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Obama Likes Science, Except When it Comes to Marijuana

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By "Radical" Russ Belville

I was a progressive talk radio host during the Bush Administration.  One of the most frustrating issues I had to comment on dealt with embryonic stem cell research.  These proto-cells are the blank slate from which bone, muscle, nerve, and other cells are formed in our body.  They hold amazing promise in the treatment of injuries and illness.  You may remember the late Christopher Reeve fighting for stem cell research to help those paralyzed by spinal injury like he was.

You may also remember Al Gore during that era, warning the world of the Inconvenient Truth of global climate change.  Since the beginning of the industrial era, the pollution we’ve created has led to a global rise in average temperature.  We face a man-made crisis that could threaten our existence on earth.

In each of these cases the Bush Administration opposed moving forward on the research of these issues.  The pressure of religious organizations led Bush to stifle all federal research on stem cells.  The pressure of energy industries led Bush to withhold and censor information on global climate change.  And a majority of Americans, like myself, could not believe we’d be so superstitious and short-sighted as to reject the science that could help us heal our bodies and our planet.

We rejoiced when Barack Obama was elected and early in his administration, issued the following proclamation:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.

Indeed, Mr. Obama’s commitment to science has been felt on most scientific issues.  Heoverturned Bush’s ban on funding stem cell research.  He has strongly addressed the issues of global climate change.  However, on one issue of scientific  integrity, Mr. Obama has been no different than his predecessor.  In fact, when it comes to marijuana policy, Mr. Obama may be worse than Mr. Bush.

There are 25 million American adults who will use cannabis this year, 15 million this month, and an estimated 1.5 million Americans using medical marijuana legally under state law.  The federal government even delivers over a half pound of marijuana every month to four Americans who still remain on a 33-year-old federal medical marijuana program.  Nevertheless, as far as the Obama Administration is concerned, marijuana has “no accepted medical value in the United States”.  They admit there are only fourteen researchers approved by the federal government to study cannabis’ effect on humans and the government, to date, has never once surveyed or studied the federal medical marijuana patients.

It’s not as if we don’t have plenty of science to show marijuana’s medicinal effect.  As far back as 1974 the government has known that THC applied to cancer cells in the lab kills them and not the surrounding healthy cells  It’s the “magic bullet” type of cancer treatment that we’ve been looking for!  The government itself has even patented the medicinal effects of cannabinoids.  Despite all this and more, just this year Obama’s DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart (a Bush hold-over) denied yet another petition by legitimate researchers to study the medicinal effects of marijuana, saying, “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.”

There are no studies according to Leonhart, so then why stop research that would provide those studies?  The government isn’t even coy about the political reasons they use to justify rejecting the science of marijuana.  The National Institutes on Drug Abuse told the New York Times that “[O]ur focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”  So what exactly are those fourteen approved researchers trying to learn about marijuana?  It’s not that the science has no good news about marijuana, it’s that our government doesn’t want you to hear it.

This isn’t just an issue concerning the narrow medical uses of cannabis.  Every government that has ever studied the social ramifications of marijuana prohibition has agreed that the prohibition does more harm to the user and to society than the marijuana does.  Every study has recommended decriminalization and regulation… and every president since Richard Nixon (except Jimmy Carter) has ignored those recommendations.

Even when real world results show our policies to be ineffective, Mr. Obama continues to uphold the prohibition status quo.  Adults and teens in the Netherlands, where adult use of cannabis is tolerated, have half the use rates of marijuana and other drugs as Americans.  Dutch 15-year-olds are one third as likely to have tried marijuana compared to Americans.  Portugal, which has decriminalized all drugs since 2001, has seen dramatic declines in use, abuse, overdose, and crime.

Yet when asked this week by a student whether he’d look into a policy of decriminalization like Portugal, Mr. Obama flat refused to even consider the possibility, instead retreating into platitudes about “reducing demand” through “treatment and prevention”.  Not much of a reassurance for medical marijuana patients who can’t “reduce demand” and responsible adult users who don’t need “treatment and prevention”.  Since “reduce demand” is not “eliminate demand”, it appears Mr. Obama is content to continue to imprison those who demand drugs (well, drugs without bar codes, that is).

Our politics is infected by a terrible strain of Reefer Madness.  Republicans who shout about states rights, limited government, and individual responsibility seem to have no problem superseding state law, fostering massive bureaucracy, and intruding on the individual if he smokes a joint.  Democrats who shout about government surveillance, racial justice, and environmental protection seem to have no problem spying on people, locking up blacks disproportionately, and rejecting an alternative to trees and oil in order to stop an individual from smoking a joint.  And the president who is a Constitutional law professor, who reveres scientific inquiry, and has some personal experience on the issue seems to have no problem perverting the Bill of Rights, rejecting science, and locking up or forcing into rehab people just like him who smoked a joint.


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