Humans Need Catnip Too: Part 2
III. The Cost of Modern Prohibition
Those who still advocate the continued prohibition of cannabis are yoked with the burden of justifying its illegal status, along with the nearly $10 billion spent on Federal law enforcement and estimated $3.6 billion in state law enforcement per year. Those figures do not include the hypothetical tax revenue that would be gained from cannabis sales. We're averaging over 700,000 arrests in the 21st Century. In 2013, a typical year, 88% of these arrests are for simple possession and not sales.
Let's briefly revisit the 1987 ruling that cannabis should be rescheduled, especially to promote research. There has been extensive studies on cannabis' medical efficacy in recent years around the world. But, imagine the lives we could have improved or saved with medicinal cannabis if research began back then!
Earlier in 2015, even the National Institute on Drug Abuse--whose job is to pretty much do whatever they can, including lie, to keep cannabis illegal--admitted that whole-plant cannabis extracts could eliminate or shrink tumors associated with certain kinds of cancer. A quick search will uncover thousands of stories of how cannabis oil helped fight or even cure cancer in adults and children. Removing cannabis from Schedule 1 would greatly help speed up the research. It's also been known for a long time that cannabis helps stimulate the appetite of people going through chemotherapy. When it comes to a disease as serious as cancer, patients deserve access to any option that could help them.
Other diseases and their symptoms that are potentially deadly or crippling can be alleviated by cannabis use. Glaucoma, multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic wasting syndrome associated with AIDS, Crohn's Disease, chronic pain, and PTSD are examples. Coltyn Turner, 15, contracted Crohn's when he was just 11, nearly lost his life to the illness. The drugs prescribed to Coltyn were just making him sicker, and his parents used cannabis oil as a last option. He is feeling much better, takes a cannabis oil pill four times a day, and his famous quote reads, "I'd rather be illegally alive than legally dead."
Veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have worked tirelessly in bringing nationwide attention to cannabis' ability to help them cope with what was formerly known as "shell shock". One such organization that was formed is called Veterans For Compassionate Care. The Department of Veterans Affairs, of course, is spouting the typical anti-cannabis rhetoric. At the same time, they are okay with prescribing antipsychotic drugs like risperidone, which have been shown to be no more effective than a placebo. Do government-types ever think maybe, just maybe, that sick people eventually get tired of being used like guinea pigs--and would prefer a natural and safer approach to treatment? A treatment that leaves them less sick and more capable of having a better quality of life?
This is where I personally become unnerved. My field of study, Psychology, has become a haven for the REAL drug pushers. Psychiatric drug sales is an $85 billion a year industry, and Big Pharma wants to make mental illness and their drugs as mainstream as possible. There's even a Big Pharma-approved hashtag, #MedicatedAndMighty, which showcases people waving around their pill bottles. If it weren't for the fact that these drugs are dangerous and being pushed on our population and our kids, I could see this as a way of empowering people. Is your kid too hyper? They'll prescribe Ritalin or Adderall. Side effects can include agitation, vomiting, weight loss, palpitations, insomnia, addiction, and psychotic symptoms like paranoia and depression.
Biased and flawed research has led to major lawsuits against GlaxoSmithKline Inc., makers of the anti-depressant Paxil. The company's research lab falsely lowered the number of instances of suicidal ideation in their findings. Adverse mental effects, including but not limited to, mania and suicidal ideation are potential side effect of popular anti-depressant drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Paxil. There is a clear conflict of interest between makers of psychiatric medications and public safety.
Thirty-five recent school shootings and similar violent incidents have been linked to the use of psychiatric antidepressants. Isn't cannabis the drug that's supposed to cause psychosis, and "Big Pharma" drugs are the safe ones? Where's the reincarnation of Harry Anslinger saying "Take an antidepressant and you'll kill your brother?" We have overstated the dangers of cannabis while at the same time understating the dangers of mind-altering prescription drugs.
Here's a statement taken from the Food and Drug Administration's MedWatch program:
"Between 2004 and 2012, there have been 14,773 reports to the U.S. FDA’s MedWatch system on psychiatric drugs causing violent side effects including: 1,531 cases of homicidal ideation/homicide, 3,287 cases of mania & 8,219 cases of aggression. Note: The FDA estimates that less than 1% of all serious events are ever reported to it, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher."
