The war on drugs is an attack on rationality. Reason lost yet another
skirmish recently when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on April
20 that "no sound scientific studies" supported the medical use of
The announcement flatly contradicts the conclusion of virtually every major
study on the efficacy of medical marijuana, including two performed by the government.
In a New York Times article the following day, Dr. Jerry Avorn of Harvard Medical
School said "this is yet another example of the FDA making pronouncements
that seems to be driven more by ideology than science."
Avorn's criticism is one regularly leveled at the Bush administration, namely,
that it is using politics to trump science. Last year, for example, the ACLU
released a report titled "Science Under Siege" that detailed efforts
by the Bush administration to hamper scientific inquiry in the name of ideology
and national security.
The report found the administration has censored and prescreened scientific
articles before publication, suppressed environmental and public health information,
and increased restrictions on materials commonly used in basic scientific research.
For two years the Union of Concerned Scientists has circulated a petition statement
which now contains the signatures of 9,000 U.S. scientists, including 49 Nobel
Prize winners and 63 National Medal of Science recipients. The statement complains
that the Bush administration advocates "policies that are not scientifically
sound," and sometimes has "misrepresented scientific knowledge and
misled the public about the implication of its politics." This comes on
the heels of a host of other accusations against the administration--charges
of censoring a NASA scientist on issues of global warming and burying data on
the morning-after Plan B contraceptive.
But the FDA announcement on marijuana is perhaps the most blatant effort to
ignore scientific reality. Critics charge that the statement was issued to bolster
opponents of various medical marijuana initiatives that have passed in 11 states.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and John P. Walters, the director
of national drug control policy (the Drug Czar) oppose the use of medical marijuana.
The Times quoted Walters' spokesman Tom Riley, who said the FDA's statement
would put to rest what he called "the bizarre public discussion" that
has helped legalize medical marijuana. But Riley failed to note that some of
that discussion was sparked by an exhaustive DEA investigation into cannabis
(the scientific name for marijuana) from 1986 to 1988. The comprehensive study
examined evidence from doctors, patients and thousands of documents regarding
marijuana's medical utility.
Following a hearing on the study's findings, the DEA's administrative judge
Francis L. Young released a ruling on Sept. 6, 1988, that noted, "Nearly
all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such
a substance ..." Marijuana in its natural form, he said, "is one of
the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of
rational analysis, marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine
of medical care."
He recommended that "(The) provisions of the (Controlled Substances) Act
permit and require the transfer of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.
It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the DEA to continue to
stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance."
The New England Journal of Medicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians,
the American Public Health Association, AIDS Action Council and dozens of other
medical groups have endorsed medical marijuana. Anecdotal evidence from Oregon,
one of the states that legalized marijuana's medical uses,"adds to the
mountain of data supporting the medicinal value of pot," according to a
May 1 editorial in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard.
Despite this and a growing wealth of new information (particularly new research
on cannabanoid medicine by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam out of Hebrew University in
Jerusalem) regarding the therapeutic potential of marijuana and its various
analogues, the U.S. government refuses to alter its prohibitionist restrictions
on marijuana use or research.
Although the Bushites' rejection of scientific reality is particularly egregious,
governmental irrationality about marijuana has been bipartisan. Indeed, more
people suffered pot arrests during the Clinton administration than in any other
before or since. Washington, in general, seems particularly susceptible to distorted
reasoning or magical thinking when considering this ancient herb.
Isn't it a sign of mental disorder when distorted reasoning is unchanged by
empirical evidence? What is it about marijuana that drives our politicians insane?
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These
Times, where he has worked since 1983, and an op-ed columnist for the Chicago
Tribune. He is currently a Crime and Communities Media Fellow of the Open Society
Institute, examining the impact of ex-inmates and gang leaders in leadership
positions in the black community.