Tag Archives: Robert Weiner

Harm Reduction vs. Legalization – The Myths and Politics

by Robert Weiner, originally published in the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly last October:  Last week, the Harm Reduction Coalition held its conference in Baltimore. Marijuana legalization is not one of its issues, which are mainly access to clean needles and syringes, overdose prevention with naloxone, HIV and hepatitis C, and the rights of drug users. Keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), supports naloxone and medication-assisted treatment. He is a clear harm reduction advocate, but not an advocate of marijuana legalization.

But harm reduction sometimes gets confused with marijuana legalization. I had the privilege of speaking to the “Politics” class at American University in nearby Washington, D.C. on October 20, a few days before the conference was to begin. I was invited to discuss the movement toward drug legalization. I also covered some “harm reduction” assertions as well.

Unfortunately, because the legalization movement is sweeping across America, my counterpoints were very well-received — I say “unfortunately” because we are being overcome by the tidal wave of the movement. Here is some of what I said to Assistant Professor Rick Semiatin’s “Washington Semester” class of juniors and seniors from 200 colleges and universities across the United States.

I’m a “liberal” on most things, but on the drug issue, I know the harm that is done by car crashes, DUIs, date rape and the impact of flooding already overcrowded emergency rooms — and that includes from marijuana, which most “legalizers” claim they want to separate from “harder” drugs. I was the one who wrote then-Congressman Ed Koch’s testimony on his bill in the 1970s to legalize marijuana, and sat with him at the table as he told Congress that drugs are personal and harmless, and that we should stop crowding our prisons. But both Ed and I learned and changed our positions, he as mayor of New York City and me as I learned more and more as spokesman for the House Narcotics Committee and then the White House ONDCP.

I told the students that the election is being overwhelmed by the issue because my own party, the Democrats, don’t want to touch it. They are afraid their candidates will lose a big chunk of the youth and liberal base who support legalization/decriminalization in the legislatures and state referenda. Like laetrile in the 1970s (which was legalized in more than 20 states and was supposed to cure cancer but turned out to be useless apricot pits that simply deferred real and needed treatment), “medical” marijuana is backed up only anecdotally and never is compared to an “n” of other treatment modalities that would be prescribed by doctors. There is truth to former drug czar Barry McCaffrey’s joke that a shot of gin also takes away your pain. Having said that, no one wants to deny a truly sick or dying patient who wants to get high the opportunity to feel better, even if it’s a placebo effect. It’s not the truly “medical” cases anyone wants to stop; it’s what law enforcement tells us are the 90+ % (and as many as 99 %) non-sick people who also come in to the clinics feigning illness with a makeshift letter just to get drugs.addiction equality

Harms of marijuana

The evidence on harm in the legalizing states is rolling in. You have to scrounge for the reports, but they say, “youth marijuana use increased by nearly 11 % since medical marijuana became legal in 2009,” “traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana have increased by 100 percent between 2007 and 2012” and “toxicology reports with positive marijuana results for driving under the influence have increased 16 % from 2011 to 2013.” In addition, Colorado Public Radio reported, “Denver Emergency Room Doctor Seeing More Patients for Marijuana Edibles.” The United Nations reported, “Marijuana-related Health Problems on Rise in US,” with a 12 % rise last year in marijuana usage by teens.

But for the most part, the legalization referenda are speeding ahead. The most-cited ones, in Oregon and D.C., show legalization 11 and 20 points up, respectively, with just days before the election, and the legalization advocates say they are counting on “young voter turnout.” Since Democrats count on that demographic as well, you can understand the silence.

Even though Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told me personally two weeks ago that “I’m concerned about legalization” because of car crashes, emergency room upticks, the horrible message to kids (how legalization disarms parents from the moral high ground on the message), and the like, politicians in the state are silent on the issue.

