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March 29, 2013

Late Effects of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act

Any thinking person taking the trouble to read the text of the inordinately complex Marijuana Tax Act, especially in this online version with David Solomon's introduction, should be able to recognize it as a clumsy attempt to deceive the public; especially since its prime mover, then Director of the FBN, has long since been exposed as a biased bureaucrat with a rich uncle and an axe to grind.

That such questionable legislation would be rejected on Fifth Amendment grounds by the Warren Court at that particular time isn't surprising; the Court's lawyers, having just ruled on Miranda in 1966, would then have been very attuned to Fifth Amendment issues and relatively unaware of Anslinger's shortcomings as an authority on "addiction."

However, the bill Nixon soon presented to Congress to replace the MTA had been hastily conceived by lawyers: Nixon himself and Attorney General John Mitchell. Both had obvious political motives and neither had a level of medical expertise greater than Anslinger's. Their haste and motive can be readily inferred from the fact that drug using "hippies" were then demonstrating against the draft and an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam.

Although the Congressional committee responsible for writing the proposed new law had enough qualms about placing cannabis on "Schedule one" of the CSA to force Nixon to appoint a "Blue Ribbon" Committee to review the issue, no objections were raised by Congress, the media, or the committee itself when Nixon rejected its unexpected recommendations out of hand.

In any event, their negative report wasn't issued until March 1972. By that time, the CSA had been in effect long enough to have gained enthusiastic support from two important lobbies: Law Enforcement and Psychiatry.

Police everywhere embraced it with enthusiasm because the surge in "Marijuana" arrests, already underway when Timothy Leary was arrested in 1965, had continued; as had arrests for other "schedule one" drugs. The subsequent release of a series of iconic Hollywood blockbusters in quick succession: the French Connection (1971) the Godfather (1972) and Serpico (1973) also helped convince the public that a "War" against America's new drug menace was necessary.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists had also been impressed by the sudden appearance of thousands youthful "marijuana" users. Although it was was an illegal drug with which they'd had little previous experience, they quickly came up with a solid reason to support its suppression under the criminal code: its "Gateway" effect. Because nearly all its youthful users had also tried alcohol and tobacco- and smaller percentages had later tried "harder" drugs, they reasoned that "marijuana" itself was somehow responsible.

Thus was the spurious "Gateway" hypothesis born and launched on its four decade lifespan. It's a belief that many with an obvious vested interest continue to support under cover of "marijuana's" continuing illegality.

In retrospect, it's now apparent that two serious errors were made in the early Seventies. One was acceptance of the laughably uninformed scheduling algorythm of the CSA; the other was not asking why young pot smokers had suddenly appeared when they did.

The painful truth is that neither the Marijuana Tax Act nor the Controlled Substances Act deserved the respect they received from the powerful social institutions that accepted them as legitimate once they were passed and signed into law.

The next entry will deal with the several reasons behind those phenomena and why the illegality of cannabis remains such a contentious issue; one now supported more by the federal bureaucracy than the growing number of states opting some ill-defined form of "Legalization."

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2013

The Drug War as an Indicator of Human "Progress"

One conclusion I’ve been driven to progressively in the course of my study of drug policy is that our species may represent a failed natural experiment in that we appear to have dug a hole for ourselves from which escape will predictably be very difficult and may have even become impossible.

The obvious culprit is our marvelous brain, which along with our centers of cognition, also harbors our emotional centers. We now think humans are cognitive mammals that evolved from a line of twenty or so primate species going back to the Miocene apes that first appeared about nine million years ago. Our most recent ancestors were Neanderthals, now extinct, with whom our most remote human ancestors shared the planet and may have exchanged genetic material (but the details are still uncertain).

Human written history began much more recently with the almost simultaneous appearance of literacy in several parts of he world. What is most extraordinary is that the various pioneers of literacy inhabited widely scattered parts of the planet and must have been unknown to each other when they first devised their very different writing systems.

