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Latest Drug Czar Lies

Submitted by David Borden on
It does not bother me that John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy, is passionate about his positions on drug addiction and how it is best treated; with opinions I can always respectfully disagree. What is unacceptable are lies, fallacies, and deceptive wording in federal government publications. He recently answered a series of questions posed on Ask the White House.


... you are also mistaken in thinking that there can be no “overdose” with marijuana. Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a system of hospital emergency rooms that record adverse drug-use events, show that marijuana is now the second leading drug cause (behind only cocaine) for an emergency room visit ...
The questioner was not mistaken; cannabis has extremely low toxicity and no fatalities in recorded history. The FDA has even approved a synthetic (patented of course) THC pill available over-the-counter and it's refillable. As for the quoted data, it provides no support for Walters' claim, nor does any evidence exist of immediate danger for users. Even the predicted long-term cancer risks of smoked cannabis have been repeatedly unsupported by large studies of lifetime users. In any setting where an intoxicant such as alcohol is safe to use, cannabis (particularly vaporized or eaten) is even safer.
... there is little science to support [the safety of medical marijuana].  ... no compelling scientific case has been made for it. ... Doctors and medical experts should decide what constitutes medicine, not voter referenda.
The first two statements are false. An overwhelming amount of scientific evidence and many doctors and medical associations in the U.S. and abroad support the medicinal use of cannabis. Whether or not cannabis is ever "legalized", there is substantial desire among medical professionals that it be prescribable without fear of federal punishment. Unless the DEA can begin censoring the web, I have faith that the American public will only allow this denial of evidence by federal agencies for so long.
... we make the problems of drug use smaller in every dimension.
This is perhaps the biggest lie of all. Lately the ONDCP's primary source of positive results are selective views of anonymous school surveys, but school survey results give a massively incomplete picture of the problems associated with drugs--and how we control them--in society. There are many "dimensions" in which problems are made larger by current policies, and honest debate requires a much wider view of their effects on society as a whole, including addicts, casual users, non-users, communities, civil liberties, government budgets, and other aspects.

Fallacies, Deceptive Phrasing, Unsupportive Facts

... marijuana use itself ... is sufficiently harmful that it bears legal strictures.
The existence of laws (especially those based on false testimony, lack of scientific evidence, and racism) does not prove an activity is harmful; evidence does. Lacking evidence, a statement such as the above is only useful for deception.
... [the lives of marijuana users] are already sufficiently out of control to get them into the criminal justice system.
Being apprehended for marijuana use or possession in no way shows the user's life is "out of control", only that she was unlucky enough to get caught. Many "in control" people drank responsibly during Prohibition, just as many people today can use and grow cannabis responsibly in accordance with state laws. Being arrested under a federal law implies nothing about the overall well-being of a user.
There are a number of things wrong with the way you’ve framed this question and interpreted the actual facts about marijuana abuse.
Perhaps there is a way Walters would prefer someone pose a question, but the question posed by Chris, from Kent, OH was perfectly reasonable; Chris only erred in stating marijuana had no possibility of chemical dependency. Cannabis can be addictive, but is less so than alcohol or tobacco. Chris's question also mentioned "marijuana use", but it is Walters who reframes the discussion to be about "abuse" which serves to imply there is no level of use that is not abuse.
In addition, smoked marijuana remains illegal under Federal law.
This statement was to support the claim that medicinal marijuana is not medically safe, but it does not. If a federal law criminalized eating raw oranges tomorrow, it would not become unsafe, nor would it say anything of the safety of pulp-free orange juice. Doctors generally recommend medicinal marijuana users use a vaporizer or eat cannabis foods, both of which eliminate the risks associated with smoking, but MM opponents rarely acknowledge the existence of such methods.
for some vulnerable populations, the risk of depression, schizophrenia, or other serious psychosis associated with marijuana use is striking.
Notice that this provides no evidence that marijuana in particular causes these problems. For some populations, the use of alcohol could lead to serious problems, but this does not support the criminalization of alcohol for healthy adults. The latest research shows cannabis use can trigger early signs of schizophrenia in persons likely already pre-determined to have the disease.
... early exposure to marijuana is statistically associated with later exposure to, and dependency on, cocaine and heroin.
This is meant to support the "gateway theory" popular in federal publications, but many studies have found no evidence of this hypothesis.

