Like a parent not quite ready to cave in but unwilling to confront their children’s demands head-on, state legislatures in many Republican states aren’t quite bending to their voters’ will and legalizing medical marijuana. Instead, lawmakers often promise that they are “open” to the notion and that they will address it in due time —after the issue is thoroughly studied.
In Utah, repeated efforts to legalize medical marijuana that just barely failed culminated in such a promise to study, and then perhaps take action. Results from a state-commissioned, state-funded research project could be presented to the state legislature sometime this year. In the meantime, state lawmakers who’d pushed for medical marijuana have eased off.
Over in Indiana, the top lawmaker in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state has a similar challenge. In House Speaker Brian Bosma’s caucus are such firebrands as Jim Lucas, who wants to legalize medical marijuana outright. In a state hit hard by the opiate crisis, in a country where nearly two-thirds of states have accepted medical marijuana as a real thing, you could call such a step modest — conservative, even.
But Lucas’s medical-marijuana bill is still stalled in committee for want of a hearing. Meanwhile, Bosma and the state’s other legislative leaders are calling for a study. If all goes well, an official research entity will be commissioned this summer, and will report its findings back to the state in time for next year’s legislative session.
“I think we just need to know a lot more about it before we do anything,” Bosma told the Indianapolis Star. “My mind could be changed, but it’ll be based on facts not opinions.”
In a way, Bosma is right —his statehouse heard a wide swatch of testimony on the cannabis issue, including anti-marijuana testimony from an advocacy group representing Virginia prosecutors that argued marijuana decriminalization will lead to an increase in toddlers consuming cannabis.
But in very real way, calling for state studies into cannabis is just a delaying tactic.
These lawmakers are essentially saying “We’ll see” rather than confronting a difficult decision.
“We’ll see” and “We’ll study it” are the equivalent of saying “We’d rather not think about this now until we absolutely have to”— because what can a state agency find out in less than a year that generations of researchers don’t already know, particularly when they lack the funding and the legal authority to actually, you know, scientifically study marijuana?
“Barriers to medical-grade marijuana research may be resulting in the preventable and unnecessary pain of countless Americans,” wrote Utah’s delegation to Congress, all Republicans, in a recent op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune, publicizing Rep. Rob Bishop’s bill to ease restrictions on federal marijuana research.
“Many have sought to address this by legalizing medical marijuana at the state level,” the quartet wrote. Mind you, the lawmakers are not calling for medical cannabis and they certainly don’t want recreational cannabis, they’re quick to assert. What they want is research, the very kind of research that their state delegations are calling for, that state researchers really can’t do, because of federal restrictions.
The data on medical marijuana is clear and publicly available. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a comprehensive review of all research done to date, a compendium of knowledge to which the state reviews will not add, for they, too, are mere reviews of existing data. Among their findings: cannabis relieves pain and is very good for treating the wasting syndrome through which AIDS and cancer patients must suffer.
Remember: Marijuana was medicine for centuries, far longer than it’s been a banned plant (something even the University of Utah admits). Modern cannabis science is admittedly lacking — stunted, because of the federal government’s prohibition.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world has moved on. Canada has licensed medical-marijuana providers with federal government approval. In Italy, sick people can get medical marijuana grown for them by the military.
America stands nearly alone in clinging fiercely to a retrograde ideology. Promises to “think about it, and get back to you” may look like progress, but it’s really a way to delay the inevitable and play out prohibition as long as possible. It’s a transparently obvious delaying tactic and should be identified as such.
TELL US, do you think states should keep reviewing cannabis research?