The Office of National Drug Control Policy released an email invitation this past Friday for the first White House Drug Policy Reform Conference in history. The email contained a graphic with a quote from U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske that read, Drug policy reform should be rooted in NEUROSCIENCE – NOT POLITICAL SCIENCE. Now, MPP is asking the office to explain the meaning behind their contradictory statement, since actual neuroscience has shown that marijuana harms the human brain far less than alcohol does.
For example, in 2005, Researchers at Harvard University reported in the American Journal on Addictions that marijuana use was not associated with structural changes within the brain.
When compared to control subjects, [marijuana] smokers displayed no significant adjusted differences in volumes of gray matter, white matter, cerebrospinal fluid, or left and right hippocampus. ... These findings are consistent with recent literature suggesting that cannabis use is not associated with structural changes within the brain as a whole or the hippocampus in particular.
Furthermore, according to a 2004 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
Heavy drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple ‘slips’ in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that require lifetime custodial care.
Studies that compare the effects of marijuana and alcohol side by side also find that alcohol is more damaging than marijuana. A 2009 study published in the journal Clinical EEG and Neuroscience found:
Abnormalities have been seen in brain structure volume, white matter quality, and activation to cognitive tasks, even in youth with as little as 1–2 years of heavy drinking and consumption levels of 20 drinks per month, especially if >4–5 drinks are consumed on a single occasion. Heavy marijuana users show some subtle anomalies too, but generally not the same degree of divergence from demographically similar non-using adolescents.
Mason Tvert, MPP’s Communications Director and coauthor of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? outlines the Drug Czar’s hypocrisy:
Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it poses far less harm to the brain than alcohol, The ONDCP has long championed laws that steer adults toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana. If the drug czar is truly committed to prioritizing neuroscience over political science, he should support efforts to make marijuana a legal alternative to alcohol for adults.
To read more about scientific studies of marijuana and its effects on the human body, visit our Science, Studies, and Research page.
UPDATED: This blog post was updated to more accurately reflect the position of the Marijuana Policy Project.
At the Center for American Progress on May 1, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske answered a question from MPP’s Steve Fox regarding marijuana prohibition. Or did he? What Steve essentially asked is that if a great many Americans use both marijuana and alcohol, and alcohol causes disease, violence and death while marijuana is not responsible for any of these problems, why are there laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, if alcohol is legal?
Now, with the exception of some brief gibberish about alcohol prohibition, the issue of allowing a harmful substance (alcohol) to be legally consumed by adults while outlawing a much less harmful substance (marijuana) was completely ignored. What was addressed, however, was the issue of prescription drugs.
The drug czar argued that there is no reason to tax, regulate, and control marijuana because legal prescription drugs take over 15,000 lives a year, saying, “we do a very poor job of keeping them out of the hands of abusers and young people.” This is interesting for several reasons, the first of which being that marijuana has not been responsible for any deaths in recorded human history. Also, medical marijuana patients are able to substitute marijuana for many of the dangerous prescriptions Gil is talking about, thereby minimizing their risk of becoming one of the 15,000 killed each year by legal prescription medications. Another reason for skepticism, and probably the most obvious: why should responsible users of a less harmful substance be penalized because the ONDCP is bad at its job? By keeping marijuana illegal, Gil and the Obama administration are giving drug dealers and cartels responsibility for deciding who can and cannot buy marijuana instead of an objective system of regulation, and to be honest, I’ve never heard of a drug dealer who checked IDs.
You can see the full video here. This kind of doubletalk is disrespectful to both the audience and the American people. If someone cannot be trusted to be honest enough to answer a simple question, how can that same person be trusted to make decisions that impact the lives of private citizens?
Every White House drug czar who has reigned since the office was created in 1989 makes numerous incorrect and deceitful statements.
But, I only like to rebut the czars’ nonsense when it really catches my attention, like the following statement today from Director Gil Kerlikowske ...
