The White House Goes All Reefer Madness Again

Well, tough break for the green team, and for countless Americans who may stand to benefit from the potential therapeutic properties of medicinal herb. From the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, released Monday:

The science, though still evolving in terms of long-term consequences, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. Independent from the so called “gateway effect” — marijuana on its own is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects. . .

That is why no major medical association has come out in favor of smoked marijuana for widespread medical use. For example, the American Cancer Society, American Glaucoma Foundation, National Pain Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and other medical societies are not in favor of smoked “medical” marijuana. The American Medical Association has called for more research on the subject, with the caveat that this “should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product.”

The sky is falling, according to the 108-page White House report, which maintains marijuana’s long-standing Schedule I classification alongside heroin, MDMA, DMT, LSD, peyote, psilocybin, and others. Cocaine, PCP and oxycodone, for comparison’s sake, are all less menacing, Schedule II substances.

Recreational marijuana use is at an eight-year high. Among high school students surveyed last year in Monitoring the Future, a rolling University of Michigan study of the “behaviors, attitudes, and values” of American adolescents and young adults, daily use increased “significantly.” One in 11 users will become addicted – one in six, should dabbling begin during adolescence. Marijuana was behind 376,000 “emergency department” responses throughout the country in 2009. And “confusing messages” advanced by entertainers, the media and medicinal advocates only compound the scourge, the “false notion” that weed is harmless, the push for the drug’s wholesale commercialization.

In his inauguration address, President Obama spoke of restoring science “to its rightful place.” That was great and, however vague, had a nice ring to it that cold morning. (He’s actually making good on the promise, too. The U.S. Department of Energy’s yearly budget has risen from $4.4 billion to $26.3 billion between 2008 and 2010.) A year later, on the control/enforcement end of the spectrum, Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a sea change from the big-screen, bust-‘em-up dispensary raids of the Bush era. The administration would now dissuade federal prosecutors from hunting down those growers, suppliers, and users in compliance with their state’s respective medical pot laws. “Our focus will be on people,” Holder said, “organizations that are growing, cultivating, you know, substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.” Maybe the ship of state was beginning its slow turn.

Yet raids still occur, albeit on scales far more reserved. In 2011, according to NPR, the DEA has raided medical pot shops “in Seattle, West Hollywood and Helena, Montana, all places where the drug is now legal for patients.” Additionally, DEA administrator Michele M. Leonhart filed a letter to quash requests from various groups calling for cannabis Schedule reclassification. Weed “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” she said, and it “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” The letter was published last Friday in the Federal Register.

So any number of boilerplate beefs could be bandied about here — another year, another “strategy.” More of the same, business as usual at the White House pillory – even though using, or past use, is essentially now a prerequisite for leading a global superpower. Obama and his two immediate predecessors all (sorta) admit to their youthful indiscretions. Fun, honest fact: Abe Lincoln was known for the occasional front-porch burn, his beloved Hohner harmonica singing the high praises of “sweet hemp.”

But this all comes amid increasing public approval, if not begrudging tolerance, of an approach to the medical marijuana issue rooted in cold, hard scientific fact. Polls suggest we’re dismissing yesterday’s fears in the face of a growing corpus of evidence pointing to the herb’s deep analgesic qualities.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized the stuff, in one form or another, for medicinal use. Last April, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration accepted protocol design by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, to study the use of marijuana as means to alleviate the long-terms horrors of post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans. (To the ONDCP’s “no major medical association” point above, MAPS claims the Institute of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, along with the AMA, all acknowledge “the known and possible medical use of marijuana.”) This was a strong show of scientific merit over politicking.

There’s also some exciting new research suggesting the cannabinoid-1 receptor, best known for getting you high by latching to THC, may bulletproof your brain from mental decay. And to the fanfare of entirely too many yuck-yuck “joint effort” headlines, Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) have introduced legislation to effectively end the federal ban on cannabis. States’ rights, bro.

The bill, H.R. 2306, is stalled at the moment. And you’d be crazy to think it’ll ever pass. This time. Cue harmonica.

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