Bruce Mirken

Governor Brown Signs Landmark Climate Legislation Helping Underserved Communities and Low-Income Californians

FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – In what advocates for underserved communities are calling “the greatest story no one knows,” California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday dramatically expanding California’s commitment to use climate change policy to attack pollution and poverty together. In a Fresno ceremony at 11:30 this morning, Brown will sign AB 1550 (Gomez), which guarantees that going forward, at least 35 percent of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund proceeds will benefit underserved communities and low-income Californians.

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California Extends Climate Fight to Help Disadvantaged Communities Battling Poverty and Pollution

SACRAMENTO — A series of measures to extend and strengthen California’s fight against climate change while enhancing benefits for communities battling poverty and pollution drew applause Thursday from the climate justice advocates of the SB 535 Coalition.

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The Marijuana Cancer Cure Cult

In his 1971 State of the Union speech, President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, prompting passage of the National Cancer Act, aimed at making the "conquest of cancer a national crusade." Just four years later, scientists from the National Cancer Institute published a study demonstrating that a group of compounds taken from a common, widely cultivated plant shrank lung tumors that had been implanted in mice, extending their survival.

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More Evidence That Marijuana Prevents Cancer

Among the more interesting pieces of news that came out while I was on vacation the first half of August was a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that marijuana smokers have a lower risk of head and neck cancers than people who don’t smoke marijuana. Alas, this important research has been largely ignored by the news media.

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Could Medical Marijuana Have Saved Michael Jackson?

Okay, let me say right up front that a) I know that headline is provocative, and b) neither I nor anyone can answer the question with any certainty given what we know and don’t know so far about Michael Jackson’s death. But the question needs to be asked.

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Can THC Help Some Schizophrenics?

The surprising finding that THC might help at least a small percentage of schizophrenia patients for whom conventional treatments have failed was reported in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

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Stop Subsidizing Mexican Drug Gangs

The horrifying drug-war violence south of our border with Mexico continues to worsen: beheadings, killings that now number several thousand at least, honest officials in fear for their lives. It's time to put an end to U.S. policies that subsidize these murderous drug gangs.

According to U.S. and Mexican officials, some 60 percent of the profits that fuel these thugs come from just one drug, marijuana. While much is smuggled over the border, an increasing amount is produced in the U.S. by foreign gangs operating on American soil -- often in remote corners of national parks and wilderness areas.

Every year, we read more headlines about clandestine marijuana farms being uncovered on these precious, environmentally sensitive public lands. These rogue farms not only pose a threat to hikers and the environment, they cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars each year in eradication and clean-up efforts.

This appalling situation, which now carries a real risk of destabilizing Mexico, is not just happenstance. It is the direct result of U.S. policies.

Like it or not, marijuana is a massive industry. Some 100 million Americans admit to government survey-takers that they've used it, with nearly 15 million acknowledging use in the past month.

That's a huge market -- more Americans than will buy a new car or truck this year, or that bought one last year. Estimates based on U.S. government figures have pegged marijuana as the number one cash crop in America, with a value exceeding corn and wheat combined.

Our current policies are based on the fantasy that we can somehow make this massive industry go away. That's about as likely as the Tooth Fairy paying off the national debt.

We haven't stopped marijuana use -- indeed, federal statistics show a roughly 4,000 percent rise since the first national ban took effect in 1937 -- but we have handed a virtual monopoly on production and distribution to criminals, including those brutal Mexican gangs.

There is a better way. After all, there's a reason these gangs aren't smuggling wine grapes.

We've seen this movie before. During the 13 dark years of alcohol Prohibition, ruthless gangsters like Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran had a monopoly on the lucrative booze market. So lucrative, in fact, that these scoundrels would routinely gun each other down rather than let a competitor share their territory. Sound familiar?

Today, the bloodbath is taking place in cities like Tijuana and Juarez, Mexico, but it's beginning to spill across our border. Prohibition simply doesn’t work – not in the 1930s and not now.

The chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Mexico and Central America Section recently told the New York Times that marijuana is the “king crop” for Mexican cartels. He added that the plant “consistently sustains its marketability and profitability.”

The situation is so intolerable that three former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have recently joined the chorus calling for a shift in U.S. marijuana policy.

There is no reason to believe that our nation’s current marijuana policies are reducing the use and availability of marijuana. Indeed, in the Netherlands -- where, since the mid 1970s, adults have been permitted to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses -- the rate of marijuana use is less than half of ours, according to a recent World Health Organization study. More importantly, the percentage of teens trying marijuana by age 15 in the Netherlands is roughly one-third the U.S. rate.

By taking marijuana out of the criminal underground and regulating and taxing it as we do beer, wine and liquor, we can cut the lifeline that makes these Mexican drug gangs so large and powerful. And at the same time we'll have a level of control over marijuana production and distribution that is impossible under prohibition.

Will Legalizing Pot Save California from its Cash Crunch?

California state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has announced the introduction of legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages. The bill, the first of its kind ever introduced in California, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine, and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

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Drug Czar Fails Spectacularly at Cutting Marijuana Consumption

The White House drug czar's office, aka the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has been claiming loudly and frequently for several years now that its aggressive anti-marijuana campaign has been a rousing success. As deputy ONDCP director Scott Burns put it in a recent California newspaper interview, "drug use is down in the United States dramatically since 2001 by every barometer and indicator that we use. ... Twenty-four percent reduction in marijuana use by young people 12 to 18 years old."

Uh, not quite.

In fact, the major U.S. government study of drug use, the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, shows that the drug czar's office has badly failed to meet its own goals for reducing use of marijuana and other illegal drugs, according to a pair of new reports by George Mason University senior fellow Jon Gettman, Ph.D. In addition, ONDCP and drug czar John Walters have misused treatment statistics to suggest that marijuana is dangerously addictive when the government's own data suggest that arrest-driven treatment admissions have wasted tax dollars by treating thousands who were not truly drug-dependent.

