We’re seeing all sorts of shifts in the media on drug policy, as talk of legalization has almost become the norm. That may be causing confusion among some editorial staffs.
It certainly seems that way with yesterday’s editorial in the Washington Post. It’s a prime example of something that looks like it was written by a committee… that was arguing.
THE JUSTICE Department announced last week that it would not prosecute patients who legally obtain marijuana from licensed dispensaries in the 13 states that allow medicinal use. The decision is both sensible and potentially problematic.
People suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious ailments should not be harassed or live in fear if they abide by the laws of their state to obtain a drug that may provide relief from such symptoms as pain and nausea. Neither should those who strictly follow legal standards in dispensing marijuana from state-licensed shops. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is right to focus federal resources primarily on large-scale illegal traffickers.
So far, so good. Nice support for leaving medical marijuana patients in those states alone. Next paragraph takes an odd turn.
Yet this policy shift leaves significant questions unaddressed, including whether the Justice Department’s decision essentially constitutes a first step toward legalizing marijuana. Such an immense policy decision should not be ushered in surreptitiously, but should be tackled head-on, with a full-throated public debate about the possible benefits and consequences.
Unaddressed? No, the policy memo and all the follow-ups from the administration were clear â€” the policy doesn’t even begin to legalize medical marijuana on a federal level, let alone legalizing marijuana in general. There is no surreptitious effort on the part of the federal government to legalize marijuana without a debate. The public’s been debating it and has been slowly and laboriously dragging the politicians into the right direction for years.
Now the editorial goes back to medical marijuana.
More information — good old-fashioned scientific information — is needed before the federal government or more states formally endorse marijuana smoking for medicinal use. The Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1999 published what is widely considered to be the most comprehensive study; it was decidedly mixed, listing the many possible drawbacks of smoking marijuana, including respiratory problems, while noting that such use seemed to provide some patients with relief not obtained from pills containing marijuana’s active ingredients.
We’ve had all sorts of good old-fashioned scientific information since the 1999 report, including the fact that (gasp!) it’s actually possible to ingest marijuana without smoking it. Besides, the federal government and the states don’t need to formally endorse medical marijuana. They only need to stop preventing doctors from treating patients.
More recently, Dr. Peter J. Cohen, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, noted in a 2009 law review article that reputable studies released in the past few years showed that patients with AIDS and hepatitis C experienced reduced pain and nausea and were better able to tolerate traditional treatment as a result of smoking marijuana. Yet these preliminary results — as Dr. Cohen points out — have not been subjected to rigorous testing by the Food and Drug Administration. The reason: A manufacturer must submit the drug for review before the FDA will tackle the assignment. So far, no such “manufacturer” has come forward.
Uh, yeah. The FDA is not a proper route for marijuana since it’s a plant and there’s no payoff for a single company to go through the expense of FDA approval. So in other words, the good old-fashioned science that you say need to happen has been happening, but the federal government has been unable or unwilling to handle it.
The medical marijuana controversy may be moot in the near future because of a drug known as Sativex, a spray mist approved for conditional use in Canada and the United Kingdom that delivers the active ingredients found in marijuana. If cleared by the FDA, patients will have some confidence that it is safe and effective. Patients have the right to know if the same can be said about smoked marijuana.
Sativex is not a drug that delivers the active ingredients found in marijuana. Sativex is marijuana, simply extracted into liquid form. If the FDA clears that, it’s going to be pretty hard for them to keep the hard line against the plant.
Hey, it’s not a bad editorial for the Washington Post. And it makes a lot of the right noises about the directions we should be headed. But I was definitely amused by their confusion.