In September 2011, the Obama administration launched “We the People” – a program that allows anyone to submit a petition directly to the White House. The project was ostensibly intended to “make government more open and accountable to its citizens.”
A petition is displayed on WhiteHouse.gov when it garners 150 signatures, according to a Sept. 1 Fedscoop article. When a petition accumulates 5,000 signatures, the White House issues an official reply.
The petition “Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol” was signed by 75,000 people. It rapidly eclipsed all its competitors and earned the highest slot on the White House website, according to an Oct. 31 article in the Wall Street Journal by Laura Meckler. Four other petitions calling for an end to marijuana prohibition also rocketed into the top 10.
Rather than acknowledge the petition’s legitimate concerns, the White House effectively ignored it. A dismissive and condescending reply from Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske trivialized the petition and turned a deaf ear to the tens of thousands of Americans who signed it. Talking about accountability, it seems, is easier than actually practicing it.
Kerlikowske’s reply cited only two scientific studies that directly attributed harmful effects to marijuana. To demonstrate that marijuana caused “cognitive impairment,” Kerlikowske cited a 1996 study by Harrison Pope. Pope’s study examined 65 college students, most of whom had smoked marijuana at least 27 out of the previous 30 days. According the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Pope found “the residual cognitive impairments detected in the study were not severe.”
Kerlikowske also cites a 2008 ScienceDaily article that found marijuana smokers develop bullous lung disease faster than tobacco smokers. But Matthew Naughton, who conducted the study, concluded that this happens because marijuana is “held for as long as possible before slow exhalation” — not because of any property actually possessed by the plant. Kerlikowske would know this if he’d actually read the article he cited. It seems the best justification that Obama’s drug czar can offer for continuing to waste billions of dollars mindlessly destroying marijuana is the manner in which it is traditionally smoked.
Even if marijuana did cause one kind of lung damage faster than tobacco, using this as grounds for prohibiting it would still be unfathomably hypocritical. According to a Sept. 18, 2003, WebMD article by Daniel J. DeNoon, two large studies have found no correlation between marijuana use and mortality. Unlike Harrison Pope’s science project, these extensive studies surveyed 65,177 and 45,450 people.
Conversely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that tobacco causes 443,000 deaths annually, or one in five deaths in the United States. Combine all the deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car accidents, suicides and murders and you’d still have fewer deaths than are caused each year by tobacco.
Alcohol is the third leading cause of mortality, causing 75,000 deaths a year, according to a Juny 25, 2005, MSNBC article. Our government allows us to buy deadly substances like alcohol because it recognizes that prohibition simply diverts money to cartels that would otherwise go to legitimate businesses. Yet marijuana, apparently, is the magic exception to the rule. Our bloated monstrosity of a government is convinced it can eventually produce different results by doing the same thing over and over again.
In its defense of marijuana prohibition, the White House claimed to recognize that “we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem.” Yet roughly 45,000 state and federal prisoners are currently incarcerated for violating laws against marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Americans widely equate our prison system with what amounts to institutionalized sexual assault; it’s difficult to imagine how the people our government wants to protect from improper smoke inhalation are safer in prison than out of it. But if most politicians didn’t think this was the case, 45,000 Americans would no longer be in jail.
The Reauthorization Act of 1998 legally requires the President’s drug czar to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize” any illegal drug. It’s possible that even Kerlikowske recognizes that there is simply no conceivable reason to continue the futile disaster that has been marijuana prohibition. Its continued existence seems to stem from a lazy societal unwillingness to question and confront the status quo.
Ian Huyett is a junior in political science and anthropology. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.