Drug War

For the Obama Administration, Conceding Marijuana's Medical Potential Does Not Mean Rethinking the Federal Ban


The Raw Story's Stephen Webster jumps on drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's response to a "We the People" petition urging the federal govenment to let veterans use marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder:

Gil Kerlikowske, President Barack Obama's drug czar, claimed recently that the White House is "interested in the potential marijuana may have" in medicine—but in an odd feint, he also insisted that the drug war's Nixon-era prohibition policies are "based on science and research, not ideology or politics."

Although Webster seems to consider "Kerlikowske's admission" new and significant, the quote is actually from an October 2011 petition response that the drug czar appended to the new one. In any case, it does not signal a change in policy, or even in rhetoric. The Obama administration's official position on medical marijuana is the same as it has always been, and it is essentially unchanged from the positions taken by the Clinton and Bush administrations: We are open to the possibility that cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals might one day be approved by the FDA, after their developers jump through the usual regulatory hoops, including double-blind clinical trials. But we don't think cannabis should be exempt from this approval process, and we don't think smoking plants is good medicine. Kerlikowske's "odd feint"—eschewing "ideology or politics" in favor of "science and research"—is based on the complaint that medical marijuana advocates are demanding special treatment for their favorite plant.

Kerlikowske's predecessors drew the same distinction between smoked marijuana and FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed," Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey declared back in 1996, leaving the door open to other kinds of cannabis-based medicine (although McCaffrey, like Kerlikowske, was not always so careful). A few years ago, McCaffrey said he has always been "100 percent for…medical use of marijuana, THC, or cannabinoids." Bush administration drug czar John Walters put it this way in 2007:

We believe that if there are elements of marijuana that can be applied to modern medicine, they should undergo the same FDA-approval process any other medicine goes through to make sure it's safe and effective. In absence of that approval, the Federal position is clear: the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law and we will continue to enforce the law. 

This position is misleading in some important ways, but there is an element of truth to it. It's true that modern medicine tends to frown on whole plants, preferring isolated chemicals, and that new drugs cannot be legally introduced in this country without years of rigorous testing. The FDA did approve a sort of marijuana-based medicine, synthetic THC capsules (Marinol), back in 1985, and it may be on the verge of approving another: Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray. Then again, marijuana, which has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, is not exactly a new drug, and its safety is by now established well enough that the demand for additional testing, which would be prohibitively expensive for an unpatentable plant species (though not for medicines derived from it), seems obstructionist. Indeed, the government has used its monopoly on the legal supply of marijuana to block research even while proclaiming its commitment to sound science. And as Webster points out, that objective, just-the-facts pose is belied by the Obama administration's continued refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I, a category supposedly reserved for substances with a high abuse potential that have no medical uses and cannot be consumed safely even under a doctor's supervision.

Although that classification dates from the "Nixon era," as Webster says, the federal ban on marijuana was imposed long before the Controlled Substances Act. When Congress was on the verge of approving the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the plant under the guise of taxation (an excuse for meddling that seems to be coming back into style), a representative of the American Medical Association unsuccessfully urged legislators to make an exception for medicinal use. Nowadays the same organization wants the government to reconsider marijuana's Schedule I status. But there is no reason to think it will, no matter how many times the drug czar concedes the medical potential of cannabinoids.

[Thanks to NORML's Paul Armentano for the tip.]

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  1. How can you prove a negative? If you haven’t done the research, it would seem that you cannot say with certainty that marijuana has no medical value. And even if you have done research, there is always possibility of new research that could change that opinion.

    1. There was plenty of research done on the effects of marijuana.

      The problem was that the research failed to prove that the stuff deserves to be Schedule 1.

      They couldn’t find anything bad.

      The solution of course was to ban all marijuana research in this country.

      1. It is amazing isn’t it? And don’t forget they allow psychiatric drugs that have horrible side effects and are known to make people suicidal to be prescribed. But not marijuana.

  2. For the Obama Administration, Conceding Marijuana’s Medical Potential Does Not Mean Rethinking the Federal Ban

    Fuck you, that’s why.

  3. MDMA has shown a lot of potential for use as a therapeutic drug. Of course, because some people like to take it to make dancing more fun, we can’t have that.

  4. The shit that spews from this Curliqueueski’s face is some of the most deluded and evil claptrap I have ever heard. Who writes his talking points?

  5. “we don’t think smoking plants is good medicine.”
    How about eating plants which for weed is just as effective?

    ” the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law”
    So does that mean edibles are not?

    1. And what about tinctures?

      1. Unguents! Salves! Ointments!

  6. This whole discussion is fucking retarded. Anyone who has smoked marijuana could attest to its pharmaceutical potential. And anyone who knows the history of marijuana prohibition is fully aware of our governments hypocrisy. I’m amazed that in 2012 we are still discussing schedule 1 status and wether one of the planets least toxic substances should be legal for adults to consume. The fortunes being made off marijuana prohibition must be staggering.

    1. I hate to go all conspiracy theory but I think it is the pharmaceutical industry. Marijuana chills people out and relieves stress. Gee, that sounds like a hell of a cure for people who have anxiety disorders PTSD and such. How many billions are made proscribing those people expensive, ineffective and often dangerous pharmaceuticals?

