During BehavioraiHealthCentral.com’s recent monthly interview with General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), former Drug Czar under President Bill Clinton, the General asked to change our
scheduled topic and “tiptoe out onto thin ice” by covering a controversial topic that he finds professionally and personally disturbing: medical marijuana. As of this interview, 13 states have enacted laws that legalize medical marijuana. And in California, the booming growth in the marijuana industry has some state officials hoping it will also medicate the state’s financial woes. The irony of this issue is not subtle in a state that has banned the public use of trans fats in restaurants, yet wants to tax the medical use of a substance that the National Institute on Drug Abuse says causes a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug.
To discuss this controversial issue, BehavioraiHealthCentral.com spoke in-depth not only with Gen. McCaffrey (pictured, bottom left), but also Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske (top right), Deputy Drug Czar Dr. Tom Mclellan (top left), and President of the National Narcotics Officer’s Association Coalition, Ronald Brooks (bottom right). (Visit www.BehavioraiHealthCentral.com and search “McCaffrey” to listen to the complete audio recordings of the three interviews conducted in the process of preparing this in-depth special report online.) “Let me tell you what I’m concerned about,” says Gen. McCaffrey. “I believe that with drug abuse in America, you look back over time, and drugs never go away, but it gets out of control. It creates a huge societal wave of criminal, social, medical, legal, family-related mayhem. Society organizes itself in desperation, but the drugs and alcohol are always there. “We have dramatically reduced drug abuse from 1979 through today. We actually have done remarkable. The number I carry in my head is 13 percent of the population were past-month drug users and we’ve gotten it down to, I believe, around 6 percent. So here we are now, headed into the next decade, and I worry that we are seeing something that’s surprising to me. Given our enormous reduction in drug abuse in America, the enormous increase in the number of people having access to drug and alcohol treatment, the enormous success we had with public advertising and public service commercials and forming thousands of community anti-drug coalitions.
“The group out there that wants to legalize or normalize or decriminalize, or you pick the ‘-ize’ -there are not very many of them, but they’re sort of well-funded. They’ll say, ‘We fought a
failed ‘War on Drugs’, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people in prison for the possession of a joint. Let’s open the prison gates, let’s get realistic, get mature and by the way, there ‘s nothing wrong with most of these drugs, they’re far less dangerous than alcohol.’
“The argument about alcohol can seem pretty compelling. But what I worry about is we’re about to enter a period in which we’ll go 10 years where we’re going to say to teenagers that binge-drinking beer, smoking pot, experimenting with drugs, [and] using Ecstasy isn ‘t all that dangerous. This whole medical marijuana thing is a complete farce. We’ve got in the city of Los Angeles 400 or more places selling pot to anybody that walks in off the street. So it’s not decriminalized. It ‘s been falsely ‘medicalized.’
“I see California kind of leading the way, but all across the country now, states are passing medical marijuana laws, in violation of two generations of building the most safe and effective
Food and Drug Administration system in the world. We got this system and they bypassed it with medical pot. So, this farce on medical marijuana, where you can get the THC synthetic Marinol prescribed by your doctor right now in a pharmacy or all sorts of stuff- off-branding included. But that system’s being ignored, and we’re peddling home-grown marijuana all over in large parts of the country. So what I’m worried about is, will this administration, this president, stand up against it? Vice President Joe Biden was my hero who helped me with this issue. But where are the voices now that are going to speak up and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re normalizing the use of these drugs! ‘
“I go into drug treatment centers all the time, sit in on 12-step meetings, and at the end of it, I’ll say, ‘What should I tell high school kids about pot?’ And never have I talked to somebody struggling to achieve sobriety and maintain sobriety that doesn ‘t say, ‘Tell them and their parents and their pediatricians to not smoke dope.’
