BOULDER, COLORADO. 11 May, 2015. Op-ed by Rob Taylor/Potcha News — The cops could arrest my mom any day. She’s in her seventies and has Alzheimer’s disease, which she treats with marijuana. A puff a day of THC (the psycho-active ingredient in cannabis) has been more effective and inexpensive than any other drug her doctors have prescribed. To obtain our mom’s medicine, my brother risks arrest by purchasing from an illegal dealer. We can never be sure of consistent quality and safety. But we consider ourselves fortunate. Mom is “herself” when she smokes a little pot. When she doesn’t, she forgets my name and sometimes forgets I was ever born.
Mother’s Day, on Sunday, was the day my family decided to break Mom’s heart by moving her to Colorado. It’s time her treatment was overseen by a doctor, legally. She will leave behind most of her grandchildren, the beautiful gardens she has tended for sixty years, and the home filled with decades of happy memories that support her mental health. The fact that we have to make this horrible decision highlights one of the reasons American voters are fed up with Congress and politicians in general – they make decisions (or avoid making them) that directly affect our lives and they don’t appear to give a damn who is hurt, so long as it’s not a big corporate donor.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence deems life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “unalienable rights.” But discredited, irrational legislation cruelly prevents my mother from exercising those rights in her golden years, and criminalizes her, and every other senior in her situation, for using one of the few drugs shown scientifically to be effective against the disease that will steal years from her life – Alzheimer’s is the #6 cause of death for Americans. Mom does not have the liberty to choose a medication that enables her to pursue happiness – not the happiness of a “high” but the joy that comes from feeling like a normal, functioning human being who can organize her thoughts and recognize her children.
The United States lags a decade behind countries like Israel and Spain, where marijuana is part of routine medical care of patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions. Potentially ground-breaking U.S. research is stymied by the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic under the outdated Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Schedule I is the category reserved for dangerous drugs like LSD and heroin deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use” – which is strange when you consider that the U.S. government has patented the marijuana molecule cannabidiol (CBD) as a neuroprotectant and is forking out $70 million in 2015 for more cannabis to be grown on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) federal marijuana farm at ‘Ole Miss, specifically for medical research.
Medical marijuana advocates scratching their heads for years about this inconsistency, while research keeps piling up in countries where rational thinking has prevailed over drug-war posturing. Not only are U.S. lawmakers behind the curve on science, they are also out of step with American public opinion. Most major polls over the past two years show support for legalization of medical marijuana running at over 75%, with nine out of ten Americans in favor of more research into medical uses. Almost nobody adheres to flat-earth thinking, anymore, except politicians.
America’s aging population is a time-bomb lawmakers ignore at the nation’s economic peril. According to Guy Eakin, vice president of scientific affairs for BrightFocus (formerly the American Health Assistance Foundation) an organization which funds early stage, investigator-led research, Alzheimer’s will cost our country $1.1 trillion per year by 2050. Right now, over five million Americans suffer from the disease, with an annual price tag exceeding $200 billion. One in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, over the coming two decades.
If ever there was a right time to reevaluate research priorities, it’s now. For reasons of common sense and compassion, let alone the increasing weight of research, marijuana should be rescheduled. In March 2015, Rand Paul (R) and a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to do just that by re-classifying medicinal marijuana. Their proposal would change the way doctors manage patient care for my mother and millions of Americans who suffer from illnesses that can be helped by various strains of cannabis. A bipartisan group in the House introduced a companion bill soon after. Rep. Steve Cohen(D) and Rep. Don Young (R) say their bill would reschedule marijuana to Schedule II (the same classification as cocaine). The change would allow states to determine their own medical use policies and free Veterans Affairs physicians to discuss and recommend cannabis for PTSD and other conditions.
Liberty-minded politicians must be eager to end the ham-fisted approach to marijuana under present federal laws, so that government no longer stands between patients and their doctors. Conservatives have argued that Obamacare should be revoked because it does exactly that – presumably they will be consistent in their views and support rescheduling.
Bureaucratic maneuvering could affect the issue, with former Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart, stepping down almost at the same time as new U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, was confirmed. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder as head of the Justice Department, but while she is politically liberal, she has disagreed with statements by President Obama about the relative safety of cannabis. During Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year, Lynch said, “Marijuana is still a criminal substance under federal law. And it is still a crime not only to possess, but to distribute under federal law.” Lynch said that, as Attorney General, she would try to work with states where marijuana is legal but will continue to enforce enforcing federal marijuana laws where child endangerment, money laundering, and trafficking across state lines are involved.
Her predecessor Eric Holder had said he would consider removing marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. So far, Lynch has not clarified her position on rescheduling. Rand Paul’s Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, would reclassify marijuana and remove federal restrictions on medical use in states where it is legal. The bill is still awaiting a vote in the Senate while its companion bill is under consideration in the House of Representatives.