By Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland (Uphill struggle!) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
August 1, 2017; Washington Post

Despite the views of a majority of Americans, Attorney General Jeff Sessions still wants to start a new war on drugs, prosecute medical cannabis suppliers despite individual state laws, and bring back civil asset forfeiture in drug cases. The President’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety will soon release its review of the federal government’s position and laws regarding marijuana versus the state laws, specifically the 29 states where medical marijuana is now legal. Sessions is hoping the report will assist him in his uphill battle against legal cannabis.

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, 94 percent of voters approved “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it” while five percent disapproved. (NPQ has been reporting on this changing cannabis landscape.) Besides the overwhelming majority of the country, if this poll is reflective, the AG will also be fighting against economic benefits and the medical community. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) stated in a January report that there is “conclusive evidence” that cannabis extracts and the whole plant has shown to be an effective treatment for chronic pain and some diseases. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledges that cannabis would be an effective substitute for opioids, allowing for a safer long-term use for pain and removing the virulent danger of death by overdose that is too often typical for opioids.

Economically, the benefits are far ranging, from the $200 million in tax revenue that Colorado gained in 2016 to the savings for Medicare and Medicaid in the reduction of use in prescription drugs that are more expensive. Puerto Rico is betting on marijuana to rescue its failed economy, offering new jobs on an island that has weather conducive to cannabis.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has taken a position opposite the attorney general; he introduced a bill this week to legalize marijuana at the federal level. As far as Sessions’ desire to bring back stronger drug penalties, Booker states that those laws unfairly affect poor and minority communities. In nearby New York, it was announced yesterday that the state is doubling its medical marijuana program statewide, with a goal of 10 manufacturing sites and 40 dispensaries. There are currently 19 sites that dispense the drug as edibles, oils or vaporizers; it is illegal to smoke it in N.Y.

It appears that, with a great deal of money and jobs on the table, and a majority of people in favor of the program, AG Sessions will have many strong challenges to his plans.

It should be noted that no matter which way this goes, nonprofits will be part of the team that bats cleanup. Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of Family and Children’s Association and a New York expert on addiction, said in an interview with NPQ that “What happens in D.C. often has unforeseen and unintended consequences on the ground. We’ve got to be ready for any number of possibilities, especially in a really dynamic political environment.”

He adds that, “There’s ample data to support changes in marijuana policy, especially as it relates to pharmaceutical grade CBD-based medications. Until now, the Feds have sidestepped the question and state legislatures, in which very few physicians sit, have been tasked with approving marijuana as medicine. For at least the last 100 years, that job has been done by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”

Dr. Reynolds went on to list the discussions that nonprofits will have between the organizations and internally as they evaluate programs and resources:

Without a doubt, the discussion of medical marijuana is part of a bigger conversation about both marijuana policy and drug policy generally. These are important conversations, but have implications for frontline service providers. For those of us that run school-based prevention programs, how do we effectively communicate the dangers of a drug that’s virtually legal and is being touted as medicine? If we run addiction treatment programs, how will we address continued marijuana use among patients who may or may not have a qualifying medical condition? I hope part of the marijuana conversation includes alternatives to arrest and incarceration, but there too, I wonder if we will have the resources to provide the community programs that will be required.

As it usually goes, the lawmakers move the guidelines up and down and all around, and the nonprofits come up behind to make it all work for the people we serve.—Marian Conway