There is a recurring advertisement on my internet news feeds. The click bait says, “How to Start Your Journey to Marijuana Millions.”
Legislators in State Capitols have certainly been paying attention as they organize to push marijuana. Unfortunately, State and private capitalism is running way ahead of science, but that should not be surprising. There is money to be made and weed has momentum.
Industry advocates and their political allies have a brand, “recreational marijuana.” Synonyms for recreational: pleasure, leisure, relaxation, fun, enjoyment, entertainment, amusement, play, sport …………… Before long tobacco companies will lobby for “recreational smoking.” As every marketer knows branding is crucial.
Government policies and actions toward marijuana are sufficiently incoherent to make the tax code seem coherent. Marijuana is criminalized at the federal level, yet thousands occupy prison cells for selling what is legally sold in eight states. The Obama administration deferred to the States, while President Trump is uncharacteristically quiet.
Regarding its medical use, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) states it “has not found any such product to be safe or effective for the treatment of any disease or condition.” Yet, its medical use expands.
In a recent New York Times article, Pregnant Women Turn to Marijuana, Perhaps Harming Infants, it was noted that, “As states legalize marijuana or its medical use, expectant mothers are taking it up in increasing numbers — another example of the many ways in which acceptance of marijuana has outstripped scientific understanding of its effects on human health.”
“Often pregnant women presume that cannabis has no consequences for developing infants. But preliminary research suggests otherwise: Marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — can cross the placenta to reach the fetus, experts say, potentially harming brain development, cognition, and birth weight. THC can also be present in breast milk.”
There are, as you might imagine, a swirl of conflicting claims about its potential benefits and costs. And many simply say that if alcohol is legal, why not weed. As noted eight States have answered that question in the affirmative for so-called recreational use, while twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia authorize medical use.
As the new Administration considers the way forward, I have a few simple suggestions.
Congress should enact a three-year moratorium on additional legalization of “recreational marijuana,” concurrent with requiring scientific studies, a report to Congress, and eventually an up-or-down vote on whether federal criminalization should persist. Transitionally, the federal government should continue to defer enforcement in the States where currently it is legally sold, in exchange for cooperation by those states in providing data for the studies. We have eight laboratories which will yield useful data on supply, demand, and consumer and public effects.
The Federal Drug Administration should initiate a proceeding to medicalize marijuana. Heroin or diamorphine, for example, is used legally in pain management medication while remaining a prohibited drug for so-called recreational use. If your doctor has given you a prescription, you can get it filled at a licensed pharmacy. Marijuana should be treated similarly, ending the practice of dispensaries and associated doctors who profit off of business, not medical care.
As the click bait of a “Journey to Marijuana Millions” makes clear, the animal spirits of capitalism have taken charge. And culturally weed is cool. Count me a skeptic on the wisdom of this latest gold rush. We now have a new President who vows to shake things up. One thing that needs shaken into coherence is the nation’s approach to marijuana.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.