Cannabis as the “exit gateway” drug.

Exit © ufotopixl10 - Fotolia.com

Exit © ufotopixl10 – Fotolia.com

Cannabis prohibitionist bureaucrats have always argued that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to abuse of hard drugs. This fiction should have been put to rest with the 1999 Institute of Medicine report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Now, with nearly 15 years more medical cannabis experience in the country, it turns out that cannabis may be an excellent exit gateway or reverse gateway drug, useful in helping people reduce and avoid use of dangerous drugs such as narcotics and alcohol.

Cannabis offers many advantages to people wishing to quit dangerous drugs. Foremost, cannabis is one of the safest drugs in existence, one of the very few that can not cause death. Aspirin can and does kill. Even drinking too much water can be fatal. There is no lethal dose of cannabis. As DEA administrative law judge Francis Young noted in 1988,

“In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.” This is perhaps the last time any truth has come out of the DEA regarding cannabis. Judge Young also declared that to not reschedule cannabis down from Schedule I would be, “cruel, arbitrary and capricious,” the exact behavior of the DEA in the ensuing 25 years.

As a candidate for a safer substitute drug, cannabis excels also in the area of lack harms against others. Cannabis reduces violence, especially in contrast to alcohol.  The main area where cannabis use causes hardship to family and community is when the cannabis consumer run afoul of the war on drugs and is arrested and perhaps imprisoned. These harms are from the persecution of the drug consumer by the forces of prohibition, not from the mild effects of cannabis itself.  Cannabis has little additive potential with few withdrawal symptoms when unavailable. Unlike some addictive drugs, lack of cannabis does not cause compelling need.

The third reason cannabis serves well as a substitute for dangerous drugs is the positive effects of the mild euphoria cannabis use can provide. The “high” associated with cannabis is uplifting, not debilitating.  If a person is using drugs to escape a negative mental or emotional state, the feelings of well-being produced by cannabis use are therapeutically useful and appropriate.  As a matter of fact, the introduction of pharmaceutical drugs which had the opposite effect of the cannabis high (cannabinoid antagonists such as rimonabant) were blocked in 2006 by the negative and suicidal reactions to the psychological “low” the drug produced. Indeed, it may well be that many people predisposed to using dangerous drugs are cannabinoid deficient, either with minimal levels of natural cannabinoids such as anandamide, or suffering from insufficient cannabinoid receptors. In such cases, cannabis use would serve a homeostatic role, restoring this imbalance.

Another reason cannabis is being used as a substitute for dangerous drugs is its ability to relieve pain. Pain relief is the main reason for most doctor’s visits. The opioids most available as pharmaceuticals come with a host of adverse effects including, “respiratory depression, sedation, sleep disturbance, cognitive and psychomotor impairment, delirium, hallucinations, seizures, hyperalgesia, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.”  Opioid drugs can kill by stopping breathing; cannabis can not.  For some types of pain, especially neuropathic pain, caused by damage to nerves from conditions such as diabetes, the opioid drugs provide little pain relief. Cannabis is very effective in reducing neuropathic pain. It also makes for an excellent adjunct pain therapy for use in conjunction with other pain drugs, allowing these dangerous substances to be used in lesser amounts.

The American federal government blocks nearly all research into the medicinal use of cannabis, but with more US states asserting medical exemptions, we can increasingly expect more Americans to substitute safer cannabis for dangerous drugs.

 

Dispensary closures are bureaucratic anti-business blunders.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Los Angeles recently ordered closed all but 70 medical cannabis clinics. Upwards of 1,000 medical cannabis dispensaries had filled storefronts and opened in malls across the county, a flurry of business activity in these times of recession.

Although these clinics did not in any way contribute to crime and provided legal access to their medicine by state legal medical consumers, dispensaries ran afoul of the special interests of police, prosecutors and prisons. A cadre of tax-paid parasites has apparently succeeded in most of goal of getting dispensaries closed, and resuming the arrest-prosecute-imprison regimen that has so boosted their careers and pensions.

