President Barack Obama is expected to express his support for medical marijuana, and a drug policy that deviates from incarceration, in a CNN documentary to air on Sunday night.
In the television special, “Weed 3”, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta will explore the politics of medical marijuana research. In an interview with Obama, Gupta probes the President about a bipartisan Senate bill that, if passed, will change marijuana’s classification from Schedule I — the most stringent category for regulating drugs — to Schedule II.
Obama, who admitted to smoking marijuana as a youth, reiterates a position that he took earlier his presidency, according to a Huffington Post preview of the show. He tells Gupta that he endorses a policy solution that has a foundation in science and focuses on treatment more than punishment of drug users.
“You know, I think I’d have to take a look at the details, but I’m on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be,” Obama reportedly says during his interview with Gupta.
Nearly two dozen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and residents of 13 states can use extracts of the plant to treat certain medical conditions. The debate about the plant, specifically its healing properties, has intensified with the release of scientific research that confirms the plant’s ability to treat certain cancers, confirming what proponents of legalization have argued for years.
Since California legalized medical marijuana in the mid-1990s, public opinion about the issue has become more positive, with a recent survey showing that more than 70 percent of Americans favor medical marijuana. Support for legalization has increased among voters in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Some lawmakers in Illinois want to expand the disease list for the state’s medical marijuana program to include anxiety, migraines, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Congressional lawmakers are also mulling over policy that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Earlier this month, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a government drug abuse and addiction organization, acknowledged research that showed medical marijuana’s potential to treat tumors.
However, some hurdles remain for those in the medical marijuana business. For example, dispensaries in California are fighting the efforts of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, an employee of Obama’s Department of Justice, to shut down their operations, in a case that is still winding its way through the courts. Rather than arrest them, Haag has tried to seize properties. Across the United States, marijuana’s legal status has caused a dearth of federally regulated studies about the plant, ultimately impeding scientists’ efforts to understand its potential as a healing agent. Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the government to downgrade marijuana to a Schedule II drug, which would allow for more research into its potential uses to treat sick children with seizures.
Despite the lack of policy changes, Obama has gradually expressed his support for a marijuana policy that’s rooted in science and doesn’t unfairly punish users. In February, he voiced his approval for the removal of criminal penalties for nonviolent drug offenders. In the past, the president predicted that more states would follow Washington and Colorado’s lead in legalizing recreational marijuana and said that though marijuana is legal on the federal level, the Justice Department will not interfere in state medical marijuana programs.
But Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a marijuana advocacy organization, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that endorsing medical marijuana won’t suffice, saying that President Obama should use his executive powers to reschedule marijuana and protect dispensaries.
“If the president means what he says about following science, then there’s no question he should support legislation to move marijuana out of Schedule I, a category that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value,” Angell said. “And, since it’s so hard to get anything through Congress these days, he should even do more than that. He should exercise his power under the Controlled Substances Act to administratively reschedule marijuana right away. The only thing stopping him from doing that is his own reluctance to follow through on his stated principle of letting science dictate policy.”