Medical Marijuana: A Science-Free Zone At The White House

In his pre-White House days:

Source: Huffington Post

President Obama came into office promising to reverse George W. Bush administration practices and elevate science over politics. He explicitly applied that principle to drug policy, an area long driven by ideology and prejudice. He quickly began to make good on the pledge by promoting three evidence-based drug policies: eliminating the ban on states using federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis; reforming the racially unjust crack-cocaine sentencing disparity that punished crack offenses more harshly than powder offenses; and vowing to end years of federal interference in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

But as a recent L.A. Times article makes dismayingly clear, the White House is putting the “science-free zone” sign back up.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice issued medical marijuana guidelines to U.S. attorneys that are at best confusing and at worst a flip-flop on administration policy. The department’s much-heralded 2009 memo on the subject fulfilled candidate Obama’s campaign promise and established a principle that federal resources would not be wasted prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state medical marijuana laws. The department’s update reiterates that the feds won’t target individual medical marijuana patients but might bust large-scale, commercial medical marijuana providers. The memo unequivocally threatens federal prosecution of large-scale medical marijuana providers even if they are in compliance with state law, a significant step away from the principle at the heart of the 2009 policy. Disturbingly, the new “clarification” doesn’t explain what the federal government considers to be the line between small and large-scale production — likely an attempt to slow state-sponsored medical marijuana distribution programs while sowing anxiety and confusion for patients.

Most recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected a formal citizen petition filed nine years ago to reschedule marijuana to make it available for medical use. When the DEA considered a similar petition during the Reagan administration, the agency’s administrative law judge concluded, “Marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people.” The Obama administration’s rejection of the petition claims marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States … lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision… [and] has a high potential for abuse.” Lest one think the DEA’s ruling is just law enforcement run amok, the White House released its 2011 National Drug Control Strategy earlier this week, calling marijuana “addictive and unsafe.” That document devotes five pages attacking marijuana legalization and medical marijuana.

The administration’s disconnect from science is shocking. A federally commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine more than a decade ago determined that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety “all can be mitigated by marijuana.” The esteemed medical journal the Lancet Neurology reports that marijuana’s active components “inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm.” The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that marijuana may help withnausea, loss of appetite, pain and insomnia. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia, home to 90 million Americans, have adopted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana to treat AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other ailments. The federal government itself cultivates and supplies marijuana to a handful of patients through its “compassionate-use investigative new drug program,” which was established in 1978 but closed to new patients in 1992.

Marijuana use, like any drug, certainly carries risks. When it comes to policy, however, these risks should be weighed against the harms associated with current marijuana laws. It is notable that every comprehensive, objective government commission that has examined marijuana throughout the past 100 years has concluded that criminalization of adult marijuana use does more harm than marijuana use itself. Moreover, the risks associated with marijuana use are demonstrably far less than those associated with Oxycontin, methamphetamine, morphine and other drugs currently available for medical use. It defies not just science but common sense for the Obama administration to be so aggressively anti-marijuana, especially for medical use.

It is not too late to reverse this science-phobic trend. The Department of Justice’s recent medical marijuana guidance is vague enough that the administration can clarify it intends to scrutinize only massive, rogue medical marijuana operations and that the DEA won’t waste resources going after most providers in most states. The administration should clearly support responsible state and local regulations designed to make marijuana legally available to patients while enhancing public safety and health. If the federal government is unable to provide leadership in this area, then the very least it can do is get out of the way and allow local governments to determine the policies that best serve their interests. The president who promised change rooted in rational reflection shouldn’t stand in the way of it.

This piece was co-written by Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Bill Piper is Director of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance.

This article first appeared in the L.A. times on July 14th.

4 thoughts on “Medical Marijuana: A Science-Free Zone At The White House

  1. Obama has been such a let down.

    Clear the DOJ is just a jobs program for lawyers. Bush and Obama both made the public call saying we need “high paying jobs.” And clearly this is their answer. Hire an obscene amount of lawyers and give them unconstitutional powers to bleed us all dry paying for policies which only make things worse, do not promote justice, the common good, or safe communities; only the exact opposite: injustice, crooked special interests, and unsafe communities.

