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.

 

Portugal’s decriminalization success is in news again.

The overwhelming success of Portugal’s decriminalization approach to drugs is in the news again. The AP article is available here, “Portugal’s drug policy pays off; US eyes lessons.” See the article for details of how every aspect of Portugal’s harm minimization, treatment-based approach has succeeded.

Unfortunately, the title is somewhat incorrect. Portugal’s decriminalization has indeed worked out remarkably well. The USA, however, may “eye” these lessons but is intent on ignoring them and clinging to its trillion dollar harm maximization approach of arrest, prosecution and incarceration.

Schwarzenegger ignores the low hanging fruit, harmful cannabis arrests and prosecutions.

As California crashes into the financial sea, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is ignoring easy money from simple changes in approach to drugs. California’s drug policy, like America’s, has always chosen a harm maximization approach. This most expensive drug policy option was modified and made more just and less expensive by California voters decriminalizing medical marijuana. Yet opportunities for saving money (and human anguish) surround Gov. Schwarzenegger like low hanging fruit. So far, he seems blind to them.

SF Gate reports Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has “outlined a plan to save $1.2 billion in prison spending by changing the criminal justice system so that fewer people are sent to prison and fewer parolees are sent back to prison.”

  • Some items on the governor’s list of reforms is greatly needed in a state bleeding money by incarcerating 167,000 of its citizens, in good part for the benefit of the prison guards’ union. Many of these reforms, however, involve crimes with actual victims. Car theft (for cheap cars, at least) would not be a felony, for example.
  • Instead of “reforming” laws for crimes with actual victims, the governor could do much better revamping enforcement of drug “crimes” where any crime is consensual, and, in any case, is really the business of the California citizen, not the business of self-serving state bureaucrats.
  • Crimes committed by people on drugs, should be enforced, but overwhelmingly crimes committed while on drugs center on the legal drug, alcohol.
  • On the recreational level, arrests for cannabis possession fuel alcohol consumption and abuse. Alcohol is a far more powerful drug than cannabis. Alcohol intoxication is often associated with belligerence and violence; a cannabis high is never the cause of violence. For California, as elsewhere, cannabis is a SAFER alternative to alcohol.

The current wasteful approach was well demonstrated last winter, when the California budget tsunami was on the horizon, police in northern California had the excess resources to waste on outlandishly lavish marijuana busts. Consider the utter stupidity and waste of sending 100 armored cops into 2 tiny northern California High School to arrest a few students for cannabis “crimes.” These drug cops should have to get real jobs doing real work, not padding the pensions with unwarranted but cinematic shows of force.

The governor should drop the current costly harm maximization approach approach to drug use in California and adopt more effective and far less costly harm minimization.

  • A rational harm minimization tactic would be to end all marijuana arrests.
  • Since cannabis is so blatantly misrepresented as a Schedule 1 drug, all the laws, regulations and mandatory minimums associated with Schedule 1 status should be thrown out the window.
  • California prisons should be emptied of those whose “crime” involved cannabis.

The state of California could save huge sums of money by not inflicting needless, useless arrests, prosecutions and incarceratons for cannabis “crimes” with no victims.