Medical Marijuana Isn't a Trojan Horse. The Drug War is a Trojan Horse.

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Charles Lane at The Washington Post stepped in it big time yesterday with an awful piece that literally had to be edited after publication for shocking insensitivity. Now he's returned with another, falling back on the desperate argument that medical marijuana is a Trojan Horse for recreational legalization.

Listen, medical marijuana isn't a trick and it's pathetic to pretend that the people trying to legalize marijuana are behaving surreptitiously when we've been screaming "legalize marijuana" at the top of our lungs for a damn long time now. You can't blame us for the fact that the medical marijuana debate necessarily serves to illustrate so much about the absurdity of marijuana prohibition as a whole. Nor does it in any way undermine our credibility when we place the interests of seriously ill patients before those of casual users when setting our political priorities.

Critics of medical marijuana advocacy often accuse us of demanding unusual regulatory exceptions for marijuana, complaining that it hasn’t been approved by the FDA and that the whole concept of medicine by referendum is absurd, as though there exists any other path for us to take. It really shouldn’t be necessary to explain all the ways in which endemic and entrenched anti-pot prejudice across numerous government agencies renders preposterous any notion that we could just play this out by the usual rules. We've been trying that for decades now and we get cheated at every turn, so you can save your appeals to procedure.

Marijuana can't be treated like other medicines, because it's nothing like them. It was here first and it's vastly cheaper, safer, and more versatile than its modern pharmaceutical counterparts. It's a bush that just grows out of the ground and what we want is for the government to stop arresting people who've found ways to use it. There's nothing even the least bit complicated or disingenuous about that.

Those who now lament the cascading political momentum of medical marijuana as some sort of grand conspiracy have it exactly backwards. Marijuana was prohibited through a vicious series of outrageous lies and perversions of science. We all know the history of racism, demagoguery, and blind hysteria that somehow turned a helpful plant into a scary satanic deathbush. From the very beginning, there has never been a time when any of this made sense. To now stand proudly atop the pedestal of prohibition while questioning our credibility and our motives is just insane.

Yes, there is a massive lie at the center of this debate, but we're not the ones telling it. The drug war itself is the true Trojan Horse that masquerades as a symbol of health and safety, while harboring destruction within its folds.
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well said

Thanks for this very nicely put rejoinder to Lane's pieces.

Unconstitutional government action

Pot prohibition is repugnant to substantive due process, which forbids arbitrary government action. It is also against the 13th amendment, considering the palpable racism that fomented the law. The government does not have the right to pass arbitrary laws, like pot prohibition, and when they do so it weakens the rule of law and respect for our government. Laws like pot prohibition, slavery, women's sufferage, jim crow, anti-gay, anything which punishes a citizen for no good reason, take years, even generations to work out of the system. MLK Jr. recognized this and made that great quote about how the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. The propaganda of pot prohibition truly reflects this, suppression is not as easy as it used to be. Well, unless you're a poor soul in North Korea, and many other countries, even this one if you are a rational person who enjoys plants.

food fuel fiber,medicine

food fuel fiber,medicine cannabis/marijuana is the most valuable plant man has discovered shame on the men +women behind this grave injustice /the drug war

trojan horse revisited

Thanks for making this point! You may want to read my comment to the Gallup Poll story, especially concerning the difficulty getting and keeping cannabis smoking harm reduction info on "Cannabis smoking" and other Wikipedia articles.

One edit I did which the warring counter-editors didn't erase yet, was to add a warning against the noxious practice of mixing addictive nicotine tobackgo with cannabis in a hot burning overdose "joint" (that's what some Europeans think the word means). The only reference I could find anywhere was a defamatorily-titled Australian study about how cannabis can be a "trojan horse" leading youngsters into nicotine addiction. Thought you'd like that.

yes we cannabis

In the medical mj states, cannabis may be used medically as a tincture, may be eaten, used as a salve and it may be smoked or vaporized. Only a a few states allow for growing of (non-resinous) hemp for other purposes.

Many in those states that medicate with cannabis medically have pts. with serious diseases such as cancer and liver disease, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, chronic pain and other conditions such as epilepsy and other disorders, and thus are approved and living by sanctioned state law. Many patients report taking fewer prescription pain (narcotic and other) medications and are generally having a better quality of life.

