The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration is facing demands for his resignation after he said medicinal marijuana was nothing more than “a joke”.
A petition calling for the ousting of Chuck Rosenberg, the acting head of the DEA, was established after the publication of comments he made to reporters during a recent Q&A session.
“What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal - because it's not,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
“We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine - that is a joke.”
He added: “There are pieces of marijuana - extracts or constituents or component parts - that have great promise.
“But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana - which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana -- it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”
Mr Rosenberg’s argument that smoking marijuana “has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine” has been contradicted by numerous studies.
An analysis of 79 medical marijuana studies involving 6,462 patients, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year, found “moderate-quality evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain and spasticity.”
There was low-quality evidence suggesting marijuana had therapeutic applications for other conditions as well.
Marijuana activists have reacted with anger to the comments of Mr Rosenberg.
“My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, which started the petition.
“Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits.”
Twenty-three states and Washington, DC, have legalised medical marijuana. It is still illegal under federal law.