Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy (U.S.) spoke with CNN on July 18 in an interview about the pandemic, health misinformation and a brief question about cannabis.
In the interview, Murthy was asked the question “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced legislation this week to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. From a health perspective, do you support this?”
Although he didn’t outright speak in favor of recreational cannabis, he did confirm that scientific evidence is how progress will be made—and it will only help those who have been affected by the War on Drugs.
“When it comes to marijuana, 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—and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy,” he said in response to the question.
“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. I don’t think that serves anybody well.”
Surgeon General Speaks Out
He also voiced his hope that in his role as Surgeon General, he’ll be able to direct evidence from future scientific findings and research in a positive way. “But I do think that in terms of our approach to marijuana, I worry when we don’t let science guide our process and policymaking, 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 [there are] gaps, to help fill those gaps with research and with honest inquiry.”
Murthy has a history in his role as U.S. Surgeon General, having first served under the Obama Administration for almost two-and-a-half years. He was asked to resign under former President Donald Trump in 2017, but he returned to the position in March 2021 under the Biden administration, following his participation on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board between November 2020 and January 2021.
Although he hasn’t been a vocal supporter of cannabis over the years, Murthy has made a few noteworthy statements on legalization and potency. Back in 2015, he told CBS This Morning that cannabis has potential.
“We have some preliminary data showing that, for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful,” he said in his interview. In 2018, he took a different stance, claiming that he is “concerned about how rapidly states have been legalizing marijuana” because of its “unknown” effects.
Surgeon General Shows Support
Still, Murthy’s strong statement is a strong shift in the favor of cannabis, in comparison to the statements of surgeon generals of the past. For example, a statement from the U.S. Surgeon General in 1982 took a very different stance on the subject almost 30 years ago.
“Marijuana use is a major public health problem in the United States. In the past 20 years, its use has increased 30-fold; it is estimated that more than a quarter of the American population has used it.” The statement also included claims that effects of marijuana included numerous “chronic effects” that the general public should watch out for, including “slowness of learning” and “impaired immune response.”
Ultimately it will be up to President Joe Biden to sign off on federal decriminalization and recreational legalization, if bills such as Schumer’s recently proposed legislation make it to Biden’s desk. Biden spoke in favor of decriminalization and reform when he was campaigning in August 2020. In February 2021, President Biden received a letter from 37 legislators to urge President Biden to pardon nonviolent offenders who were convicted of cannabis crimes.