On the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama impressed a lot of people with his honesty for saying things like, “of course I inhaled–that’s the point, isn’t it?” and for promising to leave medical marijuana production and distribution alone in states that had created a legal framework for it. For a couple of years, he and his government kept their word, but just recently things have taken a turn for the repressive again.
The change started when Obama confirmed Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. Ms. Leonhart became acting DEA director during the Cheney administration, but this isn’t just about her political heritage. It’s not just that she has never had one good thing to say about medical marijuana. It’s about the integrity of her conduct.
Ms. Leonhart spent many years as a field agent for the DEA, and for much of that time she worked with a professional informant who was paid four million dollars for his services, even though eventually the DEA quit using him because he had the unfortunate habits of demonstrably lying about the people he was snitching on and neglecting to pay taxes on the money the DEA paid him. But Michelle Leonhart stood by her man, replying to the question of whether it might be time for the DEA to drop the stoolie,
“That would be a sad day for DEA, And a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world. . . . He’s one in a million. ….In my career, I’ll probably never come across another (like him).”
And then there was the time when, in order to do DEA business in Colombia, she chartered a private plane, at a cost of $123,000, instead of using one of the DEA’s fleet of airplanes or even just buying a first-class airline ticket, which surely would have cost only about one-thousandth of what the plane rental cost her….money the U.S. government paid to a company that also happened to own an airplane that had just been seized by the Mexican army for attempting to fly 5.5 tons of cocaine into the U.S. That sure puts us in Schrödinger’s cat territory, doesn’t it? There is a vast amount of unknown and possibly unknowable landscape out there, full of tantalizing tidbits like that seized airplane, the cocaine-Contra connection in the 80’s, and Secretary of State Clinton’s remark last year that we can’t legalize drugs “because there’s too much money in it.” It’s certainly easier for spy services to finance “black ops” if there are expensive illegal drugs that can be smuggled for big, under the table profits–but that’s not what I’m going to talk about tonight. The point is that, after all the ringing campaign rhetoric about “change,” the Obama administration once again, as in the financial, agricultural, pharmaceutical,and military realms, to name just a few, kept our government in the hands of someone who was part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Since Obama reconfirmed Cheney’s appointee to the DEA, the federal government has undertaken a crackdown on the business aspects of large-scale medical marijuana, involving not just DEA busts of growers and dispensaries, but IRS rulings that make it virtually impossible for a medical marijuana business to deal with a credit card company or bank, or pay taxes at a non-confiscatory level, to Department of Justice threats against state officials who help implement medical marijuana plans.
What’s going on here? Why has the Obama administration made a U-turn on medical marijuana?
This is not something the Republicans are somehow making him do. I find it hard to believe that Obama couldn’t stop this if he really wanted to. The U.S. attorneys who are tearing up the medical marijuana business say it was their idea, but that they have “Obama’s blessing” to carry it out. This is why I find the idea of voting for Barack Obama chillingly Orwellian. It’s one thing when a “tough on crime” Republican continues the “war on drugs” just like he said he would. It’s quite another when somebody who said “Of course I inhaled–that’s the point,isn’t it?” and campaigned on putting science ahead of politics in general–and not devoting a lot of federal resources to persecuting medical marijuana in places it was locally legal, in specific–turns his back on his campaign promises and destroys the lives of innocent people. It’s Orwellian to vote for somebody who is willing to do that to you, to “love Big Brother” so much that you vote for somebody who will bust you. Apparently, the Democrats have made a calculated decision that enough people love Big Brother, and find the Republican candidates sufficiently scary, that they will not care if the government is suppressing marijuana, as long as it’s allowing access to abortion and birth control, and not trying to turn the U.S. into a (fundamentalist) Christian nation with even less regulation of big business and environmental pollution than the Democrats’ feeble efforts. I think it’s the birth control/abortion thing, mostly–get ‘em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow. From informal research I’ve done among Democrats, they are indeed all too willing to throw medical marijuana users under the bus to get their man re-elected. “We’re all in this together, except that you potheads are disposable,” eh?
Once again, I digress….