During Walters' tenure, ONDCP has released at least 127 separate anti-marijuana TV, radio and print ads and 34 press releases focused mainly on marijuana, in addition to 50 reports from ONDCP and other federal agencies on marijuana or anti-marijuana campaigns. Beyond doubt, this anti-marijuana blitz -- coupled with record marijuana arrests year after year, to the point where in 2007 an American was arrested on marijuana charges every 36 seconds -- constitutes the most intense war on marijuana since "Reefer Madness."

Gettman, who made international headlines in December 2006 with an analysis showing that marijuana is the top cash crop in the United States, catalogues the failures in detail. In 2007 there were 14.5 million current users of marijuana in the United States, compared with 14.6 million in 2002, while the number of Americans who have ever used marijuana actually increased.

ONDCP has not even come close to meeting its goal of reducing illegal drug use by 25 percent by 2007 in any age group. In fact, among adults, overall illegal drug use actually increased 4.7% from 2002 to 2007. Teen marijuana use is down a bit but still remains common: One in nine (12 percent) 14- and 15-year-olds and one in four (23.7 percent) 16- and 17-year-olds used marijuana in 2007.

Walters loves to cite increases in marijuana treatment admissions as proof that marijuana is addictive and dangerous. But Gettman's analysis of data from the government's Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) shows that the percentage of marijuana treatment admissions referred by the criminal justice system jumped from 48% to 58% from 1992 to 2006. In other words, most of the increase in treatment admissions was driven by people being arrested and offered treatment instead of jail. Strikingly, just 45 percent of marijuana admissions met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for marijuana dependence.

Also arguing against claims that treatment admissions reflect dangerously addictive "pot 2.0" (yes, some officials have actually used that phrase, and some in the press have repeated it as if it meant something) is the fact that, as Gettman notes, "Use of residential detox -- a clear sign of a serious addiction problem -- is used for 24% of heroin admissions and 21% of alcohol admissions, but just 2% of marijuana admissions."

Gettman's bottom line on those treatment stats is simple and depressing: "Increases in drug treatment admissions for marijuana, often cited by officials as evidence that marijuana is dangerously addictive, are driven by criminal justice policies rather than medical diagnosis. These policies increase public costs for providing drug treatment services and reduce funds for and availability of treatment of more serious drug problems."

This is your government on drugs.

The White House Returns to Stoking Fears About Potent Pot

In what is becoming a nearly annual ritual, on June 12 the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released yet another report filled with dire warnings about rising marijuana potency. And the U.S. media -- led by the Associated Press, by far the nation's most powerful wire service -- once again mistakenly treated the story as if it was actual news.

AP's story, picked up by newspapers and TV and radio stations all over the country, began, "Marijuana potency increased last year to the highest level in more than 30 years, posing greater health risks to people who may view the drug as harmless, according to a report released Thursday by the White House."

One had to read six paragraphs into the story to get the first hint of a dissenting view, voiced by Dr. Mitch Earleywine, author of the book, Understanding Marijuana. Earleywine, a substance abuse researcher and psychology professor at the Albany campus of the State University of New York, noted that marijuana smokers simply smoke less when the product is more potent, just as drinkers imbibe smaller quantities of bourbon or vodka than they do of beer. Since the only serious proven harm from marijuana use consists of coughing and other respiratory symptoms caused by inhalation of smoke, higher potency marijuana is arguably healthier, since smoke intake is reduced.

But the AP story -- and most other coverage -- was dominated by dark suggestions of the dire consequences of this new "potent pot." ONDCP chief John Walters warned of the "serious implications" of increased potency, saying, "Today's report makes it more important than ever that we get past outdated, anachronistic views of marijuana."

And Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, added, "Particularly worrisome is the possibility that the more potent THC might be more effective at triggering the changes in the brain that can lead to addiction."

The operative word in Volkow's statement is "might." The claim that higher-potency marijuana means greater risk of addiction is entirely speculative, supported by precisely zero data. That, too, was pointed out by Earleywine, but in a comment buried at the very end of the story.

And not acknowledged anywhere, either by AP or most other news outlets, is the very large body of evidence suggesting that the whole "it's not your father's marijuana" scare story is phony. To understand why, a bit of context -- almost never provided by U.S. mass media -- is necessary.

First, the average potency level of 9.6 percent THC that has ONDCP so alarmed (and which overstates the potency of most domestic marijuana, which is around 5 percent) is actually low by world standards. As reported in the new edition of The Science of Marijuana, by Oxford University pharmacologist Dr. Leslie Iversen, the average THC content of seized marijuana products in Britain from 1998 to 2005 ranged from 10.5 percent to 14.2 percent. In the Netherlands, where marijuana is available by prescription through conventional pharmacies, the minimum permissible THC content set in government standards for medical cannabis (except for one special variety developed specifically to be high in cannabinoids other than THC) is 13 percent.

In other words, the minimum acceptable THC content for medical marijuana in the Netherlands is over one-third higher than the level that has Walters and Volkow in such a tizzy.

And more sober analysts around the world continue to be far less certain than U.S. drug warriors that potency is of great consequence. In a report issued earlier this spring, the British government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (of which Iversen is a member) expressed some ambivalence about the issue. While acknowledging a concern about young people using high-THC marijuana, the ACMD noted that most users may simply smoke less. It also noted that while potency has clearly increased in the United Kingdom over time, "there has been no concomitant reported increase in enquiries to the National Poisons Information Service nor an increase in hospital admissions due to cannabis intoxication."

A new analysis by a group of Australian researchers, published online May 20 by the journal Addiction, is even more skeptical, citing "claims about escalating cannabis potency made as far back as 1975." The Australians argue that "more research is needed to determine whether increased potency and contamination translates to harm for users." For good measure, they add that the evidence "is fragmented and fraught with methodological problems," explaining that the variations in marijuana samples (potency data comes from batches of marijuana seized by law enforcement) are so wide and the sources so varied that it is simply impossible to know if reported potency accurately represents what is available to marijuana consumers.

That said, there are some legitimate concerns about marijuana potency. A first-time user who happens upon some very high-octane marijuana could well have a more intense experience than they are prepared for. So could someone accustomed to lower-grade material who unexpectedly happens upon some high-quality sinsemilla.

