The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy already is getting carried away with promoting the use of marijuana, which it wants to legalize so it can reap a tax revenue bonanza.
Lately the administration’s health commissioner, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, has toured the state urging doctors to provide medical marijuana for a growing list of conditions approved by the state.
The most recent condition added, a couple of weeks ago, was opioid-use disorder. Elnahal told health-care providers in Atlantic City and elsewhere that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for this and 18 other state-approved conditions.
Doctors are skeptical, and rightly so. They noted, for example, that evidence is lacking for specific outcomes when marijuana is used to treat psychiatric disorders. Regarding its use in opioid addiction, the John Brooks Recover Center said there isn’t conclusive evidence it would help.
Marijuana is not a medicine, despite the adjective “medical” used by state government to market it.
Medicines must undergo exacting controlled trials to prove their effectiveness in order to receive federal approval.
Drugs must be researched, their benefits described and their harms characterized, before the Federal Drug Administration validates the uses for which the benefits outweigh the harms. That is effectiveness, not the untested and hoped for kind promoted by Elnahal and the state.
Cannabis hasn’t been federally approved for any use. It’s a toxin that impairs judgment and driving ability. It increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, and smoking it harms the respiratory tract, Dr. Peter B. Bach, a pulmonary physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. A National Academy of Medicine report calls the evidence for these harms substantial.
Medical marijuana has paved the way for states to legalize the drug’s use for pleasure. The Murphy administration would like to make cannabis legal like alcohol and tobacco, two other harmful substances that adults can choose to use. Those drugs and many other intoxicants can also reduce the experience of pain and anxiety — but calling them “medical” whiskey or “medical” cigarettes would be absurd.
A responsible consideration of whether cannabis should be legalized should be preceded by public education on its harms and risks, and determining whether a regulatory scheme can keep them to a minimum.
Much more and better research is needed to determine the health benefits, if any, of marijuana. Doctors can decide in the meantime whether its possible benefit and harm are worthwhile for particular patients and state-selected conditions.
But until cannabis is supported by the kind of studies routinely required for over-the-counter and prescription drugs, the Murphy administration should back off pushing it for unproven treatments.