Drug Policy

Sanity on Marijuana?

Obama's new position on medical marijuana is a step in the right direction.


In 1973, Robert Randall was going blind from glaucoma when he discovered that smoking marijuana seemed to help his condition. That didn't matter to police when they found the Washington, D.C., resident growing cannabis and arrested him. Preferring to keep his sight, Randall sued the federal government, arguing that he was entitled to smoke pot as a "medical necessity."

It was a far-fetched argument—but it worked. In 1976, a court ruled in Randall's favor. Before long, the federal government found itself in the strange position of supplying marijuana to him and a handful of other patients under a "compassionate use" program.

The compassion didn't go very far. The first President Bush stopped the acceptance of new patients into the program in 1992 rather than admit all those annoying AIDS victims, insisting that it sent a dangerous message to young people.

The real danger, of course, was the message that government policy on cannabis was ignorant and irrational. But since then, one president and one drug czar after another has furiously resisted efforts to allow therapeutic use of the drug no matter how helpful it may be to the sick and dying.

Until now. This week, the Justice Department kept a promise made by candidate Barack Obama when it announced that henceforth, "it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana."

The change is not only historic but humane and intelligent, two adjectives rarely applied to federal drug policy. Science has established that cannabis has useful properties for the treatment of various diseases, countless physicians have endorsed it, and 14 states have allowed sick people access to marijuana. But for three decades, the people in charge of drug policy in the federal government didn't give a rat's bottom.

In 1996, after California voters approved a medical marijuana law, the Clinton administration fought it every step of the way—filing lawsuits to close cannabis buyers clubs, threatening to strip the licenses of doctors who recommended marijuana to patients, and denouncing the entire program as "a Cheech and Chong show."

The Bush administration stuck to the same course. It raided California dispensaries and went all the way to the Supreme Court in a successful effort to crush the notion—the conservative notion, come to think of it—that states should have the power to set their own policy on pot.

But before long, the idea had caught on not just in hippy-dippy California but in less fashionable places like Alaska, Maine, Michigan, and Montana. Some 75 percent of Americans think doctors should be permitted to prescribe cannabis. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reports that in 33 state referenda since 1992, voters have embraced liberalization 30 times.

Most of the time, the two major parties are about as different as Coke and Pepsi. But last year, they presented a stark contrast on this issue. Republicans denounced the use of marijuana as medicine, while Democrats lined up to criticize the prevailing federal policy.

Obama took a clear position, declaring it "entirely appropriate" for physicians to prescribe cannabis and pledging, "What I'm not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

But as opponents of the Iraq war, "don't-ask-don't-tell," and Guantanamo know, a promise made by Obama is not exactly money in the bank. This time, though, he deserves full credit for doing what he said he would do, repudiating a bipartisan legacy of pig-headed stupidity.

What's more, Obama may not stop there. Some drug reformers expect the administration to agree to let a scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst grow cannabis for research on its medical potential—something the Bush administration opposed, lest the research contradict its ideology.

During the campaign, he also indicated he favors scrapping a 21-year-old policy that forbids cities from using federal money to finance needle-exchange programs to block the spread of AIDS, and the House voted last summer to lift the ban. The White House drug czar has even solicited advice from critics of the drug war, whom previous drug czars saw as deranged.

Robert Randall, who died in 2001, might have been surprised to hear the federal government admit the possibility that it was wrong about marijuana. He probably wouldn't have been surprised that it took 33 years.


NEXT: A Day in the Park

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  1. Steve Chapman on Obama and Marijuana

    Never at the same time, dude.

  2. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. NTTAWWT.

  3. “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana.”

    Doesn’t really say anything about cannabis buyers clubs. Are they caregivers?

  4. See. I told you Obama was a stand up guy. He does keep his promises. Ya’ll can stop all that whining and gnashing of teeth now.

    *morning snark is super delicious*

  5. Can we get some sort of tearful apology from Eric Holder?

    1. [sniff] I love you, man. [sniff]

  6. Again, i’ll believe it when the raids stop. I’m not holding my breath.

    1. But I was in that photo. 😉

    2. It’s not about what he does, it’s about what he makes you Hope for! You sir, have no Hope!

  7. Are you kidding me? A “clear statement”?? By simply saying that “it will not be a priority?”

    Maybe I have been an attorney too long, but I know weasel words when I see them.

  8. I still think that picture needs to be made into a painting and hung in the Capitol rotunda as Obama’s presidential portrait. It sums him and his character up better than any other likeness could.

    1. Racist.

      1. Why? It is a real picture. It is not like it was faked or anything. I think the picture speaks for itself.

        1. John, always assume that everything I say is snark or complete and utter bullshit. It’ll make your life more pleasant.

