11 US Surgeons General and Their Views on Medical Marijuana, 1961-Present
Responses to our question "Should marijuana be a medical option?"


The first Surgeon General of the United States was appointed and confirmed in 1871 (then called Supervising Surgeon). According to surgeongeneral.gov, the duties of the Surgeon General are to "protect and advance the health of the Nation through educating the public, advocating for effective disease prevention and health promotion programs and activities..." and to "articulate scientifically based policy analysis and advice to the President and Secretary of Health and Human Services..."

Surgeons General are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Several "acting" Surgeons General (who do not require a Senate confirmation) have been assigned the position when an official Surgeon General resigned or the Senate stalled confirmation of a Surgeon General candidate. The chart below only includes the official Surgeons General who were confirmed by the Senate.
Should marijuana be a medical option?
Pro   Con
2   2
     
Not Clearly Pro or Con   No Position Found
3   4

2014-Present Vivek Murthy (appointed by President Obama)
Not Clearly Pro or Con
"My position is that we have to see what the science tells us about the efficacy of marijuana and I think we're going to get a lot more data on that. We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful. So I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I'm very interested to see where that data takes us."
"New Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy: Measles Vaccine Is Safe and Effective," CBS News, Feb. 4, 2015

2009-2013 Regina M. Benjamin (appointed by President Obama)
Not Clearly Pro or Con
"There's evidence that shows that it's useful for medicine, but we need to investigate how to avoid the adverse effects of smoking marijuana."
Deborah Solomon, "Doctor's Orders," www.nytimes.com, Jan. 7, 2011
[Editor's Note: We emailed Surgeon General Benjamin on July 18 and July 23, 2012 and requested a direct response to our statement. No response has been received as of Aug. 10, 2012.]

2002-2006 Richard H. Carmona (appointed by President George W. Bush)
Now Not Clearly Pro or Con
"Right now we can't answer all those questions [about risks and benefits] for marijuana... I've had some of my own patients over the years tell me that, yeah, I felt better after I smoked that joint and they had pain or they had discomfort, so on. Those are anecdotal responses. We don't really know if it's a placebo effect, that is would they have had the same effect if they smoked a regular cigarette as opposed to marijuana?...

How often should [a patient] smoke this marijuana? Two times a day? Five times a day? That hasn't been studied. What are the possible deleterious effects? What is the risk benefit analysis [doctors are] obligated to discuss with the patient?"
Craig Smith, "Ethics & Medical Marijuana--KGUN9 Asks Former Surgeon General," www.kgun9.com, June 30, 2011
[Editor's Note: Prior to Carmona's Not Clearly Pro or Con position above, he made the following Con statement in the June 19, 2005 New York Times article "Health-Conscious" by Deborah Solomon, available at www.nytimes.com: "I cannot recommend to anyone that they smoke, first of all. Smoking is so bad for you. I can't say it would be safe to eat it, because no one has studied the long- or short-term gastrointestinal effects."

1998-2002 David Satcher(appointed by President Clinton)
Con
"In response to your request dated December 17, 1997, and pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)... the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that marijuana continue to be subject to control under Schedule I... As discussed in the attached analysis, marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision."

Letter to DEA , Jan. 17, 2001


1993-1994 M. Joycelyn Elders (appointed by President Clinton)
Pro
"The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day."
"Myths About Medical Marijuana," Providence Journal, Mar. 26, 2004

1990-1993 Antonia C. Novello (appointed by President George H.W. Bush)
No Position Found
No position found as of Aug. 14, 2012.
[Editor's Note: We made many attempts to contact Dr. Novello through her former employers, but we were unable to reach her, and we could not otherwise find her direct email or phone number.]

1982-1989 C. Everett Koop (appointed by President Reagan)
Con
"Based on scientific evidence published to date, it is the opinion of the Department of Health and Human Services that marijuana has a broad range of psychological and biological effects, many of which are dangerous and harmful to health…

Marijuana is not a benign drug. As Surgeon General, I urge other physicians and professionals to advise parents and patients about the harmful effects of using marijuana and to urge discontinuation of its use."
"Surgeon General’s Advisory on Marijuana" (draft version), profiles.nlm.nih.gov, 1982

1977-1981 Julius B. Richmond (appointed by President Carter)
No Position Found
No position found as of Aug. 14, 2012. Dr. Richmond died on July 27, 2008.

1969-1973 Jesse L. Steinfeld (appointed by President Nixon)
Now Pro
"It [marijuana] should be an option for patients who have it recommended by knowledgeable physicians. I don't recommend it for recreational use."
July 2003, as quoted in the Marijuana Policy Project's (MPP) "Medical Marijuana Endorsements and Statements of Support," available on www.mpp.org (accessed Jan. 27, 2009)
[Editor's Note: Prior to Steinfeld's July 2003 Pro position above, he held a Not Clearly Pro or Con position as indicated below during a speech to the Public Safety Committee of the DC City Council in Nov. 1970.]

"[I]n the case of marijuana, legal penalties were originally assigned with total disregard for medical and scientific evidence of the properties of the drug or its effects. I know of no clearer instance in which the punishment for infraction of the law is more harmful than the crime."
"Recovered History: The Marijuana Issue Forty Years Ago," prorevnews.blogspot.com, Oct. 29, 2010

1965-1969 William H. Stewart (appointed by President Johnson)
No Position Found
No position found as of Aug. 14, 2012. Dr. Stewart died on Apr. 23, 2008.
 
 

1961-1965 Luther L. Terry (appointed by President Kennedy)
No Position Found
No position found as of Aug. 14, 2012. Dr. Terry died on Mar. 29, 1985.