By Tom Angell
It's hard to believe that the guy who ran the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush would endorse medical marijuana, but that's seemingly what Asa Hutchinson did during little-noticed remarks during a debate at the University of Arkansas back in 2011:
"I think that if there is a medical need and the doctors say you need a particular substance --- whether it is Marinol or marijuana or whatever --- if the doctor or medical community says that, then patients ought to be able to get that."
Hutchinson, who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for Arkansas governor, hasn't exactly been a friend to marijuana policy reform. And even subsequent to making the above remarks, he's eagerly joined with other former DEA heads to urge the Obama administration to act against state-level marijuana laws.
Still, his support for doctor-recommended medical marijuana, if we are to take him at his word, is truly remarkable. While Hutchinson clearly opposes legalization, he's the only high-ranking DEA official I know of who has publicly said that patients should be able to legally access marijuana if recommended by a doctor.
With respect to the larger "medical community" that Hutchinson mentioned, medical marijuana enjoys support from organizations like American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine and the Lymphoma Foundation of America, among others.
One wonders if Hutchinson will endorse the medical marijuana initiative that could appear on Arkansas's 2014 ballot alongside his own name should he successfully become the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
While a medical marijuana initiative was narrowly defeated by the state's voters during the 2012 election, national polling has shown that support for marijuana policy reform is markedly increasing across the board in the wake of the historic moves by Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana outright.
If another medical marijuana measure is on the Arkansas ballot at the same time Asa Hutchinson is, it could provide fodder enterprising political reporters to generate many an awkward moment for the former top narc. Let's hope that if that happens, he'll reiterate that he thinks patients with doctors' recommendations should be able to use medical marijuana without the threat of arrest, and that they should have safe and legal avenues to acquire their medicine.
In any case, let's hope that more high-ranking law enforcement officials begin to speak out in favor of much-needed changes to marijuana and drug laws. There's even a group organized just for them: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.