Public Enemy No. 1: Review of Cannabanomics

By Robert C. Koehler

“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 number one.

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 Mexican and African American 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, 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.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2011 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

3 responses to “Public Enemy No. 1: Review of Cannabanomics

  1. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » Public Enemy No. 1: Review of Cannabanomics | Food Freedom

  2. Good luck fighting corporate America, they own the politicians,

  3. Historically psychotropic herbs in nature have never caused any real problems of addiction, injury or death and their use dates back to at least 4000 BC. But it was when medical science via the pharmaceutical companies started refining, processing and messing with Nature in the 1900’s AD that the deadly problems began and we started seeing the numbers of addicts and death.

    Why, well in the real world you do not mess with Nature unless you are ready for the side effects. The reason is you cannot realistically expect that a scientist can match what Nature does when Nature took millions of years to do the job of creating these wonders like the poppy and coca plants. So from Nature we got something harmless but by the time the scientist is done with it we end up with addiction and death.

    So President Nixon declared a war on drugs and who gets the blame, not the scientist or the pharmaceutical companies, oh no not them? They blame the poppy, marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, the coca plants and any other psychotropic herb and the farmer who grows it and the seller. And even if the high is almost completely harmless and non-addictive like marijuana, peyote or mushrooms they paint it with the same brush as the pharmaceutical scientific killer creations.

    Where the enforcement focus really needs to be is on those who sell the processing chemicals and those who use the product. Enforcement knows exactly who the chemical people are because of the sales and where the chemicals are transported to. The processing chemicals are: acetic anhydride, sodium carbonate, activated charcoal, chloroform, ethyl alcohol, ether, and acetone for heroin. For coca to cocaine production it is lime, kerosene, sulfuric acid, NUTS!!!
    http://www.erowid.org/archive/…/cocaine.illicit.production.html

    What realistically needs to be done with the product user?
    As far as the user, the product needs to be legal so the price comes down which stops the crime in and out of the drug trade. Then controlled like alcohol so it’s a taxed business. The individual users who break a law like driving or walking in public under the influence are fined go to jail or both. Then through education and rehabilitation we can actually address the addiction problems.

    A side effect of the above insanity.
    Today addiction to prescribed drugs like pain killers and psychiatric drugs (their herb sources are again poppy and coca) outnumber addiction to street drugs two to one. In American households men are the main abusers of prescribed medications, then the women and their children.

    In 2009, there were seven million Americans abusing prescription pain and anxiety drugs, up 13% from the prior year, according to the most recent data from DEA. The agency expects 2010 numbers to show another double-digit increase.

    In 2009, 16 million Americans age 12 and older had taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant, or sedative for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Web Site). The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 2.7% of 8th graders, 7.7% of 10th graders, and 8.0% of 12th graders had abused Vicodin and 2.1% of 8th graders, 4.6% of 10th graders, and 5.1% of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan Web Site)

    Doc Blake

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