole plant as opposed to FDA-approved derivatives. Yet Bloomberg claims the whole thing is a hoax, one clever and elaborate enough to dupe not just 95 New York legislators but the National Academy of Sciences, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Federation of American Scientists, and the federal government's leading marijuana expert, among others. Bloomberg managed to outrun this ever-widening consensus because he watches his diet and is unencumbered by facts.
Bloomberg's arrogance is, if anything, more infuriating than his ignorance. He would force seriously ill people to suffer rather than find relief in an arbitrarily proscribed plant, even when their doctors agree that the treatment is appropriate. The Compassionate Care Act, which still being considered by the New York State Senate, would create what DPA describes as "one the most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs in the country." It would be open only to people with "a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition" such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, or arthritis. They would need a doctor's approval to obtain a state-issued ID entitling them to possess up to two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana, which they would have to grow on their own or with the help of a caregiver. There would be no dispensaries with seemingly healthy young men going in and out to offend Bloomberg's sensibilities. But even this strictly regulated system is too much for the mayor. Then again, this is a guy who finds 20-ounce sodas intolerable.