The Lookout

Obama administration slams medical marijuana

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Medical marijuana in Denver (Ed Andrieski/AP)

The Obama administration's newly released drug control strategy slams states that have legalized medical marijuana, arguing that smoking any drug is unsafe--and that marijuana's medical benefits have yet to be evaluated by the FDA.

"While there may be medical value for some of the individual components of the cannabis plant, the fact remains that smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for delivering the constituent elements that have or may have medicinal value," the White House's National Drug Control Strategy for 2011 says.

The strongly anti-marijuana report comes on the heels of the Justice Department's decision against reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. As The Los Angeles Times reports, the government took nine years to respond to marijuana advocates' request that they take into account studies that show marijuana has medical benefits and reclassify the drug. At the end of its review, the Justice Department held firm to its earlier decision that marijuana should be classified alongside other dangerous drugs such as heroin. The Americans for Safe Access group is now appealing the decision in federal court, the paper says.

It's unclear what the consequences will be for people involved in the medical marijuana business in the 16 states (and Washington, D.C.) that currently allow it. The report states unequivocally that "outside the context of Federally approved research, the use and distribution of marijuana is prohibited in the United States," and the Justice Department recently suggested in a memo that state-approved marijuana dispensaries and growers could face prosecution.

The report also made a detailed case against legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, an idea that has won the endorsement of a group of ex-global leaders who called the war on drugs a "failure." The report says that while tobacco and alcohol are legalized and taxed, neither provide a "net economic benefit to society," due to health-care expenses and various criminal justice costs, such as drunken driving arrests.

Neil Franklin, the director of a pro-legalization group of former police and other law-enforcement agents called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said in a statement that the anti-marijuana tone of the administration is disappointing.

"It's sad that the drug czar decided to insert a multi-page rant against legalizing and regulating drugs into the National Drug Control Strategy instead of actually doing his job and shifting limited resources to combat the public health problem of drug abuse," Franklin said.

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