“So where is the voice that’s going to speak up? Is Gil Kerlikowske going to speak up? Tom Mclellan? Dr. Westley Clark? Where are the voices that are going to push back against this? Or
are we going to go 1 0 years and suddenly find ourselves with 13-17 percent of the population past-month drug users and another giant wave of addicts? What is going on? There’s the biggest issue I think we’ve got to address. But to do that, people have to have the scientific evidence and the courage to stand up and say, ‘No, we don’t think our kids ought to be smoking dope and binge drinking.'”
Feds ‘Looking the Other Way’?
What has General McCaffrey scratching his head is why it seems the federal government chose to look the other way, allowing state laws to sidestep national law. In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced an end on raids on marijuana dispensaries in California. Holder told reporters that American policy is now what President Obama said during his presidential campaign: that states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana.
Following the announcement by the Attorney General, Los Angeles officials said applications for retail outlets to dispense marijuana surged.
Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug – the most restrictive schedule of the Controlled Substances Act because it has “no currently accepted medical use.” The Drug Enforcement Administration supports maintaining that classification, as does the Food and Drug Administration- which requires new drugs be shown to be safe and effective for their intended use before being marketed in this country. Marijuana received a Schedule 1 classification because it meets three criteria: high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. There is also solid evidence that smoking marijuana has additional adverse health risks: NIDA reports that marijuana smoke contains SQ-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke does. It also narrows arteries in the brain, not unlike patients with hypertension and dementia. Perhaps most disturbing is a study published by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that confirmed gateway effects of marijuana on our youth. It
said the younger children are when they first use marijuana, the more likely they are to use cocaine and heroin and become dependent on drugs as adults. And people who smoke marijuana at a young age have an increased likelihood of cocaine and heroin drug dependence later in life. According to government studies, 1 00 million Americans have smoked marijuana in their lifetime, and a quarter of them have done so in the last month. On the other hand, national polls indicate Americans as a rule are against legalization.
The Attorney General’s re-position on medical marijuana and the growth in the number of states vying to legalize it have caused concern and confusion for the law enforcement officers who must decipher how to interpret the laws. Ronald Brooks is the President of National Narcotic Officers Association Coalition (NNOAC). The NNOAC is a coalition of state narcotic officers’ associations and other associations of law enforcement professionals around the country. The Coalition represents about 70,000 members from throughout the United States and is the voice of that profession in Washington, D.C. with the Congress and the Administration and with other associations such as the Drug Court Professionals, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Sheriffs. It was formed to provide that voice because at the state level, none of them had a good voice in Washington on policy or legislative issues.
“The whole issue with medical marijuana is kind of complex because it has become the wedge issue used by many who advocate legalization or decriminalization of drugs,” says Brooks. “Our position has always been that we believe the studies show that smoked marijuana is not an effective medicine. We’ve always said, ‘Hey, we’re not the docs, and we’re not the scientists. If the FDA if the AMA, if the medical and scientific community advocated for crude marijuana, we would support that because it’s not in our position as non-scientists to decide that. But until then, we have a process that has been brought about beginning in 1906 with the Pure Food and Drug Act; 1914, with the Harrison Narcotic Control Act; and in a host of legislation since then.’ like all our medical marijuana initiatives across the country so far.”
BehavioraiHealthCentral.com asked Brooks during our interview how the 13 states that have legalized medical marijuana are able to skirt the federal law.
“Well, they’re not. That is the problem. That is the confusing position that they put law enforcement officers and prosecutors and judges in,” says Brooks. “Obviously, federal law
supersedes state and local law, but there is a limited number of federal resources – both law enforcement and prosecutorial resources and judges. So the federal government is now in a position of having to oppose state law and also try to decide, what are these resources we can apply to investigating and prosec uting at a federal level? I think the underlying question is how dangerous is marijuana and who’s behind this?
