Drug Policy

John P. Morgan, RIP



John P. Morgan, a physician and pharmacologist who has played a prominent role in the drug policy reform movement for many years, died on Friday at the age of 67 from acute myeloid leukemia. I saw him at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in early December and had no idea he was ill. Perhaps he didn't either; this disease is often rapidly fatal after the symptoms are first detected. Morgan, a professor of pharmacology at the City University of New York from 1977 to 2004 and a longtime adviser to the National Organization  for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, brought to the anti-prohibitionist movement the deep knowledge, openness to argument, and calm and measured manner of a careful scholar. These traits were evident in what he said (see above for an example) and in what he wrote. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, the 1997 book he co-authored with Queens College sociologist Lynn Zimmer, concisely and authoritatively debunked the major themes of anti-pot propaganda, but it's really not a pro-pot book. It could more accurately be described as a pro-science book. Morgan emphasized that every drug has its hazards but insisted that they be assessed dispassionately, without regard to the drug's current legal status.

Sometimes that's tricky, because making a drug illegal has a way of enhancing its dangers, a phenomenon to which Morgan frequently drew attention. In a 1990 speech at the Hoover Institution, for instance, he used the experience with adulterated ginger "jake"during alcohol prohibition to illustrate four features of drug prohibition:

1. Prohibition engenders criminal enterprises and criminal subcultures.

2. Prohibition generates more potent forms of the forbidden substance.

3. Prohibition enlarges drug toxicity by contamination and adulteration.

4. Those poisoned by interdicted substances in their potent or contaminated forms are blamed for their disabilities, or even their deaths, because they were engaging in outlawed conduct.

My last interaction with Morgan occurred at the conference in December, when I participated in a panel on methamphetamine. My presentation dealt with responsible, controlled use of amphetamines, a topic I broached with some trepidation, since meth has a bad rap even among critics of the war on drugs and even among illegal drug users ("Speed Kills" and all that). During the question-and-answer session, Morgan said he agreed that concern about the "methamphetamine epidemic" had made it difficult to talk about the drug's legitimate uses, which do not necessarily require a doctor's prescription to validate them. He said he had personally found methamphetamine tremendously useful during his education and career, calling it one of the safest drugs around when used responsibly. Coming from most people in most contexts, this would have been a startling admission. But coming from the eminently reasonable Morgan and delivered in his usual matter-of-fact tone, it cut through the hysteria and introduced a much-needed alternative perspective. Morgan made a career of doing that, and his well-informed skepticism will be sorely missed.  

[via Celebstoner]

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  1. A good man, R.I.P.

  2. Sorry to see him go.

  3. He makes an excellent point in the video. RIP.

  4. A friend to liberty everywhere. Rest in Peace.

  5. He was such a nice guy, and now I feel very sorry for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis.

  6. Dr. Morgan was a warm and honest man; not an intellectual snob. He truly wanted to share his knowldge with everyone he met. R.I.P.

  7. Sounds like a fine man who will be sorely missed.

  8. All drugs are evil without exception. I am sorry Dr. Morgan is dead but he should never have advocated the use of drugs. Illegal drugs are illegal for a reason and can never be used safely in any dose, and anyone who uses them even once is an addict and a criminal.

  9. Wow, way to break out the generalizations Juanita. You don’t seem like a person who’ll bother conceding a point so I’ll just give a few points in general myself.

    Some drugs are illegal for various reasons. Opium was made illegal as a way to control the Chinese for instance. Usually, it’s because of fear and hysteria.

    Your “addict” and “criminal” phrases are misleading and naive. Are fighter pilots these things ? Cancer patients ? If one uses alcohol for recreation and another pot, where is the difference made ? What about Xanax and Speed ? I admit that drugs are bad for you, but are these drugs being illegal helping or hurting the addicts ?

    So many questions, and such a narrow point of view you have Juanita.

  10. Ah, Windtell, if you’re new ’round about these-here parts, you should be aware that “Juanita” is one of our regular dwellers under the bridge…

  11. Do. Not. Feed. Juanita.

  12. I have the utmost respect for John Morgan. Somewhere, I have an old VHS tape of his presentation at the 1990 NORML conference.

  13. Fighter pilots are not criminals or addicts because they get drugs from the government, which means those drugs are safe and effective to use. Alcohol is safe because it is legal. Xanax and speed are okay as long as the government gives you permission to use them but if you use them the wrong way even once you are an addict and a criminal and both you and your doctor should go to jail.

  14. Sorry for feeding Juanita, I should know better.
    No food for you !

    Nice clip, I loved his conclusion that if someone proved the herb was more dangerous that’d be an even better argument for legalization.

  15. @Robert: I’m pretty sure that John’s wife died a few years ago.

    He was a wonderful man, warm, funny, generous and loyal. He’ll be sorely missed by his many friends here in Liverpool.

  16. I find it extremely hard to believe that Juanita is genuine at all. I’ve seen plenty of her posts and it’s hard for me to believe that she could mean what she says.

  17. Danny, my take is that Juanita is engaging in satire. I actually find her posts quite amusing.

  18. If only the Drug Policy Alliance hadn’t put a second promo at the end of the video, the video would have been a perfect number of minutes and seconds.

  19. There is no way to use meth safely. It is so highly euphoric that one is tempted to use it time and time again. It breaks down resistence to virii, and when it wears off the come down sucks. It is what the late Dave Moore called “false energy” energy not warrented by one’s physique.

  20. Thank you, Jacob. It is my understanding that Dr. Morgan did that video in one take, with no script. He could talk like that better than almost anybody I’ve ever seen. Once, on Bill O’Reilly’s TV show, using only impeccable logic, John got the gung-ho drug warrior O’Reilly to admit that the drug war had failed. Morgan was that good.

    Honest, generous, guileless, brilliant, encyclopedic, absolutely one of a kind, he was much loved and will be sorely missed. Where John P. Morgan once stood there is now a huge hole.

  21. I saw him do his presentation on pot and music at a conference a few years back. It was refreshing to see a scientist take on arcane bits of popular culture. I never knew Morgan but recall everyone speaking highly of him, something that’s pretty rare in activist circles.

  22. Dear John,

    Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for all you did for my friends who suffered so much from the drug laws which did its best to prevent their use of medical marijuana. Thank you for making me laugh and making me listen to all those ancient songs to find their many references to pot. Don’t be offended but you reminded me of Santa Claus with your jolly laugh, willingness to hug, your ability to listen.

    Your unfailing courage to share your honest to goodness research and truth will always inspire me. Thank you for giving me that book and sharing so much knowledge with me. I am proud to say you were my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed running into you all over our great country. I hope when my time comes, I can say I did as much as you did for humanity, both within your circle and the wider circles, ever overlapping and connecting us.

    You go now to your fathers and mothers of history, all of whom welcome you with pride and great love.

    Proud friend always,


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