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February 23, 2009

Lessons Resisted, 1: Malignant federal bureaucracy as a consequence of pervasive dishonesty

It’s difficult to know precisely what the federal bureaucrats conducting the drug war really think about “drugs;” in other words, do they- especially physicians with some expertise in Pharmacology- really believe their policy’s off-the-wall assertions about “drugs of abuse?” How does one even recognize a drug of abuse apart from its arbitrary listing on Schedule One on the basis of criteria chosen by anonymous authors of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act?

It doesn’t take a great deal of research to discover that the legal precedent originally permitting the federal government to arrest doctors for prescribing opiates for "addicts" was based on turn of the (last) century fears of “addiction,” as endorsed by a series of 5-4 Supreme Court rulings upholding the 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act. That precedent was later significantly expanded by the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively rendered any possession of cannabis by either physicians or patients lacking a special tax stamp subject to harsh penalties.

The deceptive intentions of the MTA were evident from the beginning; it also relied on the Harrison ploy of a transfer tax and required physicians to purchase the tax stamps. The (significant) difference was that the stamps needed for the MTA were never printed. The MTA also substituted the slang term, “marijuana,” for cannabis, one the government has retained in all official documents ever since. Finally, the MTA significantly extended the powers usurped by Harrison with an (implicit) ban on any future medical use of cannabis. That restriction was hardly noted at first, but is now crucial. It never applied to either cocaine or the opiates "regulated" by the older law because there were no substitutes when it was passed

Just as the MTA expanded dubious federal prerogatives claimed by Harrison, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act authored by Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice further expanded them, also without medical input, a legislative sleight-of-hand made possible because the Supreme Court's 1969 rejection of the MTA was on legal (Fifth Amendment) grounds that were countered by simply asserting a different Constitutional basis for the CSA: Congressional jurisdiction over Interstate Commerce.

Thus does the entire medical basis of current policy rest on the ignorance of Harrison's authors as narrowly validated by a medically ignorant Supreme Court during the second decade of the Twentieth Century. It also follows logically that modern Congressional enhancements of penalties for “drug crimes,” especially numerous in the case of cocaine and marijuana, were also passed without any review of the same questionable amateur medical beliefs.

The bottom line is that America's (and the world's) drug policy is rigidly bound by medically ignorant legal assumptions that run a gamut from those made by Hamilton Wright through Harry Anslinger and Richard Nixon. Worse yet, those assumptions were never validated; nor could they have been formally challenged until a California state initiative was passed in 1996 and these disturbing conclusions could not have been reached except for the relatively relatively simple study of chronic cannabis use that made them possible.

Sadly, that's not the end of this surprising story. Although first announced to insiders within the reform movement in 2003 and 2004, then published in 2005, and updated in peer-reviewed literature in 2007 the data and their implications have been assiduously ignored, a phenomenon demanding its own explanation.

As our contemporary world gradually slides into what may be its second-ever Great Depression, simple extrapolation from the daily news sheds light on my dilemma and vice versa: both appear related to the interplay of emotional and cognitive centers within the highly evolved human brain. Since the emergence of empirical Science some five hundred years ago, our species' ability to affect our planetary environment has been progressively enhanced to a point we are now having major impacts on both our terrestrial and emotional environments.

As a physician, I realize that making an accurate diagnosis doesn't always guarantee effective treatment, but I also know that without an accurate diagnosis, the likelihood of prescribing effective treatment is greatly diminished. That concern probably also applies to Economics, considered by many to be a Behavioral science.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 23, 2009 05:59 PM