The Presidency Goes to Pot
Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By JOHN P. WALTERS
With his unique appeal to the young, President Obama has suddenly transformed the “experiments” in Colorado and Washington state into an experiment involving every kid in America.
First, the administration made a unilateral decision to curtail enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in states where smoked marijuana has been defined as medicine (the only “medicine” that cannot meet modern medical standards). Next, the administration announced it would not enforce the federal law when the states of Colorado and Washington sought to permit the open sale of marijuana. Now, asked to comment on marijuana legalization by the New Yorker’s David Remnick, President Obama tells the country that “it’s important” that legalization experiments “go forward.”
Obamacare is in disarray, and Syria is on fire, but marijuana is important? Obama offers the presidential version of a shrug. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
While he calls smoking and toking “a bad habit and a vice,” this doesn’t seem to mean much of anything—certainly nothing serious. But it is serious. The president is cutting the legs out from under every parent and schoolteacher and clergyman across the country who is trying to steer kids away from illegal drugs. Our “coolest president” ever has made drug education into a punch line.
As it stands, the law will not be enforced (by executive directive) and the criminal drug market will be augmented by the open production and sale of marijuana. Moreover, Obama speculated that legalizing “hard” drugs, including cocaine and meth, might ultimately be a matter of creating a “negotiated” or “calibrated” dose for safer use. From a policy perspective, that leaves you with treating the wounded through programs now consolidated under the Obamacare banner. The result is appalling. Allow more and more poison to harm more and more families, destroy the respectable basis for prevention education that deters the use of these poisons, and just treat the victims, again and again and again.
As absurd as the administration’s policy has become, it is even more striking that no serving national leader, Democrat or Republican, has called the administration to task. Where is the tradition of President Reagan and the bipartisan work against the drug problem that was led for years by senators Biden, Leahy, Feinstein, Hatch, Grassley, and Sessions and representatives Rangel, Cummings, Hoyer, Issa, Ros-Lehtinen, and Wolf? Why don’t the dedicated public servants at such places as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration—those who know the truth, have dedicated their professional lives to protecting Americans from substance abuse, and even risk their lives daily—speak up?
Obama’s remarks to Remnick point to the powerful role of ignorance and distortion. Obama simply ignores the known magnitude of marijuana addiction and the growing list of dangers associated with regular and frequent use, especially by young people. Even the national self-report surveys, known for undercounting, show that 79 percent of America’s 23.9 million illegal drug users in 2012 used marijuana.
Worse, over a fifth of pot smokers needed treatment according to current diagnostic criteria; that is, 4.3 million users of marijuana need treatment, more than all other illegal drugs combined. Marijuana is a much wider health problem than what Obama called the “hard” drugs of cocaine and meth (or heroin, for that matter).
And there is a reason for that. Today’s marijuana has many times the potency (as the dealers and retailers tout regularly) of the weed that Obama and his contemporaries smoked in the 1970s. This contributes to the danger of addiction, but also increases other serious risks reported by researchers over the last 10 to 15 years. These include worsening or even triggering serious mental illness (including depression and psychosis) and permanent loss of up to eight IQ points. In addition, there are the well-known risks of short-term memory loss, inhibited concentration, and impaired motor function. These are the known dangers facing the low estimate of 18.9 million users. And the best available figures show that marijuana users have jumped almost 24 percent under President Obama—from 15.3 million in 2008 to 18.9 million in 2012.
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