Medical Marijuana

The New York Times Supports Medical Marijuana for New York

July 29th, 2011 13 Comments Morgan Fox

Earlier this week, I wrote about the trend in journalism to blame marijuana for the violent outbursts of murderous youth. While this unscientific blame game will probably continue in the foreseeable future, it’s nice to see that the primary target of my wrath in this instance, The New York Times, has redeemed itself.

On Wednesday, the juggernaut of journalism on the East Coast wrote an editorial urging New York’s Governor Cuomo to follow the lead of New Jersey and allow seriously ill New Yorkers to use marijuana to treat their illnesses. Coming from a publication of their size and prominence, this is a fairly significant statement, and hopefully one that will garner a lot of support for medical marijuana in the near future.

Here is the editorial in its entirety:

There is no good reason to deprive patients with cancer or H.I.V. or Lou Gehrig’s disease of the relief from pain or extreme nausea that could come from using marijuana.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who once opposed his state’s medical marijuana law, has changed his mind, deciding earlier this month to allow six alternative treatment centers to begin dispensing the drug to those in need, possibly by early next year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York needs to change his mind as well.

Governor Cuomo said during his 2010 campaign that he opposed legalization of medical marijuana. Recently, he said he was still opposed but that he was “reviewing” the issue and “we’re always learning and listening, talking and growing. We hope.” It shouldn’t take much more personal growth to make the right call.

Governor Cuomo should ask Governor Christie about how he resolved his own doubts. Mr. Christie could explain how his law is the nation’s most restrictive and how the federal Justice Department has indicated that its agents will rightly direct their energies in New Jersey to go after big-time marijuana traffickers, not doctors or alternative centers helping the desperately ill.

Under New Jersey’s law, doctors can recommend that a patient suffering from a specific disease or condition use marijuana of limited strength. Patients cannot grow their own, and they can only purchase 2 ounces every 30 days. Physicians must register to recommend the marijuana use, and patients and caregivers must undergo background checks to get ID cards.

Mr. Cuomo should champion a similar and humane system and ensure that New York’s residents coping with illness have the same chance at relief.


Good recovery, NYT. Please keep it coming!

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Blame It On the Weed

July 25th, 2011 25 Comments Morgan Fox

Have you ever noticed that any time a young person commits a horrifying act of violence, someone is always trying to blame their behavior on marijuana? It happened with Jared Loughner, the man accused of a January shooting spree in Tuscon. Within days of the tragedy, stories were flooding the media asserting that his documented mental illness was the result of marijuana use, despite the fact that he had stopped using marijuana months before. And now The New York Times is focusing on the marijuana use of a Florida teenager accused of killing his parents last week.

Tyler Hadley, 17, had a history of mental illness and drug abuse long before he allegedly bludgeoned his parents to death with a hammer. Instead of talking about the need for improved treatment of mental illness, however, The New York Times decided to concentrate on the fact that the accused had a party the night of the murders. Much was made of this party, particularly that marijuana use occurred. Hadley’s participation in an outpatient substance abuse program was also noted. Then the reporter goes off the deep end.

The rest of the article consists mainly of area residents discussing how they used the news reports of the case to warn their children about marijuana, and the prevalence of marijuana use in the small suburban community. How this is relevant to a murder investigation is beyond me.

Why does the media feel the need to blame someone or something for every tragic event, other than the person responsible for the actual actions involved? And why, more often than not, does that collective finger get pointed at marijuana? Not much was made of Hadley’s troubled mind, or the alcohol that Hadley consumed, or the pharmaceutical drugs he supposedly planned to use to kill himself when police arrived, suggesting he had regular access to them. Never mind that marijuana is rarely associated with violent behavior. And never mind the fact that marijuana does not cause psychosis!

Instead, what we get is more ridiculous “reefer madness.”

It is amazing that it has been almost 75 years since Henry Anslinger convinced America that marijuana turns people into crazed, bloodthirsty lunatics. It is even more amazing that journalists still use this hyperbolic frenzy to sell newspapers. But the most amazing thing… is that some people still swallow it. Hook, line, and sinker.


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Medical Marijuana

Gov. Christie Puts New Jersey Medical Marijuana Back on Track

July 20th, 2011 15 Comments Morgan Fox

Yesterday, Gov. Christie announced that the wait is over for patients, and the medical marijuana program that has been on hold for months will finally move forward. He will instruct the New Jersey Department of Health and Social Services to begin implementation “as expeditiously as possible.” This includes establishing the six alternative care centers that were approved last year.

Christie had left the program in limbo while he determined how to allow dispensaries and not attract attention from the federal government. This behavior has been mirrored in other states in response to letters from U.S. Attorneys intimating that they would no longer look the other way for anyone other than patients and individual caregivers, exposing the booming medical marijuana industry to serious risk. But Christie, himself a former U.S. Attorney, said that when he occupied that role, he would not have gone after dispensaries, as they are permitted in New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. This, and the fact that the program is perhaps the strictest and narrowest in the country, led him to believe that neither the state nor the dispensaries would face federal prosecution.

The governor did not consult with the current federal attorney for New Jersey, but does not think the department will waste it’s resources prosecuting state-approved, non-profit medical marijuana providers. Let’s hope he is correct.

Gov. Christie

It is very heartening to see state leaders moving ahead with permitting and regulating the medical marijuana industry so that patients will not be forced to purchase their medicine from the illicit market. So far, the Department of Justice has been fairly decent about respecting state law with regard to dispensaries as long as those states have clear regulations for the industry. Other states, particularly Rhode Island, should not fear federal interference for implementing regulated dispensary systems.


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Medical Marijuana, Prohibition, Research

Since Feds Won’t Change Policy, We Must Change Federal Law

July 12th, 2011 36 Comments Morgan Fox

The last two weeks have been full of announcements from the federal government about marijuana policy. None of them has been positive, and none of them should be surprising.

