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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 24, 2010

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML’s free e-zine here.

    You can also read my previous commentary on the subject, “The Feds Are Addicted to Pot — Even If You Aren’t,” available from Alternet.org here.]

    Nearly six out of ten people admitted to drug ‘treatment’ for marijuana are referred there by the criminal justice system, according to a just-released report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA).

    In 2008, 57 percent of persons referred to treatment for marijuana as their ‘primary substance of abuse,’ were referred by the criminal justice system. For adolescents, nearly half (48 percent) were referred via the criminal justice system.

    By contrast, criminal justice referrals accounted for just 37 percent of the overall total of drug treatment admissions in 2008.

    “Primary marijuana admissions were less likely than all admissions combined to be self-referred to treatment,” the study found.

    Since 1998 the percentage of individuals in drug treatment primarily for marijuana has risen approximately 25 percent, the report found. This increase is being primarily driven by a proportional rise in the percentage of criminal justice referrals. According to a previous federal study, the proportion of marijuana treatment admissions from all sources other than the criminal justice system has been declining since the mid-1990s.

    Commenting on the study, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These statistics make it clear that it is not marijuana use per se that is driving these treatment admission rates; it is marijuana prohibition that is primarily responsible. These people for the most part are not ‘addicts’ in any true sense of the word. Rather, they are ordinary Americans who have experienced the misfortune of being busted for marijuana who are forced to choose between rehab or jail.

    According to federal figures compiled by SAMHSA in 2009, some 37 percent of the estimated 288,000 thousand people who entered drug treatment for cannabis in 2007 had not reported using it in the 30 days previous to their admission. Another 16 percent of those admitted said that they’d used marijuana three times or fewer in the month prior to their admission.

    Full text of the report, “Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 1998-2008: National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services,” is available online here.

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator February 4, 2010

    (The Raw Story via InfoWars.com) “We’re not at war with people in this country,” [US Drug Czar Gil] Kerlikowske told The Wall Street Journal in May.

    However, if the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) budget for fiscal year 2011 is to be believed, Kerlikowske was full of hot air.

    According to 2011 funding “highlights” released by the ONDCP (PDF link), the Obama administration is growing the drug war and tilting its funds heavily toward law enforcement over treatment.

    The president’s National Drug Control Budget also continues the Bush administration’s public relations tactic of obscuring the costs of prosecuting and imprisoning drug offenders. “Enron style accounting,” is how drug policy reform advocate Kevin Zeese described it, writing for Alternet in 2002.

    The budget places America’s drug war spending at $15.5 billion for fiscal year 2011; an increase of 3.5 percent over FY 2010. That figure reflects a 5.2 percent increase in overall enforcement funding, growing from $9.7 billion in FY 2010 to $9.9 billion in FY 2011. Addiction treatment and preventative measures, however, are budgeted at $5.6 billion for FY 2011, an increase from $5.2 billion in FY 2010.

    In short, the Obama administration’s appropriations for treating drug addiction are just short of half that dedicated to prosecuting the war.

    The problem, of course, is that when you have declared drugs to be illegal, you must expend resources to arrest, try, and convict the people who manufacture, transport, sell, buy, and use drugs. It’s really less about the the people who use drugs than it is about the people whose jobs depend on arresting the people who use drugs.

    We’re in the middle of a recession. Jobless numbers are through the roof. If marijuana were regulated like alcohol or tobacco, you suddenly add a whole bunch of DEA, police, prosecutors, wardens, guards, and more to the unemployment line. Then add in the young people who have found marijuana growing and dealing to be the only living wage job they can find, now suddenly unemployed by marijuana re-legalization, and you’ll see unemployment figures that would guarantee an Obama re-election defeat in 2012.

    Yes, a legal marijuana market would open up many jobs and industries and tax revenues heretofore unrealized, but transitioning to that market is going to take time. In the meantime, what jobs are open for former drug cops and pot dealers?

    We bring this up to temper our disappointment in a man who in 2004 said our “War on Drugs is an utter failure and we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws” but in 2010 has turned into just another prohibitionist president.

    (Find more information on this contradiction between the Obama Administration’s lip service toward treatment over incarceration, complete with quotes and informative graphs, at Pete Guither’s informative DrugWarRant blog.)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 6, 2009

    Many years ago the former head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Alan Leshner made this statement when forced to confront the fact that tens of thousands of patients were successfully using cannabis as a medicine:

    “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”

    Someone ought to pass on Lesnher’s cop out to ABC News, whose recent feature, “Reefer Madness Redux: Is Pot Addictive?“, is little more than a series of anecdotes from folks claiming that it’s becoming harder and harder for some individuals to quit weed.

    Here’s a typical example:

    The biggest hurdle in treating these patients is that marijuana “still has a positive spin to it,” he said. “People don’t believe it’s a problem.”

    “Plenty believe that they can’t get addicted or hold on to the idea that it’s only psychologically addictive and ‘I can think my way out of it,'”said Massella. “But once you develop a dependency, there is always a dependency.”

    Naturally, John Massella, like many of the so-called experts quoted in the ABC story, has a financial incentive to promote the “marijuana is seriously addictive” claim. After all, he runs a drug rehabilitation center. Claiming that many of his clients are “pot addicts” is far more socially acceptable than admitting that most of his so-called ‘marijuana treatment admissions’ are really just young people who were busted for pot possession and ordered there by the court as a condition of probation.