    I do think we need some jobs programs, but those jobs need to actually add value to society, restore credibility to government, help the elderly living in houses they can’t repair, help the poor living in overpriced apts. they can’t afford, take back abandoned houses and land and plant gardens, give more people medical training so as to bring the cost of healthcare down, etc…

    The trend pointed out by the authors is the same that many make against religious people, and with good reason. It’s “deny your senses and ability to think, instead worship a narrow interpretation of what is written on paper.” I.e. solar system layout. Except it’s vastly worse these days! Because these High Priests of Assigning Permanent Shame write the crooked laws and policies they use beat others with. Then they write laws absolving themselves; they conduct inquiries into their own hypocrisies and murderous behaviors then find themselves to be completely innocent.

    Jesus has a saying, “everyone who exalts himself (herself) will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” The DOJ, DEA, etc… are not in the habit of humbling themselves, in fact they clearly exalt themselves over everyone, our constitution, and even God.


    • Isn’t that the truth?! Wow. “High Priests of Assigning Shame”.. just hearing that phrase was liberating, thank you.

      The words of Jesus are always so comforting, but get even more so the worse things get, and the more evil we witness in the world.


      • I’m glad you found it liberating. 🙂 Like the High Priests of old they are the ones who guard the texts, interpret the texts, and even write them. They are the smart overlords and everyone else is a dummy. And how dare they get their feet dirty mingling with us to try to convince us of how right they are and how wrong we are? So they write laws, then send out their enforcers to control us with them.
        … is where I’ve put my analysis of the fundamental essences which (to me) make up the prohibitionist mindset.

        Ironically today the most popular page at CAP is the “High Priests of Assigning Permanent Shame.” 🙂 However, last time I read that page I could see it was more like a place holder and I really need to re-write it, and some others to be more clear.


  2. What drives patients to use medical marijuana: Mostly chronic pain
    New study seeks to understand whether people are using cannabis for evidence-based reasons
    February 4, 2019
    Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan
    A new study seeks to understand whether people are using medical cannabis for evidence-based reasons.

    Slowly but surely, the stigma surrounding marijuana use is losing its grip in the U.S. Since the 1990s, advocates have pushed for a re-evaluation of cannabis (the plant species name often used interchangeably with marijuana) as a viable treatment for a host of ailments. As of 2018, 33 states and the District of Columbia have approved the medical use of cannabis, while 10 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Despite this fact, at the federal level, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

    New research from the University of Michigan, published in the February issue of Health Affairs, takes a deeper dive into state medical marijuana registry data to provide more insight into its use.

    “We did this study because we wanted to understand the reasons why people are using cannabis medically, and whether those reasons for use are evidence based,” says lead author Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research investigator in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

    He and his U-M colleagues Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology, medicine, and psychiatry and Rebecca L. Haffajee, Ph.D., assistant professor of health management and policy, as well as U-M alum Saurav Gangopadhyay, M.P.H., a consultant at Deloitte, sought out data from states with legalized medical use of marijuana.

    To examine patterns of use, the researchers grouped patient-reported qualifying conditions (i.e. the illnesses/medical conditions that allowed a patient to obtain a license) into evidence categories pulled from a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on cannabis and cannabinoids. The report, published in 2017, is a comprehensive review of 10,000 scientific abstracts on the health effects of medical and recreational cannabis use. According to the report, there was conclusive or substantial evidence that chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis (MS) spasticity symptoms were improved as a result of cannabis treatment.

    Evidence-based relief

    One major finding of the Health Affairs paper was the variability of available data. Less than half of the states had data on patient-reported qualifying conditions and only 20 reported data on the number of registered patients. The authors also noted that the number of licensed medical users, with 641,176 registered medical cannabis patients in 2016 and 813,917 in 2017, was likely far lower than the actual number of users.

    However, with the available data, they found that the number of medical cannabis patients rose dramatically over time and that the vast majority — 85.5 percent — of medical cannabis license holders indicated that they were seeking treatment for an evidence-based condition, with chronic pain accounting for 62.2 percent of all patient-reported qualifying conditions.

    “This finding is consistent with the prevalence of chronic pain, which affects an estimated 100 million Americans,” the authors state.

    This research provides support for legitimate evidence-based use of cannabis that is at direct odds with its current drug schedule status, notes Boehnke. This is especially important as more people look for safer pain management alternatives in light of the current opioid epidemic.

    Notes Boehnke, “Since the majority of states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis, we should consider how best to adequately regulate cannabis and safely incorporate cannabis into medical practice.”

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

    Journal Reference:

    Kevin F. Boehnke, Saurav Gangopadhyay, Daniel J. Clauw, Rebecca L. Haffajee. Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States. Health Affairs, 2019; 38 (2): 295 DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05266

    Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. “What drives patients to use medical marijuana: Mostly chronic pain: New study seeks to understand whether people are using cannabis for evidence-based reasons.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2019. <>.


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