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Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee January 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

legalization | 12.20.2019

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary says medical marijuana doesn’t exist

Well, that’s comforting.

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, was visiting an opioid addiction clinic in Ohio over the weekend when he was asked by a local reporter to share his opinion of medical marijuana. His response: medical marijuana doesn’t exist.

“I would want to emphasize first that there really is no such thing as medical marijuana,” Azar told the Yellow Springs News.

The statement was aimed specifically at the administration’s response to the opioid crisis which has left Ohio as one of the hardest hit states. Last year, the county coroner’s offices were forced to rent mobile freezers in order to keep up with overdose death rates. Yellow Springs also recently became the home of one of the state’s 12 licensed cannabis grow centers.

Last week, Azar took part in an Opioid Summit hosted by the White House which brought together the heads of several government agencies to address questions about the Trump administration’s plans to tackle the opioid crisis. Azar did not mention medical marijuana as part of the solution during that meeting, leaving the question open for his weekend tour of areas most impacted.

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Donald Trump addresses attendees of an Opioid Summit at the White House on Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington, DC. The summit is to discuss the administration’s efforts to combat the country’s opioid crisis. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The question was prompted by a recent study published in the Journal of Public Health, which found that marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado has reduced opioid deaths by 6.5 percent over a period of two years.

But Azar’s comments also extend to other conditions for which Ohio has approved the use of medical cannabis in 2016. Among those conditions are PTSD, Parkinson’s, AIDS and severe pain.

“We have treatments that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are safe, that are proven to be safe and effective for pain, safe and effective for other conditions,” Azar said, emphasizing that cannabis has yet to be approved by the federal drug regulator.

Last Fall, the FDA approved a synthetic form of THC called Syndros, which is developed by the pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics. The oral spray, which is used to treat AIDS and chemotherapy-related symptoms, is the only version of THC which is listed under Schedule II on the Controlled Substances Act. Insys is also currently developing a CBD spray which will be used to treat a variety of ailments in children and has entered the second of three approval phases with the FDA. However, whole plant cannabis—and all its potential applications—is unlikely to be reclassified for medical purposes in the near future. Until then, many in the medical community are unlikely to take it seriously.

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