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September 30, 2011

Time to Revisit the Shafer Report?

March 22, 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's summary rejection of the timidly worded Shafer Commission's two year study simply because he didn't agree with its recommendations. Originally mandated in 1970 by a Congressional committee struggling with the wording of John Mitchell's Controlled Substances Act because of their concern that although little was known about "marijuana's" effects on chronic users, it had already been chosen for listing on the highly restrictive Schedule One, by Roger Egeberg, the Assistant Secretary of Health, presumably at Nixon's insistence.

Thus one result of Nixon's summary rejection of the commission's recommendation was that the ban on a drug his own Committee had taken great pains to point out was unsupported by scientific evidence in 1970 would continue to tarnish it with the same stigma Harry Anslinger had smeared it with in 1937 for three more decades before growing agitation by its (underground) medical users finally produced California's unique "medical marijuana" initiative in 1996.

Parenthetically, it must also be added that until passage of the Draconian CSA (and the speedy creation, by Executive Order, of its supportive bureaucracies, the DEA and NIDA) no research supporting "marijuana" prohibition had ever been done. Anyone reasonably familiar with ordinary medical research should have been able to recognize the flood of "Gateway" studies that began in the early Seventies for what it was: post hoc, policy-compliant "research" filling a void that had existed, both before and after Anslinger's ludicrous 1937 MTA. In other words, three decades of disinterest in illegal "reefer" by the behavioral sciences were quickly followed by a plethora of studies seeking to explain the explosive youthful cannabis interest of the Sixties without ever recognizing that it had been unique to that era or asking why it had occurred when it did. Instead; the CSA itself had generated a bonanza of DEA and NIDA funding for policy-friendly "research" by Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences.

Nixon's summary burial of the timidly-worded Shafer Report was high-handed, even for him; but the media let it pass, almost without comment in March 1972. In that connection, it should also be remembered that particular time was probably the high-water mark of his entire Administration. He had just scored an unlikely foreign policy coup by driving a wedge between China and its Russian allies (while also insuring a benign Chinese response to "Vietnamization").

Ironically, although Nixon's re-election may have seemed almost certain in March 1972, it would be his own insecurity that would goad his supporters into the ludicrous Watergate break-in that eventually destroyed his Presidency. It's also not surprising that the press failed to notice his brush-off of Shafer in March '72; given the context, they probably spent little time reading it themselves.

In that connection, and considering that we now have 4 decades of expensive Drug War failure by which to evaluate the CSA, perhaps we should finally read the long-neglected Shafer report. My own study, still ongoing, suggests that it made some very good points about cannabis; in fact, we might be a lot better off today if it had received a modicum of intelligent, unbiased scrutiny before the nation (and the UN) foolishly committed themselves to a scientifically vacuous policy based on little more than Harry Anslinger's vivid imagination, Richard Nixon's paranoid resentment, and John Mitchell's seductive rhetoric.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2011

Wrestling with Anslinger’s Ghost

In 1937 Harry Anslinger justified his request that Congress pass the Marijuana Tax Act with claims that use of "Reefer" by American adolescents had been increasing alarmingly. He also dismissed its importance as medicine, claiming that “Indian hemp” had seen its day and would not be missed by physicians.

It's now possible, over 74 years later and almost 15 years after proposition 215 passed in California to state unequivocally that the Marijuana Tax Act- through a chain of unfortunate circumstances- not only facilitated the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 but also materially assisted passage of the even more destructive Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The CSA, which was quickly accepted as reasonable by jurists who lacked both the knowledge and credentials to question its completely unproven assertions, quickly became the lynchpin of a (global) war on drugs. It is thus now possible to nominate Anslinger for a very dubious honor: the most destructive government bureaucrat in human history.

Ironically, because marijuana prohibition (inevitably described as “drug control” in federal documents) is still an indispensable tenet of drug war dogma, neither its “medicinal,” nor its “recreational” use can be recognized by a federal agency. Nevertheless, because a measure of common sense has gradually been revealed in 16 states and the District of Columbia, “medical marijuana" laws now permit the disputed production and distribution of cannabis to an indeterminate number of successful applicants, all of whom have satisfied disputed criteria and been recognized as “legitimate” patients within their home states.