And here's an article describing 25 acts of violence linked to psychiatric drugs:
"School-related acts of violence aren’t the only cases commonly found to be under the influence of psychiatric drugs. There are 25 other acts of senseless violence committed by individuals taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs resulting in an additional 251 dead and 134 wounded."
These drugs are far more deadly than cannabis ever could be, and we have denied people the right to seek out a viable treatment option for a variety of physical and mental illnesses. If our government treated these Big Pharma drugs like they dealt with cannabis, many high-level and influential executives would be living in the "iron hotel" instead of a penthouse.
It is true that those who suffer from mental illness are more likely to use cannabis, and it's also true that cannabis use isn't always the most effective treatment. However, too many graduates in my field are trained to blame the plant instead of working with the patient to find the best treatment. Cannabis has side effects too, including reports of dry mouth, panic attacks and depression. From my educated opinion, it is key to find which treatment that the patient tolerates the best.
Let's talk about another Crohn's disease case that epitomizes the cruelty and ignorance of cannabis prohibition. Shona Banda, who moved from Colorado to Kansas with her son, uses medical cannabis for Crohn's. During one of those "drug education" programs at her son's school, the counselors uttered the typical "marijuana is dangerous with no accepted medical value" statements. Her son questioned them, apparently knowing quite a bit more about cannabis than the "counselors". The boy was taken to the principal's office and interrogated about his mother's use of cannabis. Shona was quickly arrested and her son forcibly removed from her home. She faces up to 34 years in prison for possession, manufacturing, and distribution of "marijuana", with an additional penalty of being within 1,000 feet of a school zone. Her son is currently living with his father. For obvious reasons, this case has garnered international attention, and hopefully Banda can avoid prison altogether.
As with other drug convictions, those with cannabis charges on their criminal records suffer consequences far more than just a fine or prison time. One can lose public housing, financial aid, spouses, children, and careers due to positive drug tests. An amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1998 penned by "family values" Congressman Mark Souder has resulted in the financial aid taken away from over 200,000 students. His "family values" included having an extramarital affair with one of his aides. Souder's loss is nothing compared to the loss of all those students. Even convictions of some violent crimes don't result in the loss of financial aid, but one joint will.
Personally, I have a clean criminal record--but I did get lucky once. A friend and I were detained during our college years while driving back from a New Year's Eve gathering. Neither of us had drank any alcohol, but like the cop said, there was obviously weed in the car. Both of us were ordered to wait for 30 minutes and drive home. He didn't even take our stashes. My friend and I went on to graduate from a four-year university. I can't help but think, all these years later, that we were lucky because we were white kids in California.
Cannabis prohibition has cost African Americans dearly, even though they use it at roughly the same rate as Caucasians. The national arrest rate is 3.73 to 1. In Iowa, the state where election-cycle madness begins, the arrest rate is 8.3 to 1. If young white kids were arrested at such high rates, national outrage would have erupted long ago.
Today, we not only pay a high price in taxes and lives ruined, our civil liberties are always under attack in the name of ridding the world of cannabis.
The drug-testing industry has become drunk with power because of the ability of urine tests to show cannabis use from over a month ago. Recently, more than a handful of states have tried to drug test welfare recipients, and more are trying to overcome that pesky Constitution to enact policies of their own. The results of these policies are costly to taxpayers, with expenditures being roughly twice as much as they are saving. Usually less than 1% of the tests come back positive. Compare this with a drug use rate of 9.4% in those states on average, and it appears this is just another way to shame people who have fallen on hard times. And let's cut through the kitty cookie, shall we? This is all about cannabis use, because other drugs leave the system within a couple days.
Due to their overstated effectiveness on work safety, less companies are drug testing than in 1996--when about 81% of them did. That figure declined to 62% in 2004. Also, ompanies who stated that they "did not believe in drug testing" rose to 29% of those surveyed, up from 21% in 2010. Over 7.3 million full-time workers reported using cannabis in the past month, which would likely result in a failed drug test. Artificial barriers to employment does not help people get back to work.
While I believe drug testing for cannabis should be mostly eliminated, I concede that certain types of jobs requiring the use of a vehicle or heavy machinery should require a drug test. However, when a medical cannabis user can't even get a job at a place like Target, that is a clear case of overreaching.
