Marijuana wasn’t always prohibited. Due to the 1910 Mexican Revolution, many Mexican refugees migrated to the U.S. With an influx of immigrants of a different culture came the rise of xenophobia along the Mexico-U.S. border. According to Eric Schlosser, author of the article “Reefer Madness,” Texas police officers reported marijuana incited “a lust for blood” in Mexicans who used the drug that gave them “superhuman strength.” To further stir fear, rumors began to spread that Mexicans were giving this “killer weed” to American children.
The origins of the illegalization of marijuana in the U.S. are pages of history some wish to skim over. Nevertheless, today we are left dealing with the consequences of uninformed decisions of those in the past century.
As states began to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2013, the Former President Barack Obama administration issued a memo indicating states could pursue their own marijuana laws without much federal intervention. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the memo Jan. 4, which left the government’s current stance on marijuana in limbo. Congress responded to Sessions by introducing multiple bills to alleviate the growing confusion over marijuana policies. One proposed bill intends to decriminalize marijuana use and possession on the federal level. Some congressmen also hope to remove marijuana as a Schedule One substance under the Controlled Substance Act, where it currently ranks alongside heroin and above cocaine for potential of abuse.
Public opinion may push Congress to act even further. A recent Gallup poll revealed about 64 percent of the population supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Although it seems like the opportune time for Congress to legalize the drug, people should not anticipate the federal government making that decision anytime soon. Instead, Americans must patiently wait for scientific evidence to develop.
The only way to definitively transform public opinion to fact is through the support of scientific evidence. Lack of substantial marijuana research for the past decade stems from the difficulty in studying an illegal substance. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently published a 354-page report based on scientific literature surrounding the effects of marijuana. The report stressed the importance for more research to be conducted on the health benefits and risks from marijuana use. Current scientific evidence only supports three benefits: lessened chronic pain, reduced chemotherapy-induced nausea and relief from some symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
More benefits could come, but the government restricts marijuana research. Currently, researchers interested in studying marijuana must be reviewed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
If approved, researchers can then only get marijuana for research under the NIDA Drug Supply Program, which currently has only one facility. Yes, one facility at the University of Mississippi supplies all marijuana researchers with the range of strains and potency they may need. On top of that, cannabinoid products available in state-regulated markets are still unavailable at the federal level.
Research funding for marijuana currently drives the scientific discussion on the drug itself. Most funding comes from agencies looking to study the negative effects of the drug, ignoring other areas of the debate. According to the agency itself, the NIDA, which funded around 60 percent of all cannabinoid research in 2015, only devoted 16.5 percent of annual funding to the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids.
The Department of Veterans Affairs still refuses to authorize studies on the effects of marijuana on post-traumatic stress disorder, even though it could potentially serve as a viable alternative to prescribing opioids. Different factions of government may be divided on the question of legalizing marijuana, but all should support research to find the ultimate answer of whether it's good or bad for people.
Although many are eager for marijuana to finally become legal, Americans must stay patient. Congress doesn’t mind delaying policymaking in many areas. We must support a current delay in deciding on legalization until science can properly promote policymaking.
Joshua Udvary is a UF environmental engineering junior. His column focuses on science.