California is in recession and is totally broke, in desperate need of every job and tax dollar. And yet in this environment, tax-paid bureaucrats like city attorneys are making policy that severely restricts closes down storefronts, puts working people into unemployment lines and ends a lucrative sales tax revenue stream. Go figure.

Most dispensaries will close; the 70 or so remaining will be relegated to “industrial areas” and must be farm from schools and churches. While this may serve as an economic stimulus to the industrial areas, such restrictions present difficulties to medical users in getting their medicine. Such harassing zoning also creates additional car trips and increases carbon footprint. Does LA really need more cars on its roads? Why should medical cannabis consumers have to drive to a remote area instead of picking up their medicine by walking to the corner dispensary operated by their neighbor?

Whether LA needed nearly 1,000 dispensaries is unclear. As in normal competition, the number would probably sort itself out through the law of supply and demand, consumer choice and the management of the dispensaries. What is clear is the the proliferation of dispensaries hurt or injured no one and caused no increase in crime. Indeed, the crime rate in LA Country was at historic lows as the clinics grew. The only cost or injury was the giant crack in the wall of marijuana prohibition the clinics represent. The stakeholders in the present system of arrest-prosecute-imprison include police, prosecutors, prison guards, narcotics officers, and urine testers. Other winners in this harm-maximization prohibitionist policy include dug dealers, street gangs, Mexican cartels and various other criminals.

The clinic closures come just months after bureaucrats profiting from marijuana prohibition planned their demise. The group sponsoring the action to subvert the will of California voters was the California Narcotics Officer’s Association. Obviously the drug war has been very good for narcotics officers as law enforcement has become mainly drug enforcement. Consider the career of New York City narcotics officer Bernard Kerik. He rode from obscurity on his narcotic’s cop cred to appointment by Rudolph Giuliani as New York’s top cop.  He came just a few lies away from being appointed George W. Bush’s Chief of Homeland Security. That was shortly before being indicted and then convicted as a felon by the feds, and now serving 4 years in federal prison. The California Narcotics Officers seek to continue the hard line on marijuana prohibition that so expanded their own careers and pensions.

  • A good example of the benefit of harsh marijuana laws to law enforcement is CAMP, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. Astonishingly, CAMP’s own website brags: “With more than 110 agencies having participated, CAMP is the largest law enforcement task force in the United States.” It would seem that the largest law enforcement task force in the United States would have something better to do than persecute a harmless, medicinal plant. Perhaps this 110 agency task force should be investigating crimes of violence and crimes with victims rather than wasting their time and our money with military SWAT raids on hapless farmers. Any plants destroyed in this vast operation only serve as price stabilization for the cannabis crops they miss. As with all marijuana law enforcement, it is a waste of resources causing huge collateral damage without benefit to society, except to the job security of the enforcers.
  • The California prison guards union is one of the main groups sponsoring the continuation of repressive and draconian laws against cannabis. Union membership and benefits have grown explosively during the decades of the drug war. In 1980 the state imprisoned just 22,500 people and a prison guard’s salary was $14,400. Today the state imprisons 170,000 Californians, guarded by some of the best paid public employees in the state. Eligible to early retirements (at 75% of salary), the guards enjoy lush benefits and a bloated overtime system that pays many over $100,000 tax dollars per year. The union is one of the most powerful political groups in the state and effectively fights tooth and nail against any drug law reform that might result in fewer prisoners.

The California Narcotic’s Officers event was entitled “The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County.” As reported by Americans for Safe Access, both LA city attorney and Los Angeles District Attorney were in attendance at the event and soon afterward both began claiming dispensaries were illegal and working for their closure. Regrettably, they have succeeded in closing most of the dispensaries.

If city bureaucrats and the DA really wanted to improve the health of their city and its citizens by imposing business restrictions, they would clamp down on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. Cannabis is far SAFER; unlike alcohol, it cannot cause death and does not cause violence or domestic abuse.