There is an easy way to avert such unpleasant surprises, a method that's long been in use for alcoholic beverages: The bottle of white wine presently sitting in my refrigerator bears a label indicating an alcohol content of 13.7 percent, while the bottle of single-malt scotch I keep on hand for special occasions, contains 43 percent alcohol -- again clearly marked. Needless to say, I'll drink the scotch more slowly and judiciously than the wine.

Similar information could easily be given to marijuana consumers. But that, of course, would require replacing prohibition with a regulatory system similar to that now used for alcohol and tobacco. Oddly, neither Walters nor Volkow seem to have brought up that possibility.

Could Smoking Pot Be Good for Teens?

A new study from Switzerland raises the question: Might marijuana actually be good for teens? The answer is almost certainly no, but if one follows the logic used by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, aka the Drug Czar's office), the answer would be, "In some ways, yes."

If that seems confusing, allow me to explain.

The Swiss study, just published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine was based on a survey of 5,263 students, aged 16-20. Scientists compared teens who smoked both cigarettes and marijuana, those who used only marijuana, and those who abstained from both substances. The results were surprising.

By pretty much all measures, the youths using both marijuana and tobacco were doing the worst. Compared to those using marijuana only, they had poorer grades, were less likely to finish school, more likely to be depressed and more likely to get drunk frequently. Their marijuana use was also much more frequent than the marijuana-only group, and they were much more likely to have started smoking marijuana before age 15.

But the marijuana-only teens were strikingly similar to the abstainers, with very few statistically significant differences. The marijuana smokers were more likely to skip school but had comparable grades and were just as likely to finish their schooling as the abstainers. The marijuana users had more "sensation-seeking" personalities, which -- not surprisingly -- translated to somewhat higher use of alcohol or other drugs than the abstainers. But the marijuana-only group's use of alcohol and other drugs was far lower than the marijuana/cigarette group.

And in some ways the teens using marijuana looked better than the abstainers. They had better peer relationships, were more likely to be involved in sports and more likely to be on an academic (as opposed to vocational) track in school.

But these associations, as researchers call them, do not prove cause and effect. Just because A and B happen together tells nothing about whether A causes B, B causes A, or some third factor causes both A and B.

And that's where the Drug Czar gets into trouble. ONDCP regularly uses such correlations to frighten parents about marijuana in an utterly dishonest way. For example, an ONDCP ad published in major newspapers and magazines around the country bore the headline, "Marijuana can limit your teen's academic achievement." It went on to warn parents, "Marijuana use is linked to poorer grades. A teen with a 'D' average is four times more likely to have used marijuana than a teen with an 'A' average."

Well, yes, there was a study showing such an association, but just like the Swiss study, it did not and could not prove that marijuana caused the poorer grades. Indeed, there is a small mountain of evidence suggesting that it's the teens doing poorly in school who start smoking marijuana at a young age in the first place.

So by ONDCP's logic, it should now start running ads telling parents that smoking marijuana is linked to better peer relationships, involvement in athletics and more interest in academics. Don't hold your breath.

(It's worth noting here that there are good reasons to urge teens not to smoke marijuana. Some things, like psychoactive drugs, are simply best handled after one has acquired a bit of experience and maturity. Second, there are still unanswered questions about marijuana's effect on developing brains. Given that the brain uses marijuanalike chemicals as part of its natural communication system, pouring in large amounts of similar compounds while that neural circuitry is still developing seems needlessly risky until more is known.)

What the Swiss study does, if policymakers would only listen, is suggest that ONDCP's obsessive focus on stamping out even occasional marijuana use is misguided. The serious public health problem isn't good students who light up an occasional joint with friends on weekends, much as we might prefer they not do so. The real problem is the population of kids, clearly identifiable in the Swiss research, using multiple substances at an early age and having all sorts of problems at school and home. These kids -- more depressed, less likely to finish school and using heavy amounts of marijuana, booze and other drugs -- exist in the United States as well as Switzerland, and they clearly need help that many aren't getting.

For most of these teens, substance use likely wasn't the original cause of their problems, but it's almost certainly making them worse. ONDCP could be helping parents and schools identify these kids and get them help. Instead, officials cherry-pick data to bolster an ideological agenda while ignoring the real problem.

Spinning a Failed War on Drugs

Our government says we're winning the war on drugs. At a press conference to release results of the government's major annual drug use survey Sept. 6, both White House drug czar John Walters and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt said so, with Walters touting "fewer teens using drugs today."

Not quite. When you cut through the spin and look at the actual numbers, it's clear that Walters is again trying to fool the public -- much as Richard Nixon did back in 1972, when he first claimed we were "winning" the war on drugs.
While drug use rates reported in the just-released 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health are essentially unchanged from 2005, Walters and Leavitt touted declines in current teen use of illicit drugs since 2002, from 11.6 to 9.8 percent, and a parallel decline in current marijuana use from 8.2 to 6.7 percent.

That sounds impressive -- until you look at the long-term trends. If you go back another 10 years, to 1992, the rate of current teen use of illicit drugs was just 5.3 percent, and current marijuana use was at 3.4 percent. So while it edged down a bit in the last five years, teen drug use is actually nearly double what it was 15 years ago.

Walters and Co. have an explanation for this, of course. They say that the methodology of the survey was changed in 2002, so you can't compare earlier figures with recent ones. But that claim is shaky at best.

First, not all experts agree that the changes in the survey were enough to drastically alter the results. Second, another government-funded survey of teen drug use that hasn't changed its methodology, called Monitoring the Future, has documented strikingly similar trends.

In the 2006 Monitoring the Future survey, released last December, 16.8 percent of 10th-graders reported current use of at least one illicit drug -- a drop from 20.8 percent in 2002, but a substantial increase over the 11 percent rate in 1992. For marijuana, current use among 10th-graders soared from 8.1 percent in 1992 and 14.2 percent in 2006.

