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Obama Should Act on Medical Marijuana

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

During the campaign, President Obama said he would stop federal raids of medical marijuana clubs in states (like California) that had passed medical marijuana laws. Yet federal agents raided medical marijuana dispensaries, including the Patient to Patient Collective in South Lake Tahoe, two days after his inauguration. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reported that agents seized between 5 and 10 pounds of marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which wants to legalize marijuana, accused the Drug Enforcement Administration of "defying" Obama's position on medical marijuana and "called on the president to immediately replace Bush administration holdovers at DEA.

"During the presidential campaign," the press release continued, "Obama repeatedly promised not to waste federal resources interfering in states with laws protecting medical-marijuana patients from arrest, and he told Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune editorial board on March 28, 2008, 'I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.'"

So will Obama keep his word by directing federal drug agents to concentrate on going after drug kingpins instead of sick people?

I understand that Obama has bigger issues on his plate, which probably is why the White House has yet to respond to my Tuesday query. That said, this issue is vital to many Californians with health problems.

Item No. 2 for the Marijuana Policy Project: In the closing week of Bushdom, the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected Administrative Law Judge Ellen Bittner's decision to allow the University of Massachusetts to grow marijuana for medical research. Until now, only the University of Mississippi has filled that role -- and not well, according to critics.

Again, the Bush-DEA's action undermined the position of the incoming administration. Obama also told the Mail Tribune, "I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors -- I think that's entirely appropriate."

Obama is right. Some doctors believe that marijuana has properties -- it can ease pain, is an anti-inflammatory and stimulates appetite -- beneficial to patients with AIDS, glaucoma and muscular dystrophy and other chronic diseases, as well as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Aaron Houston, the Marijuana Policy Project's director of government relations, said U. Mass. agronomy professor Lyle E. Craker has until Friday to file a motion to reconsider the DEA's last-minute gambit, which Craker plans to do. "We want (White House Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel and the White House to do the same thing that the White House did for the other actions" -- that is, direct federal agencies to hold off on rule-making on medical marijuana until the Obama folks take a look at it.

Judge Bittner was highly skeptical of some of the claims made by marijuana advocates who complained about the quality of medical marijuana supplied by the University of Mississippi. But Bittner also found that the National Institute of Drug Abuse has failed to make marijuana "available to all researchers who have a legitimate need for it in their research."

You could understand the institute's opposition to these projects if marijuana were a rare and lethal drug. But it is impossible to take a lethal dose, and marijuana is so prevalent that a 2005 National Drug Threat Assessment reported that, in some areas, marijuana seems "easier for youths to obtain than alcohol or cigarettes."

To the extent that federal officials have been slow to approve medical marijuana research, you have to believe that their biggest fear was that the research would be successful. That's right, it might help people in pain.

Obama has made much of his commitment to "restore science to its rightful place." Here's his chance.

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