In addition to blowing off its entire ostensible base–the liberals, the middle class, labor unions and the underprivileged–the Obama administration also recently went out of its way to antagonize that eternal bete noir, America’s marijuana users.
And it all began so hopefully, so changefully. Candidate Obama had spoken out in favor of loosening the country’s drug laws. calling marijuana prohibition “a failure.” When asked if he had “inhaled,” he said, “of course I inhaled. That’s the point, isn’t it?” Entering the White House, he called for the government to make judgments “based on facts, not ideology,” a statement that brought hope for change to stem-cell researchers, climate change activists, and marijuana users alike.
Well, at least the stem cell researchers got what they wanted–but hey, they’re part of big pharma, unlike the rest of us peons. I’ve already talked about Obama’s extremely disappointing record on climate change. Now, let’s turn to the bad news about marijuana.
Just as the importance of short-term profits (which is, after all, an ideological and not a scientific prioritization) has trumped taking steps to curb carbon emissions, so has the ideology of “just say no” remained firmly in place in Obama’s Drug Enforcement Agency. The first signal was his reappointment of Michelle Leonhart, a Bush administration leftover, as head of the DEA. Ms. Leonhart has a long history of not only enforcing drug prohibition, but obstructing any attempt to end it, whether by allowing research into possible beneficial effects of the herb, allowing other research facilities besides the University of Mississippi to grow it for scientific investigation, or rescheduling marijuana out of “schedule 1,” the government classification for drugs with “no medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Speaking of which, last month, the DEA finally ruled on a nine-year old petition to change that schedule one status. I’ll let NORML tell the story:
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.’
A coalition of public interest organizations…, filed a comprehensive rescheduling petition with the DEA on October 9, 2002. This past May, the coalition filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel the Obama administration to respond to their petition to reclassify marijuana under federal law.
DEA administrator Michele Leonhart posted a letter denying the petition in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register. Leonhart stated that cannabis has “a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
She added: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”
Responding to the DEA’s rejection, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The DEA is predictably maintaining its decades-old ‘flat Earth’ position in regards to the otherwise well-acknowledged therapeutic properties of cannabis. It is a shame to see an administration that pledged to be guided by ‘scientific integrity’ engage in such blatant politicization.”
Coalition advocates will be appealing the decision in federal court.
Since this announcement, the government has announced that it will step up prosecution of medical marijuana providers in states where medical marijuana is legal, a total reversal of the Obama administration’s initial position, and a return to the “just say no” ideology of the Cheney junta, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. The DOJ is also sending letters to states that have or are contemplating medical marijuana programs, telling them that state officials who help implement medical marijuana programs may be prosecuted. So much for hope and change, eh? Oh, and to ice the cake, they’re going to try to crack down (you should excuse the expression) on so-called “stoned driving,” in spite of repeated studies that show that marijuana use does not significantly impair driving ability, and the inability of urine testing for marijuana metabolites to determine when the marijuana was ingested. So much for a scientific approach.
This is ideological nonsense of the worst sort. Not only does marijuana have thousands of years of history demonstrating its safety, it also has a snowballing body of scientific evidence in its favor, not only as medicine for the sick, but as a tonic for the healthy, as well. More and more countries, not just US states, are recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic value, and on the legal front, it’s the rare official study of current policy (the latest headed up by that notorious stoner, Kofi Annan) that doesn’t conclude that continued drug prohibition is unworkable and unwinnable, and that, ultimately, marijuana use is no more dangerous than the use of, say, coffee. I mean, consider the percentage of crimes that are committed by people under the influence of coffee vs. the percentage committed by people under the influence of marijuana. Of course, they don’t keep statistics on coffee, but if they did, you can bet that more criminals are jacked up on coffee than chilled out on herb–whether we’re talking simple traffic offenses, assaults, or white-collar crimes. Think about it!
So, what’s going on with our government’s insane intransigence on marijuana?
I think there are two reasons why the U.S. government is so staunchly, and apparently illogically, opposed to legalizing marijuana–not to mention other drugs, but especially marijuana. It has to do with two kinds of control issues.
At a pharmaceutical level, marijuana is a plant which contains a complex web of interacting chemicals. As anyone who has tried marinol can tell you, it’s not all about THC. There are many “non-stoning” compounds that, alone or synergistically with other compounds, have a wide range of positive effects on our bodies–anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antispasmodic, analgesic, and a whole lot more.
Here’s where it gets kinky. It costs a lot of money to tease out all these relationships, and so the research is not worth doing in our current, for-profit paradigm unless there is the possibility of a patentable–i.e., highly profitable–drug coming out the other end of the research. And, the way new drug and new supplement approval procedures work, not only is it much easier to approve a patented new drug made from a natural substance than it is to gain approval of the natural substance itself–once the patented drug is approved, it is illegal to market it as a supplement. That’s why, for example, any “Red Yeast Rice” marketed in the US has to have the statin drugs removed from it, even though Chinese food products that contain Red Yeast Rice don’t have to have their statins removed. And…the funny thing is, even with the ostensible “active ingredient” removed, Red Yeast Rice is still effective at lowering cholesterol and inflammation. But, I digress…
It seems to me that what the government wants to do is allow big pharma to dissect marijuana and concoct expensive, patentable pharmaceuticals from its constituents. Patenting chemicals derived from marijuana will open up a treasure trove for the pharmaceutical industry, at the same time as it reinforces marijuana prohibition–“you can’t grow that plant–it contains patented substances!” Patented substances that won’t have the side effect of pleasantly altering your consciousness, you can bet–because that’s the other kind of “control issue” the government has with marijuana–not to mention mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, MDMA, DMT, and that ol’ bugaboo, LSD.
Marijuana, however, is the easiest of these to use, because its effects are, relative to the other substances I mentioned, fairly short-term and low-key. But, like its higher-powered relatives, marijuana stimulates the mind. It helps people overcome established patterns of thought and behavior–which can make the same task easier or more difficult, confusingly enough–but the government emphatically does not want people who think for themselves. Keeping marijuana illegal gives the government an easy way to suppress free thinkers. The government does not want you to be a citizen, it wants you to be a consumer–a passive sucker at the corporate bottle–yes, I know I used this image before–but that’s how it is. Marijuana is just too good for you, and too easy for you to grow yourself, for the U.S. government to ever loosen up and let it be. Legal marijuana would undermine corporate culture at every level, and they won’t allow it to happen, no matter how popular it is, no matter how impossible it is to enforce the law. It’s gonna take a revolution in American politics to make that change.
Not everybody in the Green Party uses marijuana, and maybe not enough people in the Green Party use it, because some of us take ourselves way too seriously, but everybody in the Green Party is committed to ending cannabis prohibition. I have a hard time with folks I know who use marijuana but support the Democratic Party. They are like abused spouses, pledging allegiance to a political party that treats them as if they are incompetent to raise children, hold jobs, drive, or run for public office simply because of their body chemistry, a party that will cheerfully confiscate these peoples’ land and other property and even outright imprison them because of their marijuana use. I guess the herb isn’t quite that good at breaking habitual thinking and reaction patterns, or these folks would have come to their senses long ago! Well, the first thing about breaking habits is, you have to want to do it.
music: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Hokey Pokey (The Ice Cream Song)