Longform

In a Strange About-Face, the President Tries to Hack Medical Marijuana Off at the Knees

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Democratic strategists were perplexed. Roger Salazar, a California party consultant, believes the president may be trying to reach out to a broader base. But that doesn't explain the attack on his own base; Democrats support medical marijuana at high percentages. It doesn't even make sense in luring conservatives. With the country in economic tatters, no one has weed high on their radar.

Except one group, says Salazar: "It's a mystery . . . where the pressure is coming from. My sense is it's coming from law enforcement."

Certainly, Obama's threats are real. He may be loath to jail landlords, bankers ,or even dispensary owners. Arresting non-violent, state-sanctioned businesspeople wouldn't be popular. But his quieter war of chopping merchants off at the knees through credit and leasing would ravage the trade.

Still, the president has thrown himself into an uphill fight. There is reason to believe medical marijuana will persist, despite his betrayal.

Earlier this month, in a timely coincidence, the California Medical Association's board voted to encourage the feds to legalize marijuana.

Though spokeswoman Molly Weedn emphasizes that the decision by the doctors' group hinges on a call for more research, a report studied by the CMA board before its decision makes it clear that — at the least — marijuana shows promise as a medicine.

The CMA's Council on Clinical and Scientific Affairs "has also concluded that components of medical cannabis may be effective for the treatment of pain, nausea, anorexia, and other conditions."

The report goes on to say:

"Cannabinoids are presently thought to exhibit their greatest efficacy when implemented for the management of neuropathic pain, which is a form of severe and often chronic pain resulting from nerve injury, disease, or toxicity."

The University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research reported recently to the California Legislature the results of a number of studies. Four studies involved the treatment of neuropathic pain; and all four demonstrated a significant improvement in pain after cannabis administration."

The doctors note that using marijuana may contain risks, such as addiction, but they argue that its prohibition may be more dangerous than the drug itself:

"Under the current prohibition of cannabis, public health is also affected by increased rates of crime surrounding cannabis cultivation, sale and use. The California Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that the incarceration and parole supervision of cannabis offenders costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually."

Nationally, prohibition burns through billions of dollars in lives lost to the violence inherent in the black market, the incarceration of thousands of productive, non-violent Americans, and the lack of access to a beneficial medicine.

Are lots of people using weed without suffering from a medical problem? Absolutely. But just because you've heard that half or more of patients take the drug for "severe and chronic pain" doesn't mean they're all faking it.

In June, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 116 million Americans suffer from significant, chronic pain.

As more research comes in showing that pot can be an effective treatment, and with America's elderly population exploding in the coming decades, interest in its medicinal qualities apparently will only rise.

Ignorance, false propaganda, and rank political posturing tend to be the foundation of the anti-marijuana argument. (Throw in bureaucratic turf protection, as well. The DEA, for example, would need fewer agents if pot was decriminalized nationwide.)

A new Gallup poll shows that a record 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana — and not just the medical kind — should be legalized. The poll follows a continuing trend over the past several years of increasing support for legalization.

Obama has chosen to swim against the tide. But there's reason to believe his fight is about politics, not public safety. If this were about safety, alcohol would be his primary target.

Politics cause both sides to fudge the truth. Yet prohibitionists and the government have been particularly egregious. The government is using taxpayer dollars to prop up its side, with the U.S. Justice Department's 64-page booklet, "Speaking Out About Drug Legalization," being a prime example.

Distributed in print and online, the booklet states that "smoked marijuana is not scientifically approved medicine." Forget that by labeling it a drug on par with heroin, the DEA is curtailing the proper study of marijuana, since it prevents even scientists from possessing it for research. The publicly funded propaganda also flies in the face of the opinions of doctors, who see pot's potential as medicine.

It's a strategy that's trickled to states with functionaries unhappy about executing the voters' will. Last December in Arizona, Will Humble, the state's Department of Health Services director, held a proposed-rules-on-medical-marijuana news conference about the state's new Medical Marijuana Act. He took a moment to remind reporters that more than 1,000 Arizonans died last year from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.