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ABC’s Reporting on Marijuana, Medicinal Cannabis, Compassionate Use, Legalization, etc.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking news after the US elections last November was that citizens of the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the use of recreational cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae). Both states previously had legalized medicinal cannabis use, two of 18 total states, plus the District of Columbia.

As many American Botanical Council members and frequent HerbalGram readers likely have noticed, our journal has been devoting several pages in recent issues to the growing medicinal cannabis movement, in a new “Cannabis Update” section, home to a series written by associate editor Lindsay Stafford Mader. In this issue, Mader discusses the Israeli government’s largely successful and non-controversial medicinal cannabis program, which currently enables almost 10,000 patients to access the herb. Her previous topics include sequencing the cannabis genome, the US government’s monopoly on cannabis grown for scientific research, and the medicinal role of non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD).

ABC has not always featured such robust cannabis coverage. For many years, we chose not to publish articles on medicinal cannabis, even though we believed the topic was important, compelling, and worthwhile. During that time — in the late 1980s and early '90s — it was our editorial opinion that if we were to have done so, many people might have misinterpreted our mission as being “to legalize pot.” And, because we were so passionate about ensuring coverage of many other medicinal plants — e.g., chamomile, echinacea, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, milk thistle, mint, turmeric, and hundreds of other traditionally used and scientifically researched plants — we did not want to be painted into the corner of being perceived merely as a marijuana legalization organization, which we are not.

In November 1992, HerbalGram published its first medicinal cannabis article (“Government Stops Legitimate Medical Use of Marijuana: Politics Becomes More Important than Science and Humanitarian Concerns”) in Issue 26. It dealt with the decision of the administration of President George H.W. Bush to cease issuing new permits for the Compassionate Use program, which had enabled a few dozen very ill patients to have federally legal medicinal cannabis.

Since then, ABC has published approximately 29 HerbalGram articles and 97 HerbClips — many authored by long-time HerbClip writer Mariann Garner-Wizard — that discuss cannabis, marijuana, and/or hemp (a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis). The first cannabis-related HerbClip, published in January of 1996, discussed US federal regulators’ concerns about a new Adidas shoe made with hemp. ABC’s e-newsletter HerbalEGram also has published dozens of cannabis-related stories, featured book excerpts, and media news links.

The argument for legalization of medicinal cannabis, and even decriminalization of recreational use, has supporters in all areas of the political spectrum. This includes the late noted conservative William F. Buckley, and, later, retired libertarian Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul (a physician), among others. Retired liberal Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank joined with Paul to introduce a bill before Congress that sought to end federal cannabis prohibition so that states could make their own decisions regarding cannabis legalization, and comedian Bill Maher has been forthright about his cannabis use for years. As stated by Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsome, a probable candidate for governor and a stated non-user who favors decriminalization, “These laws just don’t make sense anymore. It’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”

There is obvious growing social demand for and acceptance of medicinal cannabis, and for this, and other reasons, ABC has increased its cannabis coverage in recent years. Now, more than 20 years since our first cannabis story, we have decided to recognize this important plant with the first-ever HerbalGram cannabis cover, featuring a beautiful image by photographer Johnny Wiggs.

Other herb organizations also are dealing with cannabis. The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia is developing a Standards Monograph and Therapeutic Compendium — the first of its kind in North America — and the American Herbal Products Association’s Cannabis Committee just released draft recommendations for regulators on the legal dispensation of medicinal cannabis.

As members of the medicinal cannabis community continue to work on quality standards, scientific research, and legal advocacy, ABC will maintain its medicinal cannabis coverage. From our perspective, cannabis is just another medicinal plant — one with a compelling history and an apparently promising future.

—Mark Blumenthal