For years, cancer patients have sought the benefits of medical marijuana, and for years the federal government has stood in their way. Voters and health-care providers should push for a more realistic classification of the drug.
Currently, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug — that is, a drug with potential for abuse and without known medical use.
In reality, the potential for abuse of marijuana is less than with other legal drugs — alcohol and nicotine, for example — and its medical usages are well known. For example, on the Web site Cancer.Gov, the National Cancer Institute has this to say: “The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic (anti-nausea) effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.”
Despite such arguments from the medical community, the federal government has refused to change its classification of the drug.
Some states have taken action out of frustration with the federal government and have passed laws allowing marijuana to be prescribed for certain treatments. Nevertheless, according to Drug Policy.org, “The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in Raich v. Gonzales that the federal government can prosecute medical marijuana patients, even in states with compassionate use laws, and several medical marijuana dispensaries in California have since been subject to Drug Enforcement Administration raids.”
Last week’s raids on medical marijuana facilities in Montana and California made this all too clear. Those raids not only heightened the ongoing debate surrounding the benefits of the plant, they also raised questions about the Obama administration’s policy.
Earlier, in 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that the “Obama administration on Monday told federal authorities not to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana users and suppliers who aren’t violating local laws, paving the way for some states to allow dispensaries to provide the drug as relief for some maladies.”
So, the Montana and California raids represent a huge change for the Obama administration, but no reason yet has been given for this new, harder approach.
Voters in Montana approved medical marijuana in 2004. At that time, the U.S. attorney for Montana told more than 60 attorneys at a statewide meeting, “The policies of the Department of Justice have not changed.…When the Attorney General visited here in February, he stated illegal sale of marijuana under the guise of medical marijuana will be prosecuted. That is the policy.”
That was seven years ago, George W. Bush time. Are we now going back, not forward, in the Obama years and failing to recognize the treatment potential of marijuana? It appears so.