In Utah, some civilians are advocating hard at securing a spot for medical marijuana on next year’s state ballot, and now, they appear to have a surprising new friend in their corner. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, third in line for presidency and an octogenarian, broke ranks publically last week with GOP leaders, some of his Mormon constituents, and even Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself.
Hatch gave his official endorsement of medical marijuana. Surrounded by security personnel in an elevator on Capitol Hill, Utah’s most senior senator discussed his about-turn on the issue with journalists. Without hesitation, Hatch said, “There is no transformation. I have always been for decent medicine. I know that medical marijuana can do some things that other medicines cannot.”
He reiterated that, “I am for alleviating pain and helping people with illness.” Hatch is just one of many frustrated lawmakers upset over a recently released report in the Washington Post. Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department are actively preventing researchers from studying the effects of cannabis by blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency from giving approval to roughly two dozen proposals on the issue.
Scientists are not fighting to legalize marijuana. Nor to sell it. They are not advocating smoking it. They simply want to study it, as is permissible with other highly addictive and lethal substances, including opioids, cigarettes and tobacco. There is need to analyze whether states with liberal marijuana laws, whether medicinal or recreational, are making dire mistakes, or if they are actually on the right path.
Hatch is in agreement with Jeff Sessions, his former colleague in the Senate, on most of his views on marijuana prohibition. However, at 83-years of age, he says that both Sessions and the Justice Department are unaware of the reality of medicinal cannabis, which is ingestible as oils, herbs, baked goods, and even high-grade pharmaceuticals.
Hatch continued his statement, “I think it is a mistake. We ought to do the research. They are worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that is a very big problem, but there is a difference between smoking marijuana, using it illegally, and using it alleviate pain and suffering.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the DEA still lists pot as a Schedule I drug. By definition, any narcotics in this classification have no medicinal value and have a high potential for abuse. It shares company there with the likes of peyote, ecstasy, and LSD. Now, however, medical marijuana is legal in some form or other in more than half of all states in the United States.
Because of the federal ban, there is insufficient peer-reviewed study into the medical benefits of cannabis. Yet despite state laws that legalize it locally, researchers fear upsetting the federal government, which provides most of their funding for research projects. There is also the risk of a raid by the DEA, as if losing federal grants were not intimidating enough.
A bunch of bipartisan policymakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee is drafting a framework that could eventually become a national regulatory standard for cannabis quality. They are already starting by testing all DEA-seized weed. This is why several lawmakers are pressurizing Sessions into putting his own personal views on pot aside, as federal policy is hindering officials at the DEA.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Colorado Democrat Jared Polis said, “There is really only one reason to sit on a request, and that is because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit, and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana.”
Earlier this year, Polis offered an interesting amendment: He wants to stop taxpayer dollars funding federal salaries of anyone at the DOJ or the DEA caught interfering with or trying to block cannabis research. Despite having widespread bipartisan support, Republicans in the House simply refused to allow it onto the floor for a vote.
“I would hope that regardless of people’s opinions about it, everybody should be about peer-reviewed studies and science about whether there is any therapeutic benefit or if there are any side effects,” Polis continued. “That is all these studies would do. For people to be able to show what medical marijuana might work for, we need to allow those studies to occur, and that is what our amendment would have done.”
However, the department completely denies the report in the Washington Post. In an email to Rolling Stone, a federal official, who requested anonymity, said that, “The Department of Justice is committed to controlled substances research. Indeed, just a few months ago it worked with the DEA on rescheduling Syndros, a THC-based drug that went through the FDA process.”
The unidentified official also wrote, “The Department is trying to do this in a thoughtful way that complies with treaty obligations and other laws. The Department is not ‘blocking’ anything, but is instead carefully reviewing the policy and its implementation.” However, the agency stands accused by lawmakers of deliberately slowing the process, which they claim to be ‘blocking’ research effectively.
Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat and Oregon representative told Rolling Stone that, “It is just insane. It is the most visible manifestation of how incoherent our policies are and that the federal government is the biggest impediment to not having the information that people say they want.” He added, “There is no reason to not move forward on this. The federal government for years has made it artificially difficult.”
Blumenauer pointed out that the ‘block’ on cannabis research is happening simultaneously with the heroin, opioid, and fentanyl epidemic raging through every community nationwide. He said, “People deserve answers, and there is no good reason to stand in the way of having thoughtful research.” The truth is that government should be working for the people and not against them.
According to Blumenauer, “The irony is that there is pretty clear evidence that in those communities that have access to legal medical marijuana, they prescribe fewer pills. Fewer people die.” Now, lawmakers are finally working together and deliberating on how they can best get the DOJ and Sessions to relax their prohibitionist laws on cannabis.
Republican Rand Paul also spoke to Rolling Stone. He is supportive of the plan to reschedule marijuana so that scientists do not require approval from the DEA just to study it. He said, “I think we need to give them some directive. I would be in favor of that, but I do not know if we can get it out of Congress.” With support from Senators Hatch and Paul, it seems ever more possible.