Of course, the legalizers say the drug war is a “failure.” But the students I addressed did open their eyes when I said that because of the efforts of parents, teachers, coaches and religious and business leaders, and a strong foreign policy (Plan Colombia) and domestic enforcement efforts, drug use has declined almost 50 % in the last three decades, and cocaine use — the disproportionate driver of crime — is down 70 %. If any other social problem, such as literacy, hunger or poverty, or health problem, such as cancer, diabetes and heart attacks, improved 50–70 %, would we call it a failure?DOJMarijuana

Drug Courts Work

To these quite smart college juniors and seniors, I pointed out that medically assisted treatment — including methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol — is in fact harm reduction. It’s valid because people can function, work and pay taxes. But if we’re talking about heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to addicts, that’s pure nonsense that destroys their lives. If we are talking about marijuana, I still oppose it because it jams hospital emergency rooms with car crashes and treatment centers with patients. Legalization or decriminalization would simply increase availability and use. When I debate the Ethan Nadelmanns of the world on radio or Bill Maher or Crossfire, they invariably say, “That’s true but…” I cut in and say, “You can’t say ‘but’ to more availability and use — that’s the point. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

I do concede we need to stop prison overcrowding but point out that’s why Attorney General Janet Reno and ONDCP Director McCaffrey supported creating drug courts, for treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. There were eight drug courts when we started in 1996. Drug courts rose to 1,000 under Clinton-Reno-McCaffrey, and now are near 3,000.

Science, not politics, should guide U.S. drug policy.  Bob Weiner is former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the House Narcotics Committee and the House Government Operations Committee. He now heads up a public affairs and issues strategies group in Washington, D.C., Robert Weiner Associates, and is founder and president of Solutions for Change, a foundation supporting young journalists to write op-eds informing the public on issues in major newspapers. He can be contacted at weinerpublic@comcast.net

The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 3: The Strategy

“We are trying to get marijuana reclassified medically.  If we do that, we’ll be using the issue as a red herring to give marijuana a good name.”  Keith Stroup, Emory University,  February 6, 1979

Stroup is founder of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law).  Thirty – five years later,  Stroup and his followers think his plan is  working.   Social media has helped the marijuana movement, which markets itself to teens and young adults, for votes and for new marijuana users.

TODAY, promoters claims marijuana holds the cure for nearly everything, including ebola.  Despite its intensive genetic alteration of the marijuana plant over the last 20 years — to make it more potent — advocates call it an herb. They don’t take responsibility for the damage pot does to the environment, or for the psychosis and mental health problems it causes in some people.   See The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 2: Mental Illness.

Parents Opposed to Pot believes the decision of January, 2013, by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, to keep marijuana a Schedule I drug (high potential for abuse), is correct.  Marijuana is a dangerous drug because of its perceived harmlessness,  and its cult-like following.   Americans would be wise to look into what happened when marijuana was rescheduled in Great Britain.

Marijuana can cause psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addiction and psychosis.   In January, 2014, Dan Linn of NORML Illinois said that there has always been the cannabis and schizophrenia connection.  If NORML has known this link, how in good conscience can they push for legalization?   A typical reader may compare it to the tobacco industry, fast-food restaurants, etc.  However, marijuana-induced mental disorders can appear within a shorter period time, as opposed to other unhealthy choices that take years off the end of life.   Not everyone is susceptible to problems with marijuana and not everyone will use in excess, but the industry preaches that marijuana is harmless and non-addictive .

How They’re Pushing the Medical Marijuana Hoax

Reading the “weed blogs” gives insight into the mind of the “Pot Lobby.”   First comes decriminalization, followed by medical marijuana, followed by full legalization.  Californians voted on Proposition 215 and approved medical marijuana in 1996, because huge campaign donations funded that ballot.  The roll of money to legalize has been nonstop ever since, with billionaires such as George Soros funding the movement. Oregon and Washington had ballot initiatives for medical marijuana in 1998.  Alaska, Maine and Colorado came shortly afterwards.    Pot policy makers are going for a checkerboard pattern of states, so  that states without it will be forced to join their neighbors.

