Pubdate: 21 June 1999
Source: Roll Call (DC)
Copyright: 1999 Roll Call Inc.
Author: Rep. John L. Mica
Note: Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) is chairman of the Government Reform
subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.

Policy Briefing: Crime & Public Policy

Should The Federal Government Study The Effects Of Medical Marijuana?


Spending more hard-earned, taxpayer dollars on additional study of the
legalization of marijuana, or any other illegal narcotic, strikes me as an
unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars. This ploy has been used by the
pro-legalization lobby to create a detour from the drug war, and is another
liberal folly and morally indefensible idea. If this sounds harsh, let me
offer seven sound arguments to support this position.

First, the hard science has already been done. Smoking marijuana has no
scientific benefit and only serious medical downsides. There are the
substantial, credible, mid-1990s studies that show smoked pot degrading and
destroying key brain functions, done by Dr. Peter Waser at the University of
Zurich; Dr. John Gately and his associates at the Brookhaven National
Laboratory; Dr. Roger Pertwee of the Institute of Medical Sciences at
Aberdeen; and Dr. Eliot Gardner of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in
New York.

There is the excellent study by Dr. Loren Miller on the "acute effects on
human memory" of marijuana; the widely reported study on THC-induced
aggression by Dr. Klaus Miczek of Carnegie-Mellon University; and the study
by Dr. Edward Domino of the University of Michigan on the damage done to the
brain's "neocortex."

There are voluminous studies, produced even in the past several years,
showing severe damage to male and female reproductive systems, such as Dr.
Herbert Schuel and his colleagues' study on "cannabinoid receptors in
sperm"; Dr. Arthur Zimmerman's study on effects on "spermatogenesis;" and
Dr. Jack Mendelson and his colleagues' study on "marijuana effects on
pituitary and gonadal hormones in women."

There are additional studies confirming damage by marijuana smoking to the
immune system, undercutting any argument of marijuana for AIDS. Among these
studies are those done by Dr. Thomas Kline; Dr. Harris Rosenkrantz; Dr. Guy
Cabral; Dr. William and Sandra Bennett; Dr. Donal Kotlet; and Dr. Joseph

There is also a plethora of hard science demonstrating that pot has minimal
benefit for pain; can undercut cancer treatment; can produce lung damage,
heart damage and birth defects; and offers little in the way of meaningful
pain relief. In short, pot has been studied more than any Schedule One

Second, for those who are wedded to THC, there already exists a THC-based,
non-narcotic prescription medicine. If there are any non-narcotic benefits
from the THC in marijuana, they are available in tablet form. That
prescription medicine is marinol, which, while addictive and psychotropic,
evades the devastating side effects of smoked pot. While there are dozens of
pain relievers that work better than marinol, from percoset to ibuprofen,
those who want the satisfaction of saying they use THC can readily seek it
through a doctor.

Third, the economics of marijuana legalization will not work for pot -- or
any other narcotic.

The reasons are elementary. Start with price elasticity. A luxury is
something we do not need, and thus, as price increases, we choose to buy
less of it: cruises to the Bahamas, or fine wine. A necessity is something
we need, like food and gasoline. As prices rise, we still buy the needed basics.

The trick with narcotics is that they start out as a luxury -- with high
elasticity of demand; they quickly become a necessity, with a low elasticity
of demand. The result is a trap, one that kids and adults would both be
vulnerable to if the government began making drugs widely available.

First-time use by choice would soon become a need leading to addiction, and
the economics of drug use would produce an ever-increasing block of sick,
depressed and addicted Americans.

Fourth, drugs and crime are inherently linked. Drugs trigger aggressive and
irrational behaviors. For this reason, until the government gives away 100
percent pure drugs for free to all who want them, there will always be a
black market for more pure drugs. There will also be drug-related physical
and property crime.

Making drugs legal -- in any form -- may lower the number of acts considered
illegal, but it won't change much else.

Fifth, sanctioning pot smoking for any purpose is a slippery slope. It opens
the door to wider use of the substance, and that fact is not missed by the
wealthy promoters of drug legalization. Viewing pot as medicine, not unlike
aspirin or Advil, lends itself too easily to the follow-on idea that it
should be available to all. This, of course, is the main hope of those who
champion pot use for select segments of society -- first you take the hill,
then you take the town.

Reality is different, ask the 85 percent of Americans who worry about their
kids and drugs. The negative health impact of marijuana itself is just the
tip of the iceberg. Marijuana smoking is a swirling current above a more
dangerous precipice. It hooks the child, sets the bar low for obeying law
and swings wide the gate to a faster current. Not far down that current,
there is an undefined point of no return for many kids.

Those swept into drug use through officially sanctioned pot, would be more
likely to crash over an edge -- with an overdose on heroin; cocaine; crack;
methamphetamine; ecstacy; PCP; GHB, known for its use as a data-rape drug;
and similar drugs.

I have met with too many parents who have lost sons and daughters to heroin,
and confide that their children's drug use began with pot. No one can bring
those kids back. We know the risks that attend pot use, and where
encouraging such use can lead.

Perhaps that is why we should ask: Why would anyone in his or her right mind
advocate legalization, or create any imprimatur of legitimacy for dope use
under any circumstances?

The moral argument has other dimensions. If marijuana seldom kills by
overdose, it triggers attitude and personality changes, opening a different
gate. It legitimates use of drugs that -- while they may not kill -- do
maim, physically and emotionally. Pot use at an early age correlates to
greater likelihood of inhalant use that produces brain damage, as well as
abuse of stimulants, depressants, prescription medicines and other risky
behaviors. Should the government be in the business of studying how to
legitimize such a life-degrading substance?

Sixth, drugs that change one's mental state -- even those that relieve pain
- -- diminish the individual's free will. They create psychological and
physical dependencies. They take from the individual -- whether child or
adult -- the free will that animated one's first decision.

Now, consider studying the idea of putting the government into the business
of how best to do that -- specifically, how to do it with currently illegal
narcotics. Doesn't venturing down this path sound a lot like entering George
Orwell's fictional account of where America might go?

Seventh, drug use -- even for those who embrace it as the great escape from
living with this life's soul-enhancing struggles -- is not a victimless
crime. It is not a victimless act. It is an act that carries implications
for all those who know and love, are related to and interacting with the
user. I have sat with parents who are losing and who have lost those that
they gave their entire lives to raise. I have seen the data on drug-related
overdoses, suicides, murders, traffic fatalities and emergency-room
incidents. I have seen the precious bond between parent and child, siblings,
grandparents and grandchildren rent and torn by drug abuse.

In my own district, a recent heroin overdose ended the life of a young man
with a lovely, happy, little 4-year-old boy. How do you explain to that
little boy, whose father started drug use lightly, that his life will never
be the same again? Or that some people think drug use should be studied and

We have conducted hearings on this topic. Conducting additional studies on
how to legalize any Schedule One illegal narcotic -- especially one that
leads to so much physical and emotional pain in the lives of the users and
those who love them -- is simply not necessary and not a prudent use of
taxpayer dollars.

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) is chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee
on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.

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