Anyone tuning in to Fox & Friends this week was treated to an awkward moment courtesy of Dr. Oz, when he went off-script after plugging his upcoming interview with Ivanka Trump and launched into an impassioned defense of medical marijuana.
“Can I ask you one thing? I talked about the opioid epidemic, but the real story is the hypocrisy around medical marijuana. And just really quickly, medical marijuana – people think it’s a gateway drug to narcotics but it may be the exit drug to get us out of the narcotic epidemic. But we’re not allowed, we’re not allowed to study it, because it’s a schedule I drug. And personally, I believe it could help.”
“Wow,” co-host Steve Doocy intoned, visibly tense. “Hadn’t heard that before.” He reminded viewers to watch Oz’s show and cut to commercial break, clearly wishing the cardiologist had taken co-host Brian Kilmeade’s cue to end the segment twenty seconds prior.
Anyone familiar with Dr. Oz’s history of dubious health claims could be justifiably skeptical, but Doocy’s longstanding antipathy toward pot was profiled this week by Avi Selk in the Washington Post. In recent years he has derided a program offering discounted medical marijuana for low-income D.C. residents as a scheme practically catering to street dealers, appealed to moral anxieties (In 2012, he asked, “what do we say to the parents and kids?”), and famously raised concern about people “getting all potted up on weed and then getting behind the wheel.”
Drug policy reformers would have reasonable rejoinders to these arguments, and Dr. Oz is absolutely correct from a public health perspective: as of 2014, states with medicalized cannabis suffer 25% fewer opioid overdose deaths than those without.
Replete with statistics and motivated by victories in dozens of states, reporting about medical and even recreational marijuana has sometimes taken on a tone of inevitability. But as historians know, nothing is inevitable. Biologically, the long term effects of chronic cannabis use remain murky and include a potential to exacerbate existing schizophrenia. Socially, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a loud microphone and small army of agents to push an anti-pot agenda – one that feels antiquated to most progressives but is nonetheless alive and kicking. And another negative opinionmaker response to marijuana a la Maureen Dowd or, perhaps worse, a high-profile scandal in the industry, might serve to set back medical cannabis discourse, no matter its public health merits.
Though, considering drug policy has long been described as “immune to reason,” a personality like Dr. Oz may be just the ally public health advocates need in 2017.