There are many areas where presidential action and/or presidential leadership can go a long way in reforming the nation’s medical marijuana policy. Mr. Spicer was clear that the White House was supportive of medical marijuana and sees it as distinct from recreational marijuana. If so, the White House has a bit of a to-do list. President Trump can:
- Support reform proposals in Congress centered on medical marijuana such as the CARERS Act and others.
- Codify the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (now the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer legislation) that Mr. Spicer referenced to make it permanent law and not contingent on the continuing resolutions that fund our government or the standard appropriations process—if Congress can ever find a way to return to that.
- Reschedule cannabis or deschedule it with specific restrictions with regard to medical use.
- Deschedule non-intoxicating cannabidiol or CBD.
- Call for increased federal funding at NIH and other agencies to study the medical efficacy of marijuana.
- Appoint a drug czar and heads of the DEA and FDA who have similar beliefs to the president on this issue.
- Lift banking and tax restrictions for medical marijuana firms in ways that lower overhead costs for producers that are ultimately passed on to sick patients.
There is no shortage of ways in which a medical marijuana reform-oriented president can advance those ideas. If the White House is serious about it, President Trump can show the nation that he is more willing to address such issues and public needs than any of his predecessors.
Opioid use and marijuana use are not the same thing.
Marijuana legalization does not introduce marijuana to communities.Mr. Spicer seemed to equate recreational marijuana use with the use of opioids and other drugs. People are dying every day across the United States because of opioids. Heroin is being cut with other, more deadly drugs like Fentanyl and causing a serious overdose crisis in the U.S. Those results are not happening with legal marijuana. Yes, legal marijuana has led to some public health issues and state regulatory systems have tried to respond to those challenges. Those public health issues are minor compared to what is happening with opioids in the states. Mr. Spicer should ask himself if he really believes heroin is as big a threat to Americans as a state-legal and regulated marijuana system. If he believes that answer is “yes,” then his equating the two is logical. If he believes the answer is “no,” he should abandon dangerous rhetoric that simultaneously hyperbolizes marijuana and delegitimizes the opioid crisis. Moreover, Mr. Spicer should read some of the research that suggests marijuana could be used as a substitute for opioids, helping opioid users distance themselves from that drug. That research isn’t a rumor in the marijuana industry; it is medical research coming from the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan, and elsewhere.
Recreational marijuana use happens in every state in the U.S. every day by hundreds of thousands of individuals. That includes states with and without recreational legalization. In states that have legalized, the regulatory systems ensure that the product is safer than black market product and that consumers know what they are getting in terms of potency and with regard to the presence of adulterants like mold or pesticides. Moreover, in state-legal systems, officials can use tax revenue to fund information, prevention, public health, and public safety campaigns that help deal with problems that can arise from marijuana use. In states without legal systems, those problems still arise, but states collect zero tax revenue from sales.
The White House can host a summit to address marijuana policy.
Mr. Spicer’s comments from the podium today showed some hesitation and some misunderstandings within the White House on marijuana policy. That same confusion exists among some in the public, as well. That is not a criticism of the White House; it is a reflection of the complex and ever-changing reality of marijuana policy in this country. The White House can show leadership and encourage a better-informed public and policy making community by convening the top experts on cannabis, public health, public safety, drug policy, and medicine to discuss the issue. The president has effectively brought together CEOs, labor leaders, minority communities, and other groups to discuss relevant issues— he can do the same on this issue.
Think about public opinion on marijuana.
The president has often spoken about returning the power to the people. Returning power to the people can take many forms. One is the decentralization of power to the states (closer governmental representatives of the public). Another is for the White House to be responsive to public opinion. For the former, the president can let states do what they like on marijuana policy and have the federal government get out of the way—a policy that should resonate well if the president is truly a small government conservative. For the latter, the answer is not only clear but was reflected by polling results released on the same day Mr. Spicer discussed marijuana from the podium. Quinnipiac University released a poll showing that 59 percent of Americans support recreational marijuana legalization and 71 percent of Americans want the federal government to get out of the way of states when it comes to marijuana policy. And you can bet a lot of that support comes from states President Trump won in 2016. The president may not believe that you can ‘Make America Great Again’ by legalizing marijuana, but if he wants states and citizens to be more in control of public policy, he should consider himself the last person who should try to get in the way.