President Obama Makes Case Against His Own Medical Marijuana Policy During SOTU Address

January 25, 2012 | Mike Liszewski
Over the years, President Obama has said some encouraging things about medical marijuana, but his policy has never matched up. To many, Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address will likely be remembered as the moment when he framed his 2012 campaign for reelection. The SOTU laid out his vision and goals on a number of issues, and while he may not have used the words “medical marijuana” during his speech, the goals and themes he called for in his second term are irreconcilable with certain actions (and inactions) taken by his administration related to safe access.

 “Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally-financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched.”


Here, Obama has stated a goal, having a treatment available that kills cancer cells, while not harming healthy cells. The potential for reaching this goal through medical marijuana has been known for at least several years, and even the National Institutes of Health has recognized this potential with the Physician Data Query issued by the National Cancer Institute last March. Although the government retracted certain parts of the PDQ in a politically motivated move, the post-retraction version still makes a compelling case for marijuana’s cancer-killing/healthy-cell-preserving potential by reporting that, “[c]annabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has not only ignored pursuing medical marijuana to achieve this goal, it has done nothing to make use of its own agency’s findings. This is not only irreconcilable with the goal he laid out in the SOTU, at best it is willful ignorance on the part of the Obama administration to let patients suffer without safe access to the best cancer treatments known.

 “There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.”


One federal regulation Obama ought to reconsider as being outdated, lacking necessity, and being too costly is 21 CFR 1308.11. This regulation is the manifestation of the Controlled Substances Act in the Federal Record. The necessity of keeping marijuana under Schedule I was only to permit the Attorney General sufficient time to gain more complete scientific information about marijuana. That was four decades and several studies ago (the government’s own PDQ refers to several dozen of these studies), so this is clearly outdated and unnecessary. In terms of costliness, the toll of human suffering of cancer patients should be enough, but the economic drain related to cancer suffering is staggering as well.  The best way for Obama to revisit this regulation would be direct Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate the rescheduling process.

“Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the same.”


Among the millions of Americans who work hard and wish to play by the rules are the thousands of providers of medical marijuana located in states that have approved the use and distribution of this medical treatment. Perhaps more than any community, these American entrepreneurs are quite willing to pay their share of business taxes that result from their work to provide safe access to medical marijuana patients who are unable to cultivate to their own medicine. However, in providing medical marijuana in accordance with state law to patients, dispensary operators must deal with a burden that no other legitimately run business have to face, Section 280E of the IRS Tax Code. This provision, which bars anyone from taking tax deductions for business expenses related to Schedule I and II substances, was originally intended to prevent cocaine kingpins from manipulating the tax code to launder their completely illicit profits, but instead the IRS is now manipulating the provision to attack state-approved businesses that provide safe access.

President Obama should not only order Holder to initiate the process to reschedule marijuana, he should also instruct Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to promulgate a comment in the Treasury Regulations that excludes medical marijuana providers operating in good faith compliance with state law. This would be particularly helpful in the event that marijuana is rescheduled into Schedule II, which would still mean safe access would be in peril related to 280E.

President Obama’s speech last night described the kind of America where safe access to medical marijuana should be readily available, but unfortunately his administration’s actions have been at odds with this goal. Rescheduling marijuana and removing unfair tax burdens on dispensary owners would go a long way in reconciling his goal of an America where patients have safe access to best the cancer treatments available.
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