“The people that are involved in hoping to legalize drugs are very well funded,” he said. “They’re very organized, they have offices, they’re well supported, and with the push of a button, they can get as many signatures as they want, and we see that with a number of other special interest groups, so it’s not surprising.”
The drug czar’s office is formally known as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Let’s do a quick comparison between MPP and ONDCP ...
Of course, MPP has allies whose annual budgets — combined — are about $15 million.
ONDCP has allies, such as the DEA, whose annual budget is $2 billion. And, unlike our team, the DEA has badges, guns, and jail cells to quash its political opponents.
I’d trade our resources for the DEA’s and ONDCP’s resources any day of the week. Deal?
One of the most often-heard arguments against marijuana reform can basically be summed up as follows:
“But what about the children?”
Prohibitionists are quick to trot this one out whenever their other arguments have failed because it’s an easy way to elicit a strong emotional response. They claim that marijuana reform will lead to increased rates of use, developmental damage, and easier access to marijuana. Even talking about the issue will lead to higher rates of use, according to their arguments. Never mind that teen use rates tend to decrease in states that pass medical marijuana laws, or that licensed distributors would have ample reason to ID customers.
No, facts don’t really apply to this argument. It is very useful, however, when it comes to terrifying parents. According to the standard drug warrior mentality, the only way to keep kids away from marijuana is to arrest adults for using it. To do otherwise would “send the wrong message to our youth.”
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas law enforcement officials say several Mexican drug cartels are luring youngsters as young as 11 to work in their smuggling operations.
Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told Reuters the drug gangs have a chilling name for the young Texans lured into their operations.
"They call them 'the expendables,'" he said.
McCraw said his investigators have evidence six Mexican drug gangs -- including the violent Zetas -- have "command and control centers" in Texas actively recruiting children for their operations, attracting them with what appears to be "easy money" for doing simple tasks.
The policy of marijuana prohibition is the primary reason cartels are able to bring in so much profit from distribution within the U.S., the reason they are in such brutal competition with each other, and the catalyst for using cheap and available child conscripts within our borders. Instituting more rational marijuana policies and bringing marijuana into a regulated, legal market would greatly diminish the power of the cartels, as well as their need to corrupt our youth. Licensed businesses, unlike cartels, must obey child labor laws and other regulations in order to stay in business.
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske and other prohibitionists don’t want to hear that, though. It seems as if they have no problem using imaginary children to scare people away from reform. Real children, however, are “expendable.”
The FBI released their annual Uniform Crime Report yesterday, and the results are anything but surprising. Across the country, people continue to be arrested for marijuana-related violations at an alarming rate, despite the steadily decreasing stigma associated with it and increasing efforts at reforming our irrational marijuana laws. And guess what? It still isn’t working. Our esteemed leaders claim otherwise, even while admitting that they need to change their tactics!
Over the past year, the Obama administration stated that the “war on drugs” is over, and that the government was going to shift its focus away from law enforcement and interdiction and instead put more effort toward public health and education with regard to drugs. At a press conference just last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske stated that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.
If these statements are true, then how do they justify the arrests of more than 853,000 people for marijuana-related violations in 2010? That’s one person arrested every 19 seconds! The Drug Czar maintains that law enforcement protocols are still considered a useful tool for eliminating suppliers and dealers as a way to decrease overall use.
Okay, that seems like it makes sense. So how many of those 853,000 arrests were for sale or manufacture of marijuana? The answer is just over 103,000. That means that more than 750,000 people were arrested last year for simple possession! A remarkably small number of people who may have distributed marijuana were arrested last year, along with three quarters of a million simple users, in an effort to curb marijuana use nationwide.
Were those people “useful tools” in preventing marijuana use? Absolutely not. According to the government’s own data, marijuana use actually increased last year.
Now, we’ve seen that Kerlikowske is correct when he says that we can’t arrest our way out of this “problem.” We can see that arresting people for marijuana, even for marijuana sales, has no effect on marijuana use rates. This glaringly obvious fact makes such statements from the federal government even more confusing, given their continued trend of upholding the status quo at all costs.
