Despite overwhelming support from the general public, significant backing from medical doctors, and even several prominent Republicans publicly acknowledging cannabis has a legitimate medical use, the Obama administration officially insists it does not.
The administration’s traditional dodge when asked to explain this unpopular and scientifically unjustifiable position is to act as if it is a non-issue because they are not arresting medical marijuana patients. When Jessica Yellin asked on Wednesday why the administration refused to use its power to reschedule marijuana to make it legal for medical use Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded, “the President and the administration believe that targeting individual marijuana users, especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers, is not the best allocation of federal law enforcement resources.” They pretend since they are not arresting patients rescheduling doesn’t matter.
The possibility of arrest, though, is only a small part of how legitimate medical marijuana patients are significantly punished because the Obama administration refuses to use its power to remove marijuana from Schedule I. Over the years the legal tentacles of the war on drugs have been allowed to touch all parts of federal policy, from gun rights to education.
This decision by the administration can cost patients their jobs and employment opportunities. Companies that receive federal contracts are required to be “drug-free” workplaces. Since under federal law marijuana has “no accepted medical use,” it is considered a violation.
It can make it more difficult for people to pursue an education. Since federal law requires colleges to be “drug-free” to get federal dollars, patients can’t have medical cannabis on campus.
It creates added problems for sick veterans. Many veterans get treatment at the VA but under federal law these doctors can’t prescribe marijuana. To get medical marijuana they need to find a doctor outside the system which can be a real financial burden and complicates treatment.
It makes medicine more expensive. Since it is not legal under federal law many insurers will or can’t cover it. This forces patients to pay for it out-of-pocket.
It can even cost patients their second amendment rights. Federal law prohibits the sale of guns to drug users. Since the administration refused to recognize marijuana as medicine, all registered patients are officially considered drug addicts by the ATF.
Arrest by federal authority is only one small concern given that federal agents have traditionally not targeted low level users anyway. The bigger problem is a massive legal structure that touches almost everything and still officially considers real patients to be drug addicts. Obama can fix this by himself. The law explicitly gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally move cannabis to a lower schedule so that under federal law it can be legally used by patients. So far the Obama’s team has actively fought against all efforts to force him to make this change.
Photo by Earthworm under Creative Commons license