None of this stopped Leavitt from claiming, "The trends in general are very encouraging." Do these people not read their own data, or do they just think we're fools? The fact is that Walters and colleagues have squandered well over a billion of our tax dollars on a failed ad campaign, mostly aimed at demonizing marijuana, and are desperate to show some results. So they cherry-pick a few numbers that seem to make their case, and ignore the rest.

And before you buy Walters' frequent claim that "we took our eye off the ball" fighting drug abuse in the '90s, don't forget that between 1991 and 2000, marijuana arrests skyrocketed from 282,000 to 734,497.

But buried in the new NSDUH results are some fascinating and sometimes disturbing tidbits. The percentage of Americans who reported using illicit drugs in the past year or past month edged up slightly, and this increase was driven by jumps in use of some of the most dangerous drugs: cocaine, narcotic pain drugs, and stimulants (a category that includes methamphetamine).

While most of the changes were small and not statistically significant, those that were significant are alarming. For example, among 14- to 15-year-olds, past-month use of deadly inhalants rose significantly, as did past-month use of sedatives. This raises the disturbing possibility that scare campaigns focused on marijuana are driving kids to try drugs that are far more dangerous.

The drug czar will never admit it, but the long-term picture is clear: Our current drug policies don't work. The government's bizarre overemphasis on marijuana -- a drug that is beyond question safer than such legal drugs as alcohol and tobacco -- has had little effect on marijuana use, but may well be making our hard-drug problem worse.

It's long past time we had policy based on facts, not spin.

New Studies Destroy the Last Objection to Medical Marijuana

Anyone who advocates for medical marijuana sooner or later runs into arguments about smoking: "No real medicine is smoked." "Smoking is bad for the lungs; why would any doctor recommend something so harmful?" It's a line of reasoning that medical marijuana opponents have used to great effect in Congress, state legislatures, and elsewhere. Indeed, the FDA's controversial 2006 statement opposing medical marijuana was couched in repeated references to "smoked marijuana."

But new research demonstrates that all those fears of "smoked marijuana" as medicine are 100 percent obsolete.

The smoking argument was the closest thing to a scientifically meaningful objection to medical marijuana. While marijuana smoke, unlike tobacco, has never been shown to cause lung cancer, heavy marijuana smoking has been associated with assorted respiratory symptoms and a potentially increased risk of bronchitis. That's because burning any plant material produces a whole lot of substances such as tars, and carbon monoxide that are not good for the lungs.

Nevertheless, inhalation is clearly the best method for administering marijuana's active components, called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids such as THC are fat-soluble molecules that are absorbed slowly and unevenly when taken orally, as in the prescription THC pill Marinol. This means that Marinol typically takes an hour to two hours to work, and dose adjustment is nearly impossible. Patients often report that when it finally kicks in, it hits like a ton of bricks, leaving them too stoned to function.

For that reason, The Lancet Neurology noted a few years ago, "Smoking has been the route of choice for many cannabis users because it delivers a more rapid 'hit' and allows more accurate dose titration." Because the effect is nearly instantaneous, patients can simply take as many puffs as they need, stopping when they've achieved the needed effect without excessive intoxication.

So far, no pharmaceutical product -- not even Sativex, the much-touted marijuana spray now marketed in Canada -- achieves this combination of rapid action and simple, accurate dose adjustment.

Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine's White House-commissioned report on medical marijuana conceded marijuana's medical benefits, saying that what is needed is "a nonsmoked rapid-onset cannabinoid drug delivery system."

The new studies -- one from the University of California, San Francisco, and the other from the University at Albany, State University of New York -- confirm that such a system is here. It's called vaporization, and has been familiar to medical marijuana patients for many years, but few outside the medical marijuana community know it exists. Unlike smoking, a vaporizer does not burn the plant material, but heats it just to the point at which the THC and the other cannabinoids vaporize. In the Volcano vaporizer tested at UCSF, the vapors are collected in a detachable plastic bag with a mouthpiece for inhalation.

The UCSF study, conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams and colleagues and just published online by the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (to appear in the journal's print edition on May) compared a commercially available vaporizer called the Volcano to smoking in 18 volunteers. The subjects inhaled three different strengths of marijuana either as smoked cigarettes or vaporized using the Volcano.

The researchers then measured the volunteers' plasma THC levels and the amount of expired carbon monoxide, which is considered a reliable marker for the unwanted combustion products contained in smoke.

The two methods produced similar THC levels, with vaporization producing somewhat higher levels, and were judged equally efficient for administration of cannabinoids. The big difference was in expired carbon monoxide. As expected, there was a sharp increase in carbon monoxide levels after smoking, while "little if any" increase was detected after vaporization. "This indicates little or no exposure to gaseous combustion toxins," the researchers wrote. "Vaporization of marijuana does not result in exposure to combustion gases, and therefore is expected to be much safer than smoking marijuana cigarettes."

A second study, by Dr. Mitch Earleywine at the University at Albany, State University of New York, involved an Internet survey of nearly 7,000 marijuana users. Participants were asked to identify their primary method of using marijuana (joints, pipe, vaporizer, edibles, etc.) and were asked six questions about respiratory symptoms. After adjusting for variables such as age and cigarette use, vaporizer users were 60 percent less likely than smokers to report respiratory symptoms such as cough, chest tightness or phlegm. The effect of vaporizer use was more pronounced the larger the amount of marijuana used.

"Our study clearly suggests that the respiratory effects of marijuana use can be decreased by use of a vaporizer," Earleywine commented. "In fact, because we only asked participants about their primary means of using marijuana, it's likely that people who exclusively use vaporizers will get even more benefit than our results indicate, because no doubt some in our study used vaporizers most of the time but not all of the time."

In a rational world, the government officials objecting to medical marijuana based on the health risks of smoking would greet this research with open arms. They would join with groups like the Marijuana Policy Project in spreading the word about this important, health-enhancing technology.
Don't hold your breath.

Will a New Study Force Changes in Drug Law?

On March 8, a high-powered British commission recommended tossing that country's law on illegal drugs onto the scrap heap and starting over again. Given that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act parallels the British Misuse of Drugs Act in important ways, the suggestion deserves attention in America as well.

