If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you've probably seen me write about my experiences in the Clinton Administration, and specifically working for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, what is typically called the Drug Czar's Office. Great experience, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
You know, the older I get the more quasi-libertarian I get, and my early professional experiences did a whole lot to inform that thinking. It was interesting to watch the debate over drug legalization from the other side, but I don't believe the case was ever made to me that keeping drugs completely and totally illegal has been good for this country in any real way.
I think most people get this concept, and that's why the White House got a barrage of petitioners urging them to legalize marijuana, which lead to this response from the current Czar, Gil Kerlikowske:
When the President took office, he directed all of his policymakers to develop policies based on science and research, not ideology or politics. So our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects.
According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world's largest source of drug abuse research - marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment. We know from an array of treatment admission information and Federal data that marijuana use is a significant source for voluntary drug treatment admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health – especially among young people who use the drug because research shows their brains continue to develop well into their 20's. Simply put, it is not a benign drug.
Can you find the key phrase here? I mean the political key phrase as well as the policy key phrase.
It's this: "marijuana use is associated with addiction..."
If you look at the NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) website, it says this: "marijuana use can lead to addiction..."
I know what you're thinking: okay, the federal government is telling me that marijuana is addictive.
I don't see it that way. Marijuana is associated with addiction, and it can lead to addiction. Wait a minute... "associated" with? Can "lead to" addiction? That's not exactly straightforward language.
I think anyone who's given it even a little thought to marijuana -- or has, as I have, smoked it a few times -- knows that it is, in and of itself, not addictive. It's not addictive. It's just not.
And I think our political leaders are aware of this. I think our scientific leaders are aware of this fact. The "it can lead to addiction" phrasing means, in my interpretation, it can lead to addiction of other things. This is the "gateway" theory, which has also been poo-pooed by the Legalize It set.
Our policy for and against this kind of thing (booze, pot, harder drugs) has always been weird to me. We have legalized gambling in places like Las Vegas. That's addictive. You can buy a pack of smokes just about anywhere (though the outlets are fewer and fewer, and the prices are higher and higher, which is a good thing). That's way addictive. A 21 year-old can buy liquor anywhere. That's addictive.
Marijuana is flat-out illegal.
Now, a quick defense of the Obama Administration, which I think is trying to do the right thing in the long run. More from the Drug Czar's statement:
Like many, we are interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine. To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition.
As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem.
Politically, I find a lot of hope in those statements above. And I think the petitions started to fire Director Kerlikowske are unproductive and politically naive.
In the end, this is another one where the heart of a father interferes with the mind of a political junkie and policy nerd. Do I think we should have reasonable, decriminalized (or even legal) drugs available in this country under a well-regulated system (of course, there are those who wouldn't want a government which would have too many regulations) which works side-by-side with a robust system of prevention and treatment? Yes.
Do I ever want to catch my daughter getting high? Please, God, no.
This is one of those political issues that doesn't really have an end-date. I figure we'll get to decriminalized marijuana someday. Until then, though, I suspect that no matter who's in the White House, they'll have to deal with the Legalize It Now petitions.