    But putting the anecdotes aside, what does the science actually say about pot and dependence?

    Well, according to the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine — which published a multiyear, million-dollar federal study assessing marijuana and health in 1999 — “millions of Americans have tried marijuana, but most are not regular users [and] few marijuana users become dependent on it.” The agency added, “[A]though [some] marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.” (In fact, more recent research indicates that marijuana use may actually help some people kick their hard drug habits!)

    Just how less likely? According to the IOM’s 267-page report, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of “drug dependence” (based on DSM-III-R criteria). By contrast, the IOM reported that 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for “drug dependence.” In short, it’s the legal drugs that have Americans hooked — not pot. (more…)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 7, 2009

    Update: Today’s blog post is also featured on Huffington Post. Please feel free to post your feedback there as well.

    In a revelation that I’m sure will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, it turns out that ex-Drug Czar John Walters is still full of s—-t.

    Responding on CNN last night to California Gov. Schwarzenegger’s call to debate the merits of taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana (E-mail the Governor here), Walters demonstrated that he remains an unrepentant liar — even though he’s no longer paid by the federal government to be one.

    To summarize: in under five minutes Walters manages to falsely claim that:

    Today’s marijuana is far stronger — and thus more dangerous — than ever before. Actually, the Feds’ own data indicates that the average strength of domestic cannabis hasn’t changed in over ten years; that marijuana — regardless of THC content — is relatively non-toxic and incapable of causing a fatal overdose; and that most folks — when given the choice — prefer to consume milder marijuana over highly potent pot.

    More people seek drug treatment for pot than all other drugs combined. Technically true, but only because between 60 percent and 70 percent of individuals enrolled in substance abuse ‘treatment’ for cannabis are small-time pot offenders who were referred there by the criminal justice system. In fact, according to the latest federal data, nearly four in ten people admitted to substance abuse treatment programs for cannabis did not even use it in the month prior to their admission.

    Nobody is actually in jail for marijuana-related offenses. Ah yes, the “unicorn” theory. Never mind those 50,000 or state and federal inmates serving time for pot offenses the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics talks about. In John Walters fantasy world, they simply don’t exist.

    Consuming cannabis leads to violent behavior and other criminal acts. Apparently, when pot doesn’t make you “docile and unresponsive, to the point of helplessness,” it makes you unpredictably violent. Or not. Look, I asked this question on Monday and I’ll ask it again: Read about any gang-related violence surrounding the sale of alcohol lately? How about vicodin or paxil? Didn’t think so. Consuming marijuana doesn’t cause violent or criminal behavior, but criminals and violent people do engage in the black market trafficking of illicit drugs. The irony, of course, is that the very ‘violence’ that Walters claims to lament — that is, when he and his colleagues over at the DEA aren’t hailing the increase in drug-related violence as a good thing — is a direct consequences of the public policy (prohibition) he reflexively endorses.

    **Side note: Maine Gov. John Baldacci just signed legislation into law on Friday making the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana a civil violation, punishable by a fine and no jail time. (Read more about this law in this week’s NORML News stories.) Expect to hear Walters ranting and raving about marijuana cartels setting up shop in the Pine Tree state any day now.

    Finally, for good measure, Walters even resurrects the claim that there are now more medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Fransisco than there are Starbucks — an allegation so absurd that the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper laughed it out of the room some six months ago.

    So here’s my question: Gov. Schwarzenegger — as well as U.S. Senator Jim Webb — have called for a “debate” on whether or not to legalize the use and distribution of cannabis for adults. Webster’s dictionary defines “debate” as “to argue opposing views.” But as Walters’ comments so adeptly illustrate, the opposing side has no actual “views,” it only has lies and seven decades of bulls—-t.

    Therefore, I say we skip the public debate and go straight to the public ‘debunk’ (verb: to expose the fallacy or fraudulence of). I’m sure we can find Mr. Walters a seat at the head of the table.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 28, 2008

    “This ain’t your grandfather’s or your father’s marijuana. This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you.”– Mark R. Trouville, DEA Miami, speaking to the Associated Press (June 22, 2007)

    Having spent over a decade debunking the ‘potent pot myth‘ — the false yet wildly popular notion that today’s cannabis is dramatically more potent, and thus more dangerous (or as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown likes to say, “more lethal“) than the marijuana of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it’s nice to finally get some back up.

    Writing in the forthcoming issue of the scientific journal Addiction, researchers at the University of New South Wales, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, examined the potency of over 100,000 pot seizures from around the word. They concluded (drum roll please), “Claims made in the public domain about a 20- or 30-fold increase in cannabis potency and about the adverse mental health effects of cannabis contamination are not supported currently by the evidence.”

    The investigators also addressed the equally popular myth that ‘potent pot’ is responsible for an increase in the number of people seeking ‘treatment’ for cannabis, finding, “Another reason for increase in treatment seeking could be the introduction of cannabis diversion programmes, some of which involve mandatory treatment for those who have committed a cannabis-related offense” — a point we’ve made here on several occasions.

    Want more details? NORML podcaster extraordinaire Russ Belville has an extensive summary of the study here.

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