I have been a MS patient for 4 years. The best medicine for spasticity and pain is indica sativa served up in a steady state - whether consummed orally as a tincture or as home made edibles or toked Marley style. I am sure that cannabis has helped to keep my MS stable in the last 2 years. (Thank Goodness I reside in a medical mj state.)

The feds need to remove all federal proscecution for medical use and personal use as well and make it the law of the land. (period)

Hamilton Wright "The Man Who Gave Us the Drug War"

Hamilton Wright: Ambitious MD, wanna-be bureaucrat, jumped on the "opium question" hoping to become an ambassador in Asia. Wright was a major force behind the 1909 international Opium conference in Shanghai; he lied that the Harrison Act of 1914 was just for data-gathering not prohibition; he spread scare stories about blacks on cocaine to get states-rights Southern congressmen to vote for the Harrison Act. Soon after he was fired from the State Dept for continually coming to work drunk!

Other major early influences: Christian missionaries in China who blamed opium for their failure at winning converts and greatly exaggerated the harms of opium; after 1920, international diplomats who hoped the drug control could be a model for arms control and who hoped to bring the prohibition-crazy USA into the League of Nations.

Excellent books on the history of drug prohibition:

Drug diplomacy in the twentieth century. William B. McAllister (2000)

The American disease: origins of narcotic control‎. David F. Musto (1999)

Narcotic culture: a history of drugs in China. Frank Dikötter, Lars Peter Laamann, Zhou Xun (2004)

A horse is a horse, of course (with apologies to Mr. Ed...)

Virtually every drug policy reform leader I have spoken with - and I have spoken to them all at great length - told me that repealing drug prohibition is their ultimate goal. Why they have chosen marijuana, specifically the medicinal kind, to be their foot-in-the-door drug (or Trojan Horse, if you will), I was told, is because they believe the American public just isn't ready to have a discussion on repealing drug prohibition across the board. And by getting the public to accept medical marijuana will lead to the acceptance of its use by the otherwise healthy among us. Really?

But let's assume the use of marijuana, for both medicinal and recreational purposes, does finally become the law of the land. Then what? If drug policy reform leaders are true to their beliefs (that all drug prohibitions must go), then they will need a new drug to champion. Will it be cocaine? LSD? MDMA? Or will they declare "mission accomplished" and retire to write books about their (qualified, at best) success and leave the heavier lifting to others?

I have long stated that it is a heartless government that denies its citizens a medicine of proven efficacy, and meeting many dozens of medical marijuana patients has only reinforced my belief. But I have stated just as long that medical marijuana is not the proper strategy to move the drug debate forward. (See above.) So should drug policy reform leaders not retire to literary pursuits and move on to the next drug, they will face a difficult dilemma: admit their strategy all along has been of the Trojan Horse variety, or do their best Clinton impression of delicately dissembling what the true meaning of "is" is? Either choice will embolden Calvina Fey and her acolytes to shout "See! See! We told you so"!

And then we'll be fucked. Because drug policy reform will then be spending all their time defending past actions at the expense of future ones. And there is great risk, something that drug policy reform leaders have either not accessed or even thought of, that when advocating for additional repeals we will be told to "Sit down and shut the fuck up - we gave you marijuana!" Additionally, when all the violence inhabiting the drug black market does not abate when marijuana is legalized, as many reform leaders theorize, or, as I believe, actually increases due to cartels attempting to replace the revenues lost with marijuana legalization, who's to say that prohibitionists won't seize on that reality and argue for re-criminalizing marijuana? And then we'll be fucked, again.

Alcohol prohibition was not enacted or ended incrementally. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, ushering in drug prohibition, was not an incremental policy. For drug policy reform leaders to believe drug prohibition can be repealed incrementally is either an act of ignorance or hubris - take your pick.

Winning the small battle of medical marijuana could very well work against winning the larger war against ending drug prohibition, something that, I must reiterate, is the stated goal of drug policy reform leaders.

