April 16, 2018 9:11AM

The Beginning of the End for Cannabis Prohibition?

The Boston Globe reports Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is crafting a bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering with states that have voted to legalize cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes. The Senator is busy recruiting several co-sponsors for the bill, and he has received assurances from President Trump that he would sign such a bill into law.

This would be a step in the right direction and would alleviate concerns in many states that the Department of Justice, under new guidance from Attorney General Sessions, might enforce federal marijuana prohibition.

Unfortunately, as long as the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, quality clinical research on the potential medical applications of cannabis will remain significantly inhibited. By definition, a Schedule 1 drug has “no currently accepted medical treatment use.” Recent studies have shown that chronic pain patients have been able to reduce their opioid dosage and consumption by adding cannabis to their pain management regimen. A study of Medicare Part D patients from the University of Georgia published in JAMA earlier this month demonstrated this effect in states where medicinal marijuana has been legal. Another study published the same week from the University of Kentucky showed this effect was even greater in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. And another recent study from the Minnesota Department of Health earlier this year found 63 percent of patients taking medical marijuana for their chronic pain were able to reduce or eliminate their opioid use within 6 months.

But this is old news. Studies from the University of Michigan in 2016 and from the University of California in 2017 also had similar findings. And researchers in Greece reported in 2012 that cannabidiol in marijuana “interferes with brain reward mechanisms responsible for the expression of the acute reinforcing properties of opioids” and might potentially be useful in medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction. Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine point to this potential as well. 

While it is hoped that Senator Gardner succeeds in getting legislation to the President’s desk for his signature that would allow states to go their own way on the issue, it would be even better for Congress or the President to go a step further and put an end to the misguided and unjustifiable classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. In any event, one hopes this is the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.