On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, a 2013 document that limits federal enforcement of marijuana laws.
This opens the door for a crackdown in the nine states with legal recreational marijuana.
The Cole memo is one of two documents that prevent the U.S. Justice Department from treating marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined as a substance with no accepted medical treatment and high potential for abuse. The other is the 2014 Rohrabacher–Farr amendment. This legislation bars the Department of Justice from spending any funds to keep states from implementing their own laws about “the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The amendment’s language needs to be reinserted into law each year – and it’s currently set to expire on Jan. 18. That would leave patients in the 29 states with legal medical marijuana without their treatments and at risk of prosecution.
I have researched a number of drugs of abuse and natural products for safety and effectiveness. Just because a drug has abuse potential doesn’t mean it’s always bad and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always safe. While I’m no fan of legalizing recreational marijuana use, I believe there has to be special dispensation for patients with a legitimate medical need.
Medical marijuana works
There are approximately 1.2 million users of medical marijuana in these 29 states. Some of the most common ailments include pain or muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, cancer, PTSD, seizures and glaucoma.
The body has a system of receptors that can be stimulated by the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids. In animal studies, cannabinoids have been used to treat symptoms like harmful weight loss, vomiting, seizures and fluid pressure in the eyes.
There isn’t much human research on medical marijuana, thanks to the product’s illegal status and a lack of federal research funding. Large trials are nearly impossible to conduct, since products are often adulterated and the concentrations of cannabinoids vary from plant to plant.
Even so, human trials from around the world and pockets of the U.S. offer modestly strong evidence of marijuana’s benefits in a number of disorders, such as intractable nausea and vomiting, chronic pain and severe muscle spasms and epilepsy.
For example, a study published in May looked at the effects of cannabadiol – an active marijuana compound that does not cause euphoric high or hallucination – on children with Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by frequent, severe drug-resistant seizures. Those who took cannabadiol cut their median number of convulsive seizures per month in half, from 12 to six. These findings may be applicable to other people with hard-to-treat seizures.