New U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, in his first television appearance that aired on CBS This Morning, was asked in the interview about his stance on the legalization of marijuana. His reply was a diplomatic if non-committal, “We have some preliminary data that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful.”
In a follow-up to that interview, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement attributed to Murthy that re-emphasized his position that marijuana policy should be “driven by science” and “subjected to the same, rigorous clinical trials and scientific scrutiny that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applies to all new medications.”
As it seemed as though the CBS This Morning anchors were intentionally putting him on the spot regarding the marijuana legalization debate, it is no surprise that he was unwilling to take an outspoken, definitive stance in favor of legalization. However, implicit in his response is support for further research and open-mindedness to what the results of that research could mean for future policy changes. Hesitant though his support of marijuana as a potential medical treatment may have been, it was also decidedly not opposition, and with this small statement on national news came another large step towards the institutional validation of medicinal marijuana.
Murthy’s televised statement was met with little backlash, underscoring a dramatic shift in social opinion regarding marijuana in general and medicinal marijuana in particular that has happened over the last two decades, with the majority of Americans now in support of marijuana legalization. By comparison, when U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders made a statement supporting the consideration of drug legalization as an idea at least worth considering in 1993, the same year Bill Clinton raised the federal “drug czar” position to cabinet-level status, she was immediately mired in controversy and forced to resign the next year. (In 2010, however, she outright advocated for marijuana legalization.)
“Dr. Murthy’s comments add to a growing consensus in the medical community that marijuana can help people suffering from painful conditions,” Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post. “It’s crazy that federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, a category that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value. In light of these comments from his top medical adviser, the president should direct the attorney general to immediately begin the process of rescheduling marijuana.”