First, the Department of Justice stated that it retained the ability to prosecute anyone who cultivates, processes, or distributes medical marijuana, regardless of state law. As noted earlier on this blog, this is not really a change in policy, but it is certainly disappointing to see the Department of Justice is unwilling to publicly recognize the legitimacy of state medical marijuana laws and would rather have patients purchasing their medicine from dangerous, illicit dealers.

Then, in a move that shouldn’t have surprised anyone, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency tasked with determining the legal status of drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act, decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance. This classification means that the DEA will continue to assert that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should continue to be a high enforcement priority. Never mind the growing mountain of peer-reviewed studies that show the medical efficacy and relative safety of marijuana. The DEA will only pay attention to government studies, which are not approved unless the goal is to find negative effects, not medical benefits. We should not expect them to reschedule marijuana in the foreseeable future, especially since marijuana enforcement is an easy source of cash and prestige. Americans for Safe Access is currently appealing the decision in federal court, however, and hopefully they will gain some traction on this point and force the DEA to recognize the evidence in support of medical marijuana.

All this was followed by the release of the National Drug Control Strategy, which basically states that the Obama administration will continue to use scarce resources to combat the use of marijuana through criminal justice means, as well as a slightly increased program of harm reduction (which the President has said was going to be his primary focus). The strategy admits that marijuana use is at its highest in the last eight years, yet wants to continue the same strategy it has been utilizing during that same period!

The new strategy also mentions medical marijuana and, while admitting that there may be some medical uses for individual components of marijuana, continues to say that it should pass through the FDA approval process. This would be nice, if we could get all the federal agencies whose stamps of approval are needed to actually allow such research. So far the efforts of those trying to go through the official research and approval process have been blocked. In addition, the new strategy claims that medical marijuana “sends the wrong message to children” and increases the likelihood of adolescents using marijuana. This point ignores the fact that in most medical marijuana states, teen use has actually decreased since passing medical marijuana laws. Data supporting this can be found in the Marijuana Policy Project’s Teen Use Report.

So what does all this mean?

It means that all we can expect from the federal government is support of the status quo. We might get some minor concessions here and there, and the fact that the Ogden Memo has been (mostly) followed by the DOJ should not be overlooked. However, we should not look to the federal government to change policy in any drastic way simply of its own free will. They must be legally compelled to do so.

This is why we don’t need statements of policy, nice as they may be. We need different laws. We need something much more binding than policy statements, which can be distorted and rescinded at any moment without legal backing. It is imperative that we convince our legislators to support bills that will weaken the federal government’s control over marijuana policy and enforcement.

Please contact your representative in Congress, and tell them to support H.R. 2306. This bill would remove the federal government’s ability to interfere with state marijuana laws and policies. Legal change is what we really need if we want to see positive change in federal behavior.


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Medical Marijuana, Prohibition

DOJ Clarification of Medical Marijuana Policy Still Unclear

July 7th, 2011 22 Comments Morgan Fox

On Wednesday, without any public announcement, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a statement reiterating the Obama administration’s promise not to waste federal resources going after medical marijuana patients and their individual caregivers. This is a good start. Unfortunately, the letter goes on to say that it maintains the right to prosecute anyone in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana to those patients. According to the letter, compliance with state law is no protection from federal marijuana laws.

When I first heard this, I feared this would be devastating to dispensaries. After sleeping on it, however, I realized the policy is as clear as mud, and it’s hard to know if anything will actually change in practice.

Despite numerous past statements by the president and attorney general that they would not go after businesses that were following state law, the Department of Justice has always had the ability to enforce federal law in medical marijuana states any time they felt like it. The fact that raids subsided in states that had clear regulations in place since the “Ogden Memo” was released in 2009 was a boon for the medical marijuana industry and allowed many patients access to unparalleled products and services. It appears that the scope and scale of some of these businesses has ruffled someone’s feathers.

The new policy (which Cole says is not new at all but simply a restatement of the “Ogden Memo”) doesn’t specify that smaller dispensaries are off-limits, but it specifically mentions the type of huge operations that were planned by Oakland last year as the focus of concern. It does not say where the size cutoff is, which is very disturbing to anyone involved in the industry.

This will certainly have a chilling effect on the types of businesses that open in medical marijuana states (and rest assured, they will continue to open). In this way, it is a huge step back from the Ogden memo.

If the spirit of the Ogden memo was to create a sense of consistency in federal enforcement, to let patients and those who supply their medicine feel safe within their own states, and make states feel confident crafting their own laws to best control medical marijuana, then Cole’s statement is a major reversal.

But is it open season on dispensaries? Probably not.

Just because the DOJ has said that they can and may prosecute anyone involved in medical marijuana distribution, does not mean that they will. If the DOJ is publicly saying that this new statement does not reflect a change in policy, there is no guarantee that they are going to suddenly start prosecuting legitimate businesses in places with clear regulations to determine their compliance with state law – especially in the case of smaller operations. They don’t have the resources for such action now any more than they did in 2009. The general public certainly doesn’t support such actions, and the political ramifications of shutting down thriving, taxpaying businesses in an economic crunch could be disastrous for the administration. It should probably be noted that President Obama’s approval rating is 45%. Support for medical marijuana is 75% nationally.

So what should we do?

We need to take the Obama administration to task. We need to decry the confusion and fear caused by such unclear policy statements. And we must demand that the federal government support safe access to medical marijuana instead of driving patients to the illicit market.

At a time when the entire world is starting to recognize the folly of marijuana prohibition, and the efficacy of marijuana in medicine is being proven more and more often, the administration needs to be moving forward.

This new policy statement is a huge step back, even if it turns out to be merely symbolic.


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