Drug Czar’s Office To NORML: ‘We Can’t Legalize Marijuana Because Some People Abuse Prescription Drugs!’ Wait, Huh?August 22, 2011
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
What can I say? I’m flattered. David Mineta, deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has taken time to publicly respond to little ol’ me. I wonder if they pronounce ‘Armentano’ phonetically at the Drug Czar’s office?
The back story: Last week NORML Board member Paul Kuhn and I published a guest commentary in Nashville’s largest daily newspaper, The Tennessean, opining in favor of H.R. 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011. Here’s an excerpt:
Marijuana legalization bill offers safer alternative
via The Tennessean
We know tobacco is the leading cause of death in America, contributing to 400,000 deaths each year. So it’s hardly any wonder the FDA will require the placement of prominent warning labels. Alcohol is the third-leading cause of death in America. The World Health Organization reported earlier this year that “alcohol causes nearly 4 percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.”
… What about marijuana? With every other drug from Advil and alcohol to Zantac, a correct dose is effective, but too high a dose kills the patient. No dose of marijuana is capable of causing a fatal overdose.
… And unlike alcohol and tobacco, adverse effects of even heavy cannabis use are minimal. There is no epidemiological evidence in any country, after scores of studies and centuries of use by tens of millions of people, that marijuana smokers have a shorter life expectancy than non-smokers.
… They don’t become violent at sports events or beat their spouses and children. They don’t get heart disease, cancer, brain damage or any other deadly illness at a higher rate than those who abstain. In fact, a pair of studies conducted by Kaiser Permanente found that marijuana use, even long-term, was not associated with elevated levels of mortality or incidences of cancer, including types of cancers associated with tobacco smoking.
… America is on a path to allow adults to choose a safer alternative to tobacco and alcohol. And create more tax revenue and more jobs in Tennessee. And more freedom.
Apparently quite a few people read our editorial, including some folks at the Drug Czar’s office. And it must have gotten under their skin because today the White House responded with this.
Movement for legalized marijuana ignores dangers
via The Tennessean
Proponents of marijuana legalization often argue it will do everything from fixing our economy to ending violent crime (“Marijuana legalization bill offers safer alternative,” Tennessee Voices, Aug. 15). Yet, the science is clear: Marijuana use is not a benign drug and it is harmful to public health and safety.
… Would marijuana legalization make Tennessee healthier or safer? One needs to look no further than Tennessee’s current painful experience with prescription drug abuse. In Tennessee, prescription drugs are legal, regulated, and taxed — and yet rates of the abuse of pain relievers in the state exceed the national average by more than 10 percent.
Nationally, someone dies from an unintentional drug overdose — driven in large part by prescription drug abuse — on average every 19 minutes. What would America look like if we had just as many people using marijuana as we currently have smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol, and abusing prescription drugs?
The classic ‘bait-and-switch’ goes on and on, but you get the idea. But I’m not sure the Drug Czar’s office does. After all, if their logic above had even a hint of consistency then they would be arguing for the criminal prohibition of cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs. And lots of other things.
Yet when it comes to Americans’ use of substances like tobacco, booze, and prescription drugs — substances that pose far greater dangers to health than does cannabis — the White House recognizes that prohibition is not the answer: regulation and education are. So why does the Drug Czar’s office fail to apply this same common-sense principle to pot? Perhaps it has something to do with the federal requirement requiring the office to lie about legalization.
Finally, as to the specific question: ‘What would America look like if we had just as many people using marijuana as are presently using tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications?’ Well, what does America look like today? After all, the federal government imposed criminal prohibition over 70 years ago; yet today that very same federal government admits that over one out of ten Americans admit to having using cannabis in the past year. Among those age 18 to 25, almost half admit to consuming cannabis recently!
The question isn’t ‘What if Americans consumed marijuana?’ The reality is that tens of millions of Americans have and do consume marijuana. Most do so privately and responsibly. Legalizing cannabis simply acknowledges this reality and seeks to regulate the behavior appropriately. In a free society, why would even consider doing differently?
Predictably. Reflexively. Mandated by law.
So the current U.S. drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske*, in true Pavlovian style, reacted negatively to the umpteenth commission report issued last week opining that 1) the war on some drugs has totally failed to achieve any of its stated goals, 2) policy reforms based on public health–not arrest and incarcerate–models are most effective, 3) the war on some drugs wastes preciously needed tax dollars, military expenditures, destabilize international borders and cause havoc in the banking and financial industries and 4) that legalization should readily be on the table, notably legalizing cannabis.