Most of the dwindling number of Americans who support more drug war are, paradoxically, supporters of private enterprise and supposedly abhor big government. Hopefully they will come to see that the drug war is a perversion of market-oriented free enterprise, a war against the law of supply and demand, destined to fail. The war on drugs is itself a bloated and parasitic expansion of big government run amuck. The specter of city attorneys and district attorneys interfering with the personal health care decisions of Los Angelenos is almost Stalinistic.

Tobacco will kill 6 million people next year; cannabis will kill zero.

The World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society have compiled in The Tobacco Atlas a damning list of morbidity and mortality inflicted by cigarettes on the world’s people. Cigarettes are powerful drugs, the most addicting and lethal of all drugs. Cigarettes kill far more people than all the illegal drugs combined. In the USA, at least 30 times as many people die from cigarettes than all illicit drugs.

The lists of damage from cigarettes to the health of the world’s people is lengthy:

  • Smoking cigarettes contributes to 6 of the 8 leading causes of death.
  • “Tobacco accounts for one out of every 10 deaths worldwide”
  • Cigarette smoking killed 100 million people during the last century; it may kill one billion during this century.
  • Tobacco kills one-third to one-half of those who smoke it. Smokers die, on the average, about 15 years before people who don’t smoke. Chewed tobacco is also often deadly dangerous.

The most popular illicit drug, cannabis, kills zero people. Marijuana does not have a lethal dose and is not associated with morbidity. Actually though, a few people are killed by association with cannabis, usually in SWAT raids. In Malaysia, about one person is hanged each month for cannabis possession. Cannabis smoke, like all smoke, does contain some toxins, but has not been shown to cause cancer. Elements specific to marijuana smoke, especially THC, may be providing protection against tumors. Medical cannabis is now commonly consumed via vaporizer, so all toxins are eliminated.

What if swine flu developed into great plague next year and death swept across the globe leaving behind six million corpses? The world’s people would tremble in fear. We would grimace in mourning and horror among the mountains of the dead. Yet when this mass death is delivered by the artificial plague of cigarettes, the terrible toll is dismissed with a shrug.

Instead, a world-wide crusade is underway, lead by the USA, with the goal of stamping out not cigarettes, but instead the other drugs. Although they cause are the cause one one death for every 30 from cigarettes (in the USA) these other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, even nearly harmless drugs such as cannabis, are labeled poisons. Those possessing them, at least in the USA and places like Malaysia, are treated with penalties harsher than for real criminals with actual victims.

In light of cigarettes deadly toll, should the USA and other countries prohibit cigarettes and add them to the list of illicit drugs, where they clearly belong? Clearly NOT. The prohibition approach has failed spectacularly, as it did alcohol prohibition in the USA of the 1920s. The difference is that with alcohol the mistake was realized. With the war on drugs, into its 5th decade and with the USA quintupling its prison population into the world’s largest, the prohibitionist, hard-line, lock-em-up stance continues with almost no critical examination.

This ineffective and wasteful prohibition/incarceration model has caused immense collateral damage to American society. As has worked so well in Portugal, drugs should be removed from the law enforcement, zero-tolerance model into a harm reduction approach.

Such an approach has actually worked very well for cigarettes in the USA over the last 20 years. With education, segregation of smoking and higher taxes on cigarettes to help pay for their health toll, smoking has lost much of its popularity. Cigarette consumption has markedly declined in the USA with no arrests or violations of civil liberties.

US Senate regulates cigarettes, America’s most lethal and addictive drug.

The drug that kills 1,200 Americans each day will finally be regulated in the USA. Tobacco cigarettes, perhaps the most addictive of all drugs, yet virtually unregulated as a consumer product, will come under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA. This will not result in prohibition, as the legislation provides for the continued sale of nicotine cigarettes. But several major things will change:

  • Cigarette companies must provide lists of ingredients in cigarettes. The drug cigarettes is a combination of tobacco with a great many additives to strengthen their nicotine kick and mellow their delivery.
  • The FDA will be able to regulate these additive drugs going into cigarettes.
  • More advertising, warning and other restrictions will apply. Graphic warning labels will cover half the cigarette pack.

