Constitutional Crisis

The central precept of the US Constitution is that people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the government has no right to restrict that without good reason. Its reasons for imprisoning millions of people (more than any other country in the world) is that cannabis is incredibly harmful to society, that it has no medicinal value, and has the absolute highest degree of abuse potential. This is despite the fact that over the last 30 years, there is no evidence supporting either of the ideas that cannabis has no pharmacologic use or that it has a high abuse potential.

It has been assumed that “we, the people” have to show specific medicinal use beyond a shadow of a doubt via double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials that cannabis’ obvious and well-known pharmacology can be translated into a medicine before it can be removed from schedule I. This should not be the case. Instead, it should be the burden of the government to prove it has no medicinal value, despite its well-known pharmacology. It should be the government’s burden to prove that cannabis’ abuse potential is so extreme that restriction is required, in the face of the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary. In essence, the government has ignored the evidence and placed cannabis on schedule I.

Although there is much debate about the usefulness of cannabis as a medicinal agent in the treatment of specific diseases and further research is needed, it is impossible to study cannabis under the current regulatory and criminal structure. There is sufficient evidence that cannabis has substantial pharmacologic effects (i.e. medicinal use) and limited risk for abuse, because it causes no physical dependence and causes on minor psychological dependence with almost no withdrawal effects.

From a constitutional standpoint, the burden of proof should be on the government to prove what the evidence clearly says is false, not the opposite. We, the people, should be free to study cannabis without restriction, unless the government can prove with absolute clarity that its risks to society are so absolute that it must restrict the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of its citizens. To require anything less than that is unconstitutional.

I think it is time to reconsider how we pursue the legalization of medical cannabis and to put the burden of proof on the government rather than on the citizens. Currently, it is impossible to provide the absolute certainty of exact medicinal value of cannabis relative to hundreds of other drugs because the government restricts how it can be studied to the point of absurdity.

The government, not “we the people,” must prove that cannabis belongs on a list of things so dangerous that it needs to imprison millions of people- depriving them of life, family, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness. If the government cannot prove cannabis’ unparalleled danger, then it owes a life to the millions of people it has destroyed over the last 70 years after it illegally classified cannabis in a manner completely opposite the proof. Every year of life the US government has stolen, every dollar of wealth it has taken, every family it has ripped to pieces is owed to the people. The burden of proof lies on them.

Ethan Carruthers