Over the past 10 years, I have been collecting data from cannabis applicants in California attempting to determine 2 things: were their claims of medical use believable? Second, given the obvious affirmative answer to that question, what accounts for the reluctance of the federal government to consider the possibility Anslinger may have been wrong and they have been pursuing a ridiculous policy for over 40 years?

In fact, cannabis, although federally illegal, is potent medicine in both its inhaled and edible forms and may become the source of even more valuable therapeutic agents, now that its genome has been sequenced.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2011

A Species Threatened by its own Cleverness

Understanding the genesis of humanity's modern dilemma isn’t that difficult. All it requires is the right perspective and a willingness to question traditional religious beliefs. If we accept empirical science as having started around the time of Galileo, we can see that as the basic sciences began evolving into information-sharing disciplines in the 18th-century, technologic progress became even more rapid and the nascent Industrial Revolution began gaining headway from about 1800 on. Generally, the more spectacular and profitable the science, the more firmly its direction and control remained with conservative religious and political leaders who tended to favor using it for weapons, colonization, economic exploitation, and wars of conquest.

The North American experiment in representative government that gave rise to the United States was an interesting opportunity for change, but the secret retention of chattel slavery by its founders inflicted a social and economic wound from which recovery has been difficult.

In any event, the net result for Planet Earth has been its rapid human overpopulation and environmental degradation, even as we are still learning about rare natural disasters that impacted animal populations in the past and have not disappeared. Current examples are the recently discovered presence of a Yellowstone mega volcano and the disputed evidence of rapid climate change now adding to our financial and emotional woes, even as they are being ignored or minimized by a majority of conservative politicians and media outlets.

As these problems have progressed in both their scope and the difficulty of finding timely solutions, the facility with which we seem able to ignore them has also increased. Examples abound; take the brisk illegal trade in both drugs and immigrants along our southern border with Mexico: both governments have been attempting to suppress those activities with a similar lack of success, but at quite different costs: for Americans it’s the financially expensive enforcement bureaucracy, but for Mexico, it has been thousands of cartel murders and the even more anonymous deaths of border crossing job seekers from exposure and dehydration. Nevertheless, both governments apparently regard their efforts as rational and worthwhile because they are continuing.

What it might take just to reconsider the drug war and admit its multiple failures in the present political climate is simply beyond comprehension.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2011

Reflections on 9/11: Wars that can't be won.

Despite the recent patriotic hoopla on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the assassination of its principal architect on May 2, it must be admitted that 10 years ago, Osama bin Laden scored an enormous victory with a small investment; one that has continued to grow because his perceived enemies are now mired in a financial catastrophe with no end in sight. Joblessness in the United States is at levels not seen since the Great Depression, and neither political party has a clue about how to reverse it. Difficult as it may be to remember now, the Clinton Administration had somehow left Bush and Cheney with a balanced budget just nine months before the attacks.

As Dana Priest's series confirms, the US response was to spend so much money on intelligence gathering, futile nation building, and two disastrous wars leaning heavily on contractors, that we still can't measure their total cost, turn them off, or pay for them; primarily because global financial markets were thrown into a crisis of confidence in 2008. Not to mention that a majority of the world’s humans are failing to acknowledge serious problems with human overpopulation, critical resource shortages, rapid climate change, and growing political instability.

Until about five years ago, I was foolish enough to think that simply exposing some of the more blatant failures of our drug policy might hasten its political defeat, but recent developments, together with what I've learned about human nature from the study itself have convinced me otherwise. It will take far more than a few lonely voices; particularly in a world preoccupied by fear.

Nevertheless, we may also be close to a point in history where our species will have to choose between its own survival and continued exploitation of the global environment in pursuit of wealth. How such a choice might be recognized, let alone be made, is of course impossible to know at this moment. However if we do nothing, our problems seems almost certain to become worse. Thus continuing to rely on denial, will likely continue our present downward spiral.

As usual with things I blog about, there's a drug war connection here. It is also an expensive policy disaster based on greed and fear. It has already been failing expensively in plain sight for four decades (as opposed to just ten years for the 'War on Terror").

Go figure.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:15 PM | Comments (0)

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 05:15 PM | Comments (0)