U.S. takes positive steps toward medical marijuana reform

By Lauren Kelly

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memo on Oct. 19 directing U.S. federal attorneys to cease prosecution of medical marijuana patients and dispensaries that operate legally under established state laws.

This memo is a step in the right direction toward a sensible marijuana policy in the U.S.

According to the official Department of Justice memo, prosecution of people using marijuana for medical purposes “is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”

The U.S. has more than a trillion dollar budget shortfall and it is unwise for the Department of Justice to spend millions on prosecuting “criminals” who are not harming others through their use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the U.S. suffer on a daily basis from medical conditions which can be alleviated from the use of marijuana.

Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which means it is seen as highly addictive and has no recognized medical value. The drug is in the same category as heroin, peyote, mescaline and LSD. In contrast, cocaine and morphine are Schedule II drugs, which are still illegal, but have recognized medical use with

tight restrictions.

According to this memo, people who continue to exploit state laws and sell drugs illegally will continue to be held accountable and “remain a core priority” for the enforcement of dangerous drugs.

Although this memo has been handed down from the top levels of government, there are still many people in Washington, D.C. who resist accepting established scientific facts involved in the medical marijuana debate. Because of a cultural environment that scorns people who use the mild psychoactive drug, there is an overwhelming negative attitude toward cannabis users in this country, despite the fact that it is often more effective than prescription medicine in relieving symptoms of many diseases.  The fact that people claiming medical necessity of marijuana use are viewed as criminals in the U.S. legal system is despicable.

I believe the next step in working toward a sensible drug policy in this country is for the federal government and DEA to reevaluate its drug scheduling policy and recognize the real benefits and dangers of drugs that have been established as scientific fact.

The fact is, no person has ever overdosed from marijuana. Ever. Alcohol and cigarettes are unquestionably more deadly than marijuana and kill more people each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes 443,000 deaths per year in the U.S., including deaths from secondhand smoke. Also, 22,073 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2006, according to the National Vital Statistics Report.

Furthermore, cannabis has minimal risks of physical addiction. Many prescription pills approved for medical use by the DEA are much more physically addictive than cannabis and have the potential to kill the patient through overdose and force them into physical addiction. From the perspective of public health policy, this makes no sense.

There are dozens of ailments that people suffer from that can be relieved by using medical cannabis. From cancer patients going through chemotherapy to people affected by multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, schizophrenia, autism, major depression and anxiety, Crohn’s disease and cerebral palsy.

Cannabis has been cultivated for human use for more than 5,000 years and has been recognized for its medical benefits for just as long. This country is just now recognizing the benefits of cannabis to save lives and ease the pain of hundreds of thousands of patients.

I commend President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden for their efforts to reform laws surrounding the use of medical marijuana in the U.S. It is a much needed change in policy in the U.S. and will make a difference in the lives of countless Americans. The federal government should continue its efforts in reforming medicinal marijuana laws and include scientific fact in public health policies.