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April 24, 2012

How the Drug War Evolved from imposed "Public Health" to an International Conundrum

The "war on drugs" is a major American conundrum: how does a nation that imposed a seriously mistaken policy on the rest of the world admit it made a mistake? The obverse is even more troubling: why has the only species blessed with our complex cognitive skills, continued to endorse that policy through the UN?

That question becomes even more pertinent when one remembers that the US promptly canceled alcohol prohibition, the drug war's conceptual twin, by passing an ad-hoc "Repeal" Amendment in 1933, an event that might have warned of a similar fate following any attempt at rigorous enforcement of then-extant drug policy or sudden increase in drug markets it was focused on (precisely what happened in the Sixties). Thus the continued acceptance of a failing drug prohibition policy by the nations of the world becomes an issue for serious consideration: are human governments unable to think very clearly? Or do the various organization now benefiting from criminal drug markets have the political power to keep them in existence despite the harm they cause? I suspect it's a bit of both.

However, any idea that the various disparate groups profiting from the drug war are conspiring is nonsense. Drug criminals profit from breaking the law; they are also essential job security for police, as well as a source of bribes and other favors. Modern "Treatment," "Prevention,"and "Rehab" industries are also beneficiaries of drug prohibition, as are those who advocate (and promise) "drug free" schools and workplaces. Then there is the dubious moral imperative that "legalization" would be irresponsible because it "condones" use. What none of those "anti-drug" arguments recognize is that the ignorance imposed on all concerned parties by drug illegality eliminated the best opportunity to have understood what made them popular, the basis for their appeal to users, or how their use might be related to other factors just as their markets began flourish in the Sixties. Instead, a robust criminal drug culture based on youthful initiation of new agents was fanned by the CSA, a repressive omnibus prohibition law. The same markets, plus several new ones, have since been expanding uncontrollably for four decades; materially assisted by the ignorance and official myopia imposed by the CSA's two supporting agencies.

A major disadvantage of having a mistaken policy imbedded in criminal law has been the automatic support commanded by Law Enforcement Agencies and the Judiciary. In that respect, early supporters of drug prohibition were more aggressive than their opponents; they passed off the deceptive Harrison Act as a way to track problematic prescriptions, but began arresting physicians who were writing them on the notion that they were fueling "addiction." The Supreme Court's agreement expanded the law's intent and allowed the federal bureaucrats to prescribe specific treatment, a right they have yet to relinquish.

Medicine defines disease based on its pathological anatomy; legal precedents, are established by case law, in which outcomes (and precedents) are determined largely by rhetoric. That disconnect between objectivity and opinion remains at the heart of the drug policy controversy; it has allowed the drug war's claim to be a form of Public Health to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it was based entirely on the medically incompetent rhetoric of John Mitchell, as protected by Richard Nixon.

Thus the drug war remains an incoherent policy without grounding in objective clinical studies, which have been literally impossible from the time Harrison was approved by the Supreme Court in 1920 until the first medical marijuana initiatives finally created the possibility of clinical access to "drug criminals" in 1996.

Although interval clinical research on cannabis users has been discouraged, enough recognized therapeutic benefits have been documented to render continued federal claims that "marijuana" has "no recognized use" in American Medical practice both embarrassing and stupid; yet that argument seems to the DEA's sole excuse continuing its raids in California.

If Obama would reign them in and make some positive noises about cannabis well before November, he'd probably be re-elected. But, given his recent clueless behavior, I'm not betting on the outcome.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at April 24, 2012 09:02 PM