“There is a growing drug legalization movement, but it’s really run by three gentleman, George Soros, one of the richest men in the world who’s primarily a commodities broker living in
Connecticut; Peter Lewis the CEO of Progressive Insurance; and John Sperling, the founder and CEO of the for-profit University of Phoenix. They have funded millions of dollars into the whole legalization and decriminalization movement to move toward legalizing drugs, using things like changing from an abstinence-based prevention message to a harm-reduction message, changing from no-drug-use, total abstinence, to medical marijuana. And then moving from there- now in California- with a bill in the legislature to just outright legalize marijuana. Marijuana Not a ‘Safe Drug’
“So that has been the ongoing movement: ignoring the fact that marijuana is a proven dangerous drug. I mean 65 percent of all teens in drug treatment today according to ONDCP are in treatment because of marijuana, not because of alcohol, cocaine heroin or meth. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network study of targeted cities, ER admissions have
tripled since 2004, and now ER admissions marijuana exceed heroin. It ‘s clearly dangerous. They ignore the fact that drugged driving, according to the former director of NIDA now kills at least 8,000 Americans a year, and in Maine, another half a million, and those are under-reported because our cops and troopers on the highways are not as well trained to recognize drug intoxication symptoms as they are alcohol. So it’s under-reported, but still a large problem. And now, the CDC released just recently in the news, I think, 16 states where drugged fatalities – which are primarily sudden overdose, so not marijuana but certainly part of that drug culturewhere drug overdoses are killing more people than traffic fatalities.”
Brooks is based in California and well aware of state’s push for taxing medical marijuana. BehavioraiHealthCentral.com asked him why a state so health conscious as to pass a ban on certain types of fats in restaurants would entertain legalizing such an unhealthy carcinogen as smoked marijuana for medical purposes. Could it be that the real impetus for the legalization is a political fundraising effort to create a revenue source to help get the state out of budgetary mayhem?
Brooks replies, “Well, I actually think that’s a smokescreen. I mean the state is in the worst budget crisis of any state in the union, and the worst in the history of our state, at least in my lifetime.
But if you look at it, the amount of revenue that would be generated from that bill [can’t compare to the costs] when you consider the amount of money it would cost to set up, develop a regulatory agency [and] to regulate the industry. When you look at the chronic healthcare costs that would surely happen as marijuana use was increased, and if you look at the highway safety cost and the increase in insurance, both worker’s camp, because of the increase in workplace accidents, and then highway insurance – motor vehicle insurance – because of the insurance in drunk driving accidents, there’s no way that they could raise enough revenue that they could even break even. And that doesn’t factor all of the lost opportunities, the people that then make the wrong choice.
“The SAMHSA studies show that the kids that choose not to use drugs, including marijuana, consider strongly in their decision the fact that it’s illegal, there’s a negative social stigma there. They’re afraid of disappointing family and going to jail and getting in trouble. So we know. I mean, we saw Alaska decriminalize marijuana for adults [for a few years], not even for kids, but during that time period, teen marijuana use was double that of anywhere else in the nation. “We know there is a cause and effect to decriminalization and increased marijuana use, and even though they try to regulate and keep kids from using marijuana, clearly once the flood gate is open, they can’t keep kids from using marijuana. So we know that in California, were we to legalize it, first of all there would still always be a black market because people would want to avoid the tax. They would want to buy without regulation. But even if we could regulate it, it’s going to open this up to teen drug use. I always try to remind people that since 9/11 , no kid has been hurt on American soil due to terrorism, but every year, kids have to make a choice, whether to use drugs or not. Every kid- whether you’re in a big town or a small town, whether you’re affluent or not, regardless of race or gender or social standing- kids are faced with a They lose their opportunities. They don’t have a chance to be a cop, or a firefighter, or a teacher, or the president. They have lost that opportunity, and that is the real tragedy of this political debate, that we’re using the health and well being of kids as pawns in a politicalgame.”
Those in favor of legalizing marijuana take a fiscally prudent stance, saying it’s a “commonsense” effort for a “victimless crime” that would reduce the tide of violence against
law enforcement, could reduce overcrowded prisons, would end the violation of human rights (similar, they say, to ending prohibition of alcohol). Legalizers theorize that an increase in the drug supply wouldn’t increase the rate of addiction. Physicians who prescribe medical marijuana say it reduces nausea, eases glaucoma, and improves appetite and sleep in AIDS patients, among other things.