Last month, Massachusetts joined 17 other states in legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purpose, acting on a large body of evidence that it is useful in treating a wide range of illnesses.
Last month, Massachusetts joined 17 other states in legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purpose, acting on a large body of evidence that it is useful in treating a wide range of illnesses. Even some who led the opposition to the ballot question agreed marijuana has legitimate medical applications.
That puts the state not only in opposition to federal law, which considers possession of marijuana for any purpose a criminal offense, it presents a conflict on a matter of fact. For 40 years, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as having no medical application.
That puts this relatively benign and often beneficial drug in unpleasant company. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and PCP. Schedule II drugs, which can be prescribed by physicians, include cocaine and amphetamines.
Marijuana’s Schedule I classification has hindered research into marijuana’s medical applications and forced patients suffering from AIDS wasting syndrome, the side effects of cancer treatment and extreme pain to street dealers for relief. It is unnecessary, unjustified by scientific research and cruel. And President Barack Obama could fix it.
A flaw in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act made the Drug Enforcement Agency responsible for maintaining the classification system. The DEA is not a medical review panel; it is a law enforcement agency with an institutional bias toward prohibition. Over the years, it has rejected a series of petitions seeking to have marijuana reclassified. The latest rejection is now being challenged in federal court.
But the DEA is also answerable to the Justice Department, which is answerable to the president. Obama could order Attorney General Eric Holder to have DEA hold an evidentiary hearing – it has resisted even that – to give experts a chance to testify on marijuana’s health benefits. If it was approved for rescheduling, the DEA would have to license companies to produce and distribute pharmaceutical marijuana, and that might take some time. But a dozen states already have a head start.
Rescheduling marijuana wouldn’t solve the feds’ other problem. Washington and Colorado have just legalized marijuana for recreational use, and more states are likely to follow. The Obama administration should respect states’ rights and public opinion and put its limited drug enforcement resources elsewhere.
The people are well ahead of the politicians when it comes to drug policy, and it may take awhile for Congress to catch up. But there’s no political risk in pursuing the statutory policy for reclassifying marijuana and at least removing the contradiction between federal and state laws governing medical pot.
In his first inaugural address, Obama declared that his administration would be guided by science. Here’s a chance to prove it.