In a recent interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said he believes that there is no reason to continue incarcerating people for smoking weed.
“When it comes to decriminalization, I don’t think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use,” Murthy told host Dana Bash, according to The Hill. “I don’t think that serves anybody well.”
Bash asked the Surgeon General for his opinion on the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a major new reform bill proposed by Democratic leaders in the Senate. This landmark bill would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, essentially leaving it up to individual states to legalize or prohibit cannabis as they choose. The proposal would also expunge federal pot convictions and use a federal tax on legal weed sales to fund restorative justice programs.
Murthy did not go so far as to explicitly endorse the bill or call for full legalization, but he did firmly indicate that he found no reason to leave existing prohibition laws unchecked. Instead, the doctor suggested that the government should let science dictate its policies concerning cannabis use. Murthy previously advocated for medical marijuana during his earlier term as Surgeon General under the Obama administration, but believes more research needs to be done to assess the risks of long-term cannabis use.
“When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us,” Murthy told Bash, Marijuana Moment reports. “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—and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy.”
“In terms of our approach to marijuana, I worry when we don’t let science guide our process and policymaking,” he continued. “And as surgeon general that’s my role, is to work with policymakers who work with members in the community and the general public to help people understand what science tells us and where you [have] gaps, to help fill those gaps with research and with honest inquiry.”
Despite the growing wave of state-level legalization, the federal government has maintained a united front against weed reform up until very recently. After years of unilaterally striking down every cannabis reform bill that hit the books, both chambers of Congress are now working to advance separate federal legalization and decriminalization bills. And Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative judges on the Supreme Court, has even suggested that federal weed prohibition laws are inconsistent and potentially unnecessary.
But while support for weed reform is gaining ground in most branches of the government, President Biden still remains staunchly opposed to full legalization. Although he claims to support federal decriminalization and expungements, the president has suggested that marijuana should be reclassified as a Schedule II drug alongside cocaine and fentanyl. This minor policy change would do nothing to stop cops from enforcing prohibition laws against people of color, and would do very little to ease the current restrictions and penalties that the feds impose on those who choose to use cannabis.