Obama (Finally) Steps Up for Medical Marijuana

A medical marijuana advocate holds a sign as she demonstrates outside of where Barack Obama was holding a fundraiser. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama’s administration has been pretty lenient when it comes to marijuana legalization. Notably, the legalization of recreational marijuana has hit four states under his watch, and he and the Department of Justice have so far let the experiments slide, despite the conflicts with federal law. Apart from recreational legalization, medical marijuana markets in 23 states have also continued to thrive in legal gray zones.

Read: Your Complete Cheat Sheet to Marijuana Legalization

But recently, Obama has decided to take a stand. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he’s in the waning years of his second term, or maybe there’s simply not much use in denying the medicinal properties of cannabis anymore. But during an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Obama put his support behind legalizing marijuana, at least for medical use, for the first time.

When asked by Gupta if he would support a Senate bill that would overhaul federal law, Obama says the following, per The Huffington Post:

“You know, I think I’d have to take a look at the details,” Obama says, “but I’m on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, 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.”

A relatively simple, yet inspiring response. Obama not only said that changes to the punitive method of dealing with offenders should be made, but also brings up an important point that seems to be overlooked by many, particularly in government: the science is on cannabis’s side.

The science we’re referring to includes a number of studies that indicate that specific chemical compounds found in cannabis, called cannabinoids, actually fight and destroy cancerous tissue in the human body.  These compounds are currently being studied by scientists across the world, and are what is at the heart of medical marijuana laws, along with other medicinal properties of cannabis.

While pockets of people around the country and world have been self-medicating with medical cannabis prescriptions, it’s largely been left in a legal gray area — an area in which most medical doctors won’t venture. With the president’s acknowledgement of medical marijuana’s legitimacy, attitudes could shift, especially if the threat of prosecution dissolves as well. That’s the second big part of Obama’s response to Gupta.

While far from a full-fledged backing of unrestricted marijuana use, Obama’s short statement reflects the rapidly shifting sentiment of many Americans regarding drug use and, more specifically, the War on Drugs that has raged on for decades with no progress. While the federal government hasn’t officially changed its stance on marijuana’s legality, it’s obvious that there is a rather seismic change happening in state and local legislatures.

The problem is, even if Obama himself is on board with a change in marijuana policy, it’s up to Congress to get it done. And that looks like a pipe dream at this point. Obama is aware of that as well; as a recent article from The Motley Fool explains, a lot of how Congress decides to proceed in shifting drug policy will rest on whether the states that have legalized can show that it’s indeed worth it.

“I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis,” Obama told marijuana supporters in Jamaica, per The Motley Fool.

“I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential for increased addiction, then it’s conceivable that it will spur on a national debate,” Obama said. “But that is going to be some time off.”

While Obama’s coming out in support of medical marijuana communities is a big step, it’s still a very small amount of progress toward nationwide legalization, or even decriminalization. A lot of what happens will depend on the next president’s approach, as the federal government could effectively pull the plug on both medical and recreational laws at any time.

Obama’s taken a side, and for medical marijuana patients, that’s a big victory.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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