Let’s look at some slightly more disturbing aspects of this report.
Arrests for simple marijuana possession accounted for 5.7% of all arrests in 2010! That is a significant percentage of our law enforcement efforts devoted to punishing people for a victimless crime. It seems that there are better ways to use those resources, especially considering that there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes. How many violent acts occurred last year that did not result in an arrest? How many rapes and murders went unsolved due to lack of funds or personnel?
The Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that we need to rethink our approach to drug problems. If it really means this, it needs to seriously consider the most obvious starting point: taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. It is time we stop spending billions of dollars ruining people’s lives in a vain attempt to prevent them from using a plant that humans have used safely for thousands of years.
In late 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon announced a new government-backed military offensive against his country’s drug cartels, believing they could be defeated through sheer brute force. Four years later, more than 28,000 people have been killed, and the drug cartels are more powerful than ever, controlling vast manufacturing and distribution networks that have helped to bankroll kidnappings, extortion, human trafficking, and the corruption of an estimated 60 percent of U.S. border agents.
The majority of the cartels’ revenue – more than 60 percent, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy – comes from selling marijuana in the United States. Remember this.
Finally realizing the futility of the status quo, Calderon last week softened his position and said he was open to a debate about lifting prohibition as a way to combat the cartels and deprive them of their main source of income. (Officially, he remains an opponent of legalization.)
Then over the weekend, Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox (who as a former president is more politically flexible than his sitting successor) went even further, saying he firmly supports ending prohibition as a way to quell the violence. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked,” Fox wrote, explaining that he sees legalization “as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allowed cartels to earn huge profits."
This line of thinking is not new, obviously. Other Latin American nations are realizing prohibition doesn’t work, and former leaders of Brazil and Columbia, as well as former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, have been among those calling for its end.
Meanwhile, as the war rages on in Mexico, street shoot-outs have become commonplace, journalists fear their own safety so much that they don’t even report the violence, and school children are being trained to duck and cover in order to avoid the crossfire.
But with Mexico awash in blood and its leaders desperately looking for solutions, our officials have offered nothing but the same failed options. With one hand, the U.S. gives the Mexican government millions of dollars to continue funding its horrifically unsuccessful war, and with the other, our officials continue to deny the irrefutable reality that prohibition has not worked and another approach is needed — one that will stop handing the cartels a virtual monopoly over such a lucrative trade.
When asked directly if legalizing and regulating marijuana in the United States could help weaken the cartels, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was characteristically close-minded. “All the things they are involved in, all these incredibly horrible crimes, of which narcotics is only a part, would still go on,” he told The Dallas Morning News.
A spokesperson for the State Department was even more tight-lipped: “While the question of debating legalization is for Mexicans to decide, we don't think the legalization of drugs is the answer.”
A few things:
- Kerlikowske’s own office, ONDCP, is the same one that reported cartels make (at least) 60 percent of their money from selling marijuana here in the U.S. So we can only assume the drug czar is being knowingly dishonest when he says taking marijuana out of the criminal market wouldn’t have some impact on the cartels. If those drug organizations were operating at 40 percent of their current wealth, that would mean 60 percent fewer corrupt officials, weapons purchases, cartel manpower, etc.
- “The question of debating legalization” is not just “for Mexicans to decide.” Maybe the State Department hasn’t noticed voters in the largest U.S. state will have an opportunity to turn the page on marijuana prohibition just three months from now, and several other states are considering similar proposals.
- For government officials, it doesn’t have to be a question of whether or not regulation, rather than prohibition is “the answer.” They could simply start off with the middle road Calderon took and say it’s time for a debate. That’s what Gov. Schwarzenegger did last year in California, and now the debate over Prop. 19 has helped launch a national dialogue about ways to reform our disastrous marijuana policies.
While the mainstream media, state governments, and a growing number of politicians and pundits are eagerly wading into the debate over America’s marijuana prohibition, top officials in Washington still refuse to accept that it’s not only already underway but is increasingly moving in a new direction.
