House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has joined critics of the Obama administration’s campaign against medical marijuana suppliers in California, saying the government is endangering patients and undermining its own proclaimed policy of deferring to states on the issue.
“I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medical marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California,” the San Francisco congresswoman said in a statement Wednesday.
It was Pelosi’s first public criticism of the actions announced in October by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of San Francisco and federal prosecutors in the state’s other three regions to crack down on marijuana dispensaries by going after their landlords.
The prosecutors accused pot suppliers of using California’s 1996 medical marijuana law as a cover for making huge profits. They said they would notify dispensaries’ landlords that they were violating federal drug laws and could lose their property or face criminal prosecution.
Since then, about 300 marijuana dispensaries in California have shut down because of fears of prosecution or eviction, including five in San Francisco, said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. He said more than 1,000 medical marijuana suppliers are still operating.
Should marijuana be a medical option?
In 1972, the US Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act because they considered it to have “no accepted medical use.” Since then, 16 of 50 US states and DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana.
Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other conditions. They cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations, major government reports, and the use of marijuana as medicine throughout world history.
Opponents of medical marijuana argue that it is too dangerous to use, lacks FDA-approval, and that various legal drugs make marijuana use unnecessary. They say marijuana is addictive, leads to harder drug use, interferes with fertility, impairs driving ability, and injures the lungs, immune system, and brain. They say that medical marijuana is a front for drug legalization and recreational use.
Critics of the policy accuse President Obama of breaking a campaign pledge not to interfere with states’ enforcement of their medical marijuana laws, and a 2009 Justice Department memo discouraging federal prosecutors from charging people who were complying with state laws.
In states in which medical marijuana is legal, doctors recommend medical marijuana for many conditions and diseases, frequently those that are chronic. Among them are nausea (especially as a result of chemotherapy), loss of appetite, chronic pain, anxiety, arthritis, cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, ADHD, epilepsy, inflammation, migraines and Crohn’s disease. The drug is also used to ease pain and improve quality of life for people who are terminally ill.
So how, exactly, does medical marijuana work to treat these conditions? Why, if this medicine is so effective for some people, does it remain controversial and, in many places, illegal? In this article, we’ll take a look at the medical, legal, and practical issues surrounding medical marijuana in the United States. We’ll examine why some people, like Burton Aldrich, depend on it to live normally. We’ll also examine some of the intriguing intersections between pharmaceutical companies, the government and the medical marijuana industry.
Obama, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine published April 25, said he had promised only not to “prioritize” prosecutions of medical marijuana patients, none of whom have been prosecuted.
“I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana,” he said. “I can’t ask the Justice Department to say (to federal prosecutors), ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.’
“[T]here is very little evidence that smoking marijuana as a means of taking it represents a significant health risk.
Although cannabis has been smoked widely in Western countries for more than four decades, there have been no reported cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana.
I suspect that a day’s breathing in any city with poor air quality poses more of a threat than inhaling a day’s dose - which for many ailments is just a portion of a joint - of marijuana.”
- Lester Grinspoon, MD
Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
“Puffing Is the Best Medicine,”
Los Angeles Times
May 5, 2006
“What I can say is, ‘Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.’ “