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.

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