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Is Obama Denying Science? The White House Responds to NORML's 'We the People' Petition

The response to the most popular petition on the 'We the People' website repeats tired lies and misdirections. Most of all, it fails to answer the petition's actual question.
 
 
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The Obama White House has released  its official response to the “We the People” online petition for marijuana legalization submitted by NORML.  The petition, which garnered 74,169 signatures, was by far the most popular petition submitted.  The government response (released late on a Friday to avoid news cycles, we’ll note) repeats the same tired lies and classic misdirections.  Most of all, it fails to answer NORML’s actual petition, which asked:

Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol.

We the people want to know when we can have our “perfectly legitimate” discussion on marijuana legalization. Marijuana prohibition has resulted in the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, countless lives ruined and hundreds of billions of tax dollars squandered and yet this policy has still failed to achieve its stated goals of lowering use rates, limiting the drug’s access, and creating safer communities.

Isn’t it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol? If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

Following is the full official White House response, with NORML’s comments interspersed…

What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana

By: Gil Kerlikowske

When the President took office, he directed all of his policymakers to develop policies based on science and research, not ideology or politics. So our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug’s effects.

Oh, good.  Then we’ll look forward to implementation the  1972 Shafer Commission Report or any of the other government and scientific studies that recommend the decriminalization of cannabis.

According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world’s largest source of drug abuse research – marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment.

“Addiction” links to a NIDA page noting the lifetime dependence rate of cannabis to be 9% – that is, 9 in 100 people who try cannabis will develop a dependence.  Kerlikowske does not mention that  caffeine has the same 9% rate, alcohol is a 15% rate, and tobacco is a 32% rate.  NIDA scientists also  rated the addictive qualities of those substances and rated cannabis about equal to caffeine in risk.  The withdrawal from this rare dependence is characterized by the Institute of Medicine as “mild and short lived” and “includes restlessness, irritability, mild agitation, insomnia, sleep disturbance, nausea, and cramping.”  (Speaking of withdrawal, Mr. Drug Czar, you do know  withdrawal from alcohol can kill a person and it’s legal, right?)

“Respiratory disease” links to  a 2008 Science Daily article on a study entitled “Bullous Lung Disease due to Marijuana” which looked at the cases of  ten people who came in already complaining of lung problems, who admitted they smoked pot over a year.  The subject was  featured in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine as it found “ insufficient evidence for a causative link“.  Matthew Naughton, author of the 2008 study, co-authored a 2011 study which noted “ unfortunately, it is difficult to separate marijuana use from tobacco smoking which does confound these reports".  (Speaking of tobacco, Mr. Drug Czar, you do know  tobacco is much worse for the lungs and it’s legal, right?)

“Cognitive impairment” links to a  1996 NIDA fact sheet on studies of cognitive impairment involving card sorting.  Since then…

  1. A 2001 study published in the  Archives of General Psychiatry found chronic users who quit for a week “showed no significant differences from control subjects”.
  2. A 2002 clinical trial published in the  Canadian Medical Association Journal determined, “Marijuana does not have a long-term negative impact on global intelligence.”
  3. A 2003 meta-analysis published in the  Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society also “failed to reveal a substantial, systematic effect of long-term, regular cannabis consumption on the neurocognitive functioning of users who were not acutely intoxicated.”
  4. A 2004 study of twins published in the journal  Psychological Medicinereported “an absence of marked long-term residual effects of marijuana use on cognitive abilities.”
  5. A 2005 study published in the  American Journal of Addictionsused magnetic resonance imaging and found  “no significant differences” between heavy cannabis smokers compared to controls.
  6. A 2006 study published in the German journal  Psychopharmacologyfound no  “long-term deficits in working memory and selective attention in frequent cannabis users after 1 week of abstinence”.
  7. A 2009 study published in  Human Psychopharmacology found “little indication of differences in executive functioning” for mild to moderate cannabis users.
  8. And a 2010 study published in  Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found regular cannabis users’ performance accuracy on episodic memory and working memory tasks “was not significantly altered by marijuana.”

Forgive the overkill, but as an organization that is honored to have  regular cannabis consumer Carl Sagan’s widow,  Ann Druyan, as an Advisory Board Member, we’re particularly offended when the government claims science says that regular cannabis consumers are stupid.  (Speaking of cognitive impairment, Mr. Drug Czar, are you aware that  frequent alcohol use is shown to have incredibly deleterious effects on cognition and it’s legal?)