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June 26, 2011

A Clinical Study as Accidental History

Both American drug policy and its current iteration as a “war” on drugs are historical phenomena that should be amenable to study. One of several impediments to any study of an activity that’s been declared illegal is identification of those who engage in it because of their risk of prosecution or other adverse consequences. In essence, Proposition 215, which had been bitterly opposed by all federal and state agencies charged with drug law enforcement, was (and still is) a plea for reconsideration of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, authored by AG John Mitchell in 1969 and signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. Thus did the initiative implicitly immunize those applying to use cannabis against prosecution for its prior use, and implicitly protect the application process with the same guarantee of confidentiality widely understood to exist in both medical and legal client-professional relationships.

In the turbulent historical context of Nixon's 1968 election, older Americans were being shocked by the behavior of adolescents and young adults who were rejecting traditional social norms, openly using “marijuana” and other drugs, and refusing to fight in a controversial war in Vietnam that was claiming the lives of more draftees every month. A dramatic example of the division between youth and their elders was the general lack of protest over the savage beating of young “hippies” by Chicago Police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The drug policy hippies were flouting had been based on two deceptive pieces of legislation (prohibitions cloaked as transfer taxes). The older one (Harrison, 1914), authorized the arrest of physicians for prescribing unapproved amounts of certain drugs for "addicts;" while the the more recent MTA, (1937), targeted possession by individuals. In 1969, shortly after Nixon took office, the Supreme Court rather unexpectedly declared the MTA unconstitutional because it allegedly violated the Fifth Amendment. Because of its similarity to Harrison, the decision jeopardized our entire policy, , thus providing the new administration with an opportunity to write an new omnibus legislation.

What emerged was Mitchell's Draconian CSA, a law embracing the same muddled notions on “addiction” as before without any discernible Medical input, despite a newly asserted Public Health imperative and enabling severe punishment. Adding insult to injury, sole authority for listing new agents (“substances”) as categorically illegal ("Schedule One") was given to the Attorney General. Thus did a flagrant tautology become a Draconian, yet medically uninformed policy by legislative fiat.

Interestingly enough, after Nixon’s own commission went against his express wishes by recommending that marijuana be studied for its medical benefits, Nixon summarily rejected their recommendation with the same tautology. An uncritical press let him get away with it and he went on to defeat George McGovern by a landslide later that year. Ironically it wasn’t until the Watergate break-in eventually led to the unraveling of his Presidency that Nixon an his AG were held accountable for their lies; but not for the MTA.

Most disappointing is that tapes revealing Nixon’s complicity in the scandal would end up being sealed for another thirty years. In the meantime the CSA has done great damage through the agencies Nixon managed to create by separate Executive Orders issued shortly before his resignation in 1974: the DEA and NIDA. Both have evolved into high-profile agencies, each with a vested interest in expanding its influence with propaganda that portrays "addiction" as a dreaded “disease” for the only permissible therapeutic goal is abstinence, to be coerced by criminal sanctions if need be.

Among several things my limited study of pot users has made clear is that not only has the drug war failed, those who insist on its necessity lack the most basic understanding of marijuana, the "substance" they seem most determined to keep illegal. That pot will ultimately become legal is all but certain, but how long that will take is itself unclear because the repudiation of such a major policy error would require Congress to acknowledge a major mistake.

However, now that the first Boomers are aging into Medicare; I’m confident that enough current and former users will, as Senior Citizens, eventually persuade their Senators and Congressmen to do the right thing.

That the stakes are high is also clear from our national history: the last time similar repudiation of a long-standing policy was called for, Fort Sumter was bombarded by those who refused to go along.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 26, 2011 09:21 PM