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July 26, 2009

Knowledge vs Belief 3 (Personal)

Saturday's entry promised to explain how current media interest in the medical marijuana controversy suggests that the drug policy reform movement may be close to its original goal of marijuana legalization. That seems likely even though the policy's supporters and opponents are still unable to discuss its essential features, a situation I have come to see as indicative of a pervasive human cognitive fiaw. To state it as directly as I can: the same preference for denial that has allowed the UN to impose a grotesquely unscientific, destructive, and failing drug policy is reflected in our species' obvious reluctance to take decisive action against the plausible threat of accelerated climate change.

In each case, the problem can be seen as an irrational preference for an institutionalized behavior in the face of abundant credible evidence that such behavior has been damaging to the environment, grossly unjust to human populations, or both.

An Example of Drug Policy Denial

Friday morning, on my way to Oakland, I happened to catch the last half-hour of a discussion of medical marijuana on the local NPR station. I soon became so distressed at its content in that setting that I was forced to turn it off. Fortunately, the broadcast was available online, so I was later able to listen to it in a more settled state of mind. That experience confirmed I had been right to turn it off; also that the composition of the panel itself is another subtle clue that, barring some unforeseen national emergency, we are headed toward marijuana legalization.

What the less distracted hearing revealed is that although the discussion was superficially congenial, each participant was taking such a decidedly different position on key issues, there was essentially no discussion at all because none made an honest attempt to recognize or explore their differences. The only consensus reached was actually a cop-out: that a large, but unknown fraction of applicants for a doctor's recommendation are “recreational users” who must be cheating. No participant mentioned federal opposition to legalization, which despite the lack of a federal presence on their panel, had just been been reasserted within California by none other than the new drug czar who, along with the new AG, and new President have been sending their own mixed messages on medical marijuana since taking office.

When I belatedly realized I couldn’t recall a similar panel discussion of medical use without at least one representative from law enforcement, I grasped the extent to which the drug czar’s role and voice have been diminished by the Obama Administration. It also became clear that, on Friday, the default "official" policy representative had been academic Mark Kleiman from UCLA's school of Public Policy. He is one of an elite coterie of such specialists tenured at our most prestigious graduate schools. Although few in number, they have played an essential role in validating American drug policy by failing to criticize it as it deserves. When one considers the over-the-top bombast of John Walters, one has to be impressed at the rhetorical and literary skill required of an academic drug policy critic who has to come across as thoughtful and intelligent, but can't afford to be seen as too disdainful of ONDCP. It didn't surprise me that Professor Kleiman had little to say on Friday.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at July 26, 2009 09:47 PM