Obama’s drug czar: Marijuana ‘has no medical benefit’
When President Barack Obama appointed former Seattle, Washington police chief Gil Kerlikowske to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, activists supporting marijuana policy reform were cheered by the news, however briefly.
Kerlikowske’s appointment came on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that America would not longer prosecute patients who are legally prescribed the herb in states that have passed laws allowing medicinal marijuana. Holder’s announcement fell in-line with Obama’s repeated-yet-quiet endorsement of marijuana for medical use as “entirely appropriate” for states in which a majority of voters approve.
Activists were given even more reason to hope when Kerlikowske advertised the end of America’s “drug war,” saying he would seek to emphasize harm reduction policies over jailing those afflicted with drug addictions.
However, that hope was soon to fade.
Even though Kerlikowske’s former city is famously tolerant of marijuana — which is less harmful and less addictive than America’s most popular, legal intoxicant, alcohol — that did not stop America’s new drug czar from demeaning the president’s position on medicinal use, telling a crowd in Fresno, California on Wednesday that marijuana is “dangerous” and “has no medical benefit,” according to The Fresno Bee.
He has no medical training and did not qualify his statements with any opinions from medical professionals.
Kerlikowske was discussing “Operation SOS — or, “Save Our Sierra” — which has been underway in California for the last 11 days.
“More than 314,000 plants were uprooted in 70 gardens — numbers expected to rise as the enforcement action continues,” the paper reported. “Agents also seized $41,000 in cash, 26 firearms and three vehicles.”
When Kerlikowske was announced as Obama’s choice for drug czar, the organizers of Seattle’s famous annual Hempfest welcomed the move.
“Seattle Hempfest has enjoyed a good relationship with the Seattle Police Department for 18 years, 8 of those during Mr. Kerlikowske’s tenure as Chief of Police,” they said in a published statement. “We have always found the SPD to be extremely professional and guided by the motivation to ensure the safety of the public over enforcement of Marijuana laws.”
California is one of 13 states to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Other states, like Washington, have passed laws providing an affirmative medical defense against state possession charges for patients whose doctors have recommended the herb to alleviate symptoms of various illnesses. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which provides no medical exceptions.
The plant can provide significant relief to sufferers of many chronic and life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, arthritis, muscular dystrophy and numerous others.
“Every day I see people with nausea secondary to chemotherapy, depression, trouble sleeping, pain,” Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer specialist at San Francisco General Hospital, told The Los Angeles Times, according to a recent report. “I can recommend one drug [marijuana] for all those things, as opposed to writing five different prescriptions.”
It has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of less-threatening disorders such as uncontrollable anxiety, depression and insomnia, among others.
Advocates of legalizing medical marijuana on the federal level also point to the fact that it is virtually impossible to die from overdosing on the substance; a stark contrast with other common pain relieving drugs such as aspirin, Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which cause thousands of U.S. deaths every year according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
President Obama has maintained that legalization of marijuana is “not in my vocabulary” — words that were echoed by his drug czar in Fresno — but has never denounced his stated support of decimalization.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who recently introduced legislation to form a a presidential commission on prison reforms that would study drug criminalization, has insisted that marijuana legalization must be “on the table.” His bipartisan bill would form a group to make recommendations to Congress after 18 months. Webb has reportedly received “quiet encouragement” from President Obama on the issue.
Kerlikowske’s 39-year-old son Jeff is in jail in Florida for parole violations stemming from marijuana-related charges. Kerlikowske said he has not spoken to or seen Jeff in over a decade.
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