Federal Medical Marijuana Policy: Living In La-La Land


Photo: DEA
DEA Director Michelle Leonhart claims marijuana has no medical uses, and that it belongs on Schedule I with heroin.

​The U.S. federal government on Friday reiterated the same policy towards medical marijuana it has had for years, claiming the herb has “no accepted medical use” and that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. The judgment came in response to a 2002 petition by medical marijuana advocates calling on the government to reclassify cannabis, currently a Schedule I drug with heroin, illegal for all uses.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ruled that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” has a “high potential for abuse,” and “lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision.”
Robotically mouthing meaningless platitudes, DEA Director Michelle Leonhart, without apparent irony, embarrassingly repeated the same unscientific nonsense that for years now has served as the federal government’s position on medical marijuana.

It’s a curious spectacle to see government figures exhibiting such a complete disregard for science — especially in an administration that made campaign pledges to base policy decisions on scientific evidence, not ideology.
“There is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from Schedule I,” Leonhart said. Schedule I is the classification for the most dangerous drugs of all; that’s where heroin lives. Cocaine and amphetamines, by contrast, are Schedule II drugs, officially considered as less dangerous than weed by the federal government.
For all the world, Leonhart — as she blithely denied decades of evidence and hundreds of scientific studies — seemed like a stubborn kid who plugs up her ears, saying “la, la, la” to drown out the facts.
After all, the federal government itself has operated a still-ongoing medical marijuana program in the United States for 35 years. Back in 1976, the government created the Investigational New Drug Compassionate Access Program and started approving federal patients.
But the IND Compassionate Access Program created an unwelcome and awkward situation for the Feds: NIDA was supplying medical marijuana to patients whose physicians had secured FDA approval, at the same time the DEA was saying marijuana was illegal for any purpose, and useless as medicine.
In 1992, as HIV and AIDS patients began flooding the federal program with marijuana requests, President George H.W. Bush’s administration closed it to new applicants — but has given 300 joints a month to four surviving federal patients ever since.
If marijuana has no value as medicine and is too dangerous to use even under medical supervision, why do you suppose the federal government has been handing it out for more than 30 years?
Paul Armentano, deputy directeor of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, rightly called it a “Flat Earth” “position regarding medical cannabis.

Photo: ASA
Joe Elford, ASA: “It is clearly motivated by a political decision that is anti-marijuana”

​Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access and lead attorney on the lawsuit, said he was not surprised by the government’s decision.
“We have foiled the government’s strategy of delay, and we can now go head-to-head on the merits,” Elford said. “It is clearly motivated by a political decision that is anti-marijuana.”
As pointed out by Maia Szalavitz at Time, not only does the federal government’s decision conflict with state laws, it also is at variance with a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the branch of the National Academy of Sciences charged with answering complex medical questions for Congress.
Back in 1999, the IOM found:
Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation; smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances.
Despite the concerns it had with smoking marijuana, the IOM said medical use of cannabis is acceptable when other alternatives have failed.
Since the IOM report was released 12 years ago, evidence has continued to accumulate for the medical benefits of marijuana. In the last three years alone, cannabinoids have been found to help kill breast cancer cellsfight liver cancerreduce inflammation, have antipsychotic effects and even potentially have stave off the development of Alzheimer’s disease and the progression of Huntington’s disease.
A 2011 review of the effectiveness of cannabinoids for non-cancer pain found “no significant adverse effects” and “significant” analgesic effects.
As reported by John Hoeffel at the Los Angeles Times, this is the third time a petition to federally reclassify marijuana has been filed and rejected. The first was filed in 1972 and denied 17 years later; the second was filed in 1995 and denied six years later.
Both decisions were appealed, but the courts sided with the federal government.
“Still, if an appeals judgment were to be based on scientific evidence, rather than political considerations, this time around, it’s easy to imagine a very different outcome,” according to Time magazine.