Sanjay Gupta (Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP)

Why Drs. Gupta, Oz and Besser changed their stance on marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Dr. Mehmet Oz. Dr. Richard Besser.

What do these three highly visible medical professionals have in common? Sure, they’re all legit doctors who are also regularly on television — Gupta on CNN, Oz on his own syndicated show and Besser as ABC’s chief health and medical editor.

But perhaps more importantly, all three have made recent 180-degree turns and now stand in support of medical marijuana. How did all three of these doctors make such a swift shift in thinking? These doctors’ complete turnarounds are significant markers in this journey of legalization; whether it’s Gupta publicly apologizing or Besser flat-out saying, “I was wrong,” these are major reversals from world thought leaders.

Remember the last time you acknowledged you were wrong? Imagine being wrong about your professional opinion — in front of millions of viewers. Each of these acknowledgements were a big deal in their own right. Together they’re a telling sign.

These doctors’ stories are a significant part of the greater legalization story, which obviously revolves around a greater public acceptance for marijuana.

A look at their changed minds:

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

In 2009, Gupta wrote a Time magazine article titled, “Why I would vote no on pot.” A few years later, as he was prepping the first “Weed” documentary on CNN, he apologized.

“I’ve apologized for some of the earlier reporting, because I think we’ve been terribly and systematically misled in this country for some time,” Gupta told his colleague Piers Morgan in August 2013, “and I did part of that misleading.”

He continued his apology tour with an op-ed on CNN’s website:

I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Dr. Oz wasn’t always pro-medical marijuana, but he’s shown a lot of attention to the subject in his nationally syndicated talk show.

“I grew up with most of my generation thinking that marijuana was something Satan was throwing at Americans and a communist plot,” Dr. Oz said on a new episode of “Larry King Now,” seen above. “But I think that most of us have come around to the belief that marijuana is hugely beneficial when used correctly for medicinal purposes.”

Oz went on to talk about his issues with certain states’ medical marijuana rollouts:

It absolutely should be widely available in America. We’ve created one of those hypocritical paradoxes where in New Jersey, where I live for example, I’m allowed to give you marijuana medicinally but I’m not allowed to buy it. So now what do you do? I have to break the law to follow my doctor’s orders.

See the new video of Dr. Oz chatting with Larry King above.

Dr. Richard Besser

As ABC’s chief health and medical editor, Besser came to Colorado for a brief whirlwind of a two-day visit. His goal: Report on the early days of legal recreational marijuana for a segment on “This Week” — a show I also appeared on. On his flight to Colorado, Besser thought about how he was truly against legal marijuana. When he landed at Denver International Airport, he was encountered with compelling arguments from the other side.

“I’m a parent of two teenage boys. I’m a pediatrician,” Besser said on “This Week” in early February. “And I’m very concerned about the impact on the developing brain from frequent use. And so I went into this story thinking, ‘There’s no way this should be legal.’ But the more I got into the story the more I was convinced by the arguments around the comparison around alcohol and its dangers and marijuana.”

As Besser continued, he passionately made points about marijuana being a safer alternative to alcohol:

And it’s just not rational that adults don’t have the choice of using marijuana, but they do for alcohol. Marijuana is less likely to be addictive, it’s less likely to cause car accidents and birth defects, it’s less likely to cause domestic violence. So how do you rationally say that it’s OK to drink alcohol with that profile but it’s not OK to occasionally use marijuana?”

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I spoke to Besser after the “This Week” taping, when he told me: “I went into this story feeling that I don’t think marijuana should be legalized. But I came out of this story thinking, actually, I was wrong. There is a strong case for legalizing marijuana and regulating it to keep it away from kids.” See the video:

Marijuana polls: Four surveys in nine months tell a compelling story (video)