We(ed) the People…

“DEA Says Screw the People”

Another blow was dealt to reasonable and rational drug policy last week when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to re-schedule marijuana, choosing instead to keep the substance on the most restrictive schedule (Schedule I).  In so doing, they are claiming, once again, that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, and no known medical value.  Of course, both of these determinations are completely contrary to ALL the evidence we have available to us, but you know… science.

I didn’t really expect the DEA to vote against its own interests and willingly remove one of the reasons for its own continued existence from its own continued oversight.  But I am again baffled at the blatant refusal to acknowledge the will of the people, the weight of the scientific evidence, and the patent falsity of the claims that placed marijuana on Schedule I in the first place.  At least come up with a different dirty lie.  Earn your billions of dollars by at least trying to mislead us in a new way, for f**k sake.

Anyone who has read more than two of my articles, or knows me at all, will already know my stance on marijuana prohibition.  For the uninitiated, I’m against it.  Marijuana should be legalized and regulated and taxed just like any other over the counter medication – or legal intoxicant.  Indeed, study after study finds that marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco by extremely large margins.  Studies also prove that marijuana is even safer than aspirin, Tylenol, or Advil.  In fact, from a pure lethality standpoint, almost everything you put in your body is more toxic than marijuana.  50,000 Americans die every year as a direct result of alcohol; over 400,000 Americans die as a result of cigarettes; and over 1,000 people die each year from acetaminophen (Tylenol).  A growing handful of people have overdosed and died from caffeine.  Hell, there have even been numerous deaths by so-called “water intoxication” – death from drinking too much water!  You know how many deaths have been directly attributed to marijuana?  Zero.  In all of recorded history.

Marijuana usage dates back thousands of years.  There is evidence of marijuana inhalation in ancient China dating back to 2700 B.C., where it was believed to be used in spiritual rituals and/or for medicinal purposes.  Ancient Egyptians smoked marijuana, while also making wide use of hemp, which is cultivated from the same plant as marijuana.  There is even some viable research to suggest that Jesus Christ himself was a pot smoker, and that he may have used marijuana for ritual and healing purposes.  Indeed, the U.S.’s own history has strong ties to hemp and marijuana use, as even George Washington was an avid supporter and harvester of hemp, and Abraham Lincoln was said to enjoy a hemp pipe from time to time.  It is even believed that drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written on Dutch hemp paper (although the final copies of each were written on parchment, not hemp, as some people erroneous believe).

It wasn’t until the 20th century that governments around the world began efforts at prohibition of marijuana.  There are many theories as to why marijuana was targeted.  Some claim that the paper companies were behind it, because they feared that hemp paper could be produced cheaper – and work better – than wood pulp paper, putting them out of business.  Some believe that alcohol producers were worried that marijuana would lower the demand for alcohol.  And others believe that William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper mogul, was behind the whole thing, as he certainly used his newspapers to spread false propaganda nationwide.  Whether or not there was some mysterious dark co-conspirator in the push to criminalize marijuana, we do know that it was based on pure nonsense.

It was actually Harry Anslinger that led the campaign to criminalize marijuana and marijuana users.  Anslinger was the head of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 and advocated furiously for the prohibition of marijuana.  Anslinger believed that marijuana use caused violent crime, and caused people to act irrationally and become overly sexual.  Of course these beliefs were not based on any actual evidence, but under his command, the FBN produced numerous propaganda films and materials designed to “educate” the public about these made-up problems.  Perhaps the most well-known example of anti-marijuana propaganda was the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” which saw its main characters’ lives torn apart by marijuana addiction.  While not produced by Anslinger or the FBN, Reefer Madness was clearly a product of the hysteria and misinformation distributed by the government as part of Anslinger’s quest.

Anslinger’s crusade culminated in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which made possession and transfer of marijuana illegal under Federal law.  The Act was passed based on poorly-attended hearings, and questionable studies.  In fact, in 1944, the LaGuardia Commission, formed by then-Mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, issued a report contradicting the reports of violence, madness or overt sexuality that the Act was based on, and advised against prohibition.  And when Richard Nixon proposed to place marijuana on the newly-formed Controlled Substance Act schedule in the early 1970’s, he also ordered a commission to examine the effects of marijuana legislation, and that commission also advised against prohibition.  Of course, just as in 1944, the government ignored the Commission’s opinion.

Marijuana was placed on Schedule I, the most restrictive, which includes illicit drugs such as heroin, LSD, and PCP (“Angel Dust”).  Under 21 U.S.C. § 812, drugs must meet three criteria in order to be placed in Schedule I:

1The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

2The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

3There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

There is strong evidence that marijuana fails to meet even the very first criterion.  Studies show that marijuana is not physically addictive at all, and that even though some psychological dependence is observed, it is far lower than most other illegal and legal substances.  Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all have much stronger addictive properties than pot.  Repeated lab studies show that mice will not self-administer marijuana, a key indicator of addictiveness.  Even among frequent smokers, marijuana dependence is extremely low.  Simply put, marijuana, if anything, has an extraordinarily LOW potential for abuse.

