Tidbits on Drug Policy

Another two cents thrown in

What are our laws based on?

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In a wonderfully informative primer, Why is Marijuana Illegal? A brief history of the criminalization of cannabis, Pete Guither writes:

Many people assume that marijuana was made illegal through some kind of process involving scientific, medical, and government hearings; that it was to protect the citizens from what was determined to be a dangerous drug.

The actual story shows a much different picture. Those who voted on the legal fate of this plant never had the facts, but were dependent on information supplied by those who had a specific agenda to deceive lawmakers.

Pete has touched upon a very important issue: way too often, our legislatures pass laws that are based on faulty data. The Drug War is just the most glaring manifestation of this phenomenon. Our elected representatives have no clue about many of the issues that they are called upon to regulate. As the result, we get a bunch of nonsensical laws – laws that we have to abide by, laws that govern our daily lives, laws that can send a person to prison for many years for doing something that likely doesn’t cause any major harm to himself or the society anyway.

Laws can be overturned if they are deemed unconstitutional; however, the Supreme Court exercises extreme deference to legislative opinion in most challenges. And, there is really no effective mechanism that would prevent legislatures from legislating on the basis of misinformation, hysteria or political agenda. As a result we are stuck with a plethora of laws and regulations that do more harm than good, and – most of these laws will be with us for a long, long time, simply because there is no mechanism that would evaluate them on the basis of effectiveness.

Well, you might ask, but what about the political leverage? If the society doesn’t like some law, its elected representatives will be forced to repeal or amend it, simply because they would like to get reelected. Ideally – yes, that’s how it should work. However, too often, the people simply don’t care or are just as misinformed about the issue as their legislators. The Drug War amply demonstrates that the society may welcome the most egregious and punitive laws even when credible information is available that proves that these laws do more harm than good.

The mere list of ideas on how to insure that we are governed by laws enacted on the basis of the most accurate information available can balloon this post to a barely readable length. I will try to outline a few of them in later posts and I encourage you to also think about how our system may be improved. Think about this: if Congress enacted laws based on the best available information the whole Drug War quagmire might have been avoided.

Refusing to See the Obvious: More on Medicinal Marijuana

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Two weeks after I wrote about studies demonstrating marijuana’s potential in treating cancer, the following article pops up on FoxNews.com:

A compound found in cannabis may stop breast cancer from spreading throughout the body, according to a new study by scientists at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute. The researchers are hopeful that the compound called CBD, which is found in cannabis sativa, could be a non-toxic alternative to chemotherapy.

Source: Marijuana Compound May Stop Breast Cancer From Spreading, Study Says

Let me remind you, that marijuana remains a CSA Schedule I drug, which means, according to the Act that:

The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. (Italics added)

That’s despite dozens of studies like the one above and that almost half of the nation’s oncologists recommend their patients obtain marijuana, despite its illegality, in order to alleviate their suffering. I mean, if that’s not currently accepted medical use, I don’t know what is. (By the way, speaking from a purely legal standpoint, this practice of recommending marijuana would fall under the Respectable Minority doctrine used in some states to refute malpractice claims! Or, if put otherwise, this would constitute a legitimate medical practice.) And yet – drug warriors continue to avoid finding medical utility of marijuana, despite pretty much overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One example of how they manage to do so comes from a decision in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Coop. (2001), where Justice Thomas writes:

In the case of the Controlled Substances Act, the statute reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception (outside the confines of a Government-approved research project). Whereas some other drugs can be dispensed and prescribed for medical use, […] the same is not true for marijuana. Indeed, for purposes of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use” at all. (Italics added)

Imagine Congress passing legislation that puts aspirin into Schedule I. Now, if this classification is challenged in the Supreme Court, the Court may do the sensible thing, analyze the evidence and address the issue on its merits – namely, should aspirin really remain in Schedule I – or, it could duck the issue by saying that “for purposes of the CSA, aspirin has no currently accepted medical use.”

