Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Reefer Madness, 2.0

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For the first time since 1982, cannabis was issued its very own health advisory by the Surgeon General's Office last week, which declared the need to raise the "national alarm" about the "dangerous drug."

Raising the nation's top doctor's hackles is what Surgeon General Jerome Adams lamented as a "rapid normalization of marijuana use" across the nation, saying the trend is leading to a rise in use among pregnant women and adolescents amid an uptick in potency levels.

"As I like to say, 'This ain't your mother's marijuana,'" Adams quipped during a press conference on the advisory with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Saying there were "33 experiments" being conducted by states that have legalized adult marijuana use on some level, Adams and Azar both emphasized this new advisory is meant to carry one main message: No amount of cannabis is safe to consume during pregnancy or adolescence.

Providing the financial backing to bring that message to a Facebook feed near you is none other than President Donald Trump, who is donating $100,000 of his White House salary toward a social media campaign specifically aimed at mothers-to-be and parents.

According to Azar, the "Trump Administration will do everything in its power" to turn the tide on the growing public opinion that marijuana does not pose the Schedule 1 dangers the government says it does.

"Especially as the potency of marijuana has risen dramatically over the past several decades, we don't know everything we might want to know about this drug," Azar said. "But we do know a number of things: It is a dangerous drug. For many, it can be addictive. And it is especially dangerous for adolescents and pregnant women, because of what we know about how it affects the developing brain."

He then added, "We need to be clear: Some states' laws on marijuana may have changed, but the science has not, and federal law has not."

Except there's not a whole lot of science. And there's not a lot of science because the government has built a battlement around access to the plant by leaving the Schedule 1 designation in place.

By doing so, most major research institutions are restricted, if not downright prohibited, from tackling the many questions swirling around the plant's potential — both for harm and for good.

While marijuana took a pretty good beating on the podium during the health advisory announcement, with the description "illicit drug" used often, there were also some indications that the government's tightly held grip on marijuana research might be loosening.

As has previously been reported in these pages, the only government approved source for research cannabis is the crop grown at the University of Mississippi, which — shall we say — won't be taking home any Emerald Cup titles any time soon.

While the Obama administration tried to open access to a more diverse growing field, Trump's Department of Justice solidly slammed that door shut. At least, until now.

"We're committed to more research on illuminating these risks because one of the dangers is, we still don't know all of the risks," Azar said.

Azar said his department is in discussions with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice to allow more research, acknowledging the "significant barriers" currently in place.

He said those discussions have "borne fruit," pointing to the DEA's announcement in late August that the agency was "moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States."

"I am pleased that the DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research," Attorney General William P. Barr said in the release. "The Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the Administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can."

Azar noted that gaining access to modern strains and the accompanying increased THC levels compared to the Mississippi schwag (not his words) was a much needed step for further studies about potential risks and benefits.

"We want to open that up for more research and that is a priority of this administration," he said.

Until then, the administration's stance seems to be that marijuana remains a "dangerous drug" according to yet-to-be-completed studies.

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or kim@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.

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