      1. I hate to go all conspiracy theory but I think it is the pharmaceutical industry.

        It’s simpler than that. It’s a moral issue. It’s bad because it’s bad. It’s illegal because it’s bad, and it’s bad because it’s illegal.


        Bad, bad, bad!

        That and it can’t be easily controlled since anyone can grow it. It’s not called “weed” without reason.

        1. And if you smoke it it doesn’t come up on a breathalyzer. We have no way of knowing if crazed pot smokers won’t be out driving.

          I am not kidding when I tell you that is the most common defense I of prohibition I hear from people.

          1. I’ve heard that before.

          2. Electronic monitors and chemical saliva tests have been developed (and peer-reviewd) that detect marijuana use within a 2-3 hour window. That argument, like many others, “is out the window”.

            1. Really? I didn’t know that. I will remember that.

            2. I think the argument is that, unlike alcohol, you can’t easily *sniff* tell when someone is intoxicated on marijuana.

              My response is that if you can’t easily tell, perhaps they’re not as impaired as you believe.

              I mean, the worst thing about sharing the road with stoned drivers is that they go too slow.

              1. I have read that stoned drivers are generally not a danger.

                1. I think I read that too, on my Droid when I was driving through the school zone at 50 mph.

          3. Was reading that there are actual “impairment” detectors out there now, that determine your actual ability to drive a car.

            Assuming they work, they should be substited for all BAC tests, for starters. And, of course, they would work on any substance.

            Or even a lack of substance, if you’re just too old/impaired/unable to drive anyway.

            Of course, if drunk driving laws and the like were really about safety, these would be implemented in lieu of breathalyzers and the like immediately. But, that’s not whet drunk driving laws are really about, as we all know.

            1. But RC that would mean letting drunks get away without punishment. Who cares if they can actually drive or are a danger. They are drunk.

            2. I think the concern is that people would drink themselves up to 0.0799% and then hit the road.

              Plus, BAC actually increases for some time even after you stop drinking, which the average idiot doesn’t understand. So you might blow 0.07 on your little thingy but then discover you are above the limit after driving for 15 minutes and getting pulled over.

            3. oops, I misread your post, RC. I was talking about the personal BAC testers that the nannies are up in arms about.

            4. Or we could tax people who don’t install devices in their car that transmit their speed and direction to a central computer at state police headquarters, which can remotely shut off their engine, blow their horn, and notify local police if they start driving erratically.

              1. I believe that idea is already out there Tulpa. It is called the Chief Justice Roberts Solution.

      2. Inhaling smoke from a burning plant is not good for you, period. Plus different people react to MJ in different ways… you just don’t have the level of predictability you have with an isolated compound.

        There would still be plenty of reasons to use pharma products rather than smoking something you found growing on the side of the road.

        1. “Inhaling smoke from a burning plant is not good for you, period.”

          As opposed to taking a strong psychiatric drug. No side effects there. If it comes from big pharma it must be safe.

          And maybe you missed this dip shit, but we fucking eat plants.

        2. What I’m seeing here from both you and the drug czar is that vaporizers and brownies are just fine.

    2. We’re not discussing it. We bring it up and they contemptuously dismiss us.

      Besides, anyone who has smoked the stuff (with the exception of our last three presidents) is immoral and not to be trusted.

      1. That’s why they don’t listen to us, sarc. We’re just pot-smoking republicans, after all.

  7. read where the VA decided to deny coverage for medical pot to treat PTSD. a few moar extended mag incidents may cause a re-eval. that is all…

  8. Sometimes you really do just have to throw your hands up in the air liek you jsut dont care.


  9. I really think it is pathetic for Obama to have laughingly made the statement, “I did inhale . . . that was the point!” So now, the hypocrite is in a position of chief law enforcement officer and HIS policies are essentially diametrically opposite to his past behavior.

    Prohibition, even where it could mean a death sentence, does not stop a behavior. Take the example of the draconian (but understandable) sex offender penalties. Even when faced with life sentences, there still exists plenty of child molesters. The bad thing is, there is not much in the way of other remedies and there are millions of offenders who, if all arrested, would require the equivalent of a large state as a prison to incarcerate them all.

    I think there will come a day eventually (and rather unfortunately) that the country will have run out of money to the point that most drug enforcement will simply not be affordable.

    As it is, the US has about 750 per 100,000 people incarcerated which is about 3 times more than China! Many are low-level drug offenders.

    Lives are routinely destroyed by the consequences of just being arrested for using marijuana. There is no path to redemption for these people because there is no forgiveness by society.

    Children that are otherwise happy and well are thrown into “the system”. The law enforcement community (cops, judges, lawyers and legislators) are all responsible for this damage but they don’t bear the brunt of the penalties as they should.

  10. And, to finish my thoughts . . .

    Decisions that are driven by any kind of dogma, ideology or political philosophy that is not underpinned by fealty to the TRUTH will continue to be bad decisions. It really is that simple.

    The truth will set you free when embraced and destroy you when ignored.

    PS: Why the stupid (and unannounced) 1500 character limit? Seems silly when I can just post as many comments as I wish.

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