Medical marijuana has a very high rate of public acceptance–it’s hardly a political red herring in most places, yet the federal government continues to oppose it, continues to refuse to reschedule cannabis as a plant with medical uses, and continues to insist that it has no medical value, all the while awarding hundreds of patents for therapeutic components scientists have discovered in the plant. And maybe that’s a clue to why our corporate-friendly government is determined to keep this medicinal plant out of the hands of the people.
The approximately 200 patents that the government has granted are mostly for single ingredients of cannabis, which have been isolated, tested, and discovered to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, vasodilative,and various other beneficial effects. Pretty disingenuous for the government to keep insisting the herb has “no therapeutic value,” when some of these patents date back to the late seventies. The government’s been lying! So, what else is new, eh?
There’s two things about this “single ingredient” approach to cannabis that I find of interest. The first is that our pharmaceutical paradigm looks for single ingredients with demonstrable effects on certain symptoms, so that the single ingredient can be isolated or synthesized, patented, and sold for a good markup to pay for the research that went into developing it (which is, in a certain sense, reasonable), and also, of course, to inflate the exorbitant profits, salaries, bonuses, and dividends of the pharmaceutical companies. When you look into it, you discover that that’s where most of the money actually goes–R&D accounts for only about one and a quarter percent of drug companies’ expenditures–while they reap twenty-five or even fifty percent profit from what they make and sell. And you thought coke dealers were greedy?
The next thing about the “single ingredient” approach is that, once such a single ingredient has been patented, it is, under our current legal structure, illegal to sell the substance either as a generic dietary supplement, or to sell a dietary supplement that contains the patented ingredient. The first case is exemplified by pyradoxamine, a form of vitamin B6, which was taken off the market as a supplement because a pharmaceutical company patented it and is now selling it at a considerably higher price than the now-banned generic supplement, which can still be obtained, but only from outside the US. In a similar vein, a nutritional supplement known as “red yeast rice” is the source for the discovery of statin drugs. Since statins have now been patented, all “red yeast rice” supplements must have their statins chemically removed in order to be legally sold in the US.
The great irony here is that plenty of foods contain the now-patented form of vitamin B6, as well as “red yeast rice,” patented statins and all. Another irony is that, even without its declared “active” ingredient, the other chemical components of Red Yeast Rice supplements do almost as good a job of reducing inflammation and cholesterol. Something about the synergies of complex herbal substances–more on that in a little bit.
But…food cannot be advertised for its health benefits, saith the Food and Drug Administration, which has put cherry and walnut growers under court order so that they cannot promote the anti-inflammatory and other health effects of these natural foods, unless they are run through the FDA’s “new drug process,” which “takes an average of twelve years and 350 million dollars” before a drug is approved–and still manages to rubber stamp substances of dubious merit like Prozac as well as outright poison pills like Vioxx. Oy, I’m digressing again. Point being, nobody’s going to spend a third of a billion dollars to confirm the health benefits of unpatentable produce like cherries, or walnuts…or cannabis. They’ll never make their money back.
And cannabis is even less worthwhile, from the financial standpoint, than cherries or walnuts, because it is so complex and has such a broad spectrum of positive effects. The interaction of so many chemical constituents, in turn, produces, through synergies among these chemicals, an even broader spectrum of generally positive effects. Thoroughly cataloging and quantifying every positive effect of ingesting cannabis would clearly cost a whole, whole lot more than a third of a billion dollars, and take much longer than twelve years–the research project has been going on, largely abroad, due to considerable government interference in the U.S., for about forty years now, and the end is nowhere in sight, it seems. Marijuana is the gift that keeps on giving. But it can’t be patented, any more than walnuts or tart cherries. The lack of research due to the lack of likely financial return means the government can, at least technically, continue to claim that marijuana has “no proven medical utility,” even though the reason that’s the case has more to do with the rules of the game of “proven medical utility” than with cannabis’ actual medical utility.
