Top science journal takes issue with Justice Dept. heads' ideas on marijuana and health

Top science journal takes issue with Justice Dept. heads' ideas on marijuana and health
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 19:12:21-04

DENVER – The country’s oldest monthly magazine, Scientific American, slammed the Justice Department’s top two officials for their recent comments on marijuana in a column published Wednesday.

First, on Monday reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to help him undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which stopped the DOJ from using federal money to prosecute people inside states with legal medical marijuana programs.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in the letter. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

The letter went on to ask lawmakers to include language in the next fiscal year’s budget that says marijuana can lead to “significant negative health effects.”

Sessions has left many wondering what the Justice Department will do with states’ medical and recreational marijuana programs, as he has made veiled statements in the past few months. As a congressman, he became well-known in marijuana advocacy circles for his declaration that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

He at one point compared medical marijuana users to opioid users, and has batted down any scientific studies that say medical marijuana may greatly reduce opioid use among abusers trying to get clean.

But it’s unclear if Sessions’ request will hold any water with lawmakers, who have passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in each fiscal year’s budget since it was first introduced. A review of marijuana laws is set to be completed by July, according to Massroots.

And the 2013 Cole Memo from the Justice Department specifically implemented guidelines for how states could avoid interference from federal agents and prosecutors—something Sessions has said was “valuable.”

But on Tuesday, Sessions’ deputy, Rosenstein, told both the House and Senate’s appropriations committees that the Justice Department would continue to keep marijuana as a Schedule I drug—the classification used for the most dangerous drugs.

“It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana,” Rosenstein said.

But he also noted that the Cole Memo is in effect, which he called it a “policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana.”

He also said, like Sessions has in the past, said that “scientists have found that there’s no accepted medical use for” marijuana—a notion that Scientific American shredded in its Wednesday column.

“This epidemic is one of addiction and overdose deaths fueled by opioids—heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers—not marijuana,” Scientific American’s Dina Fine Maron wrote. “In fact, places where the U.S. has legalized medical marijuana have lower rates of opioid deaths.”

The author then went on to note several scientific, peer-reviewed studies that seem to contradict both Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s stances.

One of studies was done by University of Michigan researchers and published last year. It found that chronic pain sufferers who used cannabis saw a 64 percent drop in opioid use.

Another study, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that yearly overdose deaths involving opioids were close to 25 percent lower in states with medical marijuana programs.

The column also noted that dependency for marijuana users was far lower than users of opioids, tobacco, alcohol and cocaine, and that “it is virtually impossible to lethally overdose on marijuana,” citing the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman have both been active in finding out how the feds may deal with marijuana under the new administration.

Hickenlooper, along with governors of other states with legal marijuana programs, sent a letter to the Treasury and Justice departments in April asking Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to “engage” them directly before changing any regulations on the federal level.

Hickenlooper also earlier this year said he believed marijuana was a states’ rights issue and that state sovereignty should be respected.

Coffman personally invited Sessions and his staff to come visit Colorado to see its program first-hand, but the Justice Department has so far not made good on her request.