Taking Cannabis to a New Level: A Closer Look at Doctors for Cannabis Regulation

March 27, 2019

Cannabis science is still a relatively new term and new field, but it should still be treated like any other scientific field—with experts weighing in and convening on the best path forward. Consumer safety, public awareness, regulations, and labeling are just a few of the challenges facing the cannabis industry. That’s why David L. Nathan, MD, DFAPA, President, Board of Directors, founded his organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulations (DFCR) (1). Here, Dr. Nathan discusses how the DFCR was formed, the efforts they have been making in the cannabis field, and plans for the future of the organization.

Can you tell us how the idea for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) came about and how you got involved?
David Nathan: In late 2014, I was asked to sit on the steering committee of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. As the only physician in the group, I took it as my mission to rally my peers to support the cause of legalization. Since most of the colleagues I knew discussed their support of legalization in personal conversation, I expected that they would also do so publicly. However, I learned that many were reluctant to speak out publicly, lest they be labeled as soft on drugs or even pro-cannabis. So, I resolved to create an organization that would be comprised of prominent physicians willing to speak on the record about the public health and social justice benefits of cannabis legalization and regulation. As it turns out, this wasn’t difficult, and I assembled a group of doctors including such prominent individuals as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil. We created Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and drafted our Declaration of Principles, which was published at the time of our launch in April 2016. I would say the rest is history, but with so much left to do, the history is still being written.

My personal involvement in the drug policy reform movement started when I was in medical school and read an article about the folly of the drug war by then Princeton professor and eventual founder of the Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann. He explained how the war on drugs was a clear case of the cure being worse than the disease, resulting in mass incarceration and destruction of communities of color. When I was a resident in psychiatry, I was surprised to learn that the addictionologists who were my teachers favored the continuation of the drug war despite the persistence of drug use and harm to the very people they were trying to help. As a psychiatrist in private practice, I saw many lives ruined by drugs. I also saw lives ruined by cannabis, but not by use of the drug. Cannabis prohibition itself was the problem. So, in 2009 I wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal (2). That resulted in speaking engagements, other writing opportunities, and eventually a much broader involvement in the cannabis legalization movement.