Indeed, it would be a fine start if Americans could simply begin the sort of rational, thoughtful debate on drug policy that the British seem to be having. If we could manage such a thing, we might start changing illogical and unscientific laws that now lead to more U.S. arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.

The RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy, was convened by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, a respected think tank with a 250-year history. After two years of research, this panel of experts and laypeople came to a number of conclusions so sensible and so obvious that it's astonishing how consistently our elected leaders have avoided confronting them. In particular:

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The High Cost of Prohibition

This week, over 500 leading economists, led by conservative icon Dr. Milton Friedman, called for a national debate about whether prohibition of marijuana is worth the cost. The occasion was a new report by Harvard University economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron estimating - - probably conservatively -- that replacing prohibition with a system of common-sense regulation could mean $10 billion to $14 billion per year in reduced government spending and new revenues.

"We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods," Friedman and colleagues wrote. "At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues, and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition."

A good case can be made that prohibition costs too much -- in money, but also in ruined lives and harm done to society. But first, let's talk about dollars:

Using figures from a variety of federal and state government sources, Miron estimates that replacing prohibition with regulation would save $7.7 billion annually in government spending on enforcement. Taxes on regulated marijuana sales could generate $2.4 billion if marijuana were taxed like ordinary consumer goods. If -- as seems more likely - - marijuana were taxed like alcohol and tobacco, tax receipts would be about $6.2 billion, and conceivably more, depending on the tax rate.

Such estimates, of course, aren't perfect. Available data is incomplete, so economists must make assumptions that could turn out to be either too high or too low. Miron's numbers may be conservative: He didn't attempt to quantify every possible saving, and in one major expense category -- the number of inmates locked in state prisons on marijuana charges -- the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy just released an estimate 60 percent higher than the one Miron used.

These are not trivial sums. In the words of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, "A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and soon you're talking about real money" -- money that could be used to fix our schools, strengthen Social Security, or protect America against terrorism.

For example, the $30 billion cost of securing thousands of Soviet-era "loose nukes" -- unsecured nuclear weapons that security experts fear might fall into terrorist hands -- could be paid for in less than three years with the savings and revenues generated by marijuana regulation. One year's savings alone would cover the full cost of port security measures required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, estimated by the Coast Guard at $7.3 billion to secure 3,150 port facilities and 9,200 vessels.

What are we getting for the billions spent on marijuana prohibition? We certainly haven't gotten marijuana off the streets. Last year, 85.8 percent of high school seniors told government survey-takers that marijuana was "easy to get" -- a figure that has remained virtually unchanged for three decades. While marijuana arrests nearly tripled from 1991 to 2003 (the latest figures available), the number of teens trying marijuana for the first time went up by over 50 percent.

According to the federal government, nearly 15 million Americans use marijuana at least once a month. That's equal to every man, woman and child in the states of Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana and Oklahoma combined. It's nearly as many Americans as will buy a new car or truck this year. It's a huge market.

Prohibition cannot and will not make that market go away. It has simply given criminals and violent gangs an exclusive franchise, and society pays the price every day: In unregulated drug dealers with no incentive not to sell to kids, in clandestine grows hidden in national parks and surrounded by booby traps, in the bloodshed that inevitably comes with prohibition -- just as it did during America's ill-fated experiment with alcohol prohibition during the 1920s.

These 500 economists are right: There might be a better way, and it's time to start talking about it.

Dressing Up Failure

In a Sept. 9 press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson cheerfully trumpeted the "encouraging news that more American youths are getting the message that drugs are dangerous, including marijuana."

Headlined "Nation's Youth Turning Away From Marijuana," the statement announced the results of the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Thompson gave credit to President Bush, saying that stepped-up anti-drug efforts are "a cornerstone of his compassionate agenda." White House drug czar John Walters chimed in, declaring, "Young people are getting the message," particularly about marijuana.

Thompson and Walters – who appeared together at a Washington D.C. press conference – failed to mention that drug use remains at near-record levels, vastly higher than when President Richard Nixon declared "war on drugs" back in1970.

Central to Thompson's claim of progress is a reduction in the percentage of 12- to-17-year-olds who say they have ever used marijuana; from 20.6 percent in 2002 to 19.6 percent in 2003. But that 19.6 percent figure is two and a half times the 1970 rate, and exactly equal to the previous historical peak, 1979. The only time it's ever been higher was during a record-setting spike from 1998 to 2002.

Overall, use of illicit drugs actually rose a bit in 2003, and the number of Americans who have used marijuana reached an all-time high of 97 million. Some 15 million Americans used marijuana at least monthly, also an increase from 2002. That's the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Alabama, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Wyoming and North Dakota lighting up each month.

Given that for three years running the administration has carpet-bombed the airwaves with commercials designed to terrify the public about the dangers of marijuana, this is an astonishing record of failure.

The number of Americans using cocaine in the past month also rose. Sifting through the data, one finds a number of other little bombshells that Thompson and Walters neglected to mention. Particularly telling are the numbers of Americans trying illicit drugs for the first time.

In 2002 – the latest figure included in the NSDUH report – just under 1.8 million kids under 18 tried marijuana for the first time. That is barely lower than the late-'70s peak and one third higher than when Nixon began the modern drug war in 1970. The number of Americans trying marijuana is now running neck and neck with the number smoking cigarettes for the first time, while the number of teens trying cocaine for the first time is now nearly four times the 1970 figure.

If this is "encouraging news," one wonders what bad news would look like.

Even the figures the government touts as positive news have a dark underside. If, as Thompson would have us believe, the federal anti-marijuana campaign is responsible for recent, modest declines in teen marijuana use, it may be coming at the expense of efforts to discourage underage drinking.

That's important, because scientifically speaking, there is no doubt about which is the more dangerous drug. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that, when taken in excess, may cause the user to stop breathing and die. Marijuana has no such effect and there is no documentation that it has ever caused a fatal overdose. Prolonged, heavy alcohol use causes gross and potentially life-threatening damage to the brain, liver and other organs. Marijuana does not.

