By David E. Krahl, Ph.D.
Ushering in a new level of optimism in Washington, DC and around the country, the Obama Administration recently signaled a sea change in drug enforcement policy. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed an earlier commitment by the President to end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. Despite the country’s woes, from a worsening economy to a war on several fronts, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found the time, energy, and resources to continue its nonsensical effort to undermine the duly enacted medical marijuana laws of California and other states. That was, until the Attorney General announced a new approach to the failed war on medical marijuana.
Contrary to scientific opinion, the U.S. government still posits that marijuana has no medical value. Not only has the government used this position to harmfully intrude in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, it has done so with scorn for the voters and legislatures that enacted state medical marijuana laws. Even though the White House had earlier indicated its intent to end federal raids in medical marijuana states, the yet still-seated Bush Administration officials continued a policy of rabid enforcement based on expediency. For example, even after President Obama took office on January 20, six licensed medical marijuana dispensaries were raided by the DEA.
There was a point in my professional career as Deputy Director of the Drug Free America Foundation when I supported the prohibition of marijuana as medicine. But then, I experienced a change of heart, if you will; a moment of clarity, an epiphany. After seriously investigating the issue, and getting beyond the rhetorical arguments of both sides, I began to realize that the prohibitionist viewpoint against the use of marijuana as medicine largely ignored three things, which are so embedded in the fabric of American society and reflective of our cultural values that their truth is almost self-evident.
First and foremost, the issue of marijuana as medicine is largely a states’ rights issue. From a purely Constitutional point of view, individual states are empowered to chart their own legislative courses, and act as autonomous, self-determining governing entities that are best suited to adopt laws regarding the health and welfare of their citizens. At the latest count, thirteen states have enacted medical marijuana laws either by ballot initiative or legislation. Unfortunately, the federal government up to now has selectively used the federalist tenet of states’ rights only when it’s politically convenient to do so.
Second, it’s an issue of the relationship between physician and patient. Based on long-standing tradition, custom, and practice, the relationship between doctor and patient is sacrosanct. Fundamentally, the treatment regimen prescribed or recommended by the physician is a private matter. The government simply has no business intruding on a patient’s prescribed or recommended course of treatment.
Third, it’s an issue regarding the greater domain of a citizen’s right to privacy. As Justice Louis Brandeis so eloquently opined in 1928, we as citizens of the United States have “the right to be let alone.” And, as Erwin Griswold, the former dean of the Harvard Law School remarked in 1960, “the right to be let alone is the underlying principle of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.” So fundamental is this right to privacy is that it has been applied to a panoply of situations that have undergone and withstood judicial scrutiny, and clearly substantiated in a host of Supreme Court decisions dating back nearly one hundred years.
Now, given the new Administration’s apparent willingness to change an outdated policy with regard to medical marijuana, what more is needed? A good place to start would be to reverse the indefensible position by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) made in 2006 that “marijuana has no currently accepted medical use.” In fact, not only has the FDA approved several studies that highlighted the medical efficacy of marijuana, but many other studies conducted abroad have also come to the same conclusion: marijuana, indeed, has therapeutic value.
Advocates like Americans for Safe Access continue to call for a different approach to medical marijuana, away from the tired rhetoric of the past toward a more fact- and science-based vision of the future. Quite simply, their policy recommendations for the Obama Administration rightly called for an end to DEA raids, but also encouraged an expansion of research into medical marijuana, and the development of a comprehensive federal policy that ensures protection for any American that might benefit from this medicine.
Let’s hope that the new White House policy position means a new thoughtful, more deliberate, compassionate, and rational approach to the issue of medical marijuana. Thus far, we’re off to a good start! But, it’s up to us to demand not only changes to the government’s enforcement approach, but also increased research and access to this promising medicine.
David E. Krahl, is the former Deputy Director of Drug Free America Foundation and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Click here for Barrett Duke's opposing perspective on medical marijuana.