U.S. Surgeon General questions locking people up over weed use

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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is no fan of incarcerating people for using cannabis, but maintains that since there is so much more to learn about the plant, it is imperative that policymaking be rooted in science.

“I don’t think that there is value to individuals or to society, to lock people up for marijuana use,” Murthy told CNN’s Dan Bash during Sunday’s episode of State of the Union.

“I don’t think that serves anybody well,” the Surgeon General continued in response to being asked what he thought, from a health perspective, of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposing to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.

Among other things, the bill proposes expunging federal convictions for non-violent cannabis crimes, allow those imprisoned for marijuana to petition their sentencing and remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, CNN reports.

Pew Research Center recently reported that 91 per cent of respondents support legalization of cannabis for either medical or recreational use compared to just eight per cent who said cannabis should not be legal for use by adults.

And despite an increasing number of U.S. states advancing legalization of adult-use cannabis, weed remains illegal at the federal level. As a Schedule I drug — which also includes substances such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy — the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports these “have a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”

“When it comes to marijuana,” Murthy told Bash, “I think we have to let science guide us and we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective, but there are also some harms that we have to consider.”

An advisory on the Surgeon General’s website, relating to marijuana use and the developing brain, notes that “the risks of physical dependence, addiction and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia and psychosis.”

In the CNN interview, Murthy emphasized that all factors must be put together to develop the right policy. “I worry when we don’t let science guide our process and policymaking,” he said.

His role as Surgeon General is “to work with policymakers who work with members of the community and the general public to help people understand what science tells us and where there are gaps to help fill those gaps with research and with honesty inquiry,” he said.

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