But, as I said, single elements of the plant can be teased out and patented. Some fear that this will make growing one’s own marijuana even more illegal than it is already, because growing the plant might be declared a violation of somebody’s patent. This has not happened, however, with foods containing vitamin B6 or red yeast rice–they are simply forbidden from making health claims about themselves, even though those claims would be valid. And, with marijuana, the National Institute of Health has declared that THC is “toxic,” so they have a good reason to permit companies like Kannalife Science to market drugs derived from marijuana, and yet keep the plant illegal. After all, the only “positive,” non-psychoactive effects of THC are antiproliferative–it keeps cancer cells from growing–and antispasmodic, both effects that also arise from the non-psychoactive CBD spectrum of cannabis chemistry. While spokespeople associated with Kannalife insist they are supportive of full legalization of marijuana, the company is carving a market niche based on the government’s refusal to recognize medical use of the plant per se.
To summarize: it looks to me like the government is suppressing the use of herbal marijuana as a medicine because it would be lower-cost competition for pharmaceutical drugs that could be patented and sold by pharmaceutical companies who have carefully removed the psychoactive, or, as the government prefers, “toxic” elements of the plant. This is a real 1984-style bending of the word “toxic,” since there have been no reported human deaths from “marijuana overdose,” ever.
Music break: Peter Tosh, “Legalize It”
That song from Peter Tosh reminds me of his tragic early death. He was murdered because marijuana did not get legalized. Reflecting on his death brings up another aspect of drug prohibition that I haven’t got time to do more than mention–how the high price of black-market drugs cuts through impoverished communities like a double-edged sword, offering the tantalizing possibility of escaping a life of grinding poverty on one hand, and snuffing out often innocent lives in bursts of greed-fueled violence on the other. The deep challenge here is that our corporate capitalist system, with its twin drives to monetize everything and yet employ as few people as possible, creates increasing numbers of “disposable” people, who have no role to serve in our increasingly streamlined economy. There’s a whole industry built around keeping them repressed, rather than empowering them. Never mind that it’s far more expensive to incarcerate people than it is to educate them! Theoretically, these millions of impoverished Americans–a group whose ranks now increasingly include the former middle class–could be set to taking care of themselves–growing their own food, providing themselves with clothing, education, medical care, tools, and shelter as humans have always done, mostly with only a minimal connection to “money.” Such a simple, obvious solution, however, falls outside the bounds of the corporate capitalist paradigm, and would require a collapse–or a revolution–to be instituted.
This brings me around to another couple of aspects of the war on drugs, the political ones, and I’d like to thank my frenemies in the Democrat party for bringing them to my attention. One was the charge that marijuana prohibition is somehow not “a real issue.” The other is, as my correspondent put it, “those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences.”
I’m going to address the second objection first–that, since cannabis use is against the law, we have no right to complain about the consequences when we are caught breaking the law–or, as they say in jail, “if you can’t take the time, don’t do the crime.”
Humans have been using marijuana for about as far back in our history/prehistory as anthropologists can trace. Everywhere the plant will grow, which is just about everywhere, it has been appreciated for its nutritive, fiber, medicinal, and psychoactive/spiritual qualities. It has not been problematic for any society that used it. It was not problematic in America in the 1930’s when it was first outlawed, in a campaign soaked in racial discrimination against Mexicans and African-Americans, fueled by frustrated alcohol prohibitionists who had just lost that battle and were looking for something else to campaign against. So…marijuana prohibition comes from the same social conservatives who are against abortion, birth control, and social programs of about any kind that are not church-sponsored. It is one of the foundation stones of the Evangelical, conservative Christian drive to turn their moral strictures into our country’s laws–a vital precedent that helps establish their right to tighten the screws. I have a very difficult time understanding how anyone who considers themselves “progressive” could support our country’s reactionary drug laws.
And let’s not forget that the main objection to the imposition of marijuana prohibition in the 30’s came from the AMA, who recommended “tincture of cannabis” for a wide variety of problems, a usefulness that has only been expanded by recent research.
And then there’s the reason cannabis affects us in the first place–our nervous system has receptors for cannabis’ chemical content because we make most of the same substances within our own bodies, and they are essential to normal functioning. Our ingenious scientists tried making a drug that would block the effects of marijuana, and found that blocking the body’s ability to produce and assimilate cannabinoids had serious consequences, serious enough to prevent approval of the cannabinoid-blocking drug. We are not happy campers without our cannabinoids, nossir.
