The Sacramento Bee: Current approach to marijuana undermines public health


The California Medical Association has long been at the forefront of controversial issues facing our state. We have proposed and helped implement forward-looking public policies around HIV/AIDS treatment and patient rights, blood donor laws, universal access to health care, physician aid-in-dying and vaccination rates.

At the heart of our advocacy lies our fundamental concern for patient safety and the overall health care delivery system.

CMA’s recent endorsement of the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is another example of this organization being guided not by political ideology but by patient safety (“Doctors dance with a toasty partner”; Forum, Dan Morain, Feb. 7).

For years, the issue of marijuana use has been raised at CMA’s annual policy conference, spurred by an ambiguous voter-approved “medical marijuana” law that created uncertainty for physicians and patients alike.

After more than 12 months of meetings, thousands of pages of scientific research and careful deliberation, CMA issued a white paper in 2011 calling for legalization, decriminalization and regulation of cannabis. The paper, “Cannabis and the Regulatory Void” stood ahead of the times by calling for legalization, decriminalization and regulation of cannabis.

We explicitly stated then – as we do now – that California’s physicians do not support the use of marijuana. But we also recognize, as does a growing majority of Californians, that the status-quo system of prohibition has not effectively protected public health.

As it stands, little is known about the health risks or benefits of marijuana because the current classification of the drug doesn’t allow for clinical monitoring. Regulation of marijuana will allow us to better understand potential clinical uses.

We need tight controls and specific monitoring of marijuana so that we can keep it out of the hands of children. The current system is a virtual free-for-all that leaves local communities overrun with unscrupulous operators. California needs the ability to strictly regulate and tax this industry to protect our most vulnerable citizens and offset community impacts.

We respect the strongly held beliefs on both sides of this debate – from the economic, environmental, spiritual, social justice, local government and law enforcement perspectives.

But as physicians, our overriding objective – and our only consideration – is the health of our patients. It’s clear to us that the current system undermines public health, fails to protect children and leaves state and local government without the funds to properly police or educate the public about the risks of marijuana.

We can and must do better.


Dr. Steven E. Larson is the president of the California Medical Association and a practicing physician.

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