Medical marijuana businesses depend on catchy names while guaranteeing no consistency in their product.  One strain had no buyers until it changed it name to Chocolope.  This lack of consistency is a huge red flag.  As the Los Angeles Times article further explains, “Chemist Jeff Raber examined 1,500 samples of marijuana in California and found little genetic cohesion between varieties of the same name.”

Medical marijuana has always been the cover for a plan to bring full-scale legalization. The marijuana industry plays the “compassion” game to gain sympathy supporters and gradually get public acceptance, slandering members of Congress who disagree. (See The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 1: Do Patients Go to Jail?)  Once the industry markets itself to potential patients, many of these so-called patients get “hooked.”   The industry’s tactic of getting more people addicted has succeeded by introducing the potent strains of marijuana, and by targeting the young.

If they succeed in getting enough people high, it is easier to control their minds.   For a year or two, the pot industry has been telling us that legalization is “inevitable.” — another manipulative tactic.  The plan is that states without medical marijuana will face extreme political pressure to join their neighbors.

Medical marijuana advocates now count 23 states as having some form of medical marijuana.   However, Florida, the 4th most populous state in the country, recently rejected a medical marijuana ballot which needed 60% of the votes to pass.   Marijuana lobbyists are active in every state, and they believe full legalization is right around the corner.Weedmaster2_0003

A Cure for Everything

In early 2011, the Cannabis Industry Association bragged that it was a $1.7 billion business.  At first, marijuana was promoted as an aid for cancer and AIDs treatment, because the THC in marijuana can help nausea and stimulate appetite of cancer victims.  At this time, not more than 5% medical marijuana patients actually have cancer or AIDS, as a political site fact – checker  published.   Today, the common condition those who seek medical marijuana is “pain,”  a sign the industry is trying to nurture dependence, and not cure people.  (A shot of whiskey also cures “pain.”) If those who use marijuana for “pain” treatment, sought a chiropractor instead, their treatments could be for a limited time.

Marijuana has been promoted from its status, as the cure for nausea in cancer patients, to being the cure for cancer, as marijuana advocates claim today.  The biggest argument against marijuana as a cancer cure is that pharmaceutical companies from around the world would be marketing it, if it were truly a viable cure.  The claim that marijuana cures cancer is reminiscent of the laetrile controversy  30 years ago, explained in a recent article by Robert Weiner in AlcoholismDrugAbuseWeekly.

Treating Epilepsy, Seizures, Etc.

Regardless of safety or efficacy, it is understandable how parents may want to try an alternative to the  strong cancer-fighting and epilepsy drugs.   However, we do not support any treatment for children that has THC which can alter brain chemistry.   We ask that marijuana providers provide warnings, (See our article of the Medical Marijuana Risks for children), as pharmaceutical companies are required to do.

No qualifications are needed to be a “ganjapreneur,” in today’s “green rush.”  How can we continue to allow self-proclaimed wizards of pot to hold all the cards, without warning about the side effects?  Regulation of medical marijuana has been very difficult in the West, due to the objection of the industry.  Oregon finally implemented regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries this year, but faced industry opposition.  When Washingtonians voted for pot legalization in 2012, there was a consensus that medical marijuana was not being regulated and perhaps the limits of I-502 could  bring commercial marijuana under some regulation.

Since we published our story on Medical Marijuana and PTSD,  a new story has come out about how marijuana makes PTSD symptoms worse.   A ploy of the medical marijuana industry has been using is to convince people that marijuana is the only medicine for their ailments.  They try to find people who are “chronically ill.”

The road to HELL is paved with good intentions” explains the path of medical marijuana.  One former medical marijuana patient wrote to PopPot, explaining that after two years of using medical marijuana for an auto-immune disease, it brought on psychosis.  How can the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Americans for Safe Access and United for Care not see that it is ethically wrong to promote something which such strong and horrific side effects—particularly in the mental health arena?   We already have a mental health crisis in the US.  Why add to it?

The vast majority of ordinary citizens who don’t use marijuana also don’t take the time to figure out the deception.