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September 11, 2006

Questions Never Asked


No public policy is discussed with more heat and less clarity than the one euphemistically called ‘Drug Control.' A good example of our  national drug-related schizophrenia occurred last week when SAMHSA released a survey purporting to show illicit drug use increasing among senior citizens, but diminishing among teens and young adults. As usual, the drug czar took full advantage of an opportunity to criticize the aging baby boomers every federal government since Nixon has blamed for exacerbating our drug problems.  They discovered pot as they were coming of age in the Sixties as the largest  cohort of Americans ever; they had also been the first television generation and it was their protests of a losing Viet Nam war which made it impossible to continue. Once the adolescent pot market was established, it has never been seriously impeded and has continued to add to the population of long term users ever since .

According to  prevailing federal myth, then-President Nixon had no choice but to ‘crack down’ on boomers by declaring a ‘War on Drugs” which has since been a great success at quadrupling the prison population, but hasn't really dented drug use. Those who pointed out that cannabis had once been medicine which didn’t seem nearly as harmful as some other illegal agents— or even alcohol and tobacco, for that matter— were quickly labeled ‘legalizers’ or worse and answered with the claim that pot leads to a host of risky behaviors including trials of ‘harder’ drugs. Although the ‘gateway’ theory has never fulfilled the causality requirement required of such a hypothesis, a Gateway ‘Effect’ has become an item of faith for policy supporters and is almost never questioned by those claiming to be 'neutral.'

In point of fact, no  clinical study of a large population of chronic cannabis users has  ever been done; not because they were in short supply; but because of the obvious difficulty of identifying and recruiting subjects facing  harsh social and criminal sanctions.Let alone that NIDA would never have allowed one.

At first glance, it might seem that the ‘amnesty’ offered by Proposition 215 in 1996, might have been such an opportunity; especially when it became clear that virtually all  ‘medical’ applicants were already chronic users who had first tried pot during adolescence  Unfortunately; because both sides in the ‘debate’ have been clinging  to  the same sterile arguments for ten years, not as much has been learned as might have been. On the other hand, although things can probably never be put back where they were in 1996; whatever 'progress' has been made to date has been far more uncertain and difficult than necessary.

As far as the SAMHSA study is concerned, one is forced to wonder WHY pot has remained our most popular illegal drug tried  since MTF studies first began in 1975 and why the annual totals of  arrests and plants seized continues to increase every year if the 'control' is working as well as claimed. As usual, Fred Gardner's perspective was far more accurate, detailed, and nuanced than any other.

Another important question also comes to mind: how long will it  take voters to demand answers to the most basic questions about our disgraceful drug policy; like why has such a monumental faiure been so carefully protected for so long?

Posted by tjeffo at September 11, 2006 04:22 AM