Why Democrats should steer clear of the marijuana lobby

Many Democrats have become closely allied with the pro-marijuana movement. In Colorado, where voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing pot, the Democratic Party had already put support for legalization in their platform. In Montana, where Republicans tried to overturn the state’s medical marijuana law, Democrats have now put support for that law in their party platform.

And last May, 71 percent of congressional Democrats voted to eliminate funding used by the Obama Justice Department to raid large-scale medical marijuana operations they believed were providing the drug to recreational users. Only twelve percent of Republicans joined them so the measure failed.

Democrats should think twice before becoming the party of pot. I’m a lifelong, partisan Democrat, but I’ve also spent 25 years as a doctor treating drug abusers, and I know their games. They’re excellent con artists, and there’s good evidence that the marijuana movement has been conning us.

Medical marijuana laws were sold to over a dozen states with promises that they’re only for serious illnesses like cancer. However, once these laws passed, almost all the marijuana patients claimed pain, which is easy to fake and impossible to disprove. In Oregon and Colorado, 94 percent of marijuana cardholders get their pot for pain. In Arizona, it’s 90 percent. Serious illnesses barely register.

Also, research shows that pain patients are mostly female, whereas a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis abusers were 74 percent male. So which one do marijuana patients resemble?

Only two states release data on gender. In Arizona, 73 percent of marijuana cardholders are male. In Colorado, it’s 68 percent. The best explanation for these skewed numbers is that most medical marijuana recipients are drug abusers who are either faking or exaggerating their problems just to get high.

No one should support this subterfuge, but especially not Democrats. It turns us into hypocrites. We fumed when President George W. Bush proposed gutting the Clean Air Act and called it the Clear Skies Initiative. That’s no more dishonest than calling pot “medical” when it almost all goes to recreational use.

Marijuana activists use phony science just like global warming deniers. For years they claimed pot was good for glaucoma, and never apologized when research found pot can actually make glaucoma worse. They still insist weed isn’t addictive despite every addiction medicine society saying it is. They’ve even produced their own flawed scientific studies supposedly proving that medical marijuana laws don’t increase teen use, when almost all the evidence says just the opposite. How can we criticize Republicans for disregarding science and making up facts if people on our side do the same?

Democrats know we need government regulation to protect the public from unhealthy products. However, the marijuana lobby wants us to distrust the FDA and DEA. The whole purpose of medical marijuana laws is to evade the regulatory power of these agencies. We’re the political party that got the FDA to regulate tobacco; from which side of our mouth would we now say the FDA can’t regulate pot?

Marijuana legalization also runs counter to the Democratic commitment to education as the best way to keep our economy strong. States with medical marijuana laws have always had much higher rates of teenage marijuana use, but now the effect is nationwide. Since 2008, teen use in America has increased 40 percent, and heavy teen use (at least 20 times per month) is up 80 percent. The drive to legalize pot is mostly to blame. It sends the message that weed is harmless, even though research clearly shows that marijuana interferes with learning. Teens who smoke pot regularly do worse in school, are twice as likely to drop out, and earn less as adults. Research even shows that teenage marijuana use lowers IQ and the effect appears to be permanent. No other drug, not even alcohol, affects academic performance like marijuana. How can we call education crucial for a competitive America, and then support laws that will blunt the next generation’s ability to compete?

Legalization would even undermine a successful Democratic program. Drug courts were started in 1989 under Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno and written into the 1994 Crime Bill by Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden. President Clinton fought for that bill and it became law despite three-fourths of Republicans voting against it.

Drug courts use coercion, the threat of jail, to keep addicts in