Just days after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) insisted that there is no medical value to marijuana, the White House appeared to contradict the position, saying in a report that there may actually be "some" medical value to "individual components of the cannabis plant" after all.
The statement was just a small part of the Office on National Drug Control Policy's yearly update on the progress of the drug war and its goals moving forward. Overall, the document only serves to affirm the federal prohibition of marijuana and what it calls "'medical' marijuana," which it still views as illegitimate.
But a single passage, under their "facts about marijuana," seems to loosen a bit from the generation-old line that there is no value to cannabis whatsoever.
"While there may be medical value for some of the individual components of the cannabis plant, the fact remains that smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for delivering the constituent elements that have or may have medicinal value," the report says.
Still, today's medical marijuana patients and proprietors don't have much to cheer in the report, as it goes on to insist that smoking the marijuana plant itself is harmful and dangerous, especially for teens, and perpetuates the largely discredited "gateway drug" theory.
Critics are likely to see the passage as offering a bit of wiggle room for major pharmesutical producers looking to grow marijuana to extract its psychoactive ingredient, THC, or other cannabinoid compounds that have been demonstrated to help abate symptoms of some chronic diseases, like wasting syndrome in AIDS patients or nausea in cancer patients.
In 2007, GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it partnered with Otsuka to bring "Sativex" -- or liquefied marijuana -- to the U.S. The companies recently completed Phase II efficacy and safety trials testing and began discussion with the FDA for Phase III testing. Phase III is generally thought to be the final step before the drug can be marketed in the U.S.
Sativex is the brand name for a drug derived from cannabis sativa. It's an extract from the whole plant cannabis, not a synthetic compound. Even GW defines the drug (.pdf) as marijuana.
Yet as the FDA is poised to approve the drug for Big Pharma, state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that provide relief for thousands of Americans are under attack by other federal agencies.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has warned just as much, claiming that federal authorities may be looking to shift policy slightly, if only to legalize marijuana-based medicines for Big Pharma only, which could step in and potentially eradicate the medical marijuana market.
The Obama administration said in a recent memo that it fully intends to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, regardless of whether individual states have legalized its use for medical purposes.
It added that a 2009 memo, which seemed to take the pressure off state-authorized medical marijuana clinics and patients, was merely a guidance on the best uses of federal funds and not actually a change in policy.
An ABC News poll found last year that eight in 10 Americans favor legalizing medical marijuana.