“Thirty years ago the chemotherapy was quite a bit rougher than it is now,” Wyoming state Sen. Bruce Burns (R) told a local radio station about his uncle’s final days while he was dying of lung cancer. “We provided him with some marijuana,” Burns explained, “and he ended up gaining 15 pounds before he passed away and was quite a bit more comfortable.” In light of this experience, Burns now supports legalizing marijuana for medical use.
Burns’ view is increasingly common — a poll last June found that 60 percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana, with only 26 opposed to permitting physicians to do so. A plurality of Republicans agree with Burns that medical marijuana should be legal. More recently, an October poll found 58 percent of Americans support outright legalization of marijuana even for recreational purposes.
Despite this rapidly moving trend in favor of more liberal marijuana laws, the Obama Administration’s record on the issue is somewhat mixed. The Justice Department announced in August that prosecutors should scale back prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries that are “demonstrably in compliance with a strong and effective [state] regulatory system.” Nevertheless, one U.S. Attorney who has been particularly aggressive in targeting medical marijuana dispensaries said that she did not expect a “significant change” in her office’s practices after DOJ announced its new policy.
Moreover absent federal legislation — such as a pending bill ensuring that persons in compliance with state marijuana laws would not be subject to federal prosecution — there is no guarantee that a future administration will maintain the Obama Justice Department’s relatively permissive stance towards marijuana users and dispensaries. The next election could bring much more widespread crackdowns on dispensaries in compliance with state law.