From literacy, human cultural evolution, progressed to an ability to communicate complex ideas, which as the work of Noam Chomsky has convincingly demonstrated, required the integration of separate centers within the brain into a functional language organ.

Nevertheless, as the chaos and disagreements characteristic of our modern world so convincingly demonstrate, our advanced cognitive abilities, especially once they were amplified by the evolution of empirical science about five hundred years ago, seem to have been working against our best interests as a species, which according to Darwin, should be survival.

Rather than the means for survival, what science seems to have provided us with are enhanced tools for mutual destruction in the form of nuclear weapons, exploitation of the planet's finite resources, and the willingness to profit from deep-seated emotional differences between various groups of humans.

Considered within that context, overwhelming international support for a policy that both prohibits and punishes cultivation and use of a therapeutic agent that moderates the emotional differences between humans seems at least irrational, if not insane.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2013

The Evolution and Implications of a Modern Tragedy

The first unexpected revelation of my ad-hoc study of Proposition 215 applicants was that many had been raised by single mothers or had childhoods otherwise deprived of supportive parenting from their biological fathers. That observation only became apparent after I entered their data into a relational database in 2003 in preparation for a talk I was asked to give at the 2004 meeting of Patients Out of Time, a cannabis-friendly volunteer organization.

Another important revelation is that only 295 (4.25%) of the 6900 Californians now in my data base were born before the 30% increase in live births that marked the abrupt onset of America's Baby Boom immediately following War Two. What now appears to be emerging when data from California's Proposition 215 applicants is considered in conjunction with heretofore suppressed evidence of "marijuana's" enormous popularity is a broad outline of how a huge modern folly, the global "war on drugs," evolved from the combination of a singular demographic event and two unfortunate pieces of US legislation enacted thirty-two years apart.

The key elements were, in sequence:

1) The 1937 "Marijuana" Tax Act

2) The end of the Second World War in August 1945

3)The 1946-1964 Baby Boom

4)The 1965 conviction and 30 year sentence of LSD guru Timothy Leary after he was arrested for possession of cannabis when trying to re-enter the US at Laredo, Texas.

5)The 1969 Warren Court Leary decision unexpectedly striking down the MTA

6)The scientifically uninformed Controlled Substances Act offered by the Nixon Administration in 1970 to "correct the deficiencies in the MTA.

7)The subsequent development of a series of violent illegal drug markets in troubled nations around the world, along with various cynical attempts by US government agencies to exploit those markets for political ends.

8)The passive acceptance, by American media, of both Nixon's refusal to act on the Shafer commission's recommendations on "Marijuana" and its failure to question the woeful record of the "War on Drugs" that followed.

At each step along the way, enough embarrassing deficiencies have been exhibited by people in responsible positions to suggest our overpopulated planet will be hard put to find either the political or financial wherewithal to solve its self-created drug problems, not to mention its more pressing issues with climate change or the nations that see nuclear weapons as essential to their survival.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:49 PM | Comments (0)

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 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2013

Humans, the Brain, and Diasporas

Our relatively small planet is, so far as we can tell, the only one in our vast universe harboring life. We humans are also the only species to have evolved a brain complex enough to master both language and literacy. That they are not the same is evident from the enormous number of spoken languages still in use, while the number of writing systems (literacy) is far smaller. The first evidence of literacy also suggests that it evolved well after the first successful diasporas forced humans from their ancestral homelands in Africa and distributed them (plus some Neanderthals) widely over the world's continents and large islands.

It’s also obvious that our neolithic forebears must have developed spoken language long before leaving Africa on journeys as frightening as diasporas. How else could they have planned such complex undertakings requiring (at a minimum) close cooperation, complex planning, and the agreement by several families that a desperate move was necessary in the first place? We can only imagine because there is no written record.

However, the conditions that can stimulate populations to leave homelands on dangerous, one-way journeys have always been with us.

