ANAHEIM, Calif. -- California's largest industry group for doctors is calling for the legalization of marijuana even as it maintains that the drug has few proven health benefits.
Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group's new policy, said doctors are increasingly frustrated by the state's medical marijuana law, which allows use with a doctor's recommendation. Physicians are put in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to recommend a drug that's illegal under federal law, Lyman said.
"It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not," he told the newspaper. "That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for."
The CMA acknowledges health risks associated with marijuana use and proposes regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco, but the group says the consequences of criminalization outweigh the dangers.
The federal government considers cannabis a drug with no medical use. The CMA wants the White House to reclassify it to help promote further research on its medical potential. Earlier this year, the Obama administration turned down a request to reclassify marijuana. That decision is being appealed in federal court by legalization advocates.
Lyman called current laws a "failed public health policy."
But critics within the medical community said association leaders did not consider the broader implications of legalizing marijuana.
"I think it's going to lead to more use, and that, to me, is a public health concern," Dr. Robert DuPont, an M.D. and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, told the Times.
Members of the CMA, which represents more than 35,000 California physicians, were informed of the trustees' vote Saturday. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of cannabis, according to a group spokeswoman.
The group's decision provoked an angry response from some in law enforcement.
"Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana – how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence – it's just an unbelievably irresponsible position," said John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association.
The CMA's parent organization, the American Medical Association, has said the federal government should consider easing research restrictions, according to the Times.