The past week was a bonanza of good news for progress in America, particularly while the nation is still reeling from a throwback to the Confederacy and Civil Rights movement; violence borne of white supremacy. That horrible news out of Charleston, coupled with two straight Supreme Court announcements signaling that America is a little more equal and healthier, superseded an announcement by the Obama Administration that could be the start of a fairly big deal for the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
The good news and a possibly huge step forward for Americans suffering from a plethora of ailments, diseases, and disorders, was hailed by marijuana reform advocates because the President eased restrictions on cannabis research. The Obama Administration eliminated one major roadblock to research on the common weed’s medical value when it removed “additional review” of the Public Health Service (PHS) for marijuana research projects that are not funded by the federal government. Since 1999 when the PHS was founded, it imposed all kinds of barriers to marijuana research including a curious requirement that plants had to be provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The President’s order also removed the PHS’s requirement that studies into the weed’s medicinal value meet criteria according to the federal government’s definition of what is considered “suitable.”
Those PHS criteria were founded on phony concerns that guidelines surrounding the weed’s study were far too lax for something as harsh and dangerous as a Schedule I classified drug. The idea that marijuana is in the same Schedule I class of drugs (those with no medicinal value) as heroin, and more dangerous than Schedule II drugs (those with medicinal value) such as cocaine, methamphetamine (speed), morphine, and every iteration of the highly-addictive, easily-accessed, and incredibly over-prescribed opioid ‘pills’ is an abomination. In fact, alcohol abuse and prescription drugs are incredibly more widely abused and damaging to the human body, the economy, and society than marijuana, but the highly profitable corporate pharmaceutical prescription drug and alcohol industry are two very powerful special interests.
Even though removing one hurdle to studying the curative and therapeutic benefits of marijuana is good news, health and research advocates say they need more relief. As it is now, any medical researcher needs to secure approval from the NIDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and Drug Enforcement Agency to obtain and transport the large quantities of the weed required for research from the federal government’s sole research depository in Mississippi. It is a ridiculous rule that Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), is hopeful meets a similar fate as the bizarre PHS review rule the President removed. Riffle said, “The two biggest hurdles to marijuana research have been the PHS review and NIDA’s monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for research purposes.” Riffle continued that “Now that one of those unnecessary barriers has been removed, we hope the second will undergo serious scrutiny. In fact, the Senate will be holding a hearing regarding marijuana-related research, and we expect there to be some tough questions about NIDA’s monopoly.”
Removing the NIDA “stranglehold on the supply of marijuana” that has been approved for research would certainly be a huge benefit to medical researchers anxious to start timely studies about the weed’s well-documented health benefits and more possible medicinal uses. Earlier this year, The DEA put out a call for more marijuana because “‘product’ development involving cannabidiol (CBD) is increasing beyond that previously anticipated.” CBD is a substance in marijuana that has some of the best known medicinal uses beyond anecdotal evidence and it is higher in some strains of the weed than others. The DEA is looking to increase its supply over the 1,400 pounds it used last year and if it was not hampered by the NIDA’s restrictions, there are commercial growers that could easily furnish researchers with all the ‘product‘ they required if not for the NIDA. However, the one researcher could have benefitted from the President’s action, and that finally received “approval” after five years of waiting, was fired by the University of Arizona for seeking state assistance.
The researcher, psychiatry professor Dr. Sue Sisley, was fired for advocating the passage of a state bill that would have funded her research through the state’s medical marijuana revenue. That bill did not pass, and shortly after its defeat a university official asked her for an explanation of her political activity and then she was terminated. Sisely’s research was going to focus on marijuana’s potential for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in Veterans, but when the university terminated her employment they also terminated her research. If the NIDA’s restriction on who gets access to legal supplies of cannabis was not in place, Sisely’s research would have started five years ago; now another researcher will likely have to wait five years for approval to begin a long term study if they are allowed access to the ‘material‘ necessary for their research. There will be no shortage of PTSD sufferers for the research project.
Although President Obama’s recent actions were welcomed by researchers and decriminalization advocates alike, he is limited in just how much more he can do. It is up to Congress to take action that will relax the absurd, and frankly inhumane, restrictions on not only the supply for researchers, but the ridiculous classification of a common weed the government classifies as dangerous a heroin and more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine, and the preponderance of prescription opioids that have an inordinate percentage of the population, including children, addicted like common street junkies.
Is marijuana really a miracle “drug?” Although there are epileptics, chemotherapy patients, Veterans plagued with PTSD, migraine and chronic pain sufferers, and yes, stoners who would argue that yes, reefer is a miracle drug, there is no preponderance of studies that provide empirical data to back up that assertion. However, there are mountains of pharmaceutical companies’ research results boasting the benefits of boner pills like Viagra and vanity drugs such as Botox that have no curative or therapeutic value whatsoever; something that marijuana does have. It is worth noting that the CBD the DEA is desperate to get its hands on is not for research. It is for use in pharmaceutical drugs medical professionals use to treat severe nausea and loss of appetite in HIV and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; drugs based on weed that make the pharmaceutical industry rich.
Even though President Obama cannot wave a magic wand and decriminalize marijuana, make medicinal use legal in all 50 states, or fast-track the research approval process and increase the supply researchers required, he can spend more time talking about the insanity of criminalizing a common weed. To the President’s credit, he has talked about decriminalization, but he practices what he preaches and does what he recently told an interviewer who asked, for young people, why he has not pushed for marijuana’s legalization at the federal level. The President said that although he acknowledges decriminalizing marijuana would put a stop to the inhumane and extremely costly incarceration of non-violent prisoners, he believes young people should put decriminalization lower on their list of priorities behind combatting climate change, finding a good job, and getting an education; things that are high on the President’s list of priorities.
What the President may not consider, although it is doubtful, is that topics like climate change, a good job, and an education are high on young people’s list of priorities, but they are aware that their ability to stop Republican obstructionism is as non-existent as their rapidly vanishing right to vote. So instead of taking to the streets, getting violent, protesting and going to jail, getting blind drunk, or taking anti-depressants, they take a bong hit that may be the only way they get relief from Republicans. Based on the percentage of Americans admitting that they regularly use cannabis for non-medicinal purposes, it is certain that Americans of all ages turn to the weed for a semblance of relief from a disease plaguing all Americans; Republicans.