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January 25, 2009

Proposition 215: Lessons Learned

In December 2008, Fred Gardner, one of the nation’s better informed journalists on the subject, asked me to summarize the most important lessons learned from seven years of clinical contact with applicants seeking to legitimize their use of cannabis under the provisions of Proposition 215, California’s landmark 1996 “medical marijuana” initiative.

It proved more daunting than expected; I soon discovered that while I had lots of facts, I wasn’t as prepared to place them within their proper historical context as I thought; thus I was forced to do a different kind of research for a while. Fortunately, the steady accumulation of information on the web and greatly enhanced search engines have both made that easier than it would have been five years ago. Much of that information was posted to this blog between December 20 and January 10.

A More Accurate Historical Context for American Drug Policy

Although a punitive high-profile “War” on Drugs has been the nation’s drug policy for the past 40 years, that was not always the case. Until the early Sixties there had been relatively little media interest in illegal drugs for three reasons; first, Harry Anslinger, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 -62 had preferred it that way, second, neither he nor anyone else had anticipated the baby boom, or how quickly the first wave of children born right after World War II would mature into young rebels aggressively trying marijuana and several of the other agents that had appeared so unexpectedly shortly after the war ended.

Further; after Anslinger had been forced into a long overdue retirement by the Kennedys in 1962, no one could have anticipated the perfect storm that would eventually follow: both Kennedys would be assassinated, racial unrest would roil the Deep South, our deepening involvement in Viet Nam would produce a rebellious Counterculture, and Timothy Leary’s pot conviction would inspire the Supreme Court to reject the Marijuana Tax Act; finally, a Chicago police riot in 1968 would lead to the election of Richard Nixon. Thus did Anslinger's bureaucratic success at maintaining personal control over a simplistic drug policy by a process of intimidation help set up both the chaos of the Sixties counterculture and the election of a man whose expansion of that policy into a "war" would have its own profound effects. Before Anslinger entered his terminal dotage, he twisted the knife once more by authoring the Single Convention Treaty that has globalized his folly and provided reliable sources of revenue to rogue governments and criminal organizations around the world.

The rash of changes that surrounded Anslinger’s departure from the FBN, in concert with those wrought by the drug war itself, can now be correlated with other profound changes affecting both American and global institutions, especially in the areas of Mental Health, Criminal justice, and Prisons. In essence, we have substituted prisons for the network of state mental hospitals that once provided domiciliary care for those incapable of caring for themselves. The changes have been neither humane nor inexpensive, but they have quadrupled our prison population while leaving an uncounted army of homeless to fend for themselves in our big cities. They have also facilitated the adoption of an absurd and misleading classification of Psychiatric diagnoses that has played into the hands of the drug war and Big Pharma, but one I think will ultimately have to be abandoned or radically changed.

I now understand the most important lesson taught by my study of chronic pot users is its confirmation that the drug war is phony morality posing as Public Health. The reason is really so obvious we should all be ashamed of the respect the policy has long been granted; NIDA's and the DEA's insistence that neither pot nor any other "drug of abuse" could possibly be medicine is blatantly unscientific; once the possibility that pot's anxiolytic properties were the reason for its sustained popularity with adolescents is conceded, the absurdity of dogmatic US policy becomes obvious (to say nothing of the damage done in its name).

Since I’m also aware of animal studies supporting my clinical and historical perspective on drug use, the best way to satisfy Fred’s request would seem to be an outline of the new scenario. Even though it's far more likely to be regarded as heresy than established fact for a while, it's a far more coherent explanation of recent history, one that will ultimately have to be investigated under some future drug czar.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 25, 2009 05:38 PM