The cannabis plant (marijuana) . . . [has] therapeutic benefits and could ease the suffering of millions of persons with various illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, chronic pain, and other maladies.

—from the editor's introduction to Cannabis in Medical Practice, by Mary Lynn Mathre, R.N.

Conflicts regarding the legitimacy of medical marijuana use extend even to the level of state versus federal law. Between 1996 and 1999, voters in eight states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia* registered their support for the prescription of marijuana by physicians, defying the policies of the federal government and the convictions of many of its leaders.

Prior to the 1998 election, former Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush released a statement urging voters to reject state medical marijuana initiatives because they circumvented the standard process by which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests medicines for safety and effectiveness. “Compassionate medicine,” these leaders insisted, “must be based on science, not political appeals. ” Nevertheless, medical marijuana initiatives proceeded to pass in every state in which they appeared on the ballot.

Both those who advocate and those who oppose the medical use of marijuana claim to have science on their side. Each camp selectively cites research that supports its position, and each occasionally misrepresents study findings. Unfortunately, these skewed interpretations have frequently served as the main source of scientific information on the subject. Until now it has been difficult for people other than scientists to find unbiased answers to questions about the medical use of marijuana—questions that have often drawn conflicting responses from either side of the debate.


The Colorado vote was later disallowed after a court determined that the petition to place the initiative on the ballot did not have enough valid signatures. Congress has prohibited the counting of actual ballots in the District of Columbia referendum, but exit polls indicated that a majority of voters approved the measure. Nevada voters must reapprove their proposal in the year 2000 before it becomes law.

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