California Institute of Technology
John Schwarz: The Obama Administration “is ignoring scientists’ voices on medical marijuana policy”
Physicist John Schwarz speaks out in support of marijuana reclassification, and for prioritizing science over politics
Taking his first public political stance, John Schwarz, co-founder of ‘Superstring Theory’ and a Theoretical Physics professor at California Institute of Technology, published a commentary piece Thursday in the Huffington Post, urging the federal government to put aside the politics surrounding medical marijuana and pay attention to the abundance of scientific evidence. Schwarz has also invited his fellow scientists to join him in co-signing an open letter to President Obama at ScienceInPolicy.com, calling on him to uphold his promises to put science before politics.
Schwarz pointed to President Obama’s emphasis on what he called “free and open scientific inquiry,” and asked “Why hasn’t the long-running controversy over medical marijuana been resolved using science?” In 2009, as one of the hallmark actions of his administration, Obama issued a memorandum to all executive departments and agencies, explaining that “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…”
Recognizing that Obama “has improved the role of science in the decision-making process in many areas of government,” Schwarz wrote that the Administration “is ignoring scientists’ voices on medical marijuana policy.” Schwarz admits that a Romney Administration would “probably undo” what progress Obama has made in improving the role of science in policy decisions, but Schwarz laments that “the federal government ignores scientific facts accepted around the globe – not to mention the will of the American people – to cling to outdated ideological policies and restrict marijuana research.”
President Obama’s March 2009 memorandum was followed up with another “Scientific Integrity” memorandum, issued on December 17, 2010 by John P. Holdren, the White House Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The memorandum stated that, “Successful application of science in public policy depends on the integrity of the scientific process both to ensure the validity of the information itself and to engender public trust in Government.”
The memorandum directed government agencies to: “1. Ensure a culture of scientific integrity; 2. Strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of Government research; 3. Facilitate the free flow of scientific and technological information;” and “4. Establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public.”
These tenets were subsequently adopted by numerous federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for reviewing the scientific evidence on medical marijuana.
Instead of adhering to these principles, however, the Obama Administration has blocked research into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana and upheld the federal government’s standing position that marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance. Unique and prohibitively high standards in the U.S., required of no other Schedule I substance, has severely hindered medical marijuana research compared to other countries around the world.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the gatekeeper for the supply of research-grade marijuana and has a bias for studies that investigate the supposed negative effects of marijuana. Scientists trying to study medical marijuana claim that NIDA and other federal agencies have rigged the research application process.
The Schwarz op-ed and open letter for scientists comes as the federal government is being sued over its current classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, a case that is asking the court — based on overwhelming scientific evidence — to order the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use, in either Schedule III, IV or V.
A ruling in the case is expected sometime next year.