As if a bell rang, the U.S. drug czar’s office dutifully rolled out a brief and defensive commentary published in The Hill (a virtually DC-only publication for inside-the- beltway-types) that touches upon the Obama administration’s only-slightly-different-from-previous-drug czars’-approach-to-maintaining-the-status quo…
*Mr. Kerlikowske is likely going to be resigning soon as drug czar (which is understandable as it is one of the most thankless bureaucratic positions in Washington, D.C. as a job with a prescription for failure) to become the next police chief of Chicago…
Drug policies must be rooted in science
By Gil Kerlikowske
Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report calling for the decriminalization of illicit drugs based on the notion that global efforts to reduce drug use have been a failure. Certainly, given the stature of the Commission and the long-term challenge of drug policies both nationally and internationally, the Commission’s message may appear compelling at first. But there are serious flaws with both the report’s conclusion and its proposed remedy.
We agree with the Commission that balanced drug control efforts are necessary, which is why this administration’s National Drug Control Policy is a marked departure from past strategies. We support diverting non-violent offenders into treatment instead of jail by encouraging alternatives to incarceration. And as a former police chief, I and my colleagues know that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem. As I’ve often stated before, drug use should be addressed as a public health problem because we know drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Legalizing illicit drugs increase drug use and the need for drug treatment, while also making it more difficult to keep our communities healthy and safe.
Our National Drug Control Strategy is science-based. And science shows that illegal drug use is associated with specialty treatment admissions, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness, and emergency room admissions. Illicit drug use has huge costs to our society, outside of just criminal justice costs.
A recent report by the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center about the economic impact of illicit drug use indicates that the costs of illicit drug use on health care and productivity alone, are over $80 billion. Making illicit drugs legal would not reduce any of these factors. Nor is drug use a victimless crime. Just last month, during a visit to the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent, Washington, I saw firsthand the tragic impact drug use has on newborn babies. (more…)
Several weeks ago, President Obama stated that he believed the subject of drug legalization and regulation was “an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” Yet recent actions by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy head Gil Kerlikowske imply that this administration has no interest in having this debate in the public arena — at least not in Seattle.
On Friday, February 18, the Seattle Times editorial board opined in favor of House Bill 1550, which legalizes and regulates the “production, distribution, and sale” of marijuana to adults. (You can contact your state elected officials in support of the measure here.) The editorial, titled “The Washington Legislature should legalize marijuana” did not mince words.
Marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington.
… Some drugs have such horrible effects on the human body that the costs of prohibition may be worth it. Not marijuana. This state’s experience with medical marijuana and Seattle’s tolerance policy suggest that with cannabis, legalization will work — and surprisingly well.
Not only will it work, but it is coming.
According to Seattle Times editorial page editor Ryan Blethen, the public’s reaction to the paper’s pot-friendly position was overwhelming.
“It is rare we publish an editorial on a hot topic and receive near universal praise. But that is what happened last week when we came out in support of Washington state legalizing cannabis,” Bethen wrote in February 25 commentary. “When people take the time to e-mail or call me about an editorial, it is usually because they do not agree with the editorial page. This editorial was different. The compliments rolled in, the discussion in the comments section of the editorial is nearing 600 and is interesting and thoughtful — which is not always the case — and so far the editorial has been recommended by about 3,000 people on Facebook.”
Yet there was is one prominent, former Seattle resident who is clearly not amused by the Times call for “a sober discussion about marijuana.” That person is the Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske.
The Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger has the details — and they aren’t pretty.
The Stranger has learned that immediately after the Seattle Times ran an editorial last week supporting a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, the newspaper got a phone call from Washington, D.C. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske wanted to fly to Seattle to speak personally with the paper’s full editorial board.
The meeting is scheduled for next Friday, an apparent attempt by the federal government to pressure the state’s largest newspaper to oppose marijuana legalization. Or at least turn down the volume on its new-found bullhorn to legalize pot.
Bruce Ramsey, the Seattle Times editorial writer who wrote the unbylined piece, says the White House called right “right after our editorial ran, so I drew the obvious conclusion… he didn’t like our editorial.”
… This isn’t the first time the Obama Administration has campaigned to keep pot illegal. Kerlikowske, who is also Seattle’s former police chief, also traveled to California last fall to campaign against Prop 19, a measure to decriminalize marijuana and authorize jurisdictions to tax and regulate it.
NORML Has long argued that pot prohibition can not withstand careful and consistent scrutiny from the mainstream media. The Drug Czar knows this to be true better than anyone; hence the White House’s need to try and squelch any media-led ‘legitimate debate.’ Fortunately, the genie is out of the bottle and isn’t going back — at least not in Seattle. In fact, just days after The Drug Czar’s phone call, the Seattle Times reiterated their editorial support for legalization, stating “the costs of prohibition in police, courts, jails, gang warfare, civil liberties and blighted lives are too high, especially for a product that lends itself so well to be handled like alcohol.”
