Obama Plays Politics with People in Pain 071311
Marijuana has been a political issue from the beginning, when cannabis prohibition was passed to allow discrimination against Mexican and Black agricultural workers. Prohibition had ended and the government was faced with a large number of feeders at the trough, mostly “G-men”, lawyers, and enforcers of all kinds. You don’t do away with such a large political machine easily; it’s much easier to find a new target.
With rare exceptions, the government has never seen the need to imprison people for the possession of fine wines, even though alcohol abets an estimated 80% of crime and nearly 40% of auto accidents. Tobacco and alcohol remain legal, even though either is demonstrably more dangerous than cannabis. Tobacco, too, is an intoxicant, ask any kid; should we prohibit driving under the influence of tobacco, even though the greatest danger to driving from smoking is a dropped coal and polyester pants?
The government has funded hundreds of millions of dollars for study to try to prove cannabis has this or that bad effect. The preponderance of evidence indicates that, like eating fatty food or running yourself to the point of exhaustion, or becoming religiously fundamentalist, using cannabis can have negative effects. You probably shouldn’t drive when you’re blotto, though the evidence is that you won’t and if you do, you’ll be extra careful. Talking on a cell phone or enjoying manipulative arousal when you drive are more dangerous than driving stoned, but I know people who do both whenever they can, sometimes at the same time. It’s lonely out on the road.
It’s also possible that smoking the herb is, itself, bad for you, though several studies show regular users live 3-8 years longer than their non-smoking counterparts. Still, if you can make spaghetti sauce, you can use cannabis. There are also vaporizers which show great promise in minimizing the harm of use. In short, as several government studies have shown, cannabis is not so dangerous that free people shouldn’t decide for themselves whether to use it or not. The term “free people” clearly does not apply to Americans. Not as a casual intoxicant, and not even as medicine.
Cannabis has been used as medicine for about 20 centuries. It is easy to grow, easy to use, and not as dangerous as many medicines in antiquity, or today. It has always been, and in many countries, remains, the medicine of the poor. Patients, even American patients, claim it reduces pain, increases appetite, brightens mood, and brings peace. Many people find cannabis to be the perfect companion in old age, when life’s light is growing dim and old wounds and injuries return to grace the golden years.
There are even many people who believe that ganja is God’s gift to humans, because the seeds can be eaten (high in healthy omega acids), the stalk makes fiber for clothing and paper, and the female flowers and leaves put one in a heavenly frame of mind. To these people, cannabis is literally sacred from God, and not to be suppressed by men, unless they are evil men.
Enter Barrack Obama.
You used to be cool: Obama doin’ a dooby. From 420 magazine. FOUR TWENTY!
In 2002 Americans for Safe Access asked the feds to re-classify cannabis from a class I drug, like heroine (a drug not very different from oxycodone) to another schedule so physicians could prescribe it.
Nine years later, the Obama administration has said “no.” The government finally took that action because groups were about to sue the feds for sloth on the matter. Rather than change anything, the government did nothing.
Again, cannabis provides us with an important lesson about government. It is not really run by elected officials, it’s run by career bureaucrats who resist change. As a bureaucrat moves up the ladder their tendency is to increase the purview of their role, not decrease it.
In addition, there are some very major institutions at risk, some structures of government that Americans have killed each other over.
Most important is the issue of States’ Rights. Several states have moved toward legalization and medicalization of cannabis. They have done this at a time when citizens’ ardor for government has worn thin. The patriotic orgy of the post 911 years is drained, and the attention of the populous has returned to the problems of everyday life as political concern. Dissatisfaction with government in general is strong. States are suffering, and though they’ve been making good money on marijuana prohibition, the revenues from legal and medical sales are simply too high to ignore any longer, the low hanging fruit of revenues are gone. This is America, after all, where we value the greenback. It isn’t just hippies, farmworkers and musicians who use cannabis now, the middle class is using it, and most of all, aging baby boomers are using it as a less toxic alternative for aches and pains than the traditional hard liquor and hard pharmaceuticals provide. Money talks.
But the war over the power of the states was concluded in bloodshed a hundred and fifty years ago: the federal government is the master.
Likewise, no administration wants to be the one to lose the power to regulate drugs. In making this decision, the government hasn’t changed its view of cannabis. It was the Drug Enforcement Agency, not the Food and Drug Administration which made the determination that cannabis has no medical value, but the government, in general, has a hard time digesting the idea of cannabis as medicine. The government stated that ganja “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” That’s because, to them, a medicine is something made in a factory, gleaned from petroleum products or harvested from fungus. It is purified, a more or less known quality. It is tested and tested in double blind tests. This is medicine in today’s America, and when, eventually, the active ingredients of ganja are legalized, it will be a pill or a spray, something only a factory can make and only capitalists can profit from, it won’t be the herb millions have used. The FDA has built a massive structure of well-paid technicians and has a legion of contractors. Funding depends on three things: the belief in congress that the FDA is the best system possible and is vitally necessary; the confidence of drug manufacturers that they'll have someone they can “work” with, and that people forever become ill. Never mind that the FDA passes all kind of chemical drugs which are eventually found to be useless or even deadly.
Making cannabis a class III drug isn’t going to solve the basic problem: in a free nation, people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves. Cannabis simply isn’t dangerous enough to justify denying use by reasonable adults. Likewise, legalizing cannabis won’t change the DEA’s classification, which means the best out for the federal government isn’t medicalization, its legalization. That leaves the government’s monopoly on drugs intact.
The government’s decision not to re-classify cannabis as medicine allows medical cannabis users to file an appeal in court. That might not be a more sure route, though, since courts have already indicated that a change in policy to meet change in society must come from the legislature. So far as the Prospect knows, only Tom McClintock is committed to allowing states to regulate cannabis in their borders.
The government won’t change its view of cannabis until society forces it to by making it irrelevant. And, that’s what’s about to happen now. States paused for a moment recently when the feds sent out a scaaarrrryyy letter saying they would bust local government officials who allowed medical cannabis, but the trend continues. As the U.S. loses prestige abroad more and more countries are legalizing, either legislatively or de facto. Slowly, the winds are changing. France has re-introduced an absinthe liquor, and some day, the humble minions of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave will be able to smoke a bowl or eat some bhang on toast to lighten their burden of pain or melancholy.
Footnote: While some consider the end of alcohol prohibition and the need for a new enforcement role as the motivation for cannabis prohibition, others consider the pressure from chemical corporations, who wanted to replace the hemp used until WWII with nylon, a fiber made from oil. Hemp, some claim, was the commercial target, and the drug only a convenient way to employ cops to put “colored people” in jail. We think it was a win-win situation for both big government and big chemicals. The only losers were the people; that would be the Free and the Brave.