I so agree

We must begin using the argument that the federal government (and state/local governments) has absolutely no legitimate authority to tell any adult what s/he must or may not consume, whether that consumption is of a food or drug or vaccine, the individual's body belongs to the individual, not the government, and the decisions about what to smoke, ingest or inject are the individual's decision, alone. mandates and prohibitions are both unconstitutional and a violation of the right of the individual to direct his/her own life..

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

The incremental strategy is working pretty damn well

"For drug policy reform leaders to believe drug prohibition can be repealed incrementally is either an act of ignorance or hubris - take your pick." I dunno, making such a sweeping prediction about the future seems like plenty of hubris to me. MMJ has overwhelming public support, some of the people who need it really need it, it would be stupid not to push for it on it's own merits. It's success has helped to get pro-cannabis legalization sentiment to it's current close to a majority status, by showing how unproblematic cannabis use is in a legalized setting. And cannabis legalization deserves consideration on it's own merits too, it's too different from hard drugs to just be lumped in with them.
As far as what drug would be picked to focus on after cannabis legalization, I don't think there will be one, it will be probably be all the rest lumped together, I don't see which one would deserve to be singled out for special focus.
Psychedelics are off in a special class by themselves: much, much stronger than cannabis, but with unique value as well. The case for their legalization might be made largely independently, since the powerful argument that prohibition is empowering the violent cartels and destabilizing whole countries doesn't particularly apply in the case of psychedelics, but is probably the strongest argument for legalizing hard drugs.

Newageblues: Really?

Hubris on my part? Perhaps. But what then are we to make of your prediction that drug policy reform leaders will all of a sudden get religion in the future and lump the remaining drugs into one huge pile and go for the gusto? And what about your obvious prediction contradiction that psychedelics should be considered independently?

Drug prohibition has been in effect for 95 years, with enforcement the last 40 or so being especially intense. We now have just 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. To proclaim this strategy as "working pretty damn well" is disingenuous at best and delusional at worst.

borden's picture

yes, really

Uh, there hasn't been a drug policy reform movement for 95 years. There was a big marijuana legalization movement in the '70s, before things fell apart. The Drug Policy Foundation was founded in 1986, and most of the other groups fewer than 15 years ago.

The overwhelming weight of history demonstrates positive social changes having to percolate and advance slowly for very long periods of time before large changes become possible. Repeal of alcohol prohibition is a spectacular counterexample, but it's an exception, and it had not been long since alcohol had been legal so people still regarded prohibition as an experiment, an advantage we don't have today.

Based on what I remember when I first got involved with this next to all that has happened since, I believe that our movement's strategies are working -- take a trip to Los Angeles or Oakland if you don't believe it. But of course, we have a long way to go, and I don't think we have all the strategies in place yet that we need.

I also don't see an alternative to working incrementally while educating on the bigger issue. We're not going to win a vote to legalize all drugs this year, and we're closing in on majority support for marijuana legalization but are not quite there as of this year either.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

If you say so, but...

A closer read of my comment shows I did not say drug policy reform has been in the works since Harrison. However, there was significant objection to the Harrison Narcotics Act, primarily by physicians. On May 15, 1915 - the effective date of Harrison - an editorial published in the respected New York Medical Journal stated: "The really serious results of this legislation, however, will only appear gradually and will not always be recognized as such. These will be the failures of promising careers, the disruption of happy families, the commission of crimes which will never be traced to their real cause, and the influx into hospitals to the mentally disordered of many who would otherwise live socially competent lives." And opposition remained only until the government made good on their threats to arrest doctors who continued supplying narcotics, primarily opiates, to patients deemed in need. That threat is as real today as back then.

I agree that contemporary opposition occurred much later. NORML began in the 70s, yet their current policy of decriminalization includes the caveat that, while you and I should be free to consume cannabis at will and without penalty, those who traffic in cannabis should face criminal sanctions. Where does NORML believe we get those joints - from the pot fairy? (That's akin to saying Joe should be able to have his six-pack but truck drivers delivering beer to stores will be arrested.) When I asked Keith Stroup in 2006 why NORML supported such a policy, he replied that is was, basically, to cover their asses, and that if I wanted to lobby Congress to leave alone a bunch of drug dealers, well, go for it. Later that day I asked Allan St. Pierre the same question. He seemed to be taken by surprise and vowed to change the policy. Yet today the policy remains unchanged and available for all to read on their web site.

