The Medicinal Use Of Marijuana

67th General Assembly
November 2003
Minneapolis, Minnesota


According to our tradition, a physician is obligated to heal the sick (Maimonides commentary on Mishnah Nedarim 4:4). The use of marijuana as medicine goes back at least 5,000 years. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, U.S. law currently defines marijuana as a Schedule I drug-a prohibited substance-having no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, a high potential for abuse, and a lack of evidence of safety for use under medical supervision. In contrast, Schedule II drugs have restricted access as highly controlled medications that are prescribed in writing in triplicate using the physician's assigned number. Moreover, Schedule II medications are for use in pain management for a limited period of time in limited quantity.

Anecdotally based reports on the medical use of marijuana have indicated that it provides relief from symptoms, conditions and treatment side effects of several serious illnesses. These include glaucoma, the wasting syndrome associated with HIV/AIDS, nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and muscle spasms that often accompany multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Thus far, scientific studies regarding the efficacy and safety of marijuana use for therapeutic purposes have been inconclusive.

In recent years the development and implementation of pain management have changed. In the United States, more than 30 states have approved legislation in support of the medicinal use of marijuana. U.S. federal law supersedes state law, however, and prevents the implementation of these states' mandates. Because marijuana is not legally available in the U.S., except for research purposes pursuant to limited Investigational New Drug applications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, many patients cannot avail themselves of this therapy and must resort to the black market to obtain relief and are thus subject to arrest or incarceration. At this time, Health Canada, the Canadian federal department of health, permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A court case is pending to determine the method by which patients will obtain the marijuana.

In January 1997, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked the Institute of Medicine to assess the potential health benefits and risks of marijuana and its cannabinoid compounds (the primary psychoactive ingredients). The Institute of Medicine's report, released in March 1999, recommends continued research into physiological effects of marijuana's constituent cannabinoids and their potential therapeutic value for pain relief, including closely monitored clinical trials of smoked marijuana. The Institute of Medicine's report also recommends short term use (less than 6 months) of marijuana for patients with debilitating symptoms for whom all approved medications have failed and relief of symptoms could be reasonably expected, with treatment administered under medical supervision and the guidance of an institutional review board.

THEREFORE , the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

  1. Urge elected officials in the United States to support federal legislation and regulation to allow the medicinal use of marijuana for patients with intractable pain and other conditions, under medical supervision;
  2. Urge the Food and Drug Administration to expand the scope of allowable Investigational New Drug applications in order to move research forward more quickly toward an approved product;
  3. Call for further medical research on marijuana and its constituent compounds with the goal of developing reliable and safe cannabinoid drugs for management of debilitating conditions; and
  4. Call upon congregations to advocate for the necessary changes in local, state and federal law to permit the medicinal use of marijuana and ensure its accessibility for that purpose.