So while the drug warriors focus on marijuana, reasonable people might be concerned that teen alcohol use edged up last year. Even more disturbing, 10.6 percent of 12- to-17-year-olds reported "binge drinking" (having five or more drinks on the same occasion) within the last month – far higher than the 7.9 percent who used any marijuana in the past month.

We seem to have convinced young people that binge drinking is safer than smoking even a little marijuana. 54.4 percent of 12- to-17-year olds said they considered it a "great risk" to their health to smoke any amount of marijuana once or twice per week. Only 38.5 percent saw great risk in binge drinking once or twice a week.

Policy has come completely unhinged from reality. Despite a tripling of marijuana arrests since the Nixon era, marijuana use has skyrocketed while officials pick through the data for encouraging snippets and ignoring the big picture. Worse, they find reason to cheer at figures suggesting that we may be driving kids away from a comparatively benign drug toward one that is far more lethal.

Your Government Wants You to Lie to Your Kids

From time to time, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar's office) sends out friendly emails called "Anti-Drug Parenting Tips." The latest, sent July 14, urges parents to talk to their kids about drugs and includes a link to a set of guidelines for "making a case against pot."

Apparently, our government believes that the way to keep teens off drugs is to lie to them. If parents stick to the White House script what they will teach their kids is that they can't trust a thing adults tell them. Let's examine a few of the White House's talking points:

If your kid says: "Marijuana is a natural plant; how harmful could it be?"

The White House wants you to say: "Smoking marijuana is at least as bad as smoking cigarettes, and you already know how dangerous tobacco is to your health."

The truth: Actually, there is incontrovertible evidence that smoking tobacco increases your risk of getting cancer of the lungs, throat and other tissues that come into contact with smoke. But, despite decades of trying, no such link has ever been established with marijuana. Indeed, in one 60,000-patient study, marijuana smokers had lower rates of lung cancer than nonsmokers did. How can that be? In part, it's probably because marijuana smokers typically smoke a lot less than cigarette smokers. But there is also abundant evidence that marijuana's active components, called cannabinoids, suppress tumor growth. A review of recent research in the October 2003 issue of the journal Nature Reviews stated flatly, "cannabinoids kill tumor cells," adding that "cannabinoids have a favorable drug safety profile." Unlike tobacco, marijuana use has never been shown to increase mortality rates.

If your kid says: "Marijuana is not addictive."

The White House wants you to say: "Sixty percent of teens currently in drug treatment are dependent on marijuana. More youth enter drug treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined."

The truth: According to the government's own figures, most of those teens in treatment for "marijuana dependence" are there because they were arrested. They were caught with a joint, offered a choice of treatment or jail, and – big surprise – chose treatment. In other words, we arrest kids for smoking marijuana, force them into treatment and then use those treatment admissions as "proof" that marijuana is addictive. Somewhere, George Orwell is smiling. In reality, marijuana is about as addictive as coffee. The Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by the White House, noted, "Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears less severe than dependence on other drugs."

If your kid says: "Marijuana only makes you mellow."

The White House wants you to say: "Not always. Sometimes it makes people violent. Kids who use marijuana weekly are four times more likely to engage in violent behavior than those who don't."

The truth: This statement is so blatantly, deliberately misleading that it should make even Karl Rove cringe. Yes, a tiny percentage of people – mostly individuals with preexisting mental illness – become disturbed or violent when they use marijuana, just as a few people react badly to any drug. But – despite the attempt in the second sentence above to confuse cause with effect – overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that marijuana does not cause violence. A review published last year in the journal Addictive Behaviors noted, "Alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship. ... Cannabis reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication." Teens aren't morons. Those who haven't smoked marijuana probably know people who do, and have seen with their own eyes that marijuana does not make users violent, crazed or criminal. If adults claim it does, their kids will laugh at them – and should.

If your kid says: "If I smoke marijuana, I'm not hurting anyone else."

The White House wants you to say: "Marijuana trafficking is a big, international, often violent business. The people behind it are criminals. If you're smoking pot, you could be hurting other people."

The truth: Once again, teens aren't morons. Most are bright enough to understand that the reason the marijuana trade is in the hands of sometimes-violent criminals is because it's illegal. If marijuana production and sales were brought into a legally regulated system, the violence and criminality now associated with it would disappear instantly, and any teen whose IQ exceeds their age can figure that out – even if federal officials can't.

It is increasingly clear that U.S. government anti-drug efforts have nothing to do with any sort of rational strategy for keeping kids out of danger and everything to do with an ideological crusade – a crusade that is utterly divorced from science, logic or common sense. And when zealotry replaces truth and honesty, it's our kids who will pay the price.

The Trouble with Marijuana and Legislators

For a long time many of us have puzzled over why overwhelming public support for legal access to medical marijuana has not translated into legislative action. A new Zogby poll conducted in Vermont and Rhode Island, released March 29, may have solved the mystery.

Every time medical marijuana has been on a state or local ballot it has passed overwhelmingly -- most recently by 83 percent to 17 percent in Burlington, Vermont this March 2. State and national polls consistently show support levels ranging from 60 percent up to 80 percent or higher. This support comes from virtually all segments of the electorate: Young and old, liberal, and conservative, rich and poor, Republican, Democrat or independent.

Yet politicians remain, for the most part, scared to death of the issue. Efforts to pass medical marijuana bills through state legislatures have had surprisingly tough going, considering the overwhelming public support they enjoy. Successful efforts, such as the bill passed and signed into law in Maryland last year, have sometimes required painful compromises that limit the protection given to patients.

On the national level, even liberal members of Congress representing states where the voters have passed medical marijuana laws have sometimes been afraid to openly oppose federal policies that criminalize cancer and AIDS patients who use medical marijuana.

Why are they so afraid? Politicians usually fall all over themselves to jump on issues that have better than two-to-one public support. The new Zogby poll results may contain the answer.

Asked if they support legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, the results from voters in both states were consistent with previous polling: 71 percent yes to 21 percent no in Vermont, and 69 percent yes to 26 percent no in Rhode Island.