DISH Network fired quadruplegic Brandon Coates after his random drug test was positive for legal medical cannabis. The Colorado (yes, Colorado) Supreme Court ruled in favor of the giant corporation. Sarcastically speaking, how dare a disabled person try and better thamselves in America... (insert profanity-laced rant here)
If you're a drug-testing lobbyist, you'll obviously fight against any cannabis legalization--as well as try and incorporate drug tests into everyone's life. Nearly 20% of schools randomly drug test students in extra-curricular activities and athletics.
I strongly believe that enforcing cannabis laws has turned law enforcement more aggressive, untruthful, and meddlesome than what is acceptable for a free country. A Georgia farmer was scared out of his wits when armed police and a drug dog came barreling at his... okra plants. This youtube video shows a "vigilant" cop mistaking the smell of cannabis for the smell of cigarettes, and a moldy french fry for a joint! While no one was hurt or arrested in those incidents, not everyone is so lucky. Police claimed that Jonathan Ferrell was drunk and high on "marijuana" the night police shot him dead, but no drugs were found in his system. He was also determined to be below the legal limit for alcohol intoxication. Ferrell had crashed his car, banged on the door of a nearby home, and the resident called the police out of fear. This terrible situation had no winners.
As seen above, the mainstream media is sure to give police representatives time when they attempt to discredit--or lie about--people, when cannabis is found in their system. The most recent case of this is the death of Sandra Bland, who cops claimed had a "large amount of marijuana in her system" at the time of her apparent suicide inside a jail cell. Bland was arrested after a traffic stop. Basically, she refused to put out her cigarette and the cop overreacted--escalating the situation.
Police are incentivized to make cannabis arrests, so their unions lobby feverishly to prevent sensible cannabis law reform, and even access to medical cannabis. Along with civil asset forfeiture laws discussed in my War on Drugs blog entry, there are also the Federal Byrne Grants. Money is doled out to the participating states, which in turn use a competitive application process to see which local police district gets the most money. To revew their grant, states must show that their grant money is being put to good use. The criteria include number of offenders arrested and number of drug seizures. So, police are more to go after low-level cannabis users instead of drug kingpins or violent criminals.
Cannabis prohibition is chipping away at our Fourth Amendment rights. In 2011, our Supreme Court ruled that cops can enter a house if they think they smell "marijuana", and are able to create, on their own, an "exigent situation" to forego obtaining the search warrant to enter the residence. In that particular case, the probable cause was that police smelled pot, and the exigent situation was the cops hearing someone "scrambling" inside the home after they banged on the door, possibly to destroy the evidence. To put it bluntly, it means that police can escalate and lie about a situation if it means an opportunity to fill that Byrne Grant quota.
On the bright side, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled this year that the 2008 cannabis decriminalization law superceded the police being able to pull over a vehicle suspected of having pot in it.
In my previous entry about the War on Drugs, I mentioned the Patriot Act, which was supposedly drafted for use in terrorism cases. In reality, this bill is mainly used for drug cases. If we really want to fight terrorism, like the November 13 attacks in France, it's about time we focused ALL our energy on terrorists and international drug trafficking, instead of wasting so much of it on cannabis users. They are not your enemies.
How many rights are you willing to give up in the name of cannabis prohibition? If our intrusive government is going to continue trying to justify its illegal bulk-data spying procedures, it is necessary for this same government to make concessions. Our tax dollars and our own concessions should be for the cause of fighting terrorists, not fighting a failed war against a plant that's much less harmful than alcohol. The idea that we're protecting society by ruining the lives of cannabis users, medical or recreational, is a deadly myth.
IV. Cannabis Myths That Should Go Up In Smoke
The myth that African Americans do more drugs than Caucasians is completely false. Let's explore some other myths, shalll we?
Myth: Cannabis is a gateway drug.
The gateway drug theory argues that since users of "hard" drugs had previously used "marijuana", that is the cause of their graduation to harder drug use. Using this ideology led to the passing of the Boggs Act of 1951 that had been mentioned previously. Studies done by the government cannot prove this theory, yet it's still a go-to scare tactic in many a politician's arsenal.
Harry Anslinger himself mentioned that cannabis use didn't lead to the experimentation with other narcotics, and Shafer's findings during the Nixon Administration came to that same conclusion. A Commission set up by the government in 1999 reported on the possible dangers of medical cannabis laws showed no evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug. Even the most anti-cannabis websites out there can't prove it.