Unsupported/Arguable Opinions

Many of these individuals care little for the actual suffering and pain of others, but are instead using [medical marijuana] to advance their own pro-drug agenda.
This is a monstrous claim. There is plenty of evidence that some patients are merely cannabis users hiding from prosecution, and that proponents of drug legalization obviously support medical marijuana, but neither fact justifies keeping truly sick individuals in pain or nausea. Abuse of an ethical system is cause for tighter regulation, not abolishment. Furthermore, if a non-sick person is going to use cannabis, at least within the medical system the user's money goes to legitimate businesses and tax revenues rather than to the black market, and the user can stay away from unregulated dealers pushing other drugs.
The best posible outcome for all [marijuana users] is to be directed to help whether by a family member, a friend, or the criminal justice system.
This first assumes every user needs help. A casual beer drinker is neither in need of help nor would benefit from treatment services. Further, mandating treatment services for such individuals would waste money and reduce availability for those truly in need of treatment. Secondly, I have no issue with using law enforcement to lead true addicts into treatment, but gaining an arrest/criminal record, spending time in jail, or any of the potential penalties of repeared drug arrests is far from the "best posible[sic] outcome" for anyone dealing with an addiction.
Both alcohol and marijuana abuse are types of the disease of addiction, and both require public health as well as legal interventions and regulations.
I could not agree more regarding "abuse" of the two substances, but this begs the question: why is alcohol regulated vastly differently under the law? Why is it exempt from the CSA? If the regulations placed upon alcohol by the CSA would not be tolerated by the public, shouldn't the CSA be modified or replaced with something else? In any case it's logical to evaluate the safety of all drugs on equal grounds. In particular, if drug warriors were serious about curbing alcohol abuse, they would promote a ban on advertising as we did for tobacco.
Twenty five years ago, drug use among youth was at unacceptably high levels.
A valid question to ask is, has it ever been zero? If zero is unachievable, then we must accept that some percentage of youths are going to try drugs. Would you prefer deadly opiate prescription drugs be more accessible to kids than marijuana? Would an arrest/criminal record and the possible loss of financial aid and driver's license be helpful to your child? If your kid was caught selling drugs to a friend out of your car or home, would losing it under forfeiture laws help your family deal with addiction?

Unproven/Contradictory Statements

...the funds spent on [substance abuse treatment, prevention and intervention, and law enforcement] are paying off. ... the supply of drugs is down ... through our interdiction and enforcement efforts we are currently in the midst of an unprecedented cocaine shortage.
These are all nice statements, but I wish there was proof that drugs (and not just one in particular) are overall harder to find in real neighborhoods now than one year ago, or 30 years ago.
... drug use gets smaller, as the results of the last seven years strikingly show. ... we are breaking the backs of drug trafficking organizations, making it more difficult for them to sell their illicit product, and drying up the pool of people who want to use their drugs.
I would also love to say people are giving up drugs, but Walters himself tells us this isn't true:
Unfortunately, adult drug use rates have not fallen as sharply [since 2001].
Or if you look at another huge government survey 2002-2007, adult illicit drug use hasn't fallen at all. In fact, the kids are picking up OxyContin (which, unlike cannabis, can kill) and binge drinking is rising steadily in adults and older teens. With that in mind it's no wonder we lead the world in drug use, double that of the Netherlands, where drug policy is based on harm reduction.

Final Thoughts

If we continue to press on this problem in a concerted way this progress will be sustained.
For the sake of the people of the U.S. (and Mexico) we need to do better than sustain minimal progress in reducing the harms associated with drugs and alcohol abuse. We need a drug czar who will stop lying and start getting creative.

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