Trump Administration goes After Medical Marijuana – Threat to Prescription Opioid Drug Sales?
by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News
As soon as President Trump announced his Attorney General (AG) appointee as Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama, there was tension among medical cannabis advocates. Would Trump honor his campaign comments about state’s rights regarding medical marijuana, or would his new Attorney General be unleashed to increase the war on drugs using cannabis as his first target?
Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric regarding a state’s right to allow use of cannabis or marijuana for mostly medical applications was supposedly something he would not interfere with, as he stated that he believed in states’ rights and could accept cannabis for medical purposes.
Unfortunately, Trump’s Attorney General appointee Jeff Sessions has been quoted as saying heroin is only slightly worse than marijuana and “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” And as the United States Attorney General, he is head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which houses the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
News reports this week revealed a letter Sessions sent to Congress last month seeking funding to go after medical cannabis operations in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Sessions reasons for going after medical cannabis were quickly exposed as false by many in the media. Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham wrote:
Sessions’s citing of a “historic drug epidemic” to justify a crackdown on medical marijuana is at odds with what researchers know about current drug use and abuse in the United States. The epidemic Sessions refers to involves deadly opiate drugs, not marijuana. A growing body of research(acknowledged by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) has shown that opiate deaths and overdoses actually decrease in states with medical marijuana laws on the books.
With the well-known national epidemic of opioid prescription drug abuse spiraling out of control, and medical marijuana’s documented evidence of reducing opioid addiction, one has to wonder if the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers are behind this new emphasis to go after medical marijuana? Is medical marijuana a threat to their legal opioid drug sales?
Prior to Now There Was a Trend Toward Official Acceptance of the Science behind the Medical Value of Cannabis
The Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) serves public notice for national health matters. The U.S. Surgeon General is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), which has 6500 members. They are one of seven uniformed government agencies. The Surgeon General assumes the rank of Vice Admiral and wears that uniform.
The U.S. Surgeon General is appointed from the ranks of the Regular Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service by U.S presidents and approved by Congress. He or she advises the Assistant Secretary of Health who may or may not wear the full Admiral’s uniform. But the Surgeon General is more visible as the spokesperson for national public health matters.
The OSG is part of the president’s cabinet known as the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), also known as the Health Department, under which agencies such as the FDA, CDC, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) function.
You may have noticed the Surgeon General’s warnings on various items such as cigarette packages and warnings for pregnant women to avoid alcohol.
During Obama’s first term, Regina Benjamin was the Surgeon General. Ironically she’s from Alabama where hard-line anti-marijuana Jeff Sessions was once a senator before being appointed U.S. Attorney General by Trump. She stated in a 2011 New York Times Magazine interview regarding medical marijuana:
“There’s evidence that shows that it’s useful for medicine…”
During the second Obama Administration, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, expressed an open minded attitude toward medical marijuana. In a 2015 “CBS This Morning” telecast, Murthy stated:
We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful. I think that we have to use that data to drive policy making.
Perhaps the most radical Surgeon General was Joycelyn Elders, who served under President Clinton but left after a brief stint under a cloud of controversy over other issues. Ms. Elders told CNN in 2010 regarding marijuana:
“What I think is horrible about all of this, is that we criminalize young people. And we use so many of our excellent resources … for things that aren’t really causing any problems,” said Elders. “It’s [marijuana] not a toxic substance.” (Source.)
The Veterans Administration Sees the Benefits of Medical Marijuana
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is also a cabinet level agency that handles several helpful services for ex-military service men and women. Part of the VA involves providing medical services with many clinics and hospitals throughout the nation.
After several PTSD veterans using the VA medical system voiced their desire for using medical marijuana dispensed by the VA system to no avail thus far, the current head of the VA, David Shulkin, expressed an interest in further research of cannabis efficacy and safety using cannabis for PTSD and head injuries.
