President Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ‘change.’ Two months into his Presidency, it is clear that this ‘change’ pertains to the way Washington governs U.S. marijuana policy.
Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed that he will not authorize federal justice resources to target or prosecute medical cannabis users or providers that are compliant with state law. Holder’s statements clarify remarks he made last month when he said that the Justice Department would uphold President Obama’s campaign pledge not to use the power of the federal government to circumvent state medical marijuana laws.
The Attorney General’s position stands in marked contrast to that of prior administrations. During George W. Bush’s eight years in office, federal law enforcement charged numerous state-sanctioned medical cannabis providers with federal law violations – many of whom are now serving sentences of five to ten years in prison. More commonly, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents performed so-called “smash grabs” on state-authorized dispensaries, a tactic whereby federal agents would seize cash and but never press criminal charges. This latter policy was similar to the approach endorsed by the Clinton administration, which ordered the U.S. Justice Department to seek to civil injunctions against dozens of cannabis cooperatives in an effort to seize their assets and permanently close their doors.
But not everyone is pleased with the administration’s new ‘hands-off’ approach. Iowa Senator and longtime marijuana law reform opponent Charles Grassley immediately criticized Holder’s announcement, stating, “The first rule of medicine, first do no harm, is being violated by the attorney general by his decision.”
Grassley’s ideological opposition, though predictable, is offensive to those who support both science and the right of self-determination.
Contrary to the GOP Senator’s assertion, cannabis possesses an impeccable safety record. Marijuana’s active components, known as cannabinoids, are virtually non-toxic to cells and major organs, and are incapable of causing a lethal overdose. In 2008 investigators at McGill University in Montreal reviewed over 30 years of data on marijuana and “did not find a higher incidence rate of serious adverse events associated with medical cannabis use” compared to those who never used the drug. Even aspirin can’t make such a claim.
Further, Grassley’s arrogant allegations are an affront to the 72 million Americans who reside in the thirteen states where the use of medical cannabis is legal. They are equally objectionable to the 80 percent of voters nationwide who support the physician-supervised use of therapeutic cannabis.
Funny, last time I checked Chuck Grassley represented the state of Iowa and only the state of Iowa, which is not one of the states that have legalized the possession and use of medical cannabis under state law. Perhaps in the future Senator Grassley should stick to commenting specifically on those policies that directly impact the voters who he is elected to represent. When it comes to the laws that govern the lives and health of everyone else, the good Senator ought to simply mind his own business.