A medical marijuana conference planned for next week will feature not just activists and politicians, but John Schwarz, a theoretical physics professor at the California Institute of Technology and father of string theory.
Aside from an editorial published in The Huffington Post late last year, the conference will mark Schwarz's first time speaking publicly on the issue.
"Being a physicist, not a physician, I don't usually comment on issues in medical science," Schwarz wrote in his editorial. "But I can no longer remain silent while people in my family and profession run the risk of federal arrest so that they can follow the recommendations of their doctors."
One such person is Schwarz's wife, Patricia, who, after being diagnosed with a bladder condition in 1995 found medical marijuana was the only thing that relieved her pain. After listening to her groan about the issue for years, Schwarz said her husband felt moved to take up the cause. "We live in a evidence-based society," Patricia Schwarz told HuffPost. "Why isn't the science getting through?"
Under federal law, marijuana is considered a schedule I prohibited substance, defined as having “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” (Other examples of schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD, while cocaine, opium and methamphetamine are classified as schedule II drugs with "some accepted medical use.")
The federal government has not acknowledged numerous studies showing the medical benefits of marijuana, arguing the studies did not meet the standard of double-blind FDA approval trials. Instead Drug Enforcement Officials cite a four-year-old Department of Health and Human Services paper that found no consensus on medical uses for marijuana.
"The way they're treating science here is fundamentally wrong," said Patricia Schwarz, who like her husband holds a doctorate in physics. "This is not how it should work in an evidence-based society. You can't live in a world you wish was true."
Groups supporting medical access to the drug include the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians. The California Medical Association has called for full legalization.
A conference on medical marijuana organized by Americans for Safe Access set to be held next week in Washington, D.C., will draw hundreds of advocates from around the country to lobby lawmakers. It comes days after members of Congress introduced legislation to reclassify marijuana for medical use and provide federal defendants the right to use state law compliance as evidence in future medical marijuana trials.
"We wanted to get on the radar of Congress and this administration early," explained Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. The National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference, featuring an array of workshops and panels focusing on scientific research and policy planning, will run from Feb. 22-25.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is among the speakers slated for the conference. His H.R. 689 would both reschedule marijuana and allow states to establish production and distribution laws without interference from the federal government. H.R. 6134, sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Conn.), seeks to overturn the prohibition on medical marijuana evidence in federal court.
Patricia Schwarz says she sees parallels between medical marijuana and the fight over climate change, where a preponderance of scientists support climate science but a corps of deniers has successfully fought the overwhelming evidence.
"Science is about finding the truth, not about comforting ourselves or purporting moral leadership" she said. "To put political blinkers on your science is setting yourself up for disaster. The real world is always going to make itself known, no matter what you tell people about it."