The second criterion also fails.  Marijuana has been legalized for medical use in 25 states.  There are currently about 150,000 patients that are regularly prescribed marijuana in those states.  Over 2,500 doctors have recommended marijuana to patients.  There are countless case studies confirming the health benefits of marijuana in the treatment of numerous conditions, including macular degeneration, AIDS and Cancer treatments, and treatment for chronic pain.  There are dozens of national and international organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have issued statements in favor of medical marijuana.  In other words, it is almost impossible to make the argument that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment…”

annual-deaths-from-alcohol-tobacco--drug-use_50290d9bb9b6d_w1500And finally, as it concerns the safety of using marijuana, there is not one recorded death in all of human history attributed to marijuana toxicity.  The amount of marijuana that could theoretically result in overdose and kill a human is absolutely impossible to ingest – something like the equivalent of 20,000 marijuana cigarettes.  Indeed, you would likely die from smoke inhalation long before you overdosed on the actual marijuana.  So it would seem that just about ANY dose of marijuana would be safe, with or without medical supervision.  At one time, even the DEA’s own administrative law judge stated that marijuana is “one of the safest, most therapeutically active substances known to man.”

Despite the evidence that marijuana absolutely doesn’t belong on Schedule I, it continues to sit there.  Since 1972, there have been tireless efforts to convince the DEA to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, or to at least re-schedule it.  All of the arguments made by lawmakers in support of continued prohibition have been thoroughly debunked.  They claimed that it was a “gateway drug,” that it was highly addictive, that it caused an increase in criminal behavior, or that it led to long-term brain damage, among many other societal and moral concerns.  None of these claims is supported by a shred of evidence, and much evidence has been produced to refute them all.  Yet again, marijuana remains on Schedule I, where it is presumed to be more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine, and opium (all Schedule II drugs).

In 2016, 25 states have now legalized marijuana for medical use, and 4 states plus the District of Columbia have effectively legalized it for recreational use.  Medical and/or Recreational use is on the ballot in numerous other states, and the trend of legalization is expected to continue sweeping the nation.  Public opinion polls show that a frank majority (63%) of Americans favor legalization, with almost 90% favoring decriminalization of some sort.  Even so, every year more than 800,000 people are arrested for marijuana, most of them for just simple possession.  We spend billions of dollars each year on marijuana law enforcement in this country, and send thousands of people to prison for often unconscionable sentences.  Countless lives have been ruined – or made significantly more challenging – because of marijuana law enforcement.

Why do we continue to prosecute people for possessing pot?  Well, in declining again to re-schedule (or de-schedule) marijuana, the DEA stated that, “the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”  What risks?!  The risk of eating an entire bag of Doritos while watching Scooby-Doo re-runs?  They have never pointed to any risks that haven’t already been falsified.  The risk of dependence is extremely low, the risk of respiratory illness has been disproven, the risk of cancer is practically non-existent (in fact marijuana may be prophylactic of some forms of cancer), and the risk of overdose is imaginary.  While there may be an increased risk of accidents by marijuana-intoxicated motorists, alcohol-intoxicated motorists are about 6 to 10 times more accident-prone.  And there is a risk of short-term memory loss, but it is only temporary – usually only persisting while the user is under the effects of marijuana.

At any rate, there is no valid reason to continue the prohibition of marijuana.  In fact, there was never a reason to prohibit it.  The government decided to criminalize it based on nothing but speculation and uninformed opinion.  Now they claim that the burden is on us to prove that it shouldn’t be criminalized.  That’s not how democracy works!  Government doesn’t get to arbitrarily make things illegal and then make the people prove that they shouldn’t be illegal.  The government has the burden of proof to show why something should be illegal in the first place.  They cannot meet that burden by simply stating that there may be risks that haven’t been specifically proven to be outweighed by various benefits.

And so what if there are risks?  There aren’t, but what if there were?  Everything carries with it some level of risk.  Eating hamburgers increases risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a host of other health problems.  Smoking cigarettes increases risks of cancer and numerous other serious and fatal diseases and illnesses.  Drinking alcohol leads to cirrhosis, hepatitis, and many other terrible health disorders.  Use of over-the-counter pain relievers lead to liver problems.  Caffeine intake can lead to accidental overdose, toxicity and even death.  But all of these substances are readily available without a prescription, and no amount of either will land you in jail.  But because some ignorant fear-mongers from three-quarters of a century ago believed that marijuana use would lead to violent predators and sexual orgies, we are still stuck trying to prove that this natural substance shouldn’t be used to send otherwise decent people to prison.  As I’ve said before, it is not only bad policy to criminalize ingestion of a damn plant, it is absolutely immoral.  And our government is not only engaging in immoral, bad policy in perpetuating this asinine enforcement regime, it is intentionally ignoring a clear majority of the people it’s supposed to represent.

Until next time, I remain Your Lawscholar.

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