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March 03, 2013

An American Anomaly

Despite the somewhat surprising popularity of "marijuana" that slowly become evident following passage of California's disputed Proposition 215 in 1996, "weed" is still "illegal under federal law," a mantra routinely intoned by supporters of the DEA whenever another state initiative makes the ballot or a "medical marijuana" law is passed by a state's legislature and signed by its governor; no longer a rare sequence.

My impatient response has been to wonder why, given its obvious popularity with the electorate, and the increasing evidence that cannabinoids relieve an even wider variety of symptoms than previously realized, do so many people passively accept the perennial failure of the American "drug war" launched by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970?

Don't people get it? Or are they just like the "good Germans" who failed to protest the progressive persecution (and disappearance) of their Jewish neighbors that started immediately after passage of the infamous Nuremberg laws in 1935? Are we Americans no more capable of critical thinking? Why are the drug war's outrages so widely accepted?

A logical reason was just provided by Skeptic columnist Michael Shermer in this month's Scientific American. The phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance may help explain it. It seems that people can be induced to support a policy they don't agree with if they can also be convinced that most of their neighbors support it; sort of an intellectual herd instinct based on fear and the desire not to become involved in something we don't really understand. A preexisting prejudice against the victims and an occasional dollop of fear at odd intervals also helps to reinforce the public's acceptance of an unfair policy.

Somewhat disturbing to me was that Shermer himself, in discussing the problem in contemporary America, cited only gays and atheists, but made no mention of "druggies" who are not just scorned and discriminated against, but also arrested, thrown into prison, and under a comparably oppressive policy and ; even killed for the crime of self-medication with a drug they have discovered relieves troublesome symptoms better than the dangerous and less effective products of our rapacious Pharmaceutical Industry.

Perhaps the more inclusive reason is that human behavior, as ultimately determined by our cognitive brains, is still more of a mystery than "neuroscientists" are willing to admit.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at March 3, 2013 06:54 PM