The New York Times has a sad story about people in states where the medical use of cannabis is legal under state law, and who have medical recommendations to use it, who are getting fired under companies’ “drug-free workplace” rules. Those rules, which do not distinguish between being intoxicated on the job and showing up at work with metabolites of past drug use still in your system, are recommended by the Federal government (with lots of lobbying help from the drug-testing industry) but not mandated except in the transportation industry and for some federal contractors.
The story is technically imprecise on one key point: no one has a “prescription,” properly speaking, for cannabis. Only an FDA-approved medicine can be “prescribed.” What the patients have are medical recommendations, which in some states, including California, are handed out virtually by request, with no real medical evaluation.
Until and unless non-medical use of cannabis is legalized nationally – something I expect to happen, but not for at least another decade – there’s only one reasonable solution to this set of problems.
Someone needs to do the appropriate clinical research to get some strain of cannabis, or some mix of the chemicals in cannabis other than the currently legal pure THC, approved by the FDA as “safe and effective” for some condition.
For that to happen, the Federal government has to stop its current policy of obstructing clinical research. It does so both by maintaining a monopoly on the production of research cannabis for a single supplier, which in turn will supply only the government itself (and even then with only a limited range of materials), and by creating an extra bureaucratic step, not applicable to any other Schedule I drug, that makes it virtually impossible to obtain any of the resulting cannabis for clinical research.
Many advocates of “medical marijuana” tacitly or explicitly oppose the clinical-research approach, even though that puts them on the same side of the issue as the drug warriors and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They insist that no research is needed because they already know the answer. (To advocates, “data” is just the plural of “anecdote.”) And they fear, quite correctly, that cannabis as a prescription drug would be no cheaper than illicit-market cannabis, and that actual prescriptions wouldn’t be nearly as easy to obtain as California “recommendations.”
The more sophisticated among them will say explicitly (in private) that “medical marijuana” is the best organizing issue for drug policy reform, and that FDA approval of cannabis as a real, live medicine (just like methamphetamine) would take a lot of the wind out of their sails.
That’s pretty clever of them, though perhaps not very scrupulous. By the same token, it’s pretty silly of the drug warriors to have fallen into their trap.
The real mystery is why the Obama Administration, which has largely dropped drug-war language and ideology and is generally in favor of gathering and using scientific information to make policy, hasn’t changed course on this issue.
Given the overwhelming support for the medical use of cannabis found in every poll and confirmed in several referenda, and given the fact that the DEA’s own administrative law judge ruled in favor of breaking the research-cannabis monopoly and had to be over-ruled by the DEA Administrator, I would have thought the choice to let the science speak for itself would have been a no-brainer. But I would have been wrong.