Whoopi Goldberg: Government needs to give up on gateway drug ‘lie’

As far as Oscar-winning actress and “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg is concerned, it’s time for the government to get on board with the benefits of medical marijuana.

Goldberg, who launched a line of medicinal marijuana products to treat women’s menstrual cramps last month, has been a recreational user of the drug for years, but discovered the therapeutic capabilities of the substance when her daughter gave her a vaporizer pen to help her with aches and pains. In 2014, she wrote an “love letter” about the pen for The Cannabist, and professed that it “changed my life.”

Her line, Whoopi & Maya (her partner is veteran medicinal marijuana advocate Maya Elisabeth), was inspired by a conversation she had with an editor at High Times magazine about the burgeoning market of celebrity-endorsed legal weed products. “I said: ‘Is there anybody doing anything for the period or menstrual cramps?’” she told MSNBC on Wednesday. After being told that it was a “niche market,” Goldberg said: “You know that niche encompasses about 50 percent of the population.”

RELATED: Why Whoopi Goldberg’s weed business matters

While Goldberg is sympathetic to the cause of legalizing recreational drug use, she said her interest is in serving women in pain. “I realized that most guys have no idea that this is something that can be helpful to a lot of women,” she said. According to Goldberg, her products will not get women high. “This is about quality of life,” she added. “Why aren’t people rejoicing that there’s something that keeps kids’ quality of life good?”

Polls have shown that the public has been dramatically shifting their attitudes towards marijuana, but many politicians have been stubbornly intransigent on the issue. Drugs have not been a dominant subject on the campaign trail, and when the subject has come up, it’s usually been related to the heroin epidemic.

“I don’t think anyone has effectively addressed [marijuana] to my satisfaction,” Goldberg said. 

However, a 1994 interview with former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman unearthed in a recent Harper’s magazine article has forced many Americans to examine why our nation’s politicians waged the so-called “war on drugs” in the first place. Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, told writer Dan Baum: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The candid admission was a damning indictment of U.S. policy and a confirmation of what “conspiracy theorists” had been claiming for decades. “They said it out loud, finally,” said Goldberg, who has long opposed the classification of marijuana alongside crack cocaine. “A black guy getting caught with three joints, he’s going to get 25 years. A white guy getting caught with three joints, maybe he’s gonna share them with somebody … gets a misdemeanor or something.”

Why, then, hasn’t the Ehrlichman revelation been more of a talking point on the 2016 campaign trail?

“I think because we’re in the midst of another racial issue, with the people that are running,” Goldberg said. “It didn’t surprise us [that it’s not getting attention] because we’re living it, when people can say ‘those people are murderers and drug dealers,’ and ‘these people are this and stop them and build a wall’.”

Still, New Jersey, which recently took up legislation that would include menstrual cramps among the ailments that the state allows to be treated with legal weed, presents a ray of hope for Goldberg and other medical marijuana activists. Democratic General Assembly members Tim Eustace, L. Grace Spencer, and Angelica Jimenez have put forward the bill, making an economic case alongside a compassionate one.

RELATED: Presidential candidates and marijuana

“From an economic standpoint, New Jersey is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue due to the restrictive nature of its medical marijuana law,” Eustace said in an April 8 news release. “While this will affect women directly, the financial benefit ultimately will be positive for everyone in the state.”

According to Vice, just under 6,500 people in New Jersey have prescriptions for medicinal marijuana, which Gov. Chris Christie has dismissed in the past as a “front for legalization.” Medical marijuana was legalized under his predecessor, Democrat Jon Corzine, and Christie has staunchly opposed authorizing recreational use. Currently, to be eligible for medicinal marijuana in the state you must be diagnosed with epilepsy, terminal cancer, HIV/AIDS, cancer accompanied by severe pain, multiple sclerosis, ALS, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, or intractable skeletal muscular spasticity.

“What there’s a huge demand for is marijuana. Not medical marijuana,” Christie said on a local radio show in 2014. ”Because when we run a medically based program, you don’t see the demand.”

However, there is plenty of evidence that interest in medicinal marijuana as an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical options is on the rise. Even in the NFL, which has strict rules against marijuana use, there have been ex-players who have testified to the physical benefits of the drug, especially in a post-CTE era. Some former players have created the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to raise awareness about athletes who are battling chronic pain and rely on medicinal marijuana to ease their suffering. 

Goldberg said she was “thrilled” to see that New Jersey lawmakers are taking up her cause. “It’s the bell that rang for me, that the folks in New Jersey said, ‘You know what, we didn’t think of this either but there must be a need,’” she said. “And I’m hoping I can convince [New York] Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo to do the same thing, because he has women in his life and I’m sure one of them has cramps.”

Right now the Whoopi & Maya line is only available in California. The heavily regulated legal weed industry requires that the product be grown within the state where its sold and customers can only acquire the items (which include a body balm and bath soak) with a doctor’s note. While Goldberg doesn’t plan to get into the dispensary business (“We’re a teeny, tiny company,” she said), her ambition is to get her products “into the hands of as many people as we can” and to persuade the government to consider reclassifying marijuana once and for all.

“I just feel like once the government stops the lie the rest of us will be better for it — and the lie is that it’s a gateway drug,” Goldberg said. “Here’s the truth about ‘gateway’  — if you have a predilection to addiction, everything’s a gateway. Chocolate’s a gateway, soda’s a gateway, food’s a gateway … This comes from somebody who kind of knows about addiction.”

Drugs, Marijuana and New Jersey

Whoopi Goldberg: Government needs to give up on gateway drug 'lie'