Like it or not President Obama, you are going to get your debate. We’re ready; are you?
Earlier this week Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske sat down for a face-to-face interview with The Daily Caller‘s Mike Riggs. (Riggs is the Daily Caller reporter who yesterday broke the story regarding the DEA’s plans to reschedule plant-derived THC while keeping the actual plant illegal.)
Riggs asked the Czar some tough questions, including this one specific to medical cannabis: “You’ve said before that you don’t see medical benefits to smoked marijuana and also that the jury is still out on medical marijuana. What sort of scientific consensus does the ONDCP require? How many studies have to come out arguing for medical benefits? What do you need to see?”
The Czar’s reply? “[Y]ou know there are over 100 groups doing marijuana research, and they’re getting their marijuana from the University of Mississippi. There are several things in clinical trials right now. So we’ll just have to wait for those.”
To which I reply ‘Bulls–t!’
As I write today on Alternet.org, a review of the U.S. National Institutes of Health website clinicaltrials.gov shows that there are presently only six FDA-approved trials taking place anywhere in the world involving subjects’ use of actual cannabis. Of these, two are completed, one is assessing the plant’s pharmacokinetics, and one is assessing pot’s alleged harms.
Memo to the Drug Czar: That leaves a grand total of — not “over 100″ — but rather just two ongoing clinical trials to assess the medical efficacy of cannabis. You sir, are a liar (but then again, I suppose we all knew that already).
[excerpt] A review of the U.S. National Institutes of Health website clinicaltrials.gov shows that NIDA’s kibosh on medical marijuana trials continues unabated. Though a search of ongoing FDA-approved clinical trials using the keyword ‘cannabinoids’ (the active components in marijuana) yields 65 worldwide hits, only six involve subjects’ use of actual cannabis. (The others involve the use of synthetic cannabinoid agonists like dronabinol or nabilone, the commercially marketed marijuana extract Sativex, or the cannabinoid receptor blocking agent Rimonabant.)
Of the six, two of the studies are already completed: ‘Opioid and Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetic Interactions‘ and ‘Vaporization as a Smokeless Cannabis Delivery System,’ both of which were spearheaded by researchers (primarily Dr. Donald Abrams) at the University of California at San Francisco.
The four remaining studies are still in the ‘recruitment’ phase. Of these, only two pertain to the potential medical use of cannabis: ‘Cannabis for Spasticity of Multiple Sclerosis,’ which is taking place at the University of California at Davis and is likely the final clinical trial associated with the soon-to-be-defunct/defunded California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, and ‘Cannabis for Inflammatory Bowel Disease,’ led by researchers at the Meir Medical Center in Israel.
Of the remaining studies, one focuses on the detection of cannabinoids and their metabolites on drug screens, while the other, entitled ‘Effects of Smoked Marijuana on Risk Taking and Decision Making Tasks,’ seeks to establish pot-related harms — hypothesizing that subjects “demonstrate poorer decision-making abilities and increased risk-taking behaviors” after smoking marijuana.
You can read the full text of my Alternet.org story here.
You can read the full interview with Drug Czar Kerlikowske here.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is no stranger to marijuana law reform. Johnson was the keynote speaker at last year’s national NORML Conference (listen to his remarks here) and the topic of cannabis legalization is a prominent plank in his Presidential exploratory campaign.
Today he takes to the Net in response to the President’s artful dodge last week regarding the need to federal drug law reform. And he doesn’t mince words.
Yes, It Is Time For Pot Legalization, Mr. President
via Huffington Post
The Web is humming with stories and discussion from the aftermath of President Obama’s response to questions about drug legalization during last Thursday’s YouTube forum. While his words this time around are a bit more encouraging than previous signals from the administration, I would strongly suggest that we all, including the president, cut through the platitudes and get to the truth about marijuana prohibition.
If, as the president suggests, it is time for a “serious debate” about legalization, let’s get to it, starting with a few questions that beg for truth:
Why, with record federal deficits and states teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, are we spending billions on yet another failed Prohibition that is accomplishing nothing other than making criminals out of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens and fueling drug cartels that threaten our fundamental national security? Is it not time to try something different?
Despite lip-service, about the need for treatment, harm-reduction and other strategies to address drug use as a health issue, why do the federal government’s actual policies and budget still treat the situation as almost entirely a law enforcement problem? Let’s end the unworkable marijuana prohibition and put our money where our mouth is. Let’s solve the problems like border crime. We can do it with pot legalization.
We need to deal with some simple truths. How do we reconcile the fact, that in a supposedly free society, it is legal for a responsible adult to purchase and consume alcohol, while purchasing and consuming marijuana is a crime? I, along with millions of other Americans, are still waiting for a credible answer to that one.
You can read the full text of Mr. Johnson’s remarks here.