Drug Czar Lies of the Week

Jul 25, 2008

California, drug czar, drug war, drug warriors, Medical Marijuana, ONDCP, potency, science

I promise, we will not do a new post every time an ONDCP official lies. We'd never get any work done. But the falsehoods uttered by deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns in this interview in the Arcata Eye, a small northern California paper, are so blatant that they deserve mention. To avoid having to write a War and Peace-length tome, I'll focus on just two:

LIE #1:  Tough laws and enforcement are reducing marijuana use: Burns says, "drug use is down in the United States dramatically since 2001 ... So we know that when we push back, the problem gets smaller."

Actually, virtually every expert analysis has found this to be untrue. In 2001  the National Research Council, in a White House-commissioned study, found "little apparent relationship between the severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and the prevalence or frequency of use." Just weeks ago, a new World Health Organization study found that drug laws have little if any relationship to use rates -- and that the rate of marijuana use in the U.S. is over double that of the Netherlands, where adults are permitted to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses.

LIE #2: Marijuana belongs in Schedule I, with drugs like LSD and heroin that are banned from medicinal use. Burns says, "Because of the higher potency, it is the same as cocaine and methamphetamine and heroin. ... I say you should try crack, because from what I hear, crack cocaine will make you feel really good as well. This is not about making people feel better. ... physician after physician, and scientist after scientist have said, 'You have to be kidding me.'” 

Oh dear.  First, does Burns really believe that relieving suffering (making sick patients "feel better") is somehow inappropriate for medicine? Is he unaware of the mass of clinical research documenting that marijuana does indeed relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and neuropathic pain? 

Second, methamphetamine and cocaine are in Schedule 2 -- that is, they are legal medicines. And no, the approximate doubling of average marijuana potency over the last 20 years doesn't make it a whole new drug -- no more than wine is a whole different drug than beer because it has three times the alcohol level. Indeed, there is no proof that higher potency marijuana poses any danger at all. A recent analysis in the journal Addiction stated, "more research is needed to determine whether increased potency and contamination translates to harm for users."

As for what doctors think, the American College of Physicians -- 124,000 neurologists, oncologists and other internal medicine specialists -- recently called for marijuana to be taken out of Schedule I "given the scientific evidence regarding marijuana’s safety and efficacy in some clinical conditions."

Did Burns' nose grow longer as he was speaking?