Alcohol and nicotine use most often precede cannabis use, but the average media consumer is mainly exposed to stories of drug addicts starting their drug use with "marijuana". Those who wish to perpetuate the gateway theory are sure to phrase the question as "What's the first (illegal) drug you tried?" Since our society has been essentially trained to separate alcohol from "drugs", the addict will not place as heavy an emphasis on the alcohol use--which likely preceded the cannabis use. Due to prohibition, weed is a gateway to a black market drug dealer who may have other drugs for sale.
Myth: Cannabis is "drugs"
If pot is a drug, so is sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
This myth is associated with the gateway theory, as well as the perpetuation of the belief that cannabis is dangerous enough to be compared with heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine use--instead of alcohol. Ask a prohibitionist about cannabis, and you'll likely hear the "Drugs are Bad" speech. John Kasich, Republican Presidential candidate, responded with "Drugs is one of the greatest scourge[s]" after he was asked about cannabis during the recent debate. Lovers of the status quo often revert to these types of colloquialisms to fool people into thinking that: a) they care, and b) they know much of anything about cannabis. He goes on to say it sends mixed signals to kids. Alcohol being legal while cannabis can land you in jail is what's sending mixed messages, Mr. Kasich.
Myth: Cannabis users become less intelligent, and they end up with significant brain damage.
Scientific research on cannabis' effect on the brain has improved, but findings are still inconclusive. What is conclusive is that the potential damage is overstated by the media. One study conducted at the University of Texas concluded that a smaller orbitofrontal cortex is present in heavy cannabis users--although the structural integrity and connections were stronger. Keep in mind is that this study does not prove a cause-effect relationship. A smaller orbitofrontal cortex may be a pre-existing factor in predicting cannabis use, according to this Australian study. This area is associated with decision-making, motivation, and how the brain processes a "reward". More studies need to be done to pinpoint the brain abvormalities, if any, that cannabis use will cause.
Previous research had claimed that even casual cannabis use affected several other areas of the brain--also responsible for decision-making--but subsequent studies found no differences in those areas. The first study did not take alcohol use into effect, and alcohol use in teens causes brain damage. Famous and successful cannabis users around the world seem to be doing fine with an "abnormal" orbitofrontal cortex. I'll bet Willie Nelson, famous country singer and decades-long heavy cannnabis user doesn't mind!
The notion that cannabis use lowers IQ in teens is a popular talking point for prohibitionists, however recent studies are unable to confirm this intelligence loss. In fact, alcohol use in teens was the variable that most attributed to IQ loss. Teens who used cannabis did slightly worse on school exams, but other lifestyle variables would factor in to that loss.
It's much more difficult nowadays to convince the public that cannabis users are stupid, especially with so many successful people who have used cannabis regularly at some point in their life. Presidents, entertainers, thinkers, and people working normal jobs achieve their life's goals without being deterred by cannabis use. Many say it helps them focus, and others say it provides a reward at the end of the day. Even Abraham Lincoln smoked it! In today's USA we would have tried to jail the man who freed the slaves!
So, we can change the myth to now say, "Cannabis use is associated with considerably less brain abnormality than previously concluded, and there is no direct correlation of cannabis use and IQ loss."
Myth: Cannabis is highly addictive.
Other drugs, including the legal ones, are more addictive than cannabis. If one is to ask the government if pot was addictive, they'd tell you that an estimated 9% of users get hooked. Compare that with a 15% rate for alcohol and a 17% rate for cocaine. Adolescents who use these substances have a higher chance of becoming addicted than adults.
Withdrawal symptoms from cannabis use are mild compared to other drugs. They include insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. It is common knowledge that alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. One can also die from an overdose on alcohol, but cannabis itself has never caused a single death.
The battle still rages on to determine the addiction potential of cannabis, as more states ponder legalization. What you'll hear from a given "expert" largely depends on who is paying their salary.
Myth: Cannabis leads to crime.
Fact: cannabis prohibition is what leads to crime. Let's re-visit the Shafer Report from 40 years ago:
“In short, marihuana is not generally viewed by participants in the criminal justice community as a major
contributing influence in the commission of delinquent or criminal acts.”
States who have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes have not seen an increase in their crime rate. In fact, Colorado has enjoyed a decrease in property-related and violent crimes in the year following their vote to free the weed.
In the next section, we shall examine the recent and long overdue successes of the Western Hemisphere's cannabis reform movement.