In mid-June 2022, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to adopt a new measure in support of expungement for prior marijuana convictions in states where marijuana is now legal or decriminalized.
Although the AMA’s House of Delegates remains opposed to federal marijuana legalization, the group’s position is that individuals who were arrested and charged with crimes for marijuana use or possession before marijuana became lawful in their state should not continue to be punished legally or socially for actions that are now in compliance with the law.
Members of the AMA discussed other adverse effects of marijuana criminalization as part of a separate but related measure, noting the connection between incarceration and personal health, as research has shown that incarcerated persons are more prone to developing severe and long-term health conditions — including cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses — than non-incarcerated individuals are.
They also noted the occupation and education-related impacts of an arrest for marijuana-related offenses. Even if the person was never convicted of a crime, being arrested by police for possessing or using marijuana can negatively impact a person’s ability to get a job, find a place to live, and seek financial aid for higher education. In addition to being punished by the criminal justice system, individuals who have been charged with or convicted of marijuana use and possession in states where the drug is now legal often encounter vocational, educational, and social barriers. The stigma accompanying an arrest or conviction on marijuana-related charges can harm the person’s mental health and physical wellbeing.
That’s why the AMA now supports efforts to mitigate the lingering impacts of a marijuana conviction in states where marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized, including automatic expungement and records sealing.
Furthermore, the association’s position is that parole and probation for marijuana convictions should end in states where the laws have changed. Since marijuana use and possession would not have been considered a crime if an offense had been committed after the drug was decriminalized or legalized for recreational or medicinal purposes, the AMA reasons that it is unjust to continue requiring individuals with past marijuana convictions to remain under any court-ordered supervision.
One of the AMA’s trustees acknowledged the unfairness of continuing to punish people who would not have been arrested for or convicted of an offense today, stating that some individuals who had been arrested for marijuana use or possession missed out on job opportunities due to the charges against them, specifically in the medical field.
Still, the organization approved other resolutions involving what they referred to as the “over-medicalization” of cannabis products. According to the AMA, medical marijuana products like CBD are often wrongly marketed as doctor-approved for treating health ailments.
The AMA believes that promoting cannabis as a cure-all for a wide variety of conditions is excessive. As a result, they are imploring federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to exercise more oversight over the cannabis market, specifically the medical marijuana industry.
The AMA hopes that government agencies like the FDA will help prevent marketing campaigns that advertise cannabis products as physician-endorsed for a broad range of health issues and help vulnerable groups understand the risks associated with cannabis use. The AMA believes that because of excessive “over-medicalization,” many consumers believe cannabis is as safe as certain pharmaceutical medications, such as acetaminophen.
The AMA has announced that they will write to the FDA and the FTC to ask that these federal agencies more closely monitor the marketing of medical marijuana. They will also provide state medical associations (in states where medical marijuana is legal or decriminalized) with a template these societies can use to request additional oversight of medical marijuana marketing from the state.
As part of this resolution, the AMA will also study marketing tactics used in the cannabis industry (including marketing for cannabis products and cannabis paraphernalia) to determine what effect this marketing has on vulnerable groups, including children. It is worth noting, however, that the AMA published findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that when states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, youth usage has not increased.
The AMA also approved another measure related explicitly to CBD. Hemp was legalized in the United States in 2018, and since then, hemp products like CBD, which does not have psychoactive properties, have become broadly available to consumers around the country. CBD and other hemp products are legal to purchase as long as they do not contain more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana.
The AMA’s stance is that CBD products such as CBD oil are marketed as if they have been endorsed by physicians when they haven’t. The AMA supports legislation that bans CBD product manufacturers from selling products that make unfounded health claims and legislation that prohibits marketing CBD as a compound found in marijuana in spaces that are regularly visited by minors.
The AMA also considered a measure to fund research into potential treatments for marijuana use disorders at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which they asserted should be paid for by companies that manufacture and sell cannabis products.
However, it remains to be seen how taxing cannabis companies who profit from marijuana sales would work, especially given that AMA does not support legalization at the moment. The AMA has alleged that cannabis is known to cause addiction in some users and that researching possible treatments for marijuana dependence should be explored. They recommended that the NIH fund this research by allocating grants to universities, pharmaceutical companies, and other institutions.
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