This week Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledged marijuana's medical utility, telling CBS News:
We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful. So I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I'm very interested to see where that data takes us.
Since 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which among other things supposedly means it has "no currently accepted medical use." Do Murthy's comments signal that the Obama administration is seriously considering moving marijuana to a lower schedule? Not necessarily. Federal officials have been conceding the medical potential of cannabinoids for years, during the previous administration as well as this one. But the government can allow doctors to prescribe certain marijuana products (such as THC in capsule form, a Schedule III drug, or the cannabinoid spray Sativex, whose manufacturer is seeking FDA approval) without taking the raw plant out of Schedule I.
Even Bill Bennett, an unreconstructed drug warrior who longs for the days of "Just Say No" and "This Is Your Brain on Drugs," admits that marijuana can help some patients. In his new book Going to Pot, he proposes a tightly controlled system in which doctors would be allowed to prescribe marijuana to seriously ill patients with certain conditions who have unsuccessfully tried other drugs. Bennett describes this approach as a beefed-up version of the federal government's Investigational New Drug Program for marijuana, which was closed to new applicants back when he was drug czar but continues to supply a few surviving patients with joints blessed by Uncle Sam. Although Bennett's main interest is shutting down state medical marijuana programs, his willingness to acknowledge the plant's medical properties shows that Murthy was hardly going out on a limb.