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Marijuana Legalization: Let’s Get The Facts Straight

October 21, 2011 2 comments

You know, while it’s certainly the job of columnists to give us their opinion on things, I take exception when they start making up facts to suit their opinion. Especially when that columnist is a veteran who writes for a national paper. But this morning I endured just such a column by George Skelton, of the Captial Journal, in the Los Angeles Times. Skelton takes issue with the California Medial Association’s (CMA) legalization stance (also published in the Los Angeles Times). According to the Times, The CMA believes that:

It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for.

Skelton quotes the CMA as saying:

We need to regulate cannabis so that we know what we’re recommending to our patients. Currently, medical and recreational cannabis have no mandatory labeling standards of concentration or purity. First we’ve got to legalize it so that we can properly study and regulate it.

Which of course, Skelton also takes issue with by asking: “Whatever happened to studying a drug first to determine its benefits and risks, then deciding whether it’s safe enough to legalize?”

If Mr. Skelton knew what he was talking about, he’d know why that can’t be done. It’s been tried! As of August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will only allow the National Centers for Drug Abuse to study the drug. For what? How to treat abuse, of course. Professor Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts has been trying to get permission to study the plant for nine years, according to this New York Times article.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration—more concerned about abuse than potential benefits—has refused, even after the agency’s own administrative law judge ruled in 2007 that Dr. Craker’s application should be approved, and even after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in March ended the Bush administration’s policy of raiding dispensers of medical marijuana that comply with state laws.

Which, as this Santa Cruz Patch article explains, has led the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to take the DEA to federal court for upholding a monopoly on research marijuana, and for blocking research into the medical efficacy of marijuana.

Another fact Mr. Skelton overlooked is that the Federal Government itself has conducted research into the medical efficacy of marijuana. Called the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program, it began back in 1978. Some say there were originally as many as thirty four subjects in the study, this website shows eight. In May of 2008 the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) issued a press release that stated:

The federal medical marijuana program—referred to as a Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program—resulted from a lawsuit filed by glaucoma patient Robert Randall, who successfully showed that his use of marijuana was a medical necessity.

The program slowly grew for over a dozen years. In the wake of a flood of new applications from patients battling AIDS—who found that marijuana boosted their appetites and relieved the nausea often caused by anti-HIV drugs—the George H.W. Bush administration closed it to new applicants in March 1992, but continued supplying federal marijuana to those already receiving it. Four of those patients survive today.

The Federal Government also holds patents on marijuana for medical use. The abstract for US Patent Number 6630507, which is held by the U.S. Government states:

Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting of H, CH3, and COCH3.

So on the one hand, the U.S. Government insists that there is no known medical use of marijuana, and blocks research for anything but treatment of addiction, while on the other it holds a patent precisely because its own study found the drug to be efficacious in the treatment of certain medical conditions. Had Mr. Skelton been interested in the facts of marijuana, rather than trying to support his beliefs, he might have discovered this information himself, and asked why the Federal Government continues to deny requests to reclassify marijuana so that research can continue in an independent way, without the obvious conflicts of interest present inside the Federal Government.

Mr. Skelton also scathingly snarks: “What raised my eyebrows was a repeat of the old canard about how locking up stoners eats up too much tax money.” […] “Fewer than 1% of the inmates have been sentenced for marijuana or hashish crimes of any sort, according to state prison data.” Perhaps, but consider this. In a presentation to the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2010, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance opened with a couple of disturbing statistics.

The United States now ranks first in the world in per captia incarceration rates, with less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. Roughly 500,000 people are behind bars tonight for a drug violation.

[…]
Police made 1.7 million arrests in 2008 alone, including 750,000 for nothing more than possession of marijuana for personal use. [pg. 2]

A White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske quote from this LEAP document, entitled ‘Ending the Drug War: A Dream Deferred,’ sums things up beautifully:

“I understand, from firsthand experience as a police officer and police chief, that we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of a problem this complex, and that a ‘War on Drugs’ mentality is too simplistic an approach to be effective.”

Fortunately, Mr. Skelton’s antiquated and unsupported point of view are on the wane. In a poll published last week, Reuters announced that half of Americans now support full legalization of marijuana, Last year a gallop poll showed that 70% approve of legalization for medical use. The only question is, how long will it take lawmakers, who must answer to bureaucracies terrified of having their budgets cut, to answer to their constituents rather than those agencies?