US report backs use of marijuana for medical purposes

Confronted with stunning new report that backs the medical use of marijuana, the US government may be spurred into reexamining its long-standing effort to ban use of the substance as a dangerous drug.

The study, issued yesterday, was conducted by the Institute of Medicine at the request of White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey. Mr. McCaffrey, an opponent of relaxing marijuana laws, said the report contributed to a rational discussion of the drug's medicinal value but that more research is needed.

The IOM report stated that marijuana was not particularly addictive and did not appear to be a "gateway" to the use of harder drugs such as heroin. It also said there's no evidence to indicate that medical use of marijuana would increase public abuse of the drug. For some people diagnosed with serious illnesses, marijuana may be a most effective treatment, the report concluded.

The IOM report lands amid a debate over medical marijuana, launched in 1996 when California became the first state to pass an initiative allowing certain patients to use the drug. US authorities have blocked its implementation. Voters in six other states, meanwhile, passed similar initiatives in 1998. - boosting pressure on the White House to consider removing marijuana from the list of dangerous narcotics.

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