Without medical marijuana, Scott Rozman swears, he wouldn't be alive today.
At 30, Rozman was the youngest documented case of teratoma and angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that his doctors treated in the middle of his chest with equally aggressive rounds of chemotherapy. The chemo was so intense that he would throw up 40 to 50 times a day during treatment, unable to keep any food down. He lost 60 pounds during the first two months alone, making him potentially too weak to finish out his treatment
"The doctors thought I was a dead man," Rozman, now 46 and a life coach in Guttenberg, N.J., said.
But then Mary Jane came into his life.
As a last-ditch effort, his doctors prescribed him marijuana because of its purported ability to stave off chemotherapy nausea. Not only was he able to keep food down again, the marijuana calmed him and helped him cope psychologically with the harrowing experience of the chemotherapy sessions. Weed had done for Rozman what no traditional anti-nausea medication could.
The Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), however, would beg to differ.
Although 16 states recognize marijuana as a drug with important medicinal properties, the DEA has shot down a petition to reclassify marijuana as such, citing that it has "no accepted medical use." The result is that marijuana will remain within the strictest categorization of restricted substances, alongside heroin and LSD.
"As a doctor and medical researcher, I find the DEA's decision unfortunate," said Dr. Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego. "It looks like they underplayed what positive information there is in the literature about marijuana. This policy is guided more by certain kinds of beliefs in the dangers of marijuana, at the expense of advance of medical knowledge for patients."
The DEA's refusal, laid out in a June 21 letter from DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to the organizations who filed the petition back in 2002, marks yet another bump in the road for patients, doctors and activists fighting for improved access to what they deem a vitally therapeutic medication.
"The statement 'it has no accepted medical use' is simply wrong as a statement of fact," said Rob MacCoun, psychologist and professor of Law and Public Policy at University of California Berkeley Law School. "There is now considerable evidence showing medical benefits, at or exceeding standards of evidence for many other pharmaceuticals. Prescribing physicians in over a dozen states clearly see an accepted medical value for their patients."
Americans for Safe Access, one of the organizations petitioning the DEA, already has plans to appeal the decision, taking the federal government to court, and if necessary, the Supreme Court, in order to argue for the medicinal value of marijuana.
"Frankly, we're ready to go head to head with the Obama administration on this issue," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "We have science on our side and we're hopeful the court will see it that way."
Calls made to the DEA for comment were not returned.