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March 22, 2012

Humanity's Biggest Problems may be Emotional

The car radio had been tuned to the local NPR station; thus when I turned the key the next morning, Melinda Haag, US Attorney for Northern California, was giving the usual lame excuses for a new federal crackdown on medical marijuana “dispensaries.” She was discussing one I was familiar with, the Berkeley Patients’ Group, long considered one of the better ones in the Bay Area.

Ms. Haag, like most of her colleagues in the DOJ, is an obligatory doctrinaire prohibitionist; her script was written long ago and no deviations are allowed. All prohibition bureaucrats must profess an unshakeable faith in the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to “control” commerce in services and products our Federal Government has decreed too dangerous (or immoral) for citizens to use or possess. That belief has survived for over a century despite the well documented failures of all anti-prostitution laws (for millennia), a Constitutional Prohibition Amendment in the 20s, and the modern “war on drugs" since 1971.

Despite doctrinaire prohibition’s remarkable lack of success, Ms. Haag’s statements are consistent with the widely held belief that it should be successful, a notion born somewhere in the muddled Populist Movement near the end the Nineteenth Century and never abandoned. Faith in prohibition as policy inspired two separate federal legislative efforts; one to reduce or eliminate consumption of drugs (1914) and alcohol (1918). The first to be passed was the deceptive Harrison Act in 1914. Portrayed as merely a tool for tracking use of heroin and cocaine by its sponsors, Harrison was almost immediately enforced as prohibition by Treasury agents who arrested hundreds of physicians for prescribing either Heroin or cocaine, the two named drugs (as required by the law) for patients, some of whom were clearly addicts. The physician arrests were based on a claim that had not been made clear in of the legislation itself: that prescribing for "addicts" goes beyond the “normal” practice of Medicine, thus such prescriptions were considered illegal and deserving of punishment. The law was really a deceptive usurpation of medical practice by untrained federal bureaucrats.

Because "addiction" was not then, and has yet to be satisfactorily defined as other than a troublesome behavior, a dangerous precedent was covertly established and hardened into prohibition by the Supreme Court's decisions: untrained bureaucrats were given the power to overrule the medical judgment of licensed physicians on what amounted to specious moral grounds. Even worse, a specious concept, and its underlying moral implications, effectively froze research into addiction at a very early stage in its evolution while actively corrupting federally sponsored "studies" with official bias since 1973-74 when the DEA and NIDA created with an official mandate to bot define and enforce a law based on (ridiculously) erroneous assumptions dating back to 1937. If a piece of maladroit legislation was worse timed and more disastrous consequences, it may have been the secret "three fifths" Compromise by which chattel slavery was buried in the Constitution of a new nation that proudly proclaimed in its revolutionary manifesto that "all men are created equal."

Harrison was upheld several times by the Supreme Court between 1915 and 1920 by 5-4 margins. In 1925, the same Court reversed itself in Linder, but, unfortunately, because Medicine never appealed, the original error was "grandfathered in" and the way thus paved for the Draconian Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (a circumstance that dramatically underscores the crucial difference between Medicine and the Law.

The CSA, was conceptualized by then-Attorney General John Mitchell in 1969 after the Supreme Court struck down the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (which had also threatened Harrison (because both laws were transparently spurious “taxes” with no legitimate taxation purpose). Their real purpose, thinly disguised from the outset, was control of Medical prescriptions for designated drugs by unqualified federal agents based on ill-defined and (to this day) completely unproven hypotheses about “addiction.”

The obvious shortcomings of the drug war are augmented by Psychiatry's lack of verifiable objective standards: other than "organic" brain diseases, the conditions psychiatrists treat cannot be defined by anatomic Pathology, nor can “addiction” be considered as other than a behavioral manifestation.

Classifying "addiction" as a "disease" for which total abstinence is the obligatory "cure" and prison the only allowable "alternative therapy" is irrational, unjust, expensive, and has become increasingly destructive as new "substances are readily developed by molecular chemists for burgeoning criminal markets. Beyond that absurdity lurks another: we don't imprison non compliant diabetics for the "crime" of spilling sugar in their urine; why do we imprison drug users for a positive urine?

What has been (slowly) exposed by the unprecedented “push back” against federal marijuana prohibition in current state “medical marijuana” laws is disquieting evidence of a far deeper, and even more disturbing, flaw in human nature: our species, despite its vaunted cognitive prowess, seems intent on failure. Its exact mode is, as yet uncertain, but can be readily summarized: the more scientifically talented we become, the more dangerous we are to both ourselves, the environment, and to other species.

That notion was memorably summarized by cartoonist Walt Kelly in the Fifties when Pogo, his main character observed, ”we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at March 22, 2012 06:24 PM