          1. FWIW, that is my favorite photo of Obama. No snark, no BS. It’s a great picture.

            1. I knew it was snark Ben. I was just playing along. And for the record, if you have some goofy assed picture of Bush you would like to hang in the Rotunda, have at it.

          1. Dude, brotherben is an old poster here. Long before my time or yours.

            1. I was responding to John (line up your threads man!) about his not catching the “racist” comment the way it is done here.

              1. Threaded comments suck man.

    2. They guy in that photo seems to be a far more interesting person than the empty suit I see on TV all the time.

  9. Great if anything actually changes, but this administration has proven particularly fond of bullshit.

  10. Lovely. I get an ad for Passages Malibu with the story. You know, the World’s premier addiction cure center. Sheesh

  11. Passages what?

    1. Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.

  12. So this Pingback bullshit is a feature instead of a bug? Crap.

    1. I just noticed that too. I wasted all of that rage on spammers. Need to make more.

  13. Marijuana is a dangerous, addictive, unhealthy schedule I narcotic. It is not good for Americas children. Too many children in Americas high schools and collages use the marijuana.

    Marijuana is a known gateway drug leading to hard drug use.

    It has been illegal a long time and it is going to stay that way. This is a worldwide requirement due to treaties. Grow up and get used to it. Your ‘right’ to get high, consequentially endangering everyone else, does not override everyone else’s right to live in a safe and drug free society.

    If you need to get high, why not be an adult and have a few beers.

    1. Yeah have a few beers because nothing bad ever happened because of drinking. Nope. Not like you can die that night if you drink to much or in a few years if you drink every day.

    2. 3 out of 5. You defintely tried but not very hard. Juanita would have done it better and with more style.

      1. Everyone is always picking on and downgradig the troll. Trolling is hard. That wasn’t a bad effort. I give it 8.5 on a 10 scale.

        1. Forgive me, Mr. John, but I vould give it closer to a 4 out of 10. It vas completely obvious and poorly executed. Vut you say is true, however, trolling is hard. I vould give a 9 out of 10 for zee effort.

    3. Do you even know how marijuana was banned in the first place?

      In the 1930’s, a group of Senators formed a committee to look into the effects of Marijuana and a possible ban on it (like how they banned alcohol too btw). The Senators debate, with absolutely no hard evidence at all, and one Senator even states that it should be banned because “it makes the degenerate Mexican people crazy”. Then an AMA (american medical association) representative comes in with his view, because the committee wanted the AMA on their side. He says to the Senators, “the AMA could find no evidence that marijuana is harmful” (which it isn’t, and actually alcohol is more harmful). One of the Senators replies back, “if you don’t have anything good to say, then just leave”.

      Basically they just wanted the AMA to side with them to make it seem legit, but it wasn’t. They were a bunch of fucking racists and special-interest funded assholes (some of them did not want hemp to take over the market).

      People who oppose marijuana are idiots. Out of all the drugs (including alcohol and cigarrettes) it is the least harmful. And its primary effect on people is calming. And, besides the point, it is an individuals decision to do what they want to themselves.


      1. Still, it isn’t good for us so it should be illegal.

        1. Burgers aren’t good for you. Beer isn’t good for you. Cellphones aren’t good for you. There are so many things that are not good for you that are legal. Why this one thing? Think about it.

          And , again, an individual can do what he/she wants to him/herself, that is a personal choice.

          1. And , again, an individual can do what he/she wants to him/herself, that is a personal choice.

            Not if it is unhealthy, because that affects everyone’s healthcare costs. Drugs have negative downstream effects on society.

            1. Aw, c’mon, surely you can do better than this. Lame.

            2. And, again, a lot of unhealthy things are legal.

        2. Frank that BigMack isn’t healthy for you should that be illegal too?

    4. Children in “collages” use t3h pot?

      Stop gluing those kids to paper, man!

      And who are these “children” that get into collage? Doogie Howser lives! (or should that be “Doobie”?)

    5. Gateway? What is a gateway drug? You mean that the people who knowing break the law and decide to use a narcotic produced by a criminal are not already sick and in need of help. What about the rest of us that would like to use it to reduce nausea, pain or just get wasted like with alcohol but without the harmful effects of alcohol? What about the fact that it is none of the governments business what you want to do with the drug?

      Harmful to others? Terrorist and organized crime and gangs get their monney from the sale of narcotics. But I guess these organizations are not harmful. For that matter there is not anything much more harmful than the DEA which polices these drugs and has a tendency to shot first and think later, much later. Think of how much money the DEA, prisons (where 50% of the population are in on non-violent drugs), the cost to medical care for AIDS, HEP C and endocarditis which is a result of bad drugs and needles.

