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August 07, 2011

“Legalization” is a safe bet, but could still be a long wait

Pot is even better medicine than many of its ardent supporters realize, but Congress will have to be persuaded to admit to a huge mistake before it can become legal.

America’s war on drugs has been such an abject policy failure that the steadfast refusal of our federal bureaucracy to consider even the slightest change in its prohibition of “marijuana” should raise serious questions about both America’s intellectual competence and the relevance of our federal system of government. Beyond that, the fact that travelers caught with even a small amount of cannabis in any international port of entry face certain arrest reflects badly on our whole species.

I can make such sweeping statements with considerable confidence because I’ve been engaged for ten years in the first-ever objective study of marijuana use, a project made possible when California voters passed proposition 215 in 1996. However I didn’t tumble to the opportunity myself until I had been screening applicants for several months. The study was enabled by the requirement that applicants be evaluated by a licensed physician, but it also required that the physician be willing to seek pertinent information and that applicants be willing to supply it.

Only in retrospect has it been possible to understand that the aggregated histories of thousands of users could create a body of information against which the policy could be measured. Then the information had to be sought and analyzed. Perhaps what inspired me most was a statement by former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara, “the drug war is a policy that can’t stand scrutiny.” True enough, but the problem then became getting people to pay attention to the data.

The policy turns out to be based on even more egregiously false assumptions than either Chief McNamara or I could have guessed when he made that statement in 1995. What we also could not have guessed was the role played by fear in protecting a failing and destructive policy.

To restate the problem from a somewhat different perspective: before cannabis can be legalized, the same two legislative bodies that just disgraced themselves in the debt ceiling debate will have to admit that a policy both houses of Congress and both major political parties have staunchly supported since 1937 was a profound mistake. We have only to extrapolate from the cable news broadcasts being aired as this is written to understand how how daunting the problem may become.

All is not lost however; the demographics of cannabis applicants disclose the pivotal role of the Baby Boom in establishing the current marijuana market; also as more medical users age into senior citizenship with each passing year, their voices must eventually be heard. If nothing else, the past 14 years have demonstrated the economic power of America’s most popular illegal drug. If cannabis is addictive at all, it's far less so than cigarettes, the degree of consumer loyalty demonstrated by each birth cohort of initiates is far greater than mere "recreation" can account for.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at August 7, 2011 05:33 PM