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September 22, 2009

Omens of Change?

The September 13 entry alluded to two reasons for thinking drug war minders may feel threatened as never before by the commercial success of medical marijuana in California. One was the degree to which my study of cannabis applicants has been ignored for two years; the other, a pair of documents that surfaced recently. Before considering them, I’d like to cite a prescient passage from the last pages of Drug Crazy, Mike Gray’s cogent 1998 analysis of America's drug policy published within two years of California's unexpected approval of Proposition 215.

Correctly anticipating that the controversy could only be intensified at first, and prudently avoiding any time estimates, Gray wrote: ”The coming engagement promises to be bloody because the outcome of the whole war is at stake. Prohibition, as policy, can only ratchet in one direction. Each failure must be met with more repression. Any step backward calls into question the fundamental assumption that repression is the solution. Ultimately, every available gun will be brought to bear because marijuana is the pawl on the ratchet, the little catch that keeps the drum from unwinding. For sixty years, Harry Anslinger and his successors have put their backs to this wheel, laboring to hoist drug prohibition to the level of a national crusade. But if somebody jiggles that pawl and the drum slips, support for the current policy will plummet like a loose cage in a mineshaft because it cannot sustain a serious evaluation.”

I always considered Mike's pawl analogy particularly apt. Ironically, when I first read it, I had yet to meet him and no idea I might someday do the study he anticipated; or that he'd play key roles in both its completion and publication.

That study relied on the initiative itself to recruit its own subjects, all cooperative users; a circumstance that could not have been anticipated. Analysis of their previously unavailable data exposes the profound ignorance of the drug war bureaucracy and the degree to which American drug policy has based its dogma on false assumptions. For example, while a “gateway" effect was one of several possible interpretations of the data gathered from the first baby boomers to try cannabis, it was revealed as the direct opposite of reality by the histories of younger cohorts.

Another unexpected finding is the precise time-line followed by the modern illegal market, which, in turn, is powerful evidence that its steady growth has been related to the unique ability of inhaled cannabis ("reefer") to relieve certain distressing emotional symptoms of adolescence more safely and reliably than other agents, whether illegal or pharmaceutical.

Finally, the most important implication of the study may be that by pushing vulnerable teens toward more dangerous agents, Nixon's "drug war" has probably been a forty-year disaster. In the face of that possibility, calculated indifference by either side of the policy “debate,” is both astonishing and irresponsible. Most bizarre is the silence of the “reform” movement. Because its principals have not discussed it publicly or privately, I'm forced to conclude it's because they are still convinced their own use is “recreational.”

As for hard-line drug war supporters, two recent moves now suggest how worried they have become; one is an elaborate “Friends of the DEA” report pleading with the Obama Administration to continue raiding dispensaries. Nothing new there. The other is far more ominous; a draft proposal, soon to be considered by the Medical Board of California at its October quarterly meeting in San Diego, for sweeping revisions of its disciplinary procedures.

Even a cursory reading reveals the proposal as a breath-taking attempt to do bureaucratically what Drug Czar McCaffrey was unable do by fiat in the waning days of 1996: nothing less than premeditated murder of the new law by unfrocking the physicians needed to implement it.

How well the public will accept such a naked revision of recent history remains to be seen. Whatever happens, cannabis will almost certainly continue to be a growth industry.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 22, 2009 02:22 AM