Pubdate: Tue, 27 Dec 2011
Source: News-Press (Fort Myers, FL)
Copyright: 2011 The News-Press
Author: Robert Koehler
Note: Robert Koehler is a Chicago-based nationally syndicated writer.


"Play faster!" he cried, wildly, over and over. "Play faster!"

The dame who was tickling the ivories complied, out of control 
herself. The music revved to a dangerous velocity   oh, too fast for 
decent, sober, well-behaved Americans to bear   and ... well, you 
just knew, violence, madness, laughter were just around the corner. 
The year was 1936 and, oh my God, they were high on marijuana, public 
enemy No. 1

The scene is from "Reefer Madness," arguably the dumbest movie ever 
made   but smugly at the emotional and ideological core of American 
drug policy for the last three-quarters of a century. The policy, 
which morphed in 1970 into an all-out "war" on drugs, has filled our 
prisons to bursting, created powerful criminal enterprises, launched 
a real war in Mexico and presided over the skyrocketing of 
recreational drug use in the United States. The war on drugs just may 
be a bigger disaster than the war on terror.

"The war on drugs, as it has been waged, has not only failed to 
curtail drug use; it has become a major public health liability in 
its own right," writes Christopher Glenn Fichtner in his 
comprehensive new book on our disastrous war on a plant, 
"Cannabanomics: The Marijuana Policy Tipping Point" (Well Mind Books).

Fichtner, a psychiatrist   he served as Illinois director of Mental 
Health for several years   takes a long, hard look at the politics of 
irrationality and lays out a compelling diagnosis: "essentially, 
social or mass psychosis." You can also throw in racism. The war on 
drugs is simply a race war by another name, fueled by fear of 
Hispanic and black culture, with the weight of law brought down on 
African Americans with wildly disproportionate severity:

"During a period when the number of prison sentences for drug-related 
convictions increased dramatically for all drug offenders," Fichtner 
writes, citing Illinois statistics between 1983 and 2002, "it 
increased for African-Americans at roughly eight times the rate of 
increase seen for Caucasians."

But reading "Cannabanomics" kept leaving me with the sense that there 
was a deeper irrationality to our anti-marijuana crusade than even 
the racism. For instance, "Examples abound," he writes, "in which the 
application of mandatory minimum sentences has led to harsher 
penalties for marijuana offenses than for violent crimes ranging from 
battery through sexual assault and even to murder."

And the violent enforcement of zero tolerance hasn't been limited to 
the pursuit of recreational potheads. Those using cannabis 
medicinally have also been harassed, arrested and sometimes treated 
with such shocking violence you have to wonder whether the official 
paranoia about marijuana use - that it leads to mental derangement 
and violent behavior - is sheer projection.

For instance, early in the book Fichtner relates the story of Garry, 
a California man who used marijuana to relieve arthritic pain. 
Despite the fact that this was legal under state law, his house was 
raided by federal agents: "As he opened his front door, he was 
greeted by a battering ram and a physical takedown maneuver that left 
him with a dislocated left shoulder, right hand fractures, blunt head 
trauma, and a back injury that aggravated the arthritis for which he 
grew cannabis in his garage in the first place."

Much of "Cannabanomics" is devoted to the extraordinary medicinal 
uses of marijuana, which has been called one of the safest 
therapeutically-active substances known to the human race. It has 
been used, usually with little if any side effect, to alleviate 
chronic pain and chemo-induced nausea and relieve the symptoms of a 
stunning array of illnesses and conditions, including epilepsy, 
multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, diabetes, 
hepatitis C, AIDS, cancer, Tourette's syndrome and Alzheimer's. The 
list goes on.

The herb has been "part of humanity's medicine chest for almost as 
long as history has been recorded," according to Dr. Gregory T. 
Carter, writing on the NORML website.

In light of this, our war against it - at extraordinary human and 
economic cost - illuminates a crying need for us to change the way we 
govern and look after ourselves. Another story Fichtner tells is 
about an Illinois man named Seth, who had suffered from epileptic 
seizures most of his life. He reluctantly tried using marijuana   one 
inhalation a day   because his prescribed medications weren't helping 
much, and soon reduced the incidence of grand mal seizures from 
several per week to one or two per month.

The amazing part of this story, Fichtner notes, is that none of his 
doctors were willing even to discuss the therapeutic use of 
marijuana, though they were quick to recommend invasive procedures, 
including temporal lobe surgery. "We Americans," he writes, "live in 
a society in which it is acceptable practice for surgeons to destroy 
a piece of someone's brain in order to prevent seizures but where use 
of marijuana for the same purpose ... is a criminal offense."

To my mind, it all smacks of the military-industrial metaphor that 
rules the American roost. We're quick to seize on something as the 
enemy and organize ourselves blindly around its destruction, never 
stopping to notice that what we're destroying is ourselves. In the 
case of the war on drugs, our "enemy" is our greatest ally.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom