Drug-warrior obstruction prevented the development of marijuana as a normal medicine, leading to backdoor legalization via “medical marijuana” laws. Now the medical-marijuana operators are trying to block full-on legalization to protect their profitable racket.

Cannabis can be medically useful. (Delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive agent, is a recognized medicine in pill form, but it’s clear that pure THC is about the worst possible formulation – it tends to be anxiety-inducing, while the cannabidiol in the whole plant material has a useful anti-anxiety buffering action – and that oral administration isn’t nearly as useful as something with faster and more predictable bioavailability.)

With public opinion strongly pro-medical-pot, in a sane world the government would have gotten out of the way and allowed some version of whole cannabis to become an FDA-approved medication, available by prescription only.

But instead, under pressure from the drug warriors, the federal government has made it virtually impossible to develop cannabis into a medicine by preventing the R&D necessary to get a specific product through the FDA. And the drug-legalization movement was smart enough to grab the issue the drug warriors had so generously handed them. Since without FDA approval the voters couldn’t make some version of cannabis a prescription medicine, we have the “recommendation” system instead, which in places such as California has developed into a free-for-all. Anyone can get a “recommendation” by going to the nearest recommendation mill, saying one of the magic words (“pain” or “anxiety” or “appetite” or “sleep”) and paying $40. In effect, California has legalized marijuana through the back door.

The result is a huge industry growing and selling “medical marijuana.” My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that it’s about a billion-dollar-a-year business in California alone. Los Angeles County may have more “dispensaries” than the Netherlands has “coffee shops.”

There’s been some blowback in the form of federal enforcement and local action: the LA City Council voted 14-1 to shut down the trade, though the dispensary industry quickly rounded up enough signatures to keep the law from taking effect.

Now comes the next round of irony: now that the drug warriors have enabled the virtual legalization of pot by preventing its development as a prescription medicine, the “medical marijuana” profiteers are now trying to block full-on marijuana legalization at the state level because they see it as a threat to their highly profitable racket.

Latest development is from Washington State, where the medical-marijuana industry is the primary organized opposition to the legalization initiative I-502. The “anti” campaign is now resorting to Tea-Party-style disruption tactics to keep the “pro” side from getting its message out.

All of this ought to make me furiously angry, but the sheer level of outrageousness seems to have tripped some sort of circuit-breaker, and all I can do is laugh.

h/t Legalization News.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “Ironies”

  1. Their resistance is likely going to be in vain, since the initiative has nearly 60% support, and less than 40% opposition.

    Of course, if I really wanted to be cold-hearted and cynical, I’d find out the names and addresses of shops that are backing the opposition, and forward them on to the DEA with a “protest letter” demanding a crackdown.

  2. What evidence is there that the “drug warriors” obstructed research? I’ve seen none. Pharma is not interested in cannabis as a medicine, save a small research firm in the UK (GW).

    1. No, of course Big Pharma isn’t interested. But some advocates are, and they’ve been blocked at every stage.

      Producing research marijuana is a monopoly of a single lab at the University of Mississippi, and that lab sells only to the federal government, so every piece of research requires a “grant” of marijuana. Even an application for pot to test in a vaporizer – not with human consumers, just a test of whether the vaporizer fumes were less harmful than smoke – was refused. And an application to set up a competing lab – that could have developed a specific strain of cannabis for medical use – was rejected by the DEA Administrator, overruling the decision of DEA’s own administrative law judge.

      It’s impossible to develop a pharmaceutical application to the FDA without demonstrating “good manufacturing practice” – i.e., the capacity to make the medicine you plan to sell, and to do so with reproducible content from dose to dose. You then need to show that administering that specific formulation is safe and effective in the treatment of some condition. So without a production license the FDA process is stymied.

      GW Pharma is a UK outfit, and has been allowed to produce and do research there; several years after receiving approval in the UK, Europe, and Canada, Sativex is still awaiting action here.

  3. It’s a wonderful species you got here Mark…
    Although when the agar gets a bit thin the human bacteria can get a bit testy with each other.
    Thank god there’s plenty of oil under the shrinking Arctic ice cap to keep us growing without limits.
    So I suspect these “tea-party-style disruption tactics” are purely a temporary and local phenomenon…

    Speaking of the smartest bacteria in the Earth petri dish…
    And how wonderful a species you all are…
    Did you hear the one about World grain reserves?

    World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.

  4. “Tea Party-style disruption tactics.”

    Sorry, Professor, but the idea that heckling was invented in 2009 is a silly insult beneath the usual high standards of this corner of the Internet.

    1. I didn’t claim the Teahdis invented it; they’re just the most recent case where its systematic use was politically successful. And there’s a big difference between mere “heckling” and shouting speakers down so that they can’t be heard.

      1. Is there such a difference? They call it the “heckler’s veto” for a reason. Anyway, enough said.

  5. Mark,

    How would you vote on the MA medical marijuana question? If you’ve discussed this, a link would be appreciated (by me, anyway).

      1. I’m sure this is posted someplace, but what were you thought (or, if disclosed, your votes) on the CA referendums?

        (Can you believe Google’s spellcheck refuses the word “referenda”, and for that matter “spellcheck”? Although, it does remind me of an old joke I’m fond of: “Referendums, or Referenda? You decide!”)

        1. I thought Prop. 215 and Prop. 19 were both crocks. I voted for Prop. 215 just to send a signal to Washington that you can’t block medical research and then say “There’s no scientific evidence that marijuana is medically useful!” and for Prop. 19 because I was sure it would lose but wanted proponents to try again with something more sensible. I’ll never get a chance to vote on what I actually favor, which is some version of grow-your-own.

          1. So, just out of curiosity, isn’t prescription-only what we have in California now, which many people around here seem to think has been a disaster? (And I am not sure you should even need a prescription.) What do you think of the current regime here?

            Otoh, I think a grow-your-own sounds interesting, though I don’t know how it could be enforced any better than any of our other drug laws. Also, I’m not sure sick people would be up to it, which is why I thought what LA did was inane.

            I always wondered if the thing to do would be to just not let people pay cash for it. Make them use a traceable form of id. That way, fewer robberies. Though, I suppose, more stolen credit cards? But I don’t even know if that’s legal.

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