Normally, this newspaper wouldn't hesitate to back a law that keeps dangerous drugs off the streets and away from our children. We would like to share the enthusiasm of Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway for banning a fake form of marijuana, but something important was missing from Wednesday's City Council vote to enact the new ban. Namely, facts.
The ban targets all forms of synthetic cannabinoids – fake pot produced in a laboratory. They are legally sold all over the United States under brand names such as K2 and Spice. Neither Congress nor the state Legislature has listed them as controlled substances. The worst that the Food and Drug Administration can say is that they are "not approved" for consumption. The substances are the subject of ongoing research to determine if they might offer medical benefits.
Yet the City Council chose to ban all such products, along with paraphernalia linked to their use, after hearing an impassioned plea by Caraway about the danger he thinks K2 poses to children.
The lone voice of skepticism was from council member Angela Hunt, who asked City Attorney Tom Perkins and Police Chief David Brown for statistics quantifying the dangers. They had none. Not a single death or hospital trip can be attributed solely to synthetic cannabinoids.
Hunt asked about calls to poison control centers, and the response was that, in Dallas, there have been six this year. Statewide, 119 calls mentioned cannabinoids. The volume of calls involving tobacco was several times higher.
Given that underwhelming evidence, Hunt proposed treating K2 like alcohol, which has a far greater body of statistical evidence demonstrating the danger to children. With alcohol, Hunt said, we ban its sale to minors and punish adults caught providing it to them. She suggested, without success, delaying an outright ban at least until the federal or state governments deem it dangerous enough to be controlled.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics indicate that marijuana usage is around 6.7 percent of all teens and declining. Alcohol abuse among this age group is a much more significant problem, with a 2007-08 survey showing that 51.4 percent of teens had used alcohol in the previous month, while 18 percent had partaken in binge drinking. Yet Caraway hasn't proposed banning all alcohol in the city.
Caraway's concern about children's exposure to K2 is understandable, but his argument had less to do with evidence than emotion. The facts supporting his case were, at times, distorted – such as that "most" of Europe bans cannabinoids. So far, only 12 of the 50 countries in Europe regulate such substances.
By all means, let's address the dangers where they truly exist. But before instituting broad-brush bans, we should be guided by science and statistical evidence, not emotions.
Are all cannabinoids dangerous? Maybe not
Testifying before Congress in 2004, Dr. Robert Meyer, then-director of the FDA's Office of Drug Evaluation, offered this assessment of two prescription cannabinoids – Marinol and Cesamet – as alternatives to medical marijuana for use by AIDS and cancer patients:
"These products have been through FDA's rigorous approval process and have been determined to be safe and effective for their respective indications. It is only through the FDA drug approval process that solid clinical data can be obtained and a scientifically based assessment of the risks and benefits of an investigational drug is made."
05:48 PM CDT on Thursday, August 12, 2010
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