So…marijuana use…thousands of years….marijuana prohibition–75 years, more or less, and totally ineffective at its stated goal. Marijuana use is about as natural a human activity as sex, music, or dancing, all of which have been the subject of laws intended to stop or severely restrict them, none of which have been particularly effective. Except that….
Here in America, somebody is arrested for a marijuana-related “offense” every 19 seconds–on average, of course. In large part because of this, “the land of the free” has the highest incarceration rate in the world. 1.6 million people were arrested for various drug offences last year, nearly half of them for simple marijuana possession, a “crime” that stays on their records and spoils the rest of their lives for doing something that is no more harmful, and probably less so, than drinking beer. More American males of color are in jail, mostly on drug-related charges, than were enslaved at the height of slavery in this country in 1850.
Marijuana is all very well, you might say, but what about cocaine, crack, meth, ice? They’ve increasingly taken the place of marijuana, haven’t they?
It is my opinion that if marijuana were cheap and legal, nobody would be much interested in ingesting toxic substances for thrills–with all due respect to the traditional role of coca in South American culture.
The “War on (some) Drugs” preceded “terrorism” as an excuse for erosion of civil liberties and the expansion of the snooper state, and has continued and escalated in spite of the fact that every blue-ribbon panel and Presidential commission that has investigated the situation has recommended legalizing marijuana. It has cost us, the taxpayers, nearly a trillion dollars since the “War on Some Drugs” was declared 30 years ago, and, as I said, accomplished nothing for that trillion but given the US the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. ( I know, next to 1.5 trillion for the bank bailout over four years or 4.4 trillion for our wars in the Middle East in ten years, one lousy trillion over thirty years is small change!).
Does all that make it real enough for you? I could go on…..
What I have just said is largely a quote from the Democrat-dominated e-list where I had criticised the Obama administration for its drug policy reversal, and “I could go on” got the following response, as referred to previously:
respondent: Yes, please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences. Let’s also hear about pay disparity, jobs, health care, child abuse, climate change, living wages, senior care, the economy, war…
And I replied:
Does the fact that our government chooses to spend a trillion on something as “trivial” as the War on Some Drugs while substantially ignoring all the issues you mention (and that are important to me, too) mean anything to you? Does the fact that people of color are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drugs than white folks, even though use rates are about the same, mean anything to you? Does the fact that every rational scientific judicial, and economic inquiry into this situation has said there is no good reason for these laws, and yet they continue, mean anything to you?
Would you say, “please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences” about those who are arrested protesting other unjust laws, like the Jim Crow laws that used to prevail in this state? (later addition: What about people who put their bodies on the line to stop mountaintop removal, coal-burning power plants, or predatory logging? Or predatory lending? Do you sneer at the Occupy movement when they are arrested and raise a fuss about it?) Or the folks who chose to ignore the anti-undocumented immigrant laws that make it a crime to be a good Samaritan if you see another human being in distress? Or do you think that it’s your duty to obey the law, whether it’s just or unjust?
….Obama has had little to say, let alone do, about the assault on Planned Parenthood, etc. or the anti-union measures that caused the massive demonstrations in Wisconsin and elsewhere. His program for distressed bankers has been far more effective than his program for distressed mortgage holders, he hasn’t done anything serious about the financial pressure on our school system (although for me, the purpose and results of our school system are a subject in themselves). It looks to me like he’s declared war on the 1st amendment with all the prosecutions of whistle blowers and peace/anti-corporate activists his administration has pursued, not to mention his assault on the 4th Amendment and his continued countenancing of war crimes around the world, plus his refusal to prosecute anybody in the Cheney administration for initiating the war crime policies he has continued. What kind of “hope” do you have for “change” from this guy? Chump change?
