Surgeon General Policy Review Could Lead to Big Changes


“We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful,” United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CBS last February “I think that we have to use that data to drive policymaking.” Murthy isn’t the first Surgeon General to express reasonable comments on drug policy as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested that the U.S. study drug legalization in 1993 and came out in support of marijuana legalization in 2010. Thanks to pioneers like Elders and others, Murthy is working in a much more palatable political environment and will lead a report “presenting the state of the science on substance use, addiction and health.”

I first read about this huge policy announcment from a Tom Angell post on

The report from Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top public health official, will “outline potential future direction” for drug policies and “educate, encourage and call upon all Americans to take action,” according to a Federal Register notice published on Thursday. It will take a comprehensive look at illegal drugs as well as currently legal substances like alcohol and prescription medications.


Under the Obama administration, federal drug agencies have made a point to talk about addiction as a medical problem, but the drug control budget continues to devote far more resources to arrests, punishment and interdiction than to health strategies like treatment and prevention.

If President Obama intends to bring federal drug policies and budgets into line with his administration’s rhetoric before he leaves office, he could hardly find a better or more effective way to do it than through the nation’s top medical doctor.

Drug War reform advocates had hope that Murthy would help implement more sensible drug policies, especially after he made positive comments about medical cannabis last February. However, as Angell notes in his blog post, Murthy seemed to backtrack in follow-up statements. A thorough review of U.S. drug  policy, based upon science could fulfill the promise that Murthy demonstrated when he reasonably stated that cannabis can have medical benefits and that data should determine policy decisions.

Treating cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no medical value, has long been a national embarrassment. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has wisely called for removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, treating cannabis federally as the nation does alcohol. A thoughtful scientific review should bring us closer to descheduling cannabis and treating drug use overall as a health issue instead of a criminal issue.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.