US Drug Czar Kerlikowske says marijuana legalization is “a non-starter”

By chillinwill · Nov 1, 2009 ·
  1. chillinwill
    Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration. It is not something that the President and I discuss; it isn’t even on the agenda. Attorney General Holder issued very clear guidelines to U.S. Attorneys about the appropriate use of Federal resources. He did not open the door to legalization.

    Regarding state ballot initiatives concerning “medical” marijuana. I believe that medical questions are best decided not by popular vote, but by science. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which studies and approves all medicines in the United States, has made very clear that the raw marijuana plant is not medicine, and any state considering medical marijuana should look very carefully at what has happened in California.

    Legalization is being sold as being a cure to ending violence in Mexico, as a cure to state budget problems, as a cure to health problems. The American public should be skeptical of anyone selling one solution as a cure for every single problem. Legalized, regulated drugs are not a panacea—pharmaceutical drugs in this country are tightly regulated and government controlled.
    yet we know they cause untold damage to those who abuse them.

    To test the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana, we only need to look at already legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco. We know that the taxes collected on these substances pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their widespread use.

    You know, for someone who says he doesn’t discuss marijuana legalization, it seems he sure has a lot of things to say about marijuana legalization.

    We’re all for the FDA studying the medical efficacy of marijuana, but every time we try to make that happen, NIDA and the DEA block those efforts. “Marijuana’s not medical,” they say. We say,”Hey, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people who say they’re getting medical relief. Can we at least study that?” They say, “No.” “Why not?” we ask? “Because marijuana’s not medical.” “But we’ve got all these studies…” “Nah nah nah nah, we can’t hear you, marijuana’s not medical, nah nah nah!” Besides, the FDA studied and approved thalidomide, Phen-Fen, and Vioxx, so excuse us if we don’t put a ton of credibility into that agency telling us how horrible marijuana is.

    Should the people in a democracy be allowed to vote on what substances they are allowed to use as medicine? Why not? The acts in the early 20th century that were passed to regulate the “snake oil salesmen” occurred in a time when we didn’t have widespread communications like now. If someone tried to sell an ineffective or dangerous tonic these days, he’d be out of business faster than you can say “Twitter”. It’s not like we see a widespread call for votes on medical cocaine or medical methamphetamine… oh, wait, I forgot, those drugs are medical and any doctor in the US can prescribe them, but not a non-toxic herb. Besides, if a company like “Extenze” can sell a pill claiming to make my penis bigger, so long as they put “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” I can’t for the life of me figure out why we need FDA approval for a plant.

    Furthermore, most people don’t realize that a large proportion of the drugs the FDA does study aren’t approved for the way they are being prescribed:

    Off-label use is the practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication. Off-label use of medications is very common. Up to one-fifth of all drugs are prescribed off-label and amongst psychiatric drugs, off-label use rises to 31% (Radley, et al. 2006). New drugs are often not tested for safety and efficacy specifically in children. Therefore, it is believed that 50-75% of all medications prescribed by pediatricians in the U.S. are for off-label applications.

    Once again, the specter of the “People’s Gaypublic of Drugifornia*” is brought out to scare people, as if dispensaries in California have led to widespread looting, riots in the streets, cats and dogs living together, and disasters of Biblical proportion. Yes, let’s look at California, where the state is raking in money on dispensary sales taxes and at least 300,000 people who used to support black market drug dealers no longer are. Let’s look at Oakland, where a nine-block area of town went from being a run-down dilapidated crime-ridden slum to a tourist-friendly rejuvenated business district called “Oaksterdam”, and the city is raking in $18 per $1000 in sales there, compared to $1.20 per $1000 for all other businesses. I was just in California at a Smokeout where at least 30,000 people were gathered, some (most?) smoking pot, and I didn’t see one fight or step in one puddle of puke.

    Using California to scare people about what happens when a state legalizes marijuana for sick people is sort of like warning people not to buy a Macintosh because Commodore PETs are slow. Why doesn’t Kerlikowske warn people to look very carefully at what has happened in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, Michigan, Vermont, and Maine? Doesn’t he think those states looked very carefully at California? Or for that matter, Minnesota and New Hampshire, which passed medical marijuana this year, only to lose to a governor’s veto?

    Finally, how long are they going to push the logically-flawed talking point that alcohol and tobacco abuse cost far more to society than the taxes they bring in, so we shouldn’t tax and regulate marijuana? It’s like saying boxing and playing football hurt your body more than the value of the exercise helps, so you shouldn’t take up swimming to lose weight. News flash, Gil: alcohol and tobacco kill half a million Americans a year and lead to chronic care diseases that cost a ton of money, but marijuana does not. And guess what else? Marijuana is already in widespread use and you’re collecting ZERO in taxes for it now!

    Isn’t it telling when you read these ONDCP missives that they don’t ever seem to mention what the serious harm is from marijuana smoking that will cost society so much? That they never seem to have any statistics, estimates, or even guesses at how much marijuana smoking costs society right now? Here, Gil, I’ll get you started:

    CostOfPotToSociety = (11,000,000 * OnceAYearCost) + (10,000,000 * OnceAMonthCost) + (4,000,000 * OnceAWeekCost)

    Now we have no idea what a pot smoker costs society, but let’s say the OnceAMonthers cost 12 times what a OnceAYearer costs, and a OnceAWeeker costs 52 times that. Call a OnceAYearer “X” and our equation would be:

    CostOfPotToSociety = 11,000,000X + (10,000,000X * 12) + (4,000,000X * 52) = 339,000,000X

    This obviously a flawed equation in more ways than I can count (for example, a daily pot smoker might cost much more to society than 52 times a once a year smoker), but at least it gives us something tangible to discuss. Right now, pot costs us $339,000,000X and we’re getting back $0 in taxes. Seems to me if you figure out X, you just tax pot at X and you’ve covered your costs. Should more people smoke pot when it is legal and some who don’t smoke pot start, costs increase, but so do tax revenues.

    Then, of course, you have to calculate the benefits of not busting pot smokers, which are numbers we can evaluate now. We spend about $7,000,000,000 a year arresting people for marijuana. So if X < $20.65 — that is, if one person smoking a joint once a year costs society less than twenty bucks, legalization itself will break even or exceed the current costs of tokers based on the criminal justice savings alone.

    Next, let’s figure out what alcohol costs society and calculate the savings we’d achieve if even 5% of alcohol drinkers switched to marijuana.

    Next, let’s figure out how much more productivity and less health care costs we achieve if even 5% of pharmaceutical users can cut their need for opiates and benzodiazepenes by a third to a half.

    Finally, we haven’t even begun to discuss how legalized marijuana also means legalized hemp, and the jobs, businesses, taxes, environmental savings, and nutritional health that will add to the equation.

    By: Radical Russ
    October 30, 2009

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