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June 20, 2006


There were many reasons for me to relish an opportunity to comment on Mark Kleiman's criticism of Ryan King's methamphetamine study;  so many, in fact, that deciding where  to begin, and what point of view to emphasize became problems. King's study is typical of a genre which is fast becoming pervasive: a researched meta-analysis of a specific drug-war topic published on the internet and/or as a press release. What is unusal is the laundry list of complaints it provoked from Kleiman; their length, prompt appearance, rambling nature,  and tone are ample evidence of the annoyance which inspired them.

From King's point of view, Klieman's fit of pique was probably welcome; precisely because it focuses more attention on his study. As one who has done similar advocacy, I know most such papers are written to influence public opinion; also that access to peer reviewed literature can be almost impossible for an author perceived as even mildly critical of US drug policy. The Sentencing Project has done excellent work, but most of it either has to be reported by, or referenced in, the popular press to reach the public.

In that connection, Kleiman once co-authored a paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal which played an significant role in advancing 'medical marijuana' as a political issue. I also know he  still complains about the fall-out that effort had on the delicate balancing act all prominent academic drug policy analysts must engage in.

The truth about both King's paper and Kleiman's comments is that both contain kernels of truth sorrounded by large areas of uncertainty woven together by strands of outright falsehood- and neither can be certain of what's which. That particular reality has far less to do with their diligence, scholarship and intelligence than it does with the fear, disinformation, and confusion produced by almost forty years of drug war propaganda superimposed upon over fifty years of never-acknowledged drug prohibition, the origins of which are still shrouded in considerable secrecy. Before one can lie, one must first know the truth; the great success of the drug war is that it has blocked unbiased human research so successfully that no one, especially the policy makers themselves, has ever been able to learn the truth about human drug use. Instead, the most compliant 'researchers' all dutifully parrot the prevailing myth about each illegal agent ('drug of abuse') and then support it with repetitive,  limited studies of similar populations with similar results.

My credentials for criticising both authors are based on the fact that, for the last four years, I have been engaged in a unique, ongoing study of Californians seeking to use cannabis medically. Since all had been paricipants in the illegal pot market for a variable interval and many had sampled other illegal drugs aggressively-- and I have routinely collected a lot of other data from them as part of their required evaluations-- one couild describe what I've been doing as market research of the very sort both King and Kleiman, albeit with quite different emphasis, have agreed is so difficult and uncertain. What I have learned is simply amazing. It's also very much at odds with the prevailing pot myth (large chunks of which I'd also believed), yet it's quite convincing and sheds enough light on key aspects of drug war history to show just how various  elements of the myth have developed.

A collateral reason for ambient drug war uncertainty is the fear it inspires. The evidence behind that statement is as overwhelming as it is pervasive; yet the fear itself is never openly discussed. In many respects,  the drug war may be seen as two metaphorical elephants;  the one in the national living room that no one can discuss honestly, and the other at the center of the Indian fable which the blind men struggle to describe, A major difference is that the Indian elephant  has six features over which six analysts disagree. The drug war elephant has an almost unlimited number of features over which an almost unlimited number analysts may argue-- and a host of reasons their opinions aren't honestly stated.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 20, 2006 10:44 PM