The questioner exercised her option not to respond to those admittedly somewhat rhetorical questions. Elsewhere in the discussion, I added…
If three women were denied access to health care services every minute of every day, or three people per minute were being arrested for admitting their sexual orientation, if three kids were being abused by an adult or seriously bullied by their peers every minute, if three people were being evicted from their homes every minute or violently assaulted on the street and kidnapped by thugs, it would be considered a big problem–so why isn’t three people a minute being assaulted and essentially kidnapped by the police for the crime-that-every-study-says-shouldn’t-be-a-crime, marijuana use, why isn’t that considered a serious social problem in this country? And why should we give the Democrats a pass for making this situation worse instead of better, especially when they promised to make it better, thus garnering the vote of pretty nearly every marijuana user in the country who is not a confirmed Green or Libertarian?
So, to summarize…the question of why marijuana continues to be illegal boils down, it seems to me, to two things:
At a theoretical level, it boils down to a reductionist medical paradigm that values profits and the small picture, as in the suppression of symptoms in a fee-for-service model, much more than it values keeping people healthy so they don’t need to pay fees for services, and that is not cognitively equipped to appreciate broad-spectrum practices, such as a sane lifestyle and diet, which might include the use of marijuana, that provide a variety of benefits that are difficult to catalogue in a “this causes that” kind of way.
The second theoretical problem is that our societal paradigm is repressive. The presumption is that if you don’t discipline people from without, they won’t discipline themselves from within, and all hell will break loose. Since this is, in fact, likely to happen among people who have always been subject to external, repressive discipline, our repressors (or oppressors, if you will) interpret any wild behavior that occurs when discipline is relaxed as a reason to clamp back down, rather than a reason to teach people to take responsibility for themselves. Besides, they like being the dominators in a dominator culture. You don’t like that? Too bad! Go find your own planet!
The way these theoretical considerations play out in our culture is that our corporate-oriented government, obviously aware of the many beneficial effects of marijuana, prefers to see cannabis exploited by pharmaceutical companies rather than grown directly by those who need it, especially because of:
Reason two, the government feels it has a vested interest in making sure that people don’t get high. It leads to creative, independent thinking and questioning of authority. To quote that notoriously under-achieving marijuana user, Carl Sagan, marijuana can provide “…the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” Just for the record, Dr. Sagan, who began using marijuana in his mid-twenties and continued to find value in it for the rest of his life, said that in 1969, calling for the swift legalization of marijuana use. Over forty years later, we’re still waiting to inhale legally.
“Serenity, insight, sensitivity and fellowship” are just the feelings and emotions our corporatocracy doesn’t want us to have. That’s why hippies are the most persecuted ethnic group in America.
Hippies are an ethnic group? The Democrats had a hard time with that claim. Hey, what part of “counterculture” don’t you understand? A “culture” is an “ethnic group”! But, since we are not formally recognized as an ethnic group, it’s OK to profile and arrest us, test our body chemistry to see if we’re members of this ethnic group, and then discriminate against us if we are. It’s OK to encourage our children to report our ethnic behavior to the authorities so we can be arrested for it….the government is doing everything it can to marginalize us. We have our customs and traditions, although they have been severely disrupted by decades of persecution, but in a way the government is right to do what it does, because we are, in our own gentle way, a major threat to the dominator culture.
Disclaimer: not all Green Party members are hippies, and not all hippies are involved with the Green Party!
And yes, my Democrat frenemies, you’re right– my fellow Greens, my fellow hippies, and I have picked a tough row to hoe. But we could no more be “good Americans” than we could have been “good Germans.”
The corporate, dominator culture wants us to be good sheep, who will go where they drive us and not complain if we are shorn or slaughtered for our corporate shepherds’ benefit. That’s why the Democrats continually promise, and continually fail to deliver, more liberal drug laws. That’s why I’m a Green–to create a real choice in the country and a real choice on the ballot. Massive, sudden changes in the political landscape happen as the result of many individual decisions. The Republicans came out of nowhere in the summer of 1860 and left the Whig Party high, dry, and discarded in the dustbin of history. Millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans individually quit believing in the apparently monolithic power of their governments, and the governments and the whole paradigm of their economic system crumbled. IT CAN HAPPEN HERE. In fact, it looks to me like we’re gonna be way up poop creek without a paddle if it doesn’t.
music: Richard and Mimi Farina, “Age of Confusion“