Of course, PTSD is commonly allowed as a medical exemption for using cannabis in most states that allow marijuana medically. But many veterans would rather cannabis be dispensed by VA medical facilities for much less expense or even free, the way VA prescriptions are filled. Many PTSD veteran sufferers are unable to work because of their condition.
It would make sense in more than one way for the VA to at least start dispensing cannabis for PTSD in the several states that allow medical marijuana. It costs on average of around $8,300 per year for the VA to dispense dangerous pharmaceutical drugs that create side effects for PTSD, while it’s estimated that the annual cost of supplying vets with medical marijuana would be $3,300 without side effects.
Is the Positive Federal Government Attitude Toward Medical Marijuana Coming to a Close?
So far there is a legal buffer blocking the fed’s desire to shut down cannabis dispensaries throughout the 28 states plus Washington, DC that have various levels of cannabis allowances. It’s a piece of legislation created in 2014 to prevent the DEA from continuing to interfere with state sanctioned legal medical marijuana dispensaries and harassing patients called the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.
This amendment was placed in the 2014 congressional spending bill. What the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment does essentially is not allow DOJ funding to be used by the DEA for raiding state legal marijuana outlets and growers.
Up to the time of this bill’s bi-partisan Congressional passage, the DEA claimed the federal government supersedes states’ rights and cannabis is illegal under federal law. (Source.)
This amendment was about to expire, but the co-author of the original bill, Oregon Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, did the arm twisting and deal making to extend the amendment until the spending bill expires at the end of the 2017 fiscal year on September 30th.
So it’s a band-aid, very temporary solution. But Rep. Rohrabacher promises to challenge Sessions all the way to the Supreme Court if he decides to raid state legal cannabis industries. Rep. Farr who co-wrote the original spending bill amendment has since retired. (Source.)
But Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and medical cannabis advocate, is committed to creating a new more permanent bill with Rohrabacher to maintain states’ rights for medical cannabis.
Now that eight of the 28 legal medical marijuana states have also adopted adult “recreational” use of cannabis, there is a strong possibility that Sessions will pursue federally clamping down on that aspect of marijuana use as well.
The DOJ under newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing its war on crime. And he and the DEA do not consider cannabis a medicine or its recreational use less harmful than alcohol consumption. They consider its use a crime. (Source.)
However, medical marijuana use has wide-spread public approval. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in April found it was supported by 94 percent of the public.
And with such wide-spread public support, it also has strong bi-partisan support in Congress by both Republicans and Democrats.
The Israeli Example: Should the USA Follow this Model?
In 1964, Israeli research chemist, Raphael Mechoulam, discovered and isolated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in cannabis and researched it and other cannabinoids with other scientists to examine their medicinal potentials. Though not perfect, as a nation, Israel is now the world leader in medicinal applications and research with cannabis products.
Their approach is simple, effective, and is supported politically. Scientists do research to determine what diseases might benefit from cannabis. Patients get prescriptions for cannabis products from their doctors and their feedback is welcomed as part of their research. It’s okay to use patients for research when the medicine is known to not be at all toxic. It is a natural plant, not a pharmaceutical drug.
Israeli hospitals and nursing homes also dispense cannabis for certain ailments, even dementia.
There have been no marijuana adverse events, deaths, or marijuana related crimes.
Yet our FDA refuses to acknowledge whole plant cannabis as a medicine while protecting Big Pharma’s production of synthetic drugs from isolated cannabis components as medicine.
That process creates drugs that are less effective with toxic side effects since they are not natural and not balanced with all the other compounds contained in the whole plant. Yet the DEA depends on the FDA for signaling cannabis as medicine.
As long as the FDA declares only pharmaceutical versions of cannabis as medicine while forbidding the whole plant, the DEA gets to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug, dangerous and without medicinal merit, thus allowing the DEA to enforce laws against it.
It’s unfortunate the USA is not following Israel’s example or using the medical results of 28 states and Washington, DC as a foundation for a more sane policy towards what many consider a sacred and healing plant.