This could not have happened even a year ago.
Gil Kerlikowske, the United States Drug Czar, has backpedaled on his pronouncement that marijuana "is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit."
His original statement was made to The Fresno Bee on July 22. But in a little-noticed interview with Komo 4 News in Washington earlier this month, Kerlikowske was given a second chance to address the question.
As pointed out by Jacob Sullum at Reason, the nation's top official on drugs excused his statement by blaming the weather:
"We had been hiking in 107 degree weather in the Sierra Nevadas and when we came down ... The question was in reference to smoked marijuana and as you know, smoked marijuana has not been shown by the FDA to have that, to show medicinal value. And that ... This is a medical question and that's where we're gonna leave it."
So, specifically, he believes marijuana burned then inhaled has no medicinal value, but other modes of delivery may.
The qualification does make sense, given that the FDA has approved human trials for Sativex, a liquid form of THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana -- that can applied under the tongue or as an inhaled mist. Maker GW Pharmaceuticals said it is developing the drug "as a treatment for patients with advanced cancer whose pain has not been adequately relieved by optimized treatment with strong opioid medications."
It's also worth noting that the federal government has run a medical marijuana program since the 70's, called the "compassionate investigative new drugs" initiative. Only about 30 people were ever enrolled, and among them fewer than 10 survive today. Every month, each member of the program is given a tin can of some 300 rolled marijuana cigarettes. To smoke.
Paid for and grown by the U.S. Government.
The continued existence of this program makes even Kerlikowske's backtrack ring hollow. Of course, it's still notable as a public shift for the still-new drug czar.
In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have voted to allow doctors the right to prescribe the herb to their patients.
During the interview, Kerlikowske added that marijuana legalization is not in his vocabulary, but that the main main focus of his office going forward will be prescription drugs, which he said kill more Americans than gun violence each year.
-- Stephen C. Webster
Here's the video from Komo 4 News: