WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Those who oppose the use of marijuana as a medicine invariably counter efforts to legalize the drug -- such as those recently proposed by Reps. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., co-sponsors of H.R. 2592: the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act -- with the excuse that more research is necessary before any legal changes can be implemented.
Weeks ago, the federal government took a dramatic step forward in this area by granting three University of California researchers permission to conduct state-sponsored medical trials on the use of marijuana in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis and HIV-related pain.
The Feds' decision reverses what had been nearly two decades of de facto prohibition on state-sponsored medical marijuana research. However, a larger and as of yet unanswered question still remains: Are there any politicians willing to accept the results?
In 1997, government officials responded to a wave of successful state initiatives legalizing medical marijuana by funding the most comprehensive review of pot's therapeutic prowess ever conducted. That review, published by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in March 1999 concluded that marijuana had therapeutic value as a pain reliever, anti-emetic and appetite stimulant.
It further recommended that the government immediately initiate clinical pot trials "with the goal of delivering rapid-onset, reliable, and safe delivery systems" for medical marijuana.
But in the three years since this report was issued, the federal government has done next to nothing to implement this recommendation.
Our government's inertia is hardly unique. Around the globe, politicians have behaved similarly.
Britain's Parliament twice shelved an even more vociferous plea from its own House of Lords to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and again in 2001, though clinical trials are now under way.
Australian bureaucrats dismissed similar advice from their own expert task force in the mid-90s. To date, the only government that has responded to the medical evidence supportive of medical pot is Canada, which legalized the possession, cultivation and regulated distribution of medical marijuana last summer.
Today, more than 70 prestigious national and international medical organizations -- including the American Public Health Association, AIDS Action Council and the New England Journal of Medicine -- are on record supporting immediate, legal patient access to medical marijuana. They, like Canada's top government officials, maintain that sufficient research already exists to warrant an immediate change in federal policy.
The States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act would do just that. This bipartisan legislation would reclassify marijuana under federal law so that U.S. physicians could legally prescribe it under controlled circumstances while simultaneously maintaining restrictions on its recreational use.
It would also enable state legislatures to establish safe, regulated medical marijuana distribution systems to supply medical pot to those patients who need it.
While further research into the medical utility of marijuana is certainly a step in the right direction, it should not delay state and federal efforts to legalize medical marijuana for qualified patients. For thousands of seriously ill patients, marijuana is the only therapeutic agent that relieves their pain and suffering.
Passage of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act by Congress is a sensible and streamlined way to grant them legal and controlled access to this medicine.
Paul Armentano is a Senior Policy Analyst and Director of Research for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington.