With all of the recent talk of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, it came as no real surprise to many when President Obama spoke with renowned Dr. Sanjay Gupta during a CNN interview that aired Sunday, April 19th. The interview is part of a controversial documentary entitled Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution, which takes a critical yet honest look at the ways in which marijuana can both help and harm.
Gupta asked the President if he supports a current Senate bill that seeks to decriminalize state-approved medical marijuana programs, including dispensaries. Obama indicated that while he would need to look closely at the details, he does believe that carefully controlled prescription substance is beneficial for many medical conditions. The President also made it clear that he believes in studying the science behind marijuana rather than relying on the ideology, or social stigma, that surrounds it.
Obama also stated, “… but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be.” This statement indicates that the President is concerned about the potential for abuse of the drug, and he goes on to use smoking cessation as an example.
Strangely enough, Gupta only recently started advocating legalization. In 2013, the popular doctor wrote an article for CNN’s website entitled Why I Changed My Mind on Weed. Dr. Gupta spent several years studying the effects of weed on elderly cancer patients, middle-aged glaucoma sufferers, and even very small children dealing with severe seizures. In his article, Gupta addresses the startling fact that only 6% of all of 2000 papers in the US National Library of Medicine focused on marijuana investigated the plant’s benefits. The majority investigated harm and added to the already negative social stigma.
Dr. Gupta went on to describe the difficulties researchers experience when attempting to study the benefits of medical marijuana in the United States. Since the drug is illegal still in many states, even scientists must jump through hoops to procure it for medical purposes. What’s more, the only place in the US where marijuana grows for research purposes – a farm in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, astonishingly enough – is often barren.
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states across the country and the District of Columbia. However, it is still a federal crime to grow, sell, or possess marijuana in many states. For this reason, the federal government can and often has raided dispensaries, jailing their owners and confiscating their stock. This leaves thousands of people without the medicines they depend on for treating the symptoms of numerous conditions.
Someone in the United States dies every 19 minutes from a prescription drug overdose, but there is not a single documented case of marijuana overdose on record. Out of the 2,000 papers in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, focused almost solely on the downsides of marijuana use, no one died. Dr. Gupta believes that the substance should be legalized for medical use on the federal level sooner rather than later. While President Obama agrees that marijuana is beneficial in a number of medical situations, no one is sure whether the Senate bill to decriminalize medical marijuana on the federal level will pass – not even the President himself.
Written by Erin Jarboe