Calling prohibition of marijuana "a failed public health policy," California's largest doctors group says the federal government should legalize the drug so it can be studied, taxed and regulated.
The California Medical Association adopted the official policy this past weekend at its annual conference.
The doctors' association, representing 35,000 physicians, is the first medical group to take such a stance.
It "won't be the last," CMA President-elect Dr. James T. Hay said in a statement. "As physicians, we need to have a better understanding about the benefits and risks of medicinal cannabis so that we can provide the best care possible to our patients."
The policy was quickly condemned by at least one police group.
"I wonder what they're smoking," said John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association told the Los Angeles Times. "Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana -- how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence -- it's just an unbelievably irresponsible position."
The federal government lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, similar to heroin. As such, it has no medicinal value in the eyes of federal regulators. Sixteen states, including California, have legalized the drug for medicinal use, although its federal classification makes it illegal for doctors to prescribe.
In California, doctors can issue only a written "recommendation" to a patient to use the drug.
The CMA says the federal government's stance keeps physicians from being able to study the effects of using pot. The doctors group also urges legalization so pot can be regulated and taxed similar to alcohol and cigarettes. The CMA says the federal government's "War on Drugs" is a failure that's done nothing to stop people from using marijuana.
Doctors consider marijuana to be untested folk medicine, with the "inadequate" data available showing "very limited" health benefits that include helping with pain, nausea and anorexia, according to the CMA's white paper released today.
Cannabis use also has been associated with health risks, including addiction, memory loss, slower reaction time, development of psychotic disorders and reproductive risks, the CMA says.
The limited science available puts doctors in California in a position of being asked by patients to give them permission to use the drug without really knowing how much they should use and whether the drug is going to do them harm, the CMA says.
"There simply isn't the scientific evidence to understand the benefits and risks of medical cannabis," CMA board Chairman Dr. Paul Phinney said in a statement. "We undertook this issue a couple of years ago and the report presented this weekend is clear -- in order for the proper studies to be done, we need to advocate for the legalization and regulation."
The CMA's announcement comes the same month as federal prosecutors in California announced they were cracking down on the state's pot industry, which they say has rapidly become a booming business flouting the state's medical marijuana laws.
Dispensaries all across California were told to shut down or face criminal charges.
(Contact Ryan Sabalow of the Redding Record Searchlight in California at www.redding.com)