This was originally published in “The Rolling Stone” magazine Sept 22, 2017 by Matt Laslo:
Some Utah residents are working overtime to get medical marijuana on the state’s ballot next year. They seem to have just gotten a surprising new Republican ally in their effort – Senator Orrin Hatch.
The senator – an octogenarian who is third in line for the presidency – publicly broke ranks with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, GOP leaders and many of his Mormon constituents when he endorsed medicinal marijuana last week. When I caught up with him on an elevator on the Capitol grounds, surrounded by his ever-present security detail, I asked what brought about his evolution on the issue.
“There’s no transformation. I’ve always been for any decent medicine,” Hatch replied without hesitation. “I know that medical marijuana can do some things that other medicines can’t. I’m for alleviating pain and helping people with illness.”
Hatch is among a frustrated set of the nation’s policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions’ Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana. Not to legalize weed. Not to sell it. Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.
At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals.
“I think it’s a mistake. We ought to do the research,” Hatch continues. “They’re worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that’s a very big problem. But there’s a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering.”
Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote. But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn’t good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don’t want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.