DrugSense Weekly

A Rush of Blood to the Head

It's a shame when politics corrupts science, because the public continues to distrust the scientists for politicizing their findings long after their transient policy goals are a distant memory. That's what's happening, in my view, to the National Institutes on Health's Institute on Drug Abuse. 

A new study purports to show us that marijuana use is especially dangerous, but I think it shows the opposite. The study found that pot smoking may cause slight narrowing of blood vessels hindering blood flow to the brain, which the researchers hypothesized may explain examples of memory loss. But the study also found higher blood flow levels to the brain overall among pot smokers, which seems contradictory. Whatever the case, here's the kicker:

"After a month without cannabis – during which the volunteers agreed to remain in a clinic, with no access to marijuana – Cadet repeated the sonography. The resistance to blood flow of light and moderate users – who usually smoked an average of 11 and 44 joints per week, respectively – was starting to return to normal." The heaviest users in the study smoked up to 50 joints per day.

So for those smoking an average of 44 joints per week (!), the discovered ill effects wear off in a month once you quit. They wear off over a longer period for heavier smokers who quit.  Either way, the vast majority of marijuana smokers are consuming a lot less than 44 joints per week, if only restricting their intake from pure economic motivations.  A "joint" is a pretty imprecise measuring stick, but it sounds like folks who smoked up to a couple of ounces per week get over the described ill effects through abstinence in the short term.  That says to me most people aren't at serious risk – that's a helluva lot of pot smoking!

This junk science reminds me a lot of the problems with Texas' forensic labs. Part of the reason the work of forensic scientists helped convict innocent people in Texas is that scientists only answer questions prosecutors ask them, and prosecutors only ask questions where they think the answer will prove their case. That's a problem, because which questions scientists ask dictates, to a large extent, what answers they'll find. 

So sure, when they study the fellow who smokes 50 joints per day, they find significant health concerns, but I wonder how bad they are compared to someone who, say, drinks a fifth of whiskey every day, which might be an equivalent level of substance abuse. In fact, I'll bet the 50-joint-a-day smoker has a lot of other problems, too.

Where did they even find somebody who smokes that much pot, and how is it even remotely possible? I'll bet even Tommy Chong in his heyday never strung together too many 50-joint days in a row – how in the world can this be considered indicative of what happens with "heavy use"? I'd have considered 44 joints per week pretty heavy use, but I'm no expert. Then, it would appear that at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the experts aren't so very expert, either; just well-credentialed shills for the drug war. 

Bring Freedom Home First

While I'm happy to be an American and I wouldn't really want to live anywhere else, I believe we need to look at domestic oppression before saving everyone else. I didn't hear anything about drugs in Bush's inaugural speech, but I heard a lot about freedom for those who don't have it. Illegal drug users have little freedom now in this country. 

As I reread the text of the speech, three paragraphs struck me, particularly as they might apply to victims of the drug war here. 

"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right," Bush said. 

Oppression and freedom are at the heart of the drug war, and the choice has already been clarified for those who are willing to see. With hundreds of thousands of people behind bars because of drug laws, it's time to ask: Does oppression become moral when the oppressor thinks it's for the good of the oppressed?

"America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies."

But we continue to pretend that jailing chemical dissidents, those who take drugs not approved by the U.S. government, somehow is preferable for them. Women caught with the wrong drugs, or even those simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person, spend years behind bars in the U.S. Sadly, we do live at the mercy of drug war bullies, who insist on checking the chemical purity of our bodies and our children's bodies through drug tests; who arrest the sick and dying for trying to relieve their pain; who see themselves as above laws which restrict federal bureaucrats from getting involved in local political issues. 

"We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty."

That last sentence is inspiring, in theory. Unfortunately, in reality, freedom, justice and human liberty are under assault by the drug war. 

Let's get it right in our own country before insisting that everyone follow our lead. 

Sanity In Chicago

Did the drug war slack off a little last week in Chicago? Was it just too tired to fight? Demoralized by Montel Williams?

I thought Montel's show about medical marijuana, in which he confronted and shamed former deputy drug czar Andrea Barthwell, would be the big news of the week. But while the former czarina stuck to the cruel party line that Montel shouldn't be smoking weed to stop his pain, something else happened.

A major American city proposed marijuana decriminalization, and no one expressed serious opposition. Not even the federal freakin' drug czar himself.

Maybe things will get back to normal next week, and maybe this proposal isn't as good as it seems, but Chicago's leaders want to stop arresting pot smokers for possessing small amounts. Instead, tickets would be issued. Chicago officials insist they are not talking about decriminalization. It's really a way to get tough on marijuana.

OK guys. Whatever you say. Semantics can be important, and the term decriminalization carries varied meanings and connotations that can confound listeners. But if this was 1978, everyone would be using the language of decrim.

Of course, it's not 1978 and the proposal isn't ideal. Among other problems, the fines as discussed are too high, but from a reformer's perspective, it still looks like a step in the right direction.

It all started last Monday when the Chicago Sun-Times released details on a police sergeant's memo suggesting that fines would be more appropriate than arrest. He argued that judges were dismissing cases for the vast majority of suspects arrested with 2.5 grams or less.

An unstated but central question floated beneath language of bureaucracy: Why spend money arresting potheads, when you can make money fining potheads?

It was a relatively rational idea, but the drug war's central function is to aggressively smash down rationality wherever it rears its confusing head. While other counties and cities have similar schemes in place, American prohibitionists go insane and froth at the mouth whenever they discuss Canadian decrim proposals. I assumed that we would hear little more about the subject in Chicago.

The next day, the chief of police said it was an idea worth consideration. Then Mayor Daley said he didn't have a problem with it. In Chicago, that's all that really matters. Both the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune endorsed the idea.

And then two holes within the space time continuum apparently aligned momentarily and we entered some kind of alternate dimension. I'm talking mystical signs of biblical proportions; lambs lying down with lions and that type of thing. John Walters, the federal drug czar, told the Sun-Times he does not have a problem with Chicago's plan to stop arresting marijuana smokers! He didn't endorse it, but he wouldn't criticize it. The federal freakin' drug czar!

The reporter was polite and/or ignorant enough not to ask the federal freakin' drug czar why it's OK for Chicago but not for Canada.

Federal hypocrisy aside, Chicago's fines for pot plan sounds OK, but regulation and a mild tax would be much better. Government shouldn't have to depend on people breaking the law to generate revenue when it could depend on people obeying the law to generate revenue.

Better policies, however, will come around in the future. When Chicago fails to fall apart because marijuana smokers are no longer being arrested, more significant reforms will arrive in the Windy City and elsewhere, particularly if the reforms offer broader revenue streams and decreased costs for local government.

At the very least some obscured truth seems to be ripe for mass recognition across the United States: Using the limited resources of law enforcement to arrest our way toward a pot-free America is a stupid, short-sighted waste. Even the federal freakin' drug czar understands marijuana arrests are a malicious luxury he can no longer afford to demand.

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