So, what Justice Thomas was basically saying in that opinion is that “marijuana has no accepted medical use because the legislature says it has no accepted medical use.” He may have been staying within the currently accepted boundaries of judicial review; however, Thomas’ formalism steers far from common sense. No sane person would in all earnest claim that the Earth is flat simply because the legislature made such a determination.

On the changing nature of drug policy discourse

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“America needs to reconsider its punitive approach to “the so-called war on drugs,” presidential candidate John Edwards said here today.”

Source: DesMoinesRegister.com: Edwards: War on drugs too punitive

Something like this coming from a (somewhat) viable presidential candidate twenty years ago would be sufficient to bury his chances of being elected. It seems that we’ve come a long way since the “Casual drug users should be taken out and shot. Smoke a joint, lose your life.” pronouncement by the former Los Angeles Police Chief and the founder of the D.A.R.E. program Daryl Gates on September 5, 1990. Thankfully, today we don’t hear diatribes like this too often.

I hope that the changing nature of drug policy discourse is reflective of the changing social attitudes towards the punitive approach to the drug issues. Even, such admittedly obscurantist entity as the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy lists the “balanced drug control policy” as its main national priority – instead of stressing slash-and-burn tactics in the War on Drugs that it has continued to promote. It is good to see the menacing approach a la William Bennet or Daryl Gates go out of fashion – at least as far as the drug policy debate is concerned, albeit is still hasn’t translated into real action.

I wonder whether we are going to reach a tipping point where all these shy harbingers of common sense would saturate into a mass breaking of the flood gates that would allow the common sense voices to permeate drug policy discourse and, finally, result in real change.

Originally written on November 23, 2007

Marijuana useful in treating cancer?

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Jack Herer, the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes writes:

In 1974, Virginia Medical College in Richmond, Virginia did research on tumors of the lung, brain, liver and kidney using mice and rats. Incredible things were done. The cancer stopped growing and in most cases even reversed itself 100 percent. Some of the mice who were given cancer and treated with cannabis actually lived longer than some of the controlmice who were not even given cancer! It was found that marijuana is the best thing to treat cancer of the lungs, brain, etc. After that they were stopped from doing anymore research at all by first Nixon and then Ford.

Source: Jack Herer’s Home Page

Well, I was sort of skeptical – but then, I found the link to the Virginia the study that he mentions. The synopsis indeed shows that

Lewis lung adenocarcinoma growth was retarded by the oral administration of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta9-THC), delta8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta8-THC), and cannabinol (CBN), but not cannabidiol (CBD).

Upon a further search, a study done in Spain in 2000 turned up:

Here, we show that intratumoral administration of Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and the synthetic cannabinoid agonist WIN-55,212-2 induced a considerable regression of malignant gliomas in Wistar rats and in mice deficient in recombination activating gene 2. Cannabinoid treatment did not produce any substantial neurotoxic effect in the conditions used.

Finally, the pilot study involving nine patients suffering from glioblastoma – a type of brain cancer, concluded that

Delta(9)-Tetrahydrocannabinol inhibited tumour-cell proliferation in vitro and decreased tumour-cell Ki67 immunostaining when administered to two patients. The fair safety profile of THC, together with its possible antiproliferative action on tumour cells reported here and in other studies, may set the basis for future trials aimed at evaluating the potential antitumoral activity of cannabinoids.

Basically, that’s strong evidence that THC may indeed be effective in treating certain types of cancers. Something like that – I would think – would get plenty of media attention; however there wasn’t much apparently, since even myself, who actively looks for these types of news, wasn’t aware of this.

Suppressing the results of the Virginia study… ignoring credible results of European studies… obstructing studies into THC’s medicinal properties… the amazing consistency of government’s resistance to acknowledging the therapeutic value of marijuana really makes me wonder: it can’t be just about the desire of the anti-drug warriors to retain the lion’s share of their budget. There has to be some compelling reason behind this: a reason so sinister, that the government doesn’t want to disclose it out of concern for our feeble minds… But – I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories – the ugly and banal truth is likely that it is all about the money. Apparently, the well-financed moral posturing is more important than a chance to save lives and alleviate suffering of thousands of people.

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