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June 13, 2009

Embarrassing Reminders of Drug War Crimes

Two items on smoking and health appeared in the New York Times on Friday, June 12. While either one by itself should deeply embarrass our federal war on drugs, the two, when taken together, add up to a startling revelation of how feckless and destructive our drug policy has been, and just how empty our claim to adhere to the “rule of law” really is.

The first reported the Senate vote to transfer tobacco regulation to the FDA, a move that belatedly admits cigarettes are drugs and not the “recreational” products their manufacturers have always claimed. I was immediately reminded that the first solid medical link between cigarettes and lung cancer was established when I was a first year medical student in the Fall of 1953. The resultant drop in cigarette sales was eventually countered by Big Tobacco's cynical, well financed, and ultimately successful effort to delay acknowledging obvious truth for decades while allowing it to reap more profits from its deadly products. Given the circumstances that existed in 1953, an immediate ban on cigarettes would have been impossible; also, there is ample evidence that simply banning a popular drug is ineffective. However, neither consideration can justify the pathetic failure of the government to sponsor honest research of its own, while also permitting a powerful Tobacco Lobby to spread confusion and market its deadly products to juveniles thus causing millions of additional deaths over a span of five decades. Tobacco-related deaths are not only a result of lung cancer; but are also caused by cardiovascular disease, several other malignancies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The second Times report was on the sentencing of cannabis dispensary owner Charles Lynch to a year and a day in federal prison. That the sentence was so short was mostly due to the judge, who had clearly been requesting more help from the Obama "Justice" Department than he received. The apparent excuse from Justice for not intervening: its current interpretation of policy requires federal enforcement in cases where, in their judgment, state law has been violated!

Presumably, the sin was sale to an underage minor in this case, a particularly odious canard because cannabis facilitated successful treatment of a rare and aggressive bone cancer that typically attacks adolescents. If such contrived logic is the Obama Administration's ultimate defense of the DEA, it's a position that is medically, morally, and logically indefensible; far more typical of the usual Democratic Party pandering to conservatives many have come to loathe and not the “change” we wanted to believe in.

But, far beyond that, the juxtaposition of the two reports emphasizes the profound intellectual dishonesty of a drug policy that consistently allows our government to cut excessive slack to a variety of well-heeled corporate killers, while demanding the arrest and harsh punishment of millions of young people self-medicating with a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco.

The moral failure of the drug war has been total: first they declined a 1972 recommendation to study pot honestly, then they spent billions justifying the arrest of millions of pot users, thus pushing others into self-medicating with its two deadly, but legal, alternatives.

Complicit “research” purchased by NIDA from willing behavioral scientists in an obvious effort to support federal policy errors will not stand rigorous scrutiny indefinitely. Similarly, the failure of both Big Pharma and Academia to acknowledge the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoid agonists after discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the early Nineties will be increasingly difficult to explain to our descendants in decades to come.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 13, 2009 08:25 AM