Editorial: Medical marijuana could be in jeopardy

medical marijuana

Even before his confirmation as Attorney General, former Senator Jeff Session stance against the legalization of marijuana was known. Indeed, a concern when he was confirmed as Attorney General was if he would with one stroke of the pen reverse the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.

Currently, some 29 states, including Florida legalized marijuana for either purposes. On November 8, 2016, Florida voters overwhelmingly joined seven other states who voted to legalize marijuana.

Not only have Florida voted to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, but several counties and cities in Florida passed legislation to stop arresting people found with small amounts of marijuana.

Obama administration didn’t challenge state laws

It was not surprising that during the Obama administration more states legalized marijuana. In 2013 the Justice Department under former Attorney General Eric Holder announced federal officials “would not directly challenge state marijuana legalization laws and would take a narrower role enforcing federal law against pot sales.”  

Reduced stiff penalties

One of the main reasons why the Obama administration  adapted more lenient legislation for use of minor amounts of marijuana was to reduce overcrowded federal prison populations nationally. The Justice Department under Obama also sought to reduce often stiff, 20-year mandatory sentences, for marijuana use, growth or distribution. When Obama left office in January 2017, the population in federal prisons were significantly reduced as several people had their mandatory sentences for marijuana charges revoked.  And, fewer people, including young black men and women, were being arrested in several states for minor marijuana use.

Consensus re benefits of medical marijuana

Meanwhile, during the Obama administration, several scientific studies lead to consensus that a special strain of marijuana, CBD, that doesn’t contain the normal psychoactive component that can have negative reaction when inhaled, is useful for treating several diseases.

Jeff Session’s memorandum

The concerns related to Attorney General Sessions’ potential action against the legalization of marijuana seem justified when on January 4 he signed a memorandum captioned “Marijuana Enforcement” addressed to “All United States Attorneys.”

The very first sentence of this memorandum cited the supremacy of federal law over state laws. “In the Controlled Substances Act (a federal law) Congress has generally prohibited the cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana. It (Congress) has established significant penalties for these crimes.”

No differential between recreational and medical marijuana

The law Sessions has referred to US attorneys, makes no differentiation between using marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. This is disconcerting to medical marijuana use in states like Florida.

In one stroke of his pen, Session has re-enforced federal law over state laws legalizing marijuana. Critics of the Obama administration wanted the federal law re marijuana amended making it compatible with state laws, fearing an incoming administration could place focus on the federal law. This is exactly what has happened.

It should be reiterated; the memorandum dispatched by Sessions does not address medical marijuana. But, since it cites federal law which makes cultivation and distribution of marijuana illegal, how will the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes be viewed by the Feds. Can a US attorney penalize a Florida farmer licensed by the state to cultivate medical marijuana?

Concerns must be addressed

These concerns must be urgently addressed. It’s incumbent on Florida officials to seek answers from the US Justice Department.

Opponents of medical marijuana have consistently ignored differences between medical and recreational marijuana. These opponents label any form of marijuana as a “Dangerous Drug.” But this is not so. Many medical professionals, including a Jamaican ophthalmologist, decades ago, have proven the curative benefits of marijuana. More recent research proved the effectiveness of the herb for treating debilitating seizures, and various types of cancers. Patients with these diseases deserves effective treatment. If medical marijuana is proven to be effective, patients must not be denied.

It’s believed that the big pharmaceutical companies are supportive of federal measures to frustrate the development and marketing of medical marijuana, as this could reduce their significant profits from traditional medication. However, on the other hand, it’s also believed that the big pharmaceuticals could profit from the potential demand for medication derived from marijuana.

It’s incumbent on the federal government to make a clear distinction in its anti-marijuana policies between recreational and medical use of marijuana, and convey this distinction to all 50 states. The quality of several lives, and lives generally, depend upon prescribed treatment from medication sourced from marijuana.

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