But the new poll added a question that has not often been asked: "Regardless of your own opinion, do you think the majority of people in [Vermont or Rhode Island] support making marijuana medically available, or do you think the majority opposes making marijuana medically available?" Here the results were very different:

Vermont:
Think majority supports 37.6 percent
Think majority opposes: 37.1 percent
Not sure: 25.3 percent

Rhode Island:
Think majority supports 26.5 percent
Think majority opposes 55.9 percent
Not sure 17.6 percent

Voters support medical marijuana by a whopping margin, yet they think they're in the minority. Nothing in the polling explains the reasons for this, but it is reasonable to assume that the saturation prevalence of "drugs are bad/marijuana is dangerous" propaganda in the media (often parroted uncritically by mainstream news outlets) is a major reason. Support for protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest is a thoroughly mainstream position, but you wouldn't know it from most media coverage of the issue.

It's a safe bet that legislators and their campaign staffs are under the same misapprehension as voters. They think that supporting medical marijuana is a radical move that will get them in trouble with their constituents. It's not, and it won't.

But our elected representatives won't know that unless we teach them.

Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C.

The DEA Turns 30

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration celebrates its thirtieth birthday this month, as the U.S. Senate ponders the nomination of Karen P. Tandy to be the first woman ever to head the anti-drug agency.

If U.S. drug policies were rooted in facts and logic, this would be occasion for a searching reexamination of the DEA's priorities and tactics, not to mention the wisdom of the laws the agency was created to enforce. That is about as likely as George W. Bush deciding to replace Dick Cheney with Al Sharpton as his 2004 vice presidential running mate.

On June 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee held what they tried to pass off as a hearing on Tandy's nomination. No Democrats bothered to show up., and the few Republicans present asked precisely zero challenging questions. A handful of committee members say they plan to submit written questions to Tandy, a career drug war apparatchik, but all indications are that her nomination will sail through without significant debate.

So our anti-drug crusade can be expected to continue pretty much as usual -- as perhaps the cruelest, most spectacular policy failure in the history of the republic.

Formed by an executive order signed by President Richard Nixon in July 1973, the DEA was supposed to establish a unified command for federal efforts that would, at long last, win the war on drugs. Its budget has skyrocketed, from less than $75 million in fiscal 1973 to an estimated $1.9 billion in the current fiscal year.

Not surprisingly, this 2,500 percent funding increase helped kick-start a massive upsurge in arrests. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the annual number of arrests for drug crimes skyrocketed from 328,670 in 1973 to 1,586,902 in 2001. That 2001 figure includes 723,627 arrests for marijuana offenses -- more than double the number arrested for all drug crimes combined in 1973.

This skyrocketing arrest rate, coupled with lengthy prison terms required by mandatory minimum sentencing laws, has led to an incarceration rate that strains state budgets and shocks most of the world. One thing it has not done, though, is reduce the availability of illegal drugs.

Every year, the federally-funded Monitoring the Future study surveys teenagers about illegal drug use and availability. In 1975, the first year the survey was conducted, 87.8 percent of high school seniors said that marijuana was "easy to get." In 2002 that figure was 87.2 percent. Throughout the surveyís 28-year history, this "easy to get" figure has remained astonishingly constant, ranging from a low of 82.7 percent to a high of 90.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of high school seniors reporting that heroin and cocaine are easy to get has actually increased since 1975.

To most sentient beings, the DEA's record of utter failure at what is theoretically its principal job -- keeping drugs out of the hands of kids -- suggests it might be time to rethink the notion that we can arrest and jail our way out of the drug abuse problem. If some 15 million marijuana arrests since Nixon took office have made no dent in the marijuana supply, why should another 15 million do the trick?

Even those wedded to prohibition ought to wonder about the DEA's -- and indeed the whole federal government's -- near-obsession with marijuana. The DEA continues to waste resources harassing, raiding and prosecuting medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California. Do these people really have nothing better to do?

Disgust with the medical marijuana raids has led several local law enforcement agencies to consider reducing or ending programs in which they cooperate with the DEA. Just how much damage is the agency willing to do to itself in order to keep attacking cancer and AIDS patients?

These are just a few of the questions the Senate should be asking Karen Tandy -- and insisting on direct, no-nonsense answers -- before confirming her to lead the DEA into its fourth decade.

Don't hold your breath.

Bruce Mirken is a longtime health journalist whose work has appeared in Menís Health, California Hospitals, the Miami Herald and San Francisco Chronicle. He now serves as communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

TEENS AND DRUGS

A new survey of U.S. teenagers released August 20 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse generated shocked headlines nationwide. Newspapers across the country blared variations on the same theme: "Students Say Pot Easier to Buy than Beer, Cigarettes."

Well duh.

What almost no one in the media picked up on is that NCASA and others have been reporting similar results for years. The real story, which went virtually unreported, is that the new survey demonstrates the harm done to our youth by the "War on Drugs." We are, quite literally, driving kids to drink. Teens have been telling NCASA survey-takers since the mid-1990s that marijuana is easier for them to buy than beer -- at roughly the same proportion as in the new survey. The only real change is that the recent push to curb cigarette sales to minors has had some success in making tobacco harder for teens to get.

Last year, the government-funded Monitoring the Future study reported, "Since the study began in 1975, between 83% and 90% of every [high school] senior class has said that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily." Other government figures show that youth marijuana use has risen over 2000% since marijuana was banned by federal law in 1937. If the idea is to discourage teens from using marijuana, maybe -- just maybe -- prohibition hasn’t worked.

The real news in the survey is what’s happening to teens attitudes toward drinking. While a larger percentage than ever reported their schools as being "drug-free," the number of kids saying they get drunk at least once a month went up by over a third from last year.

