The 1995 Marijuana Rescheduling Petition

Introduction to Major Statistical Indicators


The illicit social use of marijuana is a widely studied phenomenon. Leo Hollister is a prominent veteran researcher in the field of drug abuse and dependency. Dr. Hollister once served as the chairman of the Drug Evaluation Committee for the CPDD. In a widely cited 1986 review of the "Health Aspects of Cannabis" in the Pharmacological Reviews Hollister came to the following conclusion:

"Compared with other licit social drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, marijuana does not pose greater risks. One would wonder, however, if society were given a choice based on current knowledge, whether these drugs would have been granted their present status of acceptance. Marijuana may prove to have greater therapeutic potential than these other social drugs, but many questions remain."(1)

The scientific discoveries discussed above in section 3 address many of those questions. What does social science research have to report on marijuana use trends?

There are five important annual indicators provided by the federal government to track the history and pattern of marijuana use in the United States: a) The National Household Survey (NHS) estimate of illegal drug use in the U.S.; b) The Monitoring the Future Project (MFP), which surveys drug use among high-school age children; c) The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) which provides data on emergency room mentions of drug use; d) the annual marijuana supply estimates of the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee (NNICC), and e) the annual estimates of total arrests in the U.S. in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These annual reports provide data sets which are generally accepted as indices of demand (NHS, MFP), dangerous results (DAWN), supply (NNICC), and law enforcement activity (UCR).

The significance of these data sets often relies on the policy objective of the individual or organizational beholder. In the context of this petition, these data sets provide significant information as to the extent of marijuana use, changes in marijuana use over time, and whether or not such widespread use provides indices of abuse. Discussion of the age on onset of drug use and the relation (if any) of marijuana to other drug use will be discussed extensively in section 6 on public health.

This review of these data sets will argue that their significance is threefold. 1) Marijuana use remains a widespread, persistent, and unregulated social practice in the United States. 2) There is no evidence that this widespread use indicates equally widespread abuse of marijuana. 3) Marijuana law enforcement efforts persist as the dominant supportive force in the supply and distribution of marijuana in the United States.

The persistence of marijuana use in the face of tremendous efforts to enforce the complete prohibition of marijuana causes major credibility problems for the nation's law enforcement and public health officials. These public servants are forced by law and policy to argue that any and all available evidence somehow supports and legitimizes marijuana's schedule I status as an extremely dangerous drug with one of the most severe dependence potentials known to modern science. This assertion is laughable, and the attempts of governmental agencies to package scientific research and findings in a way that supports prohibition are riddled with errors and flaws in scientific reasoning.

These reasoning flaws are extremely important to note. They are not isolated mistakes, but a systematic approach to science dictated by executive policy decisions rather than law. Is data on the prevalence of marijuana use an indication of a widespread problem (marijuana abuse) or an indication of the unintended consequences of a failed policy (marijuana's schedule I status.)?

An accurate assessment of the data is just as important with social science research as it is in the natural sciences. In biological research the now-discredited and abandoned cell membrane perturbation theory was based partly on the assumption that if marijuana had any effect on cell tissue or membranes, then that effect must be harmful. Eventually scientists discovered that many of the reactions produced by cannabinoids are the result of natural mechanisms. In the social sciences, the same simplistic polar analysis is applied to data on the prevalence of marijuana use; no distinction is made between use and abuse because marijuana's schedule I status provides the basis for a widely acknowledged presumption that any use of marijuana is abuse. As argued by Thomas Cicero and Joseph Brady of the CPDD, this simplistic approach has no scientific validity or usefulness.

Unless executive policy under the Controlled Substances Act is well-grounded in scientific theory and practice, there is no basis to conduct an evaluation of executive policy. Without policy grounded in scientific findings, analysts, advocates and legislators would be left with a mere tautology to justify continuation of a policy in which failed policies are used to justify their perpetuation.

Science, like policy, is also a social pursuit, and scientists are also subject to prejudice and unscientific bias.(2) This, Stephen J. Gould argues, makes the examination of the basis for scientific assertions essential to the application of science to public policy. Gould examined the scientific basis for the use of intelligence tests to determine human fitness for reproduction and other social activity or opportunity, and presents a classic case study in mistaking a correlation between two social phenomena as a causal relationship. One influence confounding scientific analysis in the research Gould reexamined was racism.

According to the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment:

"Historically, racial and ethnic minorities have been linked with, and often blamed for, many of the substance abuse problems within the United States."(3)

OTA provides five examples of drugs and discrimination in U.S. history. In 1850 Irish immigrants were blamed for widespread problems with whiskey in Boston. In the 1880's Chinese immigrants in San Francisco were blamed for widespread, recreational opium use. In Ohio circa 1882 German immigrants were denounced by the state's governor as "sabbath breakers, criminals, and free thinkers" on account of their lively beer-garden Sunday meetings. (4) In the Southwest during the 1930's "anxiety over competition for jobs shifted to wildly exaggerated fears of the effects of marijuana use customary among Mexicans."(5) Finally, in the early 1990's, OTA points out that police forces are mostly white, and that inner-city residents are mostly African-American; the drug arrest rates for the inner cities far exceed the rates for suburban areas. Further evidence of the racist assumptions which form the historical basis for contemporary marijuana prohibition is presented by University of Virginia Law School Professor Richard Bonnie in a book on the history of marijuana prohibition in the U.S.(6) In this historical context, attempts to blame teenage marijuana use on a notorious and evil pro-drug conspiracy consisting of the pro-pot media, rock musicians, drug paraphernalia merchants, and advocates of marijuana law reform (7) appears to be yet another example of a prejudicial, knee-jerk rush to blame complex social problems on unpopular or misrepresented groups.

 

 
 
 
  
 
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