Or as Sylvia Longmire, a drug cartel analyst and border security consultant, told AOL News:
It's difficult to comprehend how the U.S. government could acknowledge Calderon taking on the legalization debate, knowing full well that U.S. demand and consumption helps fuel the drug war, and not take at least baby steps towards engaging in a similar debate [in the U.S.].
Difficult is one way to put it. Infuriating might be another.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have sifted through nationwide data to determine the prevalence of different drug-related emergency room visits and (surprise, surprise!) their recently released results show that “marijuana dependence was associated with the lowest rates” of emergency room visits.
NORML’s Paul Armentano has broken down the study here on Alternet:
Among those surveyed, subjects that reported using cannabis were the least likely to report an ED visit (1.71 percent). Respondents who reported lifetime use of heroin, tranquilizers, and inhalants were most likely (18.5 percent, 6.3 percent, and 6.2 percent respectively) to report experiencing one or more ED visits related to their drug use.
Investigators concluded, “[M]arijuana was by far the most commonly used (illicit) drug, but individuals who used marijuana had a low prevalence of drug-related ED visits.”
Paul also points to a recently released RAND study that found California hospitals received only 181 admissions related to marijuana in 2008, compared to an estimated 73,000 such admissions related to alcohol.
This is extremely valuable information in the debate over marijuana prohibition, since opponents of legalization—including the nation’s drug czar—consistently argue that marijuana’s “social costs” are a leading reason why we shouldn’t lift prohibition.
When they make this argument, Gil Kerlikowske and others will always mention the social costs of alcohol without including any supporting evidence to show that marijuana leads to similar results. The reason they don’t cite such evidence, of course, is because they don’t have any. Findings about the extremely low level of emergency room visits for marijuana compared to alcohol and other drugs simply drive another nail into such blissfully ignorant prohibitionist logic.
Oh, and if anyone tries to argue that this situation will somehow change drastically in a regulated marijuana market, consider this: More than 3 million Californians currently use marijuana (at least once) annually, yet fewer than 200 of them end up in the hospital for related reasons.
Kerlikowske and others shy away from stats like these, however, because they are further evidence of marijuana’s high margin of safety—and the insanity behind its prohibition.
Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske offered a correction on Friday to the erroneous comments he made regarding marijuana’s medical value. His new statement, however, is nearly as problematic as the old.
Sometimes you make a mistake and you work very hard to correct it. That happens. I should’ve clearly said ’smoked’ marijuana and then gone on to say that this is clearly a question that should be answered by the medical community.
Kerlikowske continued, saying, “The FDA has not determined that smoked marijuana has a [medical] value.”
While it’s refreshing to see a drug czar who is capable of admitting a mistake, his new statement still falls short of an honest assessment of marijuana's medical value. The FDA’s position on medical marijuana (which is derived from a statement the agency released in 2006) is largely political and was rejected by the medical community following its release. The FDA ignored the government’s own report, published by the Institute of Medicine in 1999, which states, “there are some limited circumstances in which we recommend smoking marijuana for medical uses.”
Numerous studies have found specific medical uses for smoked marijuana, and some of the most interesting research has been done since the FDA released its statement in 2006. Several studies from the University of California, for example, have found that marijuana is highly effective at treating neuropathic pain, a type of nerve pain for which traditional pain medications are notoriously inadequate.
The drug czar's correction falls short.
Two weeks ago, when drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told reporters that “marijuana is dangerous and has no medical benefit,” he also repeated a line he’s been using since taking the job as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy: "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine."
This oft-repeated line (see an example here) is concerning to those of us who want President Obama making informed decisions about our nation’s marijuana policies. How can he discuss its merits if he doesn’t know the word?
To solve this problem, MPP has created a Web page that allows you to e-mail President Obama the definition.
It also lets you add a message about why you support ending marijuana prohibition. Go ahead and take action today, and help MPP arm President Obama with the knowledge he’ll need to make an informed decision about the future of America’s marijuana laws.