The War Public Health Struggle Against Drugs

It is encouraging that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) felt a need to address both medical marijuana and general legalization of the plant in its 2011 strategy booklet, which was released today. It is also encouraging that the ONDCP's arguments are so lame:

Confusing messages being conveyed by the entertainment industry, media, proponents of "medical" marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana use is harmless and aim to establish commercial access to the drug. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction.

Marijuana and other illicit drugs are addictive and unsafe especially for use by young people. The science, though still evolving in terms of long-term consequences, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. Independent from the so called "gateway effect"—marijuana on its own is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects.

The ONDCP never entertains the possibility that a product could be legal even though it is not harmless. Do the legality of alcohol and tobacco send the message that they are harmless? If you oppose a return to alcohol prohibition, should you be blamed for encouraging kids to drink and making life harder for recovering alcoholics? ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske may have renounced the use of martial rhetoric to describe the government's anti-drug crusade, but he still manages to imply that reformers are traitors whose "confusing messages" are undermining morale in the nation's struggle against the existential threat of pot smoking.

The main impact of President Obama's determination to "think more about drugs as a public health problem" is that the ONDCP now sprinkles the phrase "public health" throughout its reports. For example:

The Administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization. Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to drug control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth.

But you know what's totally consistent with a public health approach? "Zero tolerance" laws that treat a driver who smoked pot a few days ago like someone who polished off a pint of bourbon right before hitting the road—a policy that the Obama administration continues to advocate in the name of "combating drugged driving." Also public healthy: increased scrutiny of doctors' painkiller prescriptions, which is bound to leave some patients in agony so that others won't get high.

At least Kerlikowske, who two years ago claimed marijuana "has no medicinal benefit," now concedes "there may be medical value for some of the individual components of the cannabis plant" (hard to deny, since the FDA has approved one of them, THC, as a medicine in capsule form), although he worries that "smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for delivering the constituent elements that have or may have medicinal value." Actually, smoking pot is pretty efficient compared to swallowing a Marinol capsule, since patients feel the effects right away and can stop once they get the relief they want. As for the hazards of inhaling combustion products, those can be avoided by using vaporizers, another option Kerlikowske does not consider. But he is right that whole cannabis has never been approved as a medicine by the FDA. To use it as such therefore is an unacceptably subversive act of individual autonomy, which is plainly inconsistent with public health.

[Thanks to LEAP's Tom Angell for the tip.]

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  • poetry||

    "keep our young people drug free"

    this is great news! i recant my anti-prohibitionist arguments.

  • ||

    What ever, Snob, Your shit stinks to.

  • rather||

    The ONDCP never entertains the possibility that a product could be legal even though it is not harmless. Do the legality of alcohol and tobacco send the message that they are harmless? If you oppose a return to alcohol prohibition, should you be blamed for encouraging kids to drink and making life harder for recovering alcoholics?

    Fuck, think out of the well worn box. The argument should be to make pot available with the same warning stickers and pictures that are on cigarettes and alcohol.

  • Number 2||

    The "confusing messages" trope is the latest weapon of the drug warriors. It suggests than attributing anything that might at all be slightly positive about marijuana is somehow to support children getting stoned.

    Still, I wonder how all the Democrats in states like New Jersey, who overwhelmingly supported medical marijuana, feel about their President accusing them of "perpetuat{ing} the false notion that marijuana use is harmless."

  • Hugh Akston||

    People who challenge the official narrative are just confused.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Smoking pot will do that to you. See? It's already harming our youth in demonstrative ways.

  • Apogee||

    I wonder how all the Democrats in states like New Jersey, who overwhelmingly supported medical marijuana, feel about their President... who has admitted to using the substance and at the same time is all for ruining other people's lives - all for the sake of maintaining the anti drug funding train.

  • ||

    I can tell you what those Democrats are thinking:
    "We gotta re-elect the black guy instead of a teabagger or, god forbid, another Georgie Bush wannabe."

    Most democrats (much like hardcore conservatives) have an amazing ability to look past their candidate's long list of shortcomings if the alternative is voting for the OTHER party.

  • cynical||

    It's confusing when a government official lies and then you tell other people the truth.

  • cynical||

    It's confusing when a government official lies and then you tell other people the truth.

  • tarran||

    When a darkie smokes a reefer he thinks he's as good as a white man - Harry Anslinger

    i'm pissed that the Obama administration is doing its bit to keep uppity blacks from destroying the social order since I am an anarchist and I want it all to collapse in chaos.

  • Otto||

    It is also encouraging that the ONDCP's arguments are so lame

    How could they not be? What are the good anti-medical (or anti-legalizing) mj arguments?

  • juanita||

    Crazed pot smokers are a danger to our children. Prison guards need good paying jobs, like the ones in California.

  • Pot Smoker||

    Crazed pot smokers are a danger to our children.

    [citation needed]

  • Citation||

    juanita said so

  • tarran||

  • Michael||

    ...efforts to keep our young people drug free...

    I'll go out on a thin, creaky limb and say that the rise of this "save the children" public interest messaging is concurrent with the rise of transfer payment-funded entitlement programs beginning with the Progressive Era. After all, we do need sober, productive worker bees to keep the machinery of society humming along.

  • ||

    I believe that all the good machinery humming along jobs went overseas.

  • juaneeta||

    If you smoke pot you are helping terrorists murder judges.

  • Wah kneeta||

    If you smoke pot you are going to hell.

  • Virginia||

    that is one sad mug. fucking Gil. i almost feel sorry for that loser.

  • CE||

    This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free...

    Our is that Prohibition working out for you in your efforts to keep our young people drug free?

  • CE||

    I could swear I typed "How" not "Our"....

  • Number 2||

    "ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske may have renounced the use of martial rhetoric to describe the government's anti-drug crusade..."

    At least they are not calling it a Kinetic Public Health Action.

  • ||

    Libertarians are just Republi -- oh the hell with it.

  • ||

    marijuana on its own is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects.

    Don't forget it also makes teenage boys grow big ol' girl boobs!

  • ||

    Steve, You being sarcastic? If not your full of shit too, Just like our Government

  • Brandt Hardin||

    The War on Drugs failed $1 Trillion ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and read more on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.....-2011.html

  • ||

    This article is so full of shit, Government cannot and will not control "WE THE PEOPLE" Sorry so blunt, I am so tired of people being cowards not standing up to our Government, Its a Ponzi scheme gone bad, Wake the f up people and stop being cowards. We need to stop the Gov and put them back in line. Im ready to take that stand. Were are all of you?

  • Dean Murmur||

    I am going to MX to sell US goods in a growing economy...hoo ah, 300 acres.

  • ||

    Out of all candidates running for president in 2012, only two will talk openly about the failure of the drug war: Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson. I'm going with Ron Paul. Obama had his chance and did nothing with it.

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