The marijuana movement continues to gain steam, and this past week, it picked up its biggest and most star-studded supporter yet: actor Morgan Freeman.
The 77-year-old Freeman is among Hollywood's most well-known faces -- and voices. Based on data from The-Numbers.com, a movie database website, Freeman has landed acting credits in 75 films, including at least 20 leading roles, 16 supporting roles, three narrative roles, and three instances where he was an executive producer. Per The-Numbers, Freeman's 75 films have generated nearly $9.5 billion in cumulative sales.
Freeman may be best known for playing Lucius Fox alongside Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy, "Red" in The Shawshank Redemption, for narrating War of the Worlds, or perhaps even playing the role of God twice in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, but it's his recent stand on marijuana that could really have Americans and Congress buzzing.
Freeman takes a stand on marijuana
As initially reported by People, and based on an interview with The Daily Beast, Freeman would prefer to see marijuana "legalized across the board."
In his interview with the Daily Beast, Freeman opined that,
Marijuana has many useful uses. I have fibromyalgia pain in this arm [his left arm, stemming from a 2008 automobile accident], and the only thing that offers any relief is marijuana. They're talking about kids who have grand mal seizures, and they've discovered that marijuana eases that down to where these children can have a life.
Freeman jovially went on to proclaim that he consumes marijuana by a number of different methods.
One thing Freeman was very clear about was that alcohol isn't comparable in any way to marijuana. To briefly summarize the Oscar-winning actors' words, one alcoholic beverage may be fine, but otherwise, it serves no purpose, at least medicinally.
Select studies back up Freeman's assertions
Aside from being a well-known actor, Freeman's words are given extra weight because his assertions that marijuana has medical benefits can be backed up by a number of recent studies and clinical trials.
For instance, GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:GWPH) is currently developing an array of cannabinoid-based drugs derived from the cannabis plant. One of these experimental therapies, Epidiolex, has shown remarkable efficacy in mid-stage studies as a treatment for two rare types of childhood onset epilepsy, known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Just a few weeks prior, GW Pharmaceuticals presented data at the American Academy of Neurology on Epidiolex that showed a median 54% reduction in seizures after 12 weeks of treatment, and maintenance of that clinical effect at the 24-week mark.
However, this positive data isn't just confined to pharmaceutical studies. An abstract published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease late last year showed potentially therapeutic effects on Alzheimer's patients. Specifically, the study suggests that THC interacted directly with beta-amyloid, the plaque that sticks in our brains and leads to progressive cognitive decline, to prevent its formation, and that there were statistically lower levels of beta-amyloid observed at the six-hour, 24-hour, and 48-hour time marks.
Another study in May of last year that was published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics showed that in instances where cannabinoids THC and CBD were pretreated in brain tumor cancer cells prior to radiation therapy, an increased radiosensitivity was observed, resulting in greater tumor cell death.
Will this get Congress' attention?
Even before Morgan Freeman openly offered his view on marijuana, opinions on the currently federally illegal drug had been shifting dramatically. Both Gallup and the General Social Survey observed a small majority that favored sweeping legalization of the drug in their surveys from 2014. Strip out legalizing marijuana as a whole and pose the question as legalizing only the medical aspects of marijuana, and a number of more recent studies, including in swing states, yielded approval responses of between 70% and close to 90%.
In some instances, it's not even John or Jane Q. Public, but elected officials who are pushing the envelope for marijuana's legalization or decriminalization on a federal level.
There are now 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and four states that have legalized both recreational, adult-use marijuana and medical marijuana. States that fully legalize marijuana can benefit from taxing the product and using the revenue generated to help support government jobs and allay potential budget gaps.
The American public is stating loud and clear that marijuana has becoming an important issue, and it wants its lawmakers and president to take notice.
Don't hold your breath
The grim reality, however, is that getting Congress to hold the same view regarding marijuana could be difficult.
On the other side of every positive clinical study in recent years are three or more decades of studies that focused almost entirely on the negative effects of marijuana use on adolescents and adults over the long term. The only genuine way to defeat this data is with ongoing marijuana benefit studies that examine its effects on the brain and body over the long term. Researchers simply need more time so these recent findings can be validated.
Additionally, there's scattered opposition to marijuana that could make a sweeping legalization extremely difficult. In Colorado, for example, marijuana was legalized on the state level for both recreational and medical purposes. However, per the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, three-quarters of jurisdictions still ban the substance. I personally refer to this as "swiss cheese democracy," and it could hamper marijuana's medical rollout, especially if marijuana is ever rescheduled and insurers consider offering coverage of the drug in certain circumstances.
Lastly, it's just not a pressing issue for the current Congress or for President Obama. Congress' primary concerns relate to sustaining growth for the U.S. economy, continuing to improve jobs, and ensuring that foreign threats such as Iran and North Korea remain at bay. Even President Obama recently commented that he'd rather see America's youth focus less on marijuana legalization and more on pressing political issues.
Personally, I do believe a federal rescheduling of marijuana is coming at some point, but I'd be personally shocked if it occurred anytime soon. With elections seemingly around the corner and a laundry list of foreign problems, marijuana continues to look like a poor investment and an issue that'll be pushed further down the docket by lawmakers.