You instruct me to go to Los Angeles and Oakland as proof the incremental strategy is working. Okay. But I suggest you go to Amsterdam and Portugal. There the issue of medical marijuana is moot, as both countries stand head and shoulders above the United States in effective drug policy reform. Perhaps we could benefit from their strategies since, as you state, ours are not yet in place. But it was not the grassroots that effected change in those countries. It was government leaders that saw the insanity of punishing individuals for choosing to consume (relatively) harmless substances. And it is pressure from the U.S. that keeps both countries from going the extra mile and creating a regulated market to control the sale and distribution of drugs.

I see little coordination between advancing the incremental strategy, exemplified by medical marijuana, and educating on the larger issue of drug prohibition repeal. Yes, it does appear on drug policy blogs, and even on excellent drug policy sites such as yours - but it is well under the radar of public discourse, despite a recent Zogby poll indicating that 76% of all adults - including Obama - believe the drug war has failed. Save LEAP, no drug policy reform group openly advocates repealing drug prohibition. Of course we're not going to win a vote to legalize all drugs this year. But that is solely because we are not agitating for one. You don't get what you don't ask for...

I continue to believe the incremental approach is the wrong strategy. And take mild offense that my views are rejected out-of-hand as heresy. Therefore, I would appreciate your thoughts on just what strategy we'll employ once the consumption of cannabis becomes settled law. Do you agree with Newageblues that reform leaders will lump all the remaining drugs - with the exception of psychedelics - into one pile and go for broke? And if you do, what response will you give to the prohibitionists when they rightfully accuse us of using medical marijuana as a Trojan Horse for full legalization?

borden's picture

Friend, When you say things


When you say things like drug reform leaders must be suffering from ignorance or hubris to make the decisions we've made, it's a little funny to then say that you're offended at being called out. The way you choose to express yourself about others has an impact on how others choose to express themselves about you.

In any case, it's neither ignorance nor hubris. It's that we're smart people who are also realistic, who spend much of our time thinking about strategy and how social change works. The decisions we've made come from that. We might turn out to be wrong about some things -- and we know that we might turn out to be wrong -- but we're making the best judgment calls that we can. We know that predicting the political future with certainty is beyond our limits. But you should know that doing so is also beyond your limits. The fact that you don't seem to know that -- the degree of certainty you expressed about a topic that is characterized by uncertainty -- is what prompted newageblues to characterize your post as being the one exhibiting the hubris.

That said, by no means have you engaged in heresy to call for more of a focus on big-picture efforts. From time to time it is necessary to realize when things have changed and to adapt. Participation like yours on forums like this are helpful in keeping everyone thinking about that. We are proud at DRCNet to have a formal, full legalization position for all drugs, and we have efforts in the works (educational) to increase our efforts in that area.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Why I think hard drugs will be grouped together in making policy

I'm not trying to blur the distinctions among hard drugs, but those differences seem small to me compared to the differences between cannabis and any of them (+ alcohol). You can die of an overdose of heroin or cocaine (and it doesn't take much, they are so heavily refined), chronic heavy use has serious, life shortening effects, and addicts often will do anything to get their next supply. For what it's worth, I've never once before this heard of the idea of picking out one of the hard drugs to focus on after cannabis legalization. It seems farfetched to me. Much of the focus will be on breaking the power and violence of the black market and how some form of legalization of hard drugs is the only way to do that.

Why should legalizing marijuana be held hostage to the understandably harder sell of legalizing such serious drugs? Legalizing all drugs at once is a pretty radical step, I think it's natural for a lot of people to say 'let's start with weed and see how that goes'.

The path to hard drug legalization will probably lie through maintenance programs, which do such a good job of showing how much of the damage caused by hard drugs is caused by their draconian prohibition, as opposed to damage caused by their use. That, and needle exchanges, is what we should be pushing for on hard drugs, to save lives now. It would be interesting to see polling on maintenance programs, especially polling after the arguments for their use are mentioned.

Trojan Horses

We'll be discussing this issue tonight inside The Opium Den at 9pm eastern. Turn on and tune in.

Daniel Williams

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