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September 10, 2011

Annals of Moral Pharmacology

On May 19, 1969, the US Supreme Court surprised everyone by striking down the Marijuana Tax Act in a case involving notorious LSD guru Timothy Leary, an erstwhile Harvard professor who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1965 following his arrest for possession of marijuana after he was barred as a tourist by Mexican authorities; not because of the marijuana, but because of his personal notoriety. Be that as it may, the high court's reversal of the 1937 MTA also threatened the more venerable (1914) Harrison Narcotic Act which had also awarded police powers to the same federal agency on the basis of a similar tax ploy. In other words, the Leary decision was a clear threat to the viability of American drug policy just as the size and popularity of a nascent youthful drug culture were alarming older adults.

Clearly, something would have to be done.

By October, 1970, that “something” had become the Controlled Substances Act, the brain child of none other than John Newton Mitchell, Nixon's 1968 campaign manager, whose reward for a narrow election victory had been his appointment as Attorney General. There is no evidence that Mitchell sought any outside help from experts in Pharmacology or Medicine in drafting the CSA's key Schedule One, which articulates the rationale for "control" (not prohibition) of certain designated "substances" (not drugs) and invests final authority for deciding the "substances" to be listed (banned) in the AG. Three of the first were heroin, marijuana, and LSD, a grouping that underscores both Mitchell's Pharmacologic ignorance and that of those who would later endorse it: initially, the Congress of the United States, and later, on numerous occasions, the Supreme Court. Nor has the dubious logic of Schedule 1 been challenged by any sitting president since Nixon. That such a patently absurd set of assertions is the basis for arresting travelers in most ports of entry of UN member nations does not auger well for our contentious species, which finds similar agreement on other issues so difficult.

From a purely logical perspective, Mitchell’s postulates are coherent. Unfortunately, they are also mere supposition, none of which can be substantiated by experience; especially the second: "The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." That notion is now so ludicrously untrue that it requires an almost total suspension of belief to endorse it; it's the kind of “logic” that characterizes Tea Party stalwarts on most issues and people who believe rapid climate change is a hoax, even after their towns were flooded by tropical depressions on successive week ends.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 10, 2011 05:15 PM