Surgeon General Announces Review of Federal Drug Policies


The U.S. surgeon general is preparing a first-of-its-kind report “presenting the state of the science on substance use, addiction and health,” the federal government has announced.

The report from Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top public health official, will “outline potential future direction” for drug policies and “educate, encourage and call upon all Americans to take action,” according to a Federal Register notice published on Thursday. It will take a comprehensive look at illegal drugs as well as currently legal substances like alcohol and prescription medications.

According to the notice, signed by Summer King of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the report will have a broad scope:

Areas of focus in the report may include the history of the prevention, treatment and recovery fields; components of the substance use continuum (i.e., prevention, treatment and recovery); epidemiology of substance use, misuse and substance use disorders; etiology of substance misuse and related disorders; neurobiological base of substance misuse and related disorders; risk and protective factors; application of scientific research in the field, including methods, challenges and current and future directions; social, economic and health consequences of substance misuse; co-occurrence of substance use disorders and other diseases and disorders; the state of health care access and coverage as it relates to substance use prevention, treatment and recovery; integration of substance use disorders, mental health and physical health care in clinical settings; national, state and local initiatives to assess and improve the quality of care for substance misuse and related disorders; organization and financing of prevention, treatment and recovery services within the health care system; ethical, legal and policy issues; and potential future directions.

The last clause about “ethical, legal and policy issues” is likely to be of most interest to advocates of reforming marijuana laws and ending the broader war on drugs.

Under the Obama administration, federal drug agencies have made a point to talk about addiction as a medical problem, but the drug control budget continues to devote far more resources to arrests, punishment and interdiction than to health strategies like treatment and prevention.

If President Obama intends to bring federal drug policies and budgets into line with his administration’s rhetoric before he leaves office, he could hardly find a better or more effective way to do it than through the nation’s top medical doctor.

Murthy previewed the report during a speech at the Unite to Face Addiction Rally on the National Mall in October.

“It’s time for us to have a conversation in this country that’s based on facts; A conversation that’s based on medicine and science,” he said at the rally, according to a draft of his remarks. “Which is why I’m proud to announce that next year, I will be releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on substance use, addiction and health. We’re going to look at the best science on everything, from heroin and marijuana, to alcohol and prescription opioids.”

Murthy also used his Instagram account to tease the report.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

“We’ll use this report to find a way forward, together,” he said at the really. “Yes, we’ll focus on treatment and recovery. But we’ll also focus on prevention. Because we know that we need a comprehensive approach.”

Murthy made headlines in February when he acknowledged the medical benefits of cannabis. “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful,” he said at the time. “I think that we have to use that data to drive policymaking.”

He later walked back the comments, saying that “while clinical trials for certain components of marijuana appear promising for some medical conditions, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the standards for safe and effective medicine for any condition to date.”

Murthy isn’t the first surgeon general to wade into the debate about marijuana and drug policy. In 1993, Joycelyn Elders, surgeon general under the Clinton administration, said the U.S. should seriously consider legalizing drugs. “I do feel we’d markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized,” she said at the time. Since leaving office, Elders has actively campaigned for states to pass medical marijuana laws.

It isn’t clear when the current surgeon general’s new report on substance abuse will be released.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)


  1. They are nothing but lying terrorist that want you to take man made meds, suffer and die so they get rich,, We need to start sending these people giving glory to the devil to another country..

  2. “If President Obama intends to bring federal drug polices and budgets
    into line with his administration’s rhetoric before he leaves office …”

    — Obama leaves office in just over a year; it is far too late for him to follow through on his rhetoric.

  3. The good news is that we have tried everything that doesn’t work. We can safely rule out prohibition as not a solution for addiction problems. Any even half way reasonable person can determine that the present system does more harm than good and it cost us a fortune.

    I don’t expect any serious discussion. People have to be adult enough to be able to distinguish between the genuine dangerous nature of substances like alcohol, heroin, meth, and cocaine. These four are without rival the deadliest. We will know we are having a serious discussion when this truth is acknowledged and a solution is in the works.

    Until then it’s just a bunch of politicians talking and that is less valuable the used toilet paper. No offense. We’re tired of hearing that marijuana needs more research when it wasn’t research that caused it to be prohibited. Humans have been consuming marijuana for at least 3000 years and as far back as 5000 years. That’s longer than carrots have been orange.

    • Rod is on the Gas on

      The original cause of marijuana prohibition in America was exported to foreign nations in the form of treaty negotiations and loan regulations. As recent as 1980 India knuckled under to Uncle Sam’s directions. The worldwide list is huge and it is an embarrassment to learn just how far America has spread hatred of our Cannabis Culture.

      As to the American root-cause of marijuana prohibition from the start……………Ask your preacher, clergyman, priest, bishop, what Pope Francis meant when he stated “Marijuana is evil”. Please try to be respectful and don’t laugh directly in his face.

      In short, religious fanatics control the morals of prohibitionists. Which in turn control our laws in America. As long as the god-fearing folk are in charge the Cannabis Culture won’t be welcome at church.

      • Absolutely. Prohibition of the marijuana plant was created as a tool of discrimination. That same model was exported, and any country that didn’t have a DEA counter part would receive funding to set one up. On both sides of the Cold War these agencies were militant intelligence gathering units.

        There is nothing in the holy books of the world religions prohibiting cannabis. Churches have largely become political recruitment and propagation centers. This might explain why churches lost another 10 per cent of their regular members in just two years and ”no religious affiliation” is the fastest growing religion in America. Yet, nine out of ten Americans still practice some form of prayer. We’ll get another report on this before March. Churches are dying because they are on the wrong side of the prohibition issue, the poverty threshold, the working family, the prisons for profit.

        We have a lot of things that aren’t working in America and it’s just that times are changing. Some people adapt faster than others and some not at all. Cannabis culture will be welcome in the churches that are around twenty years from now. History is going to judge the harm done in this drug war harshly. As it has been and still is a harsh and merciless war on the weakest segments of our nation.

  4. Hopefully the Surgeon General’s review will concur with this definition, so Congress will be more likely to reform the current definition to this format that can subsequently be rescheduled.

    16. The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company.

    This year is a good time to contact your congressional representatives to enact this reform of that definition. Just write a letter to them.

  5. The DEA is required by law to ignore the Surgeon General and any of his recommendations as long as the 1989 Re-Authorization Act is still controlling drug policy. Period.

    Only a direct act of the President,,the Attorney General or Congress can excuse them from doing their job.

  6. Pure lip service. The States are leading the way and the Feds are not happy about losing power back to the States…
    Bunch of freaking idiots…the Feds…getting more out of touch every day…

  7. I think the government is about to try to move the goal posts.

    We have proven marijuana is medical.

    I bet you now the government will change the drug scheduling to change the goal because we beat the crap out of there old argument.

    If this happens it shows how truly powerful this movement is and how we got them on the run.

    Never give up. Never surrender. Chase them to the gates of hell.

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