      Get the government out of our lives, let us manage our own health, reduce the need for doctors and clinic visits, leaglize drugs and leave use alone!

      1. I must congratulate Frank on his most successful troll.

  14. Whoever is driving the Frank sockpuppet, consider retirement. That was weak.

    1. Ill second that.

  15. We need Edward and Juanita back. Those times were trolleriffic.

  16. The change in policy is great news – it removes a major objection that some conservatives have about medical marijuana law; the idea that state laws can somehow violate federal law and open patients and doctors up to prosecution.
    If anyone in New Hampshire wants to help make the veto override on HB648, (this legislative session’s medical marijuana bill) a reality, please contact me! My email is real, just replace the word DOT with a period.
    We have literature that needs to be on doors in Manchester and anyone can help with a letter to the editor or a call to the office of their state senator.

  17. it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana

    Do you see the enormous gap between this statement and:

    The federal government will not prosecute patients or their caregivers.

  18. I’m reminded of one of Asimov’s Black Widowers stories, where a guy who never lied (but was accused of stealing) kept saying, “I did not steal the cash or the bonds.” Henry, the waiter who solves all of the mysteries, noticed that the guy kept denying the theft in the exact same words and asked, “By any chance did you steal the cash and the bonds?”

    1. Properly parsed, Asimov blew it. The statement “I did not steal the cash or the bonds” is a lie if the perp stole either the cash or the bonds. Since he stole the cash, it is a lie. Since he stole the bonds, it is lie.

      Asimov FAIL.

      1. That’s why I always preferred his science over his science fiction.

      2. Indeed. I see this misinterpretation of “or” constructions frequently in both linguistics and logic discussions. I find it odd.

        1. Known as the “Disjunction malfunction.”

      3. But dissembling is NOT lying!! Ask your congressman.

        1. It depends what the meaning of “is” is.

  19. Big friggin whoop. Slightly relenting in the enforcement of completely unconstitutional, pointless, unjust and oppressive law. The federal government is not going to quite go to the usual extremes in order persecute sick people for wanting to use a weed that they feel eases their suffering. Someone (and I’m not say who because who knows what you can get arrested for these days) is a total hypocrite who can blow me.

  20. I only meant that the words can be spun to mean whatever the hell they want them to mean.

  21. @ Frank:

    Read my response to your idiotic comment. Hope you were being sarcastic.

    Best wishes, John Galt

  22. Why stop with the weed?

    I am a physician with over 40 years experience and think that we should legalize all drugs. I have never used street drugs and rarely prescriptions. Yet from seeing patients of all social levels and knowing what it takes to get proper treatment as well as the restrictions placed by local and state authorities on prescribing legal drugs. I would say that it is past time to allow people the right to go to the drug store and buy anything they desire. This will not increase addiction to any great extent as these people prone to addiction are already getting the stuff. It would cut down on doctor visits, reduce pain and suffering, reduce AIDS and hep C and in general return our rights and priveledges. It would get govenment out of our lives.

  23. “It will not be a priority” doesn’t mean “it will never happen.”

  24. Better, unfortunately, isn’t good enough. Liberals and libertarians need to stop recognizing this administration for simply being a little ‘better’ than the last abysmally poor administration. Obama still has a failing grade when it comes to drug policy. The millions of nonviolent offenders still crowding our jails for possessing a substance no more harmful than alcohol are proof of that. He just doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the drug enforcement industrial complex. We should be grilling him for it. But we’re as pussy as he is, apparently.

  25. If you need to get high, why not be an adult and have a few beers.

    That makes little sense. I believe Frank meant to say:

    If you need to get an adult, why not be high and have a few beers.

  26. There may be more to this story than a cursory examination may indicate. We have a few ideas on the “why now?” aspect here: http://3healthymonkeys.wordpre…..epartment/

  27. i use it to sleep
    i sit in my bed, smoke it, laugh for half an hour
    and then sleep like a rock
    six hours straight
    i dont understand why kids use to get ‘eletric’

  28. “Do you even know how marijuana was banned in the first place?”

    Also, the .fed needed something for the recently idled (who could not longer smash peoples’ stills under color of law) to do. Certainly couldn’t have them get honest jobs.


  29. Having the law but not enforcing it is a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE place to be. It allows for selective enforcement and corruption. We should strive to remove the law.

  30. For the dreadlocked crowd the fuzzyheaded thinking is related to their seduceable nature. Think I’d rather put my faith in a bunch of oldsquaws.

  31. Or is that fuzzyheadedness?

  32. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp.

  33. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets

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