Budtender

Loren Brazel waits in the dispensary area of the Avalon Wellness Center in Long Beach for a patient to decide which strain of medicinal marijuana would be best to treat his ailment. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / March 28, 2012)

Marijuana has gone so mainstream that even the Old Gray Lady has called for the legalization of pot.

The New York Times has begun an editorial series urging the federal government to repeal the ban on weed. The concerns over health effects, addiction and criminality of marijuana use aren’t significant enough to continue prohibition, especially when weighed against the enormous cost of enforcement and the disproportionate impact of drug laws on young black men, the editorial board argued. The newspaper advocated for the federal government to remove the ban on marijuana and let the states decide whether to permit pot use and under what conditions.

It’s hard to imagine members of Congress or the Obama administration rushing to act on the New York Times recommendation, so perhaps the feds can start with some baby steps. Why not reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, a ranking that means cannabis is as addictive as heroin and with no medical benefit, to something less restrictive? Considering that 35 states and the District of Columbia permit marijuana for medicinal use, this classification is obviously inappropriate. It’s also one reason why California and other states have had such a hard time regulating the medical marijuana industry: How can the state permit an activity that is explicitly illegal under federal law?

At the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration is evaluating whether to recommend reclassifying marijuana to a less-restrictive level that could allow medicinal use and permit more research into the health benefits or effects of cannabis. Some researchers have complained that the federal government has had a bias in supporting studies that looked at the negative effects of marijuana and that those results have bolstered opponents of legalization. But the U.S. is likely to get a lot more research in the coming years, thanks to Colorado. The state has $9 million from registered marijuana patient fees to begin clinical trials and research into the efficacy of medical marijuana, and that might answer questions about the safety of regular cannabis use.

The New York Times and other advocates are right to push federal leaders to adopt a more common-sense drug policy. But considering the inability of Congress to reach consensus over relatively straightforward public policies (such as raising the debt ceiling to meet the nation’s financial obligations or funding for transportation infrastructure projects already underway), it’s unlikely we’ll see the repeal of pot prohibition anytime soon. In the meantime, the feds can at least loosen up on medical marijuana and end the legal limbo that exists in California and other states.

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