Why People in the Health Field are Changing Their Minds about Marijuana Policy

Last week, two major health organizations released updated policies on marijuana. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) have both re-examined the status quo of marijuana regulation and determined that there is a better way.

More and more, organizations charged with the health of our children and the public health of our communities are rethinking their support for marijuana prohibition.

AAP spoke up against the Schedule I classification of marijuana.

“A Schedule 1 listing means there’s no medical use or helpful indications, but we know that’s not true because there has been limited evidence showing [marijuana] may be helpful for certain conditions in adults,” says Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor in pediatrics at Stanford University and a member of the AAP national committee on substance abuse.

Dr. Ammerman was a co-author of the new policy statement. Currently, 23 states, plus the District of Columbia allow for the use of medical marijuana by qualified patients, but the lack of acknowledgement of marijuana’s potential medical benefits at the federal level has stalled research and prevented the development of medications that utilize the active ingredients in the marijuana plant.

Groups such as Americans for Safe Access have been petitioning the federal government for years to re-consider the scheduling status of marijuana with no success. Perhaps the same request made by the medical community responsible for the health of our children will not fall on deaf ears.

It was not just the pediatricians that revised their policy on marijuana, but the nation’s largest public health association as well. The American Public Health Association released new policy guidelines for the commercial regulation of marijuana.

While the organization does not endorse the legalization of marijuana, they recognize that policies in the U.S. are changing, and support the regulation of marijuana in a public health framework. The revised policy, Regulating Commercially Legalized Marijuana as a Public Health Priority, addresses the move to regulate marijuana in states like CO, WA, AK and OR.

The APHA states, “[t]his policy statement calls for a public health approach to regulating and controlling commercially legalized marijuana and urges that regulation of legalized marijuana be viewed as a public health priority. Regulation will provide oversight of a market that is currently uncontrolled and can help address the unforeseen effects of marijuana legalization. If marijuana is legalized, federal, state, and local governments should develop, adopt, monitor, and evaluate strict regulatory mechanisms to control marijuana production, sales, and use while advancing the public health goals of preventing access by minors, protecting and informing consumers of legalized marijuana, and protecting third parties from unwanted consequences of legalized marijuana use.”

Opponents of marijuana regulation might downplay these policy changes as shy of endorsing legalization. However, while not directly endorsing legalization, both organizations have denounced the current framework of marijuana prohibition and have concluded that moving away from this model is to the medical and public health benefit of individuals and greater society.

These policy changes reflect a shift away from punitive, prohibitionist policies, and towards an evidence-informed, public health approach to marijuana use and regulation, an important step on the road from madness to sanity.

Amanda Reiman is the manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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