During the last 40 years of the War on Drugs, those politicians and bureaucrats who most demonized drugs like cannabis were apologists for tobacco companies and loathe to even call cigarettes a drug. Even in today’s historic senate vote, Drug War mongers such as Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell voted against the legislation bringing cigarettes under control of the FDA. As reported by McClatchy, “Senators who opposed tobacco bill received top dollar from industry.” In addition to McConnell, North Carolina’s Jim Bunning and Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, republicans all, tried to stop the bill. Tobacco state senator Jim Webb, D-Virgina voted for the legislation.

The progress made already in reducing use of the drug cigarettes by Americans has been remarkable. Increased taxation, eduction and smoking area restrictions have helped to greatly reduce the use of this drug, even though highly addictive.

  • During the same period as the War on Drugs (some drugs, that is, such as cannabis) which has had virtually no impact on drug use, cigarette addiction and consumption has dropped in the USA.
  • To win this great preventive health victory over cigarettes, no one had to go to jail, and no SWAT squads were sent to break down doors. The FDA regulation should help these encouraging non-smoking trends even more, without the ineffective and un-American brutality of the drug war.

Strangely, during these long decades when the drug cigarettes killed over 400,000 Americans each year, the drug war was aimed chiefly at a far less addictive drug that killed no one. Marijuana, or cannabis, was (and still is) listed as a Schedule I drug and controlled by the DEA.

  • If any drug fits the requirements for Schedule I, it would be nicotine-laden tobacco cigarettes. They are highly addictive and have no recognized medical use, the supposed requirement for Schedule I.
  • Cannabis, on the other hand, is far less addictive and has dozens of well documented medical uses.

As cigarettes now move to FDA regulation, cannabis should be removed from DEA schedules and restrictions and likewise regulated by the FDA.

100 jack-boot thugs invade 2 northern Californa high schools.

Two northern California high schools, Yreka and Mt. Shasta, were invaded in mid-January by 100 cops, many dressed up in their jack-boot thug costumes, culminating an undercover snitch operation targeting marijuana.  Thirty three people, including a Mt. Shasta councilwoman, will now have their lives destroyed by the “justice system.”

The Yreka Siskiyou Daily News reports that “Agencies that took part in Wednesday’s operations include the California Department of Justice-Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Redding Office, Glenn Interagency Narcotic Task Force, Tehama Interagency Drug Enforcement, Shasta Interagency Narcotic Task Force, Modoc County Narcotic Task Force, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control, Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office, Weed Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department (SCSO), Mt. Shasta Police Department (MSPD), Yreka Police Department (YPD), Siskiyou County Probation Department, Siskiyou County Child Protective Services and the Siskiyou County Interagency Task Force (SCINTF).”

Somehow, three cops were required for each arrest. The processing of the 33 arrested now moves to District Attorneys for prosecution and will continue, years hence, with their imprisonment. The war against cannabis is essentially a massive public works program funding cops, prosecutors and jailers. The program’s end product is humans in cages, adding only to California’s massive deficit. A real public works program should result in things being built, students being educated, value being created. California may soon have to lay off 100,000 teachers, and begin issuing IOUs. Perhaps the newly unemployed teachers can get jobs arresting, prosecuting and jailing their former students instead.

The drugs involved were the softest of all, marijuana, concentrated marijuana (hashish?) and ecstasy.  Cannabis, of course, lacks the addictiveness and lethality of tobacco cigarettes. Ecstasy was a promising new therapeutic tool for increasing empathy and reducing neurosis until stricken illegal by drug warriors in congress.

Had the 100 cops really wanted to achieve safety and public service, they should have swooped down on corner stores selling to minors the addictive and lethal drug, cigarettes. About 3,000 American teenagers begin smoking cigarettes each day, nearly one million new addicts each year. Around one third will die from their new cigarette habit. By contrast, zero people die from using cannabis, except those killed in paramilitary police raids.

Say it ain’t so, Sanjay. Next Surgeon General down on medical cannabis.

Yet another heart breaker for drug policy reform and medical cannabis in the form of Obama’s Surgeon General. CNN reports Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical coorespondent has been asked by Barack Obama to be the new Surgeon General.

In many ways, Dr. Gupta is an excellent choice. Brilliant, telegenic, a neurosurgeon, huge recognition and an excellent communicator. Yet more important, and still rare for most physicians, Sanjay Gupta focuses on preventive health care, especially on health-enhancing or damaging behaviors. Morbidity and mortality in the USA are much more functions of our everyday behaviors than they are functions of the entire medical care system. How healthy you look and feel, how vital you really are depends chiefly on your daily habits of exercise, nutrition and other health related behaviors. Gupta realizes this, as evidence by his CNN series on obesity, exercise and other key health topics.

Fixing the American health care system, especially as it totters from the oncoming onslaught of Type II diabetics, will require a totally new health care vision, one based on prevention, exercise and self-care. The entire system would be revolutionized by each American walking 10,000 steps a day, a figure that appears to be a requirement for good body composition, healthy blood sugar levels, and basic vitality.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta just might be a Surgeon General who could help this come to pass. Maybe he could even help Barack quit smoking cigarettes, another of his passionate causes, and killer of 440,000 Americans each year.

This makes all the more disappointing the possible Surgeon General’s ignorant take on medical cannabis. He spelled out his unfortunate philosophy in TIME Magazine, on January 8, 2009. His article, Why I Would Vote No On Pot, discussed then up-coming medical cannabis initiatives in Colorado and Nevada (both passed).  Paradoxically, Sanjay starts out by stating recent ways cannabis has been found to be good for your, even asserting, “THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for the high, can help slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. (In fact, it seems to block the formation of disease-causing plaques better than several mainstream drugs).”

Yet somehow, in spite of being a neurosurgeon touting the effectiveness of this plant substance as a neuron and brain protector, he doubles back advises readers in Colorado and Nevada to vote no, to vote away their medical choice on this issue. He talks quite a bit about the smoke as hazard, an issue of ever-decreasing importance in the age of the vaporizer. His urging of the no vote is also a vote FOR continued damage to the American citizenry by enforcement of cruel, useless laws. See Austin, Texas Attorney Jamie Spencer, who commented on his blog in 2006 at the release of the  of Gupta TIME article. Spencer notes, “Voting “No on Pot”, as Dr. Gupta calls it, means more tax dollars spent incarcerating casual marijuana users. That’s it, end of story. Neither initiative will force Dr. Gupta or anyone else to use marijuana.”

In the last 20 years, the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system and molecules produced in our bodies to activate these receptors represents a major step forward in our understanding of the human body and its working. Health care in the 21st Century will be revolutionized by these findings and the potential they portend for medical cannabis. Americans deserve a Surgeon General who understands and will help end the goverment’s war against a plant used as medication for millenia and against those Americans who find it of medical benefit. In the article Gupta whines talking points from US government agencies. One statistic he ignores, annual US deaths from cannabis = zero.

Dr. Gupta, after your TIME article, Coloradans and Nevadan disagreed and went ahead and voted for freedom of choice of medical cannabis as they have in nearly every state when given the opportunity. As Surgeon General, please do not scheme to take that choice away from them, and those in a dozen of other states who have voted to assert this basic personal medical freedom.

Obama, Cigarettes and Cannabis

President-Elect Barack Obama has promised not to smoke cigarettes in the White House. Does not smoking in the house mean smoking in the entryways of the White House? Out in the Rose Garden?

Cigarettes are not just the most lethal drug confronting America, they are also the most addictive. The power of cigarette’s grip on human behavior its remarkably demonstrated by our next president. Barack Obama is literally the alpha male of human competence and self control. Master campaigner, victorious debater, now triumphantly poised to assume the most important job on the planet!

Yet still, of all people, the President-elect is not able to summon the will to not smoke tobacco cigarettes. As much as he would like to quit, as much as Michelle and the girls want him to quit, he will presumably duck out of the White House, furtively avoiding his family and to the chagrin of his Secret Service detail, light up a cigarette. Statistically, the smoke will cost him 11 1/2 minutes of his life, and each pack of 20 cigarettes will cost him 3 1/2 hours from his life.

Like most people who become addicted to cigarettes, Obama began as a teenager. Recent evidence shows that just a few cigarettes smoked by an adolescent can set up a lifelong addiction. Tobacco cigarettes were not the only drug smoked (and inhaled), “That was the point” by young Barack Obama:

  • One drug, cannabis with cannabinoids, he used and inhaled. Later, Obama stopped using cannabis when he chose to do so.
  • The other drug, tobacco cigarettes with nicotine, he also used and inhaled. Later, Obama could not totally stop using when he chose to do so.

Receptor discrimination?

When the young Obama smoked a tobacco cigarette, the main drug he inhaled was nicotine. Nicotine activates trans membrane receptors in cells, specifically the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR ). In less 10 seconds after taking a puff of tobacco smoke, nicotine molecules crossed his blood-brain barrier and fit like tiny keys into a locks normally activated by the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Nictoine causes the receptors to activate, change shape and initiate a chemical cascade. Young Barack would have felt modest elevation of energy and mood from AChR receptor activation.

When the young Obama smoked a cannabis “joint,” the main drug he inhaled was THC, short for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC activates trans membrane receptors in cells, specifically the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. In less than 10 seconds after taking a puff of cannabis smoke, THC molecules crossed his blood-brain barrier and fit like tiny keys into a locks normally activated by the neurotransmitter, anandamide. THC causes the CB1 (and CB2) receptors to activate, change shape and initiate a chemical cascade. Young Barack would have felt mild euphoria from CB1 receptor activation.

Nicotine is a powerful insecticide. THC is a powerful neuroprotective antioxidant, anti inflammatory and analgesic. Tobacco smoking is highly carcinogenic. No smoke inhalation is a good thing (nor is it necessary with the advent of vaporizers, but cannabis smoking is apparently not carcinogenic. Indeed, THC exhibits several capabilities for preventing, even shrinking tumors.

Tobacco use kills over 1,200 Americans each day. Cannabis use kills 0 Americans each day.

Legal Sanctions

The contrast in legal sanctions for young Barack’s smoking activities are the most startling. If Barack had been caught underage with cigarettes, the punishment, if any, would have been minor. Certainly nothing that would jeopardize his career and future presidential run.

Had Barack been caught and arrested for possesstion of cannabis, though, his future would have immediately dimmed. If given a felony conviction and jailed, as would be possible because of cannabis’  misguided, draconian Schedule 1 listing, Barack would likely now be unemployed. Luckily, because Barack avoided arrest, the “justice” system missed its opportunity to crush the life and career of our next president.

Tragically, Obama’s choice for Attorney General, Eric Holder, holds neocon, authoritarian views on exactly this issue. When part of the Clinton Administration, serving as US Attorney for Washington D.C., he pushed for mandatory jail time for young people caught with cannabis in that city.

Hopefully, as Barack Obama puffs on his occasional cigarette outside the White House, he will think of the vast 2,000,000+ prisoner gulag stretched out across America before him. Far too many of these prisoners languish in jail because they were snared by the dishonest, cruel and self-serving laws against a plant. More Americans are arrested for cannabis possession than all violent crimes combined.

As you take your smoke, please think, Mr. President, of all these American lives being crushed and crippled by such torments as mandatory minimums.  Eric Holder gleefully fed young cannabis prisoners to this incarceration industry and as AG may force many more American lives and families down into the grinder.  All for contact with a substance with true medical value, as opposed to the tobacco cigarettes from which Mr. President, huddled outside the White House, draws another nicotine puff.