In fact, a brilliant study by Isabel Wilkerson describes how lack of faith in their futures impelled modern American blacks to migrate from the deep South to different parts of the United States in search of better lives. It takes but a moment to realize that Mexican "illegals" are now making the same choice with even less hope of employment than that awaiting immigrants to the United States in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

Diasporas are possible whenever a discrete population shares the belief that life where they are has become intolerable; they are then motivated to undertake journeys into the unknown with no guarantee of return. Such is the plight of the “illegals” now besieging our border with Mexico. It also impelled large numbers of European Jews to emigrate to North America and elsewhere just in time to escape Hitler's final solution. After enabling the population of Ireland to reach eight million, potatoes imported from Peru were stricken with a blight that resulted in the mass starvation noted in history as the Irish Potato famine. The exodus from Ireland was focused on the United States, principally its Northern cities of New York and Boston, where they have had far-reaching effects.

A straw in today's wind may be that among recent cannabis applicants, several from states in the South and Southwest seem to nave opted to move to rural Northern California where they hope to live "off the grid" and grow cannabis.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2013

Why is Science Important to Drug Policy?

We are a curious species; we want answers to all kinds of questions; especially about ourselves. Where did we come from? Why are we here? are two perennials. Unfortunately, they remain unanswerable for a majority of the planet's humans because we (they) are also bitterly divided by political and religious differences. Thus the answers to two unanswerable questions have morphed into two of the most vexing human problems faced by planet Earth's biota; (including non-humans, because they are critically affected by human activity).

Throughout known human history (itself, only a tiny fraction of our existence as a species) our curiosity has suckered us into a variety of logical assumptions that didn't pan out. One, made in the 18th Century after publication of Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest in 1859, was the belief that a lifeless “azootic zone” must exist in the world’s oceans. It was an hypothesis based on both logical assumptions and facts: that because sunlight could not penetrate below a certain depth, all life would have to be restricted to the same depth. As the cited article clearly shows, that (absurd) hypothesis had been amply refuted by data while it was still being taken seriously enough for publication.

The other side of the coin is how important skepticism is to Science, especially when combined with an understanding that logic- all by itself- is untrustworthy; especially in the absence of accurate observation. That the principles of Science have revolutionized human culture and our notions of “progress” is amply confirmed by the incredible growth of two critical entities since the Pope had Galileo placed on house arrest. The devices produced by scientific technology and the planet’s human population have both exploded since 1642. In other words, people create wealth; smart, well informed people create the most; and at the fastest rate. An added consideration is that because we are so competitive, there has been a race to accumulate wealth, at least since several literate "ancient" civilizations came into being about 6000 years ago; and probably long before.

All of which gives rise to a question few humans seem to want asked or answered, and thus seldom raise: is there a limit to the number of humans Planet Earth can support? It’s a question one wouldn’t expect from a pot doc, especially given the rate at which their numbers have been increasing. All I know is that they are a hard bunch to share information with, very different from the hospital doctors I identified myself with during my first forty years of practice.

I also know from my own surgical experience that if the right questions aren't asked, one is unlikely to come up with the right diagnosis and therapy. Based on a study I've now been engaged in for over ten years, I can also say that the opinions expressed on both sides of the "medical marijuana" controversy are primarily distinguished by their ignorance. The feds have never asked or permitted the right questions because their (false) stated beliefs are so fundamentally opposed to honest research. Thus their formulations about "marijuana" are most at odds with clinical truth as revealed by my applicants, the great majority of whom were rigorously questioned as patients.

There has also been a lot of scientific information published about cannabis in both lay and medical literature since 1996, but it wasn't based on information obtained directly from patients seeking to use it legally.

Thus the existence of "medical marijuana" legislation in multiple states since 1996 was an opportunity wasted by most of the physicians who chose to become pot docs. They could have informed the public of much clinical truth; even in the absence of appropriate coverage by the media (which has also been the case).

I now have enough data supporting my conclusions that I no longer have to try to convince the skeptical of things that might have been checked and reported on by others for years. Why that literature doesn't exist is not for me to explain.

I hope to lead off with how I was first alerted, and soon became convinced, that most "chronic" pot use was really effective self medication.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)