Justice

Why the Head of the DEA Is Wrong About Medical Marijuana

The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenbeg, says that medical marijuana "is a joke," a statement that flies in the face of science and reflects the federal agency's unwillingness to deescalate the war on drugs in America.

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"What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it's not," Rosenberg said on Wednesday. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine. That is a joke."

Rosenberg has previously acknowledged that marijuana is "probably" less dangerous than heroin—an admission that is both obvious to researchers and inconsistent with the Controlled Substances Act, a list of the most dangerous drugs currently outlawed in the U.S. that the DEA is responsible for enforcing.

But if Rosenberg wants to have an "intellectually honest debate" about marijuana, then that should involve an informed conversation about the medicinal value of cannabis.

Rosenberg added:

"There are pieces of marijuana—extracts or constituents or component parts—that have great promise. But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana—which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana—it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine."

To be sure, extracted components of cannabis such as cannabidiol (CBD) and THC do show promise as medicine that can be consumed without having to smoke the plant, but to deny the value of smoked cannabis is to deny a growing body of evidence. Patients who smoke marijuana have improved pain management, sleep, and reduced anxiety, for example.

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Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana (for medical or recreation purposes), and 58 percent of Americans support legalization, according to a recent Pew poll. The shift in public perceptions about pot is largely related to changing beliefs about medical marijuana.