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180109_debrief_dr_kevin_hill_w_joe_-_edited_for_wed.mp3

How Federal Marijuana Policy Will Impact Scientific Research

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Addiction specialist Dr. Kevin Hill says prosecuting marijuana could hinder research as the substance enters mainstream markets.
Ciku Theuri/WGBH News
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180109_debrief_dr_kevin_hill_w_joe_-_edited_for_wed.mp3

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling's recent response to a federal policy change reversing the Obama-era Cole Memo is sending shock waves through the legal marijuana industry. Lelling said that state law would not shield large-scale cultivation and distribution operations from prosecution under national marijuana laws.


Already, speculations about the impact on the nascent recreational industry are swirling. Citing Lelling's statements, medical dispensaries across the state are no longer accepting debit card payments, forcing patients to pay with cash.


Massachusetts’ highest-ranked lawmakers are condemning the federal government’s intention to intervene in an industry backed by voters and the edict of state law.


Lelling did say his decision to prosecute will depend on whether a case is worth dedicating his office's limited resources.


Gov. Charlie Baker, who opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, said the attorney should use those resources where the real issues reside.


"He mentioned in his remarks that he has limited resources. I would like to see his limited resources focus on the elements that are killing many people every day here in the Commonwealth, which is fentanyl, and that's going to be my message to him," Baker said.


But Dr. Kevin Hill, the director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says much of the recent conversation around recreational marijuana is missing a key question: What about the effect on science?


Hill said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' characterization of marijuana as a dangerous drug ignores the nuance of the substance’s effect and could deter further research. He added that one politician's opinion, not based in research, shouldn't be used as a justification to forward a certain agenda.


“A lot of people feel that it’s harmless, a great medication, etc. Other people feel that if you use it, you’re doomed," Hill said. "Neither of those extreme views is actually accurate. So for some people it can be dangerous, but for most people it’s not.”


Hill, who authored the book “Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed," said rhetoric is detracting from the need to properly fund research surrounding something that has quickly transitioned from a banned substance to a commonplace commodity across the country.


Click on the audio player above to listen to the full interview with Dr. Kevin Hill and WGBH's Morning Edition.

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