Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Historic First: Politicians To Be Trusted

On March 9, 2009 our president did something that no other leader in recorded history has ever attempted. He officially declared that elected officials must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Well OK, not in so many words. Nor as a general rule. But specifically in regard to science that guides national policy.

What the president did was issue a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies that stated, in part:
Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.
In other words, we should be able to trust those we elect to office not to lie to us about scientific justifications for their policies. Apparently, this needed to be explicitly stated. I guess the oath of office doesn’t cover honesty. Am I naive, or could this be relevant to the war on drugs? Could this, along with the recent proposal to review our entire criminal justice system, the case currently before the Ninth Circuit Court, and a few other apparently unrelated developments, actually be small steps in an indirect route toward the end of prohibition? Maybe the current administration really is on our side, and they are approaching the prohibition issue in a roundabout, non-confrontational, path-of-least-resistance sort of way? Or not.

Not that this memorandum is going to make a difference, but just imagine a perfect world where it would. First, let’s consider some of the major scientific studies commissioned by the government itself. Starting with The LaGuardia Report, virtually every major study conducted in the U.S. has at the very least recommended rescheduling of marijuana. For example, let’s looks at some of their conclusions:
  • The LaGuardia Report (1944)—“The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking ... is unfounded.”
  • The Consumer’s Union Report (1972)—Recommended “the immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana.”
  • The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (1972)—“Marihuana’s relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.” (This is the study Nixon commissioned to justify the Controlled Substances Act.)
  • The American College of Physicians Policy Paper (2008)—“Given marijuana’s proven efficacy at treating certain symptoms and its relatively low toxicity, reclassification would reduce barriers to research and increase availability of cannabinoid drugs to patients who have failed to respond to other treatments.”
It’s clear that the vast majority of studies conducted in the U.S. in the past 60 years have come to similar conclusions. And these are just a few of the biggies that addressed prohibition in general. What about the hundreds of reputable scientific studies on the medical uses of marijuana conducted over the last decade (most of them done outside the U.S.)?

A thorough review of the latest medical marijuana research, The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy, was published in Pharmacological Reviews in 2006. It summarizes recent findings on the medical uses of the various compounds found in marijuana. Not surprising, there are many conditions that can be effectively and safely treated with marijuana-based compounds. Even the Institute of Medicine, the group that the federal government is always quoting to justify their prohibition, concluded in 1997 that scientific developments indicate marijuana and its various cannabinoid compounds have therapeutic properties that could potentially treat many illnesses and conditions. And did I mention the patent that the federal government holds on medical marijuana, U.S. Patent 6630507 - Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants?

In a perfect world, this consensus among the scientific community and the overwhelming evidence that supports the medical benefits of marijuana would be more than enough to satisfy the president’s mandate that policy be based on actual science. It would result in an immediate rescheduling of marijuana and a retraction of the blatant lies the government has been spreading over the past 70 years. Unfortunately, we live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. where if a politician is speaking, chances are pretty high that they are lying. Presidential memoranda notwithstanding.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Trying To Make The Government Tell The Truth

Ever hear of the Information Quality Act (IQA)? Not many people have, and many in the government wish they hadn’t. Passed in 2001, the IQA requires information disseminated by federal agencies to be accurate and objective. It also establishes a mechanism by which people affected by inaccurate information can seek to have it corrected. Basically, it’s saying that the federal government must tell the truth and when it doesn’t, there’s a way to make them correct their “mistakes.” Pretty crazy, eh? The government telling the truth! What’s next? Flying monkeys?

As it turns out, one group in particular is aware of the IQA and is using it as a new tactic to try to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in February, 2007 demanding that the federal government cease issuing misinformation and correct its statements on medical marijuana. In particular, they want the government to stop saying that there is no accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States. This is important because it is one of the criteria that is keeping marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance. If there are indeed medical uses for marijuana, then it can should be rescheduled. Makes sense. To me anyway.

