Dr. Manny Alvarez: Pot needs to be legal now. Congress needs to make it happen

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close Attorney General Sessions is taking aim at the industry. Video

Justice Department targets recreational marijuana

Attorney General Sessions is taking aim at the industry.

Someone needs to tell Congress that when it comes to marijuana, the genie is out of the bottle.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked bipartisan protests among members of Congress with his decision to reverse the Justice Department policy – begun under the Obama administration – that took a hands-off approach to state legalization or partial legalization of marijuana.

Sessions instead gave U.S. attorneys discretion to “enforce the laws enacted by Congress” to the extent they see fit against the possession and sale of marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug.

The action by the attorney general poses a threat to the freedoms of all those involved in the pot industry in the 29 states and District Columbia that have legalized it for medicinal use and the seven states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational pot. Vermont will soon join that group, after its Legislature gave final approval this week to a bill legalizing recreational pot and Republican Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday he will sign the bill into law.

One of the most important steps we can take in furthering research into medical marijuana and its components like CBD is to decriminalize it on a national level, removing it from the list of narcotics, where it currently sits with the likes of heroin and cocaine.

The war on drugs is one the federal government has been losing for decades. In my opinion, Sessions is taking us backwards, putting drugs right back into the hands of criminals by allowing federal prosecutors to more aggressively enforce federal laws outlawing marijuana.

Instead, we could be regulating an industry that was worth $17.9 billion in the U.S. in 2017 alone.

Addressing the opioid crisis our country is currently facing would be a better use of federal funds and manpower. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

The truth is, there is great potential in the treatment of a myriad of diseases with compounds found in medical marijuana. From epilepsy and brain disorders to cancer pain and PTSD, the research – limited as it may be – is promising.

One of those compounds in particular is cannabidiol, or CBD. Strict guidelines and enforcement of laws limiting the availability of marijuana in the United States has meant global research is outpacing our national efforts to study this healing compound.

As recently as November, the World Health Organization published a study on the safety and efficacy of CBD, concluding that “in experimental models of abuse liability, CBD appears to have little effect on conditioned place preference or intracranial self-stimulation. . . . In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”

One of the most important steps we can take in furthering research into medical marijuana and its components like CBD is to decriminalize it on a national level, removing it from the list of narcotics, where it currently sits with the likes of heroin and cocaine.

The federal government needs to endorse the medical marijuana industry to further important research and make it available to patients who are not responding to synthetic medications or other treatments.

This seems like a no-brainer, since the federal government actually owns U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 – granted in 2003 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – for the “potential use of non-psychoactive cannabinoids to protect the brain from damage or degeneration caused by certain diseases.”

As for recreational adult use of marijuana, why not begin regulating and taxing a rapidly growing industry that could fund important government projects, while helping to make its use safer by keeping it off the streets, where it’s often laced with potentially harmful drugs and chemicals?

It will be interesting to see how this plays out with both Democrats and Republicans vowing to file lawsuits and defy the administration to protect the rights of their constituents in states like Colorado and California, where both medicinal and recreational use are legal.

Currently, these states are protected under the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment that prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. But with that prohibition set to expire Jan. 19, it may all go up in smoke.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.

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