An insight into that disturbing statistic is buried on page 37 of the NCASA report. Asked to rank tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, ecstacy and alcohol from most harmful to least harmful, 42% of teens ranked alcohol as "least harmful, while only 15% gave marijuana the "least harmful" rank. 27% rated marijuana as either the first or second most harmful, compared to just 10% for alcohol. That should scare any responsible parent out of their wits. By the two most objectively quantifiable measures, toxicity and addiction potential, alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol kills over 100,000 Americans each year. It’s easy to fatally overdose on alcohol and, sadly, we hear of college kids and others doing just that every year. But the medical literature has never documented a single fatal marijuana overdose. Indeed, scientists have long agreed that it’s impossible to fatally overdose by smoking marijuana.

As for addiction, the Institute of Medicine -- in a 1999 study commissioned by the White House -- noted that 15% of alcohol users become dependent, compared to 9% of marijuana users. The British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs came to the same conclusion earlier this year, stating that the addiction potential of marijuana is "well below nicotine and alcohol." But those potentially life-saving facts aren’t part of what we teach our kids. Instead, we bombard them with Drug War propaganda that crudely exaggerates the dangers of illegal drugs, leaving them with the mistaken impression that alcohol is relatively harmless. The price, alas, will be paid in corpses.

Bruce Mirken, a longtime health journalist whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, AIDS Treatment News and the San Francisco Chronicle, now serves as Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

A Hero Prepares to Betray Us

To gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is a hero - and deservedly so. When the religious right fought a desperate battle to stop Vermont's civil unions law, Gov. Dean stood firm for what he believed was right. In large part because of this man's courage, same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples under Vermont law.

But right now all signs are that Gov. Dean is preparing to betray our brothers and sisters with AIDS. It is up to us to change his mind.

On March 15 the Vermont House of Representatives passed H645, which would protect seriously ill patients from the possibility of arrest and jail for using medical marijuana with their doctors' recommendation. The 82-59 vote was particularly historic because it marked the first time a Republican-controlled legislative house has passed a medical marijuana law.

This should have been the hardest step, since Vermont's Senate is controlled by the Democrats, who have historically been more open-minded than Republicans about medical marijuana. But Dean is also a Democrat, and a hard-line opponent of any liberalization of marijuana laws, even for medical use. Word around the statehouse is that Dean is leaning on Democratic senators to kill the bill or bottle it up in committee, so that he won't have to veto it.

A veto would be politically inconvenient, since a recent poll showed that three quarters of Vermont voters want to legalize medical marijuana for the seriously ill. But if the bill does pass, a veto by Gov. Dean is considered a strong possibility.

That would be a tragedy for Vermonters with AIDS or other serious illnesses. In our community, we have seen the benefits of medical marijuana again and again. We've seen it help people with wasting syndrome eat enough to stay alive. More recently, marijuana has helped thousands cope with the nausea and lack of appetite that is often caused by the unforgiving anti-HIV drug cocktails they must take to keep their virus in check.

My friend Mary is typical. After a dozen years of fighting HIV she says bluntly, "I'm alive because of medical marijuana." Without it, the side effects of her medications would be intolerable.

Mary is lucky: She lives in California, which legalized medical use of marijuana in 1996. But last October federal agents shut down the medical cannabis co-op where Mary received her supply safely. Until she found a safe alternative source she had to do without - and lost 12 pounds in three weeks.

As the full-page ad that appeared in the March 6 New York Times showed, medical marijuana is no longer a fringe issue. It is supported by everyone from Walter Cronkite to the American Public Health Association, not to mention the National Association of People With AIDS and such esteemed physicians as former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders and noted AIDS researcher Dr. Michael Saag.

Gov. Dean is a physician himself. He should listen to the voices of his colleagues as well as those of the sick and the people who care for them. He must remember the ancient physician's credo: First, do no harm. Killing H645, whether it's done by public veto or private stealth, would do immense harm.

Please write to: Governor Howard Dean, M.D. 109 State Street, Pavilion Montpelier, VT 05609-0101. You can send also your letter by fax to 802-828-3339, or visit www.mpp.org/states/site/index for more information.

Bruce Mirken, Acting Director of Communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, is a longtime health journalist who has covered HIV/AIDS research and policy for many publications.

Sam Farr Joins the Fight

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), whose district includes much of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in northern California, has joined the battle to protect patients from the Drug Enforcement Administration's ongoing war against medical marijuana, signing on this week as a cosponsor of H.R. 2592.

H.R. 2592, the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). It would protect patients by blocking federal interference with medical marijuana programs authorized by state law. It would also move marijuana into Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, allowing physicians to prescribe it as they can presently prescribe or administer morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

"Clearly there are identifiable benefits to the use of marijuana under medically prescribed conditions," Rep. Farr said. "Plain and simple, it's just not good policy to keep patients from doctor-approved health treatments even if those treatments are not mainstream. In the case of marijuana, the people of the state of California understand and support it for medicinal use. Unfortunately, the federal government is not on the same page. I believe states that approve medical marijuana should be allowed to provide it however they see fit, the federal government notwithstanding. H.R. 2592 will give states this right, and I am proud to support it."

Farr becomes the tenth California representative to cosponsor H.R. 2592 and the third new California cosponsor since the DEA began its latest effort to shut down California medical marijuana providers on October 25, 2001. The most recent raids, conducted in San Francisco on February 12, provoked a firestorm of protest from local elected officials and citizens. "Californians are angry that the federal government keeps trying to trample the decision they made in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215," said MPP director of government relations Steve Fox. "Representatives are hearing from their constituents that they've had enough." Proposition 215 legalized medical use of marijuana by patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and other diseases. Seven other states now have similar laws.

"During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush said that he thought the medical marijuana issue was one that states should be able to decide `as they so choose,'" Fox added. "He's gone back on that promise. During a time of tight budgets and daily worries about possible terrorist attacks, why are we wasting law-enforcement resources trying to keep sick people from getting their medicine?"

Fox added that the California raids contradict the President's stated concern that the illegal drug trade helps fund terrorists. "By closing down legitimate providers who work closely with local government and law enforcement, the DEA is forcing patients to get their medicine from street dealers. There is a growing recognition that this policy is pointless, destructive, and wasteful."

The Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana, and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

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