On April 14, 2009 (only a little over two years after the lawsuit was filed) the Ninth Circuit Court heard oral arguments for this case. There’s a reasonably decent audio recording of those arguments here, in case you’d like to listen to them for yourself. (It’s a little garbled in spots.) It is however a lot of legal mumbo jumbo to wade through, so I’ll take the liberty of translating those arguments into plain English for you. Please be aware though that I am not a lawyer.

The attorney representing the Department of Health and Human Services (the defendant) seemed to be making two main points. One is that the DEA is already considering a petition to reschedule marijuana, and that’s where this issue should be resolved. She argued that the DEA proceedings make the IQA irrelevant in this case. The second main point she made is that the IQA is not enforceable. It is up to individual agencies how or if they respond to requests to correct information, and there is no recourse if they deny a request. In other words, the HHS is saying it's not their problem, and even if it was, there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

ASA (the plaintiff) are basing their entire argument on the IQA. The information that the government has been disseminating on the medical uses of marijuana is wrong and, according to the IQA, must be corrected. ASA are representing the “affected persons” in this case—someone must be affected by the inaccurate information in order to request it be corrected. Being affected gives one “standing” to bring such a case before the court. He also pointed out that the DEA proceedings the HHS attorney mentioned are not actually ongoing. There has been a request to reschedule, but after several years it has not been acted on. So the issue is not really being decided by the DEA at this time, and the IQA is indeed relevant.

What it boils down to is the same old government response used whenever anybody tries to tell them they are wrong. I like to call it the “you're not the boss of me” argument. Either the individual or group does not have “standing,” (i.e., they are not permitted to bring such a case before the court in the first place) or the decision of the court is not enforceable by anyone. Reminds me of that Mel Brooks line, “It’s good to be the king.” In this case, it might be more appropriate to paraphrase that saying: “It’s good to be the U.S. government.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Criminal or President?

Sometimes I just don’t understand how politics in this country works. According to our Constitution, a president can be removed from office upon conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Yet admitting to having committed such a crime does not prevent one from being elected president. I guess the important distinction is whether or not you are convicted. That is, caught.

You see our current and previous two presidents have (more or less) admitted to committing one or more crimes prior to their election. They were never convicted (as far as we know), but still. Do we really want a president in office that is an admitted criminal? Apparently, the answer is “yes.”

The crime of which I speak is the possession and use of a controlled substance. Depending on the location and the circumstances, our future presidents’ offenses could have been civil infractions, misdemeanors, or even felonies. If a president committed such a crime in office, it would certainly be grounds for impeachment. At least according to the Constitution. But in reality, no one takes these crimes very seriously. Except of course for law enforcement officials and those who are caught and convicted and must live with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

So I can’t help but ask, what kind of message is this sending to our children? You can ignore, disregard, violate, and even flout the laws regarding recreational drugs, and as long as you don’t get caught you can become president. Get caught though and you are screwed. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a bit of a mixed message: Drugs are bad. If you use them and get caught, you are branded for life as a criminal. But if you use them and don’t get caught, then it’s really not so bad. Sounds to me like they are telling us that the actual ingesting of certain drugs isn’t what’s bad. It’s doing it in violation of the law that’s the bad part. So that must be the message: Drugs are OK, breaking the law is not OK. So, why is it again that we have a law that makes these drugs illegal if they're really OK?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that anyone should be denied a career in public service just because they admitted to committing this particular crime. What I’m suggesting is that our government make up its mind. Is possession of a controlled substance a serious crime? It would look that way since hundreds of thousands of people in this country are in jail for it. Yet when a presidential candidate admits to committing this crime, it’s barely a blip on the media’s radar. That suggests to me that, to the public anyway, this crime is about as serious as driving without a seatbelt. So which is it, serious crime or barely worth mentioning?

But then again, maybe the government isn’t as confused as their message would make them appear. Maybe this mixed message is intentional. That crafty government of ours. Could it be a sort of weeding-out process? A way to thin the herd? Only those smart enough to elude law enforcement and commit the perfect crime can go on to become president. They would certainly prove that they have what it takes to lead this country. I guess the same would apply if you get caught but have the connections necessary to make it appear that you didn’t. That would be another way to pass the test and prove that you are presidential material. On the other hand, if you’re so dumb that you do get caught and don’t have what it takes to make your criminal record go away, then you don’t even deserve to go to college or live in public housing, let alone be president. Your future lies in the retail or service industries. Now that I think about it, that really is the only sensible explanation. Once again, message received, loud and clear. And understood.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Tony’s Quest

This piece marks the beginning of my second year of writing this blog, and I’m afraid that I might be getting just a little sentimental about this significant milestone. And before you ask, no, I just got something in both my eyes. It all started, appropriately enough, on April 1st, 2008. Every week since then, without fail, I have posted a new, original essay. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Not bad for a lazy slacker with no ambition and drug-induced brain damage. Granted, they weren't all gems (like this one). Even so, I thought surely I would quickly run out of insane aspects of the war on drugs to comment on. But no. Just when I think I'll have nothing more to say, I read something or hear something or think about something, and a new essay practically writes itself. It would appear that as along as there is no end to the insanity, there will be no end to this blog. So, onward I will trudge, whether anybody reads what I write or not.

I'd also like to take this opportunity, faithful reader, to encourage you to leave comments or ask questions. The process is simple and anonymous. Just click where it says the number of comments at the end of each article, usually zero, and start typing in the pop-up window. Now that my readership has soared into the double digits, I’d like to start hearing from my readers. Your feedback is all I have to keep me going, and I have to say it’s been pretty slim pickin’s so far. So please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment—tell me that you liked something I wrote, or hated it, or think I’m an idiot, or that I’m really cool, or that I’m not really as cool as I like to think I am, or suggest something for me to apply my unique brand of analysis to. Whatever. It’s getting pretty lonely in here (cue the crickets).


Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your right.
Get up. Stand up. Don’t give up the fight.
B. Marley

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Government Was Right, It’s All True

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve been born again. At least with respect to using dangerous narcotic drugs. Maybe it was my government relentlessly bombarding me with facts and “scientific” evidence. Maybe it was me taking a long, hard look at what I’ve been doing and saying for so many years. Maybe I’m on drugs and have no idea what I’m talking about. Regardless, I’ve seen the error of my ways. What follows are some of the realizations I’ve come to. Epiphanies, if you will.

After 25 years of smoking weed, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve had quite a few almost-uncontrollable urges to smoke some crack and/or shoot up some heroin. Maybe “mainline” or “chase the dragon” — that sounds pretty cool. All this time I’ve been poo-pooing the gateway effect, when in reality I just failed to appreciate its time frame.

And I see now how growing my own weed really does affect our national economy. Just think of all that money that I’ve not been pumping into the (black) market. Forget uncontrolled government spending. My not buying drugs from illegal dealers is the real problem. Why I’m probably personally responsible for the recent collapse of huge segments of our economy.

And I just realized that I am, in fact, a lazy slacker with no ambition. I just want to sit around all day, get high, and listen to Bob Marley. Really loud, mon. I am not even close to being the well-adjusted, well-educated, normal, happy, productive member of our society that I thought I was. If I were, I sure wouldn’t want to be smoking marijuana. I’d be out pounding some brew-skis.

And how could I have not known that my opinions favoring legalization have been sending the wrong message to “the children.” Why I’ve been practically telling them that all recreational drugs are good and encouraging them to “get high” 24/7, starting on the day they are born. Even though I’ve never said anything remotely like that, I must have subconsciously meant it, and the kids pick up on that sort of thing.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if I got ahold of some of that super-potent “skunk” weed they’re talking about in England. Maybe I got a touch of the psychosis that they say it causes. That would explain how I could have been so wrong about so many things and not even realize it. Either that, or the massive brain damage I’ve suffered from all those years of ingesting a deadly narcotic drug.

You know, I might be high, but now that I think about it, maybe those people that believe in intelligent design have a point as well. Maybe the Earth really is only 8,000 years old and The Flintstones really is based in fact. I guess I’ll have to rethink this whole evolution thing now too. And the smoking pot thing. I didn’t forget about that. I’m definitely going to stop before it’s too late. At the very least I’m going to consider it. Seriously. Soon.

Oh, and I still hate the Dutch.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the character and events portrayed herein and any actual people or events is purely coincidental.