Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2016
Source: North Lake Tahoe Bonanza (NV)
Copyright: 2016, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza
Author: Andrew Whyman, MD


This is the fourth in a series on Drugs and Drug Prohibition. Today's
column focuses on cannabis or marijuana.

Marijuana, a remarkably resilient plant, has accompanied mankind's
journey in populating the planet from the Neolithic period to the
present. Aside from the frozen tundra of the far North, the plant has
flourished since the dawn of agriculture over 10,000 years ago.

The stems and stalks provided cloth and cordage; the seeds, protein
and fatty acid; the roots, leaves, and flowers used in rituals, as
medicinals, and as a euphoriant or recreant.

In today's world, cannabis is virtually everywhere, from single
plants, grown indoors or out, to industrial size grows.

In America, criminalizing this ever-present plant over the last
hundred years has had virtually no impact on production or
consumption, even as it has earned a central role in expanding the
criminal justice system.

Every year there are more marijuana possession arrests than all
violent crimes. The FBI reports that in 2014 there were nearly 800,000
Marijuana law violations representing almost one-half of all drug
arrests. Near 90% of those Marijuana arrests were for simple possession.

These numbers cost the taxpayer about $3 billion per year in
enforcement costs alone.

OK, you say, but marijuana possession arrests are no big deal. Just a
warning, a slap on the wrist, right? Not so fast.

Most likely if you are arrested for Marijuana possession you will be
handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle, transported to jail,
fingerprinted, photographed, and jailed for 24 or more hours after
which you are arraigned by a judge in a courtroom, and ultimately earn
a permanent criminal record.

And now that you have a criminal conviction, it can be difficult to
vote, to obtain educational loans, to get a job or maintain a
professional license, to secure housing, or adopt a child. In other
words, that marijuana arrest at 22 or 33 can ruin your life.

But surely, if Marijuana possession is a crime, it must cause great
harm to the user and to the community, right?

Wrong. National Commissions and elite scientific organizations in
America and elsewhere have almost universally concluded that the harms
due to Marijuana are mostly negligible, occasionally moderate, and
rarely of major consequence.

Start with an expert committee report of 3,000 pages from the then
British colony of India in 1894: The Indian Hemp Commission found no
link between Marijuana and crime or insanity, no evidence linking
moderate use with injury, and indications that excess usage was the
exception, not the rule. The Commission concluded that, "The
suppression of the use of Hemp (Marijuana) would be totally

In 1944, the La Guardia Report, the work product of a committee at the
prestigious New York Academy of Medicine, concluded that "Cannabis is
a mild euphoriant, and prolonged use of the drug does not lead to
physical, mental, or moral degeneration."

The Wooton Report of 1968, a comprehensive study by the British
Parliament advisory committee on Drug Dependence, concluded that
"Cannabis [is] very much less dangerous than opiates, amphetamines,
and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol [and] it is the
personality of the user rather than the properties of the drug, that
is likely to cause progression to other drugs."

Also, "the long-asserted dangers of cannabis are exaggerated, [and]
the law [criminalizing use] is socially damaging if not

In 1972, three countries issued reports, the Shafer Commission in the
United States, the Le Dain Commission in Canada, and the Baan
Commission in the Netherlands. The Canadian and Danish Commissions
recommended legalization or decriminalization of Marijuana.

The Shafer Report was the most comprehensive Marijuana review ever
conducted by the federal government. It concluded, "the most notable
statement that can be made about the vast majority of marijuana users
- - experimenters and intermittent users - is that they are essentially
indistinguishable from their non-marijuana using peers by any
fundamental criteria other than marijuana use."

Moreover, "Neither the user nor the drug itself can be said to
constitute a danger to public safety."

So, where does this leave us? Mankind has been romancing cannabis for
its euphoriant, medicinal and mercantile properties since the dawn of
civilization. The War on Drugs is a charade; the real war, the one
costing millions of lives, is on American people who use drugs.

Marijuana does not cause violence or criminal misconduct. And,
shouldn't freedom-loving Americans have the right to put what they
want in their own bodies when no one else is harmed?

So, do the harms caused by criminalizing this weed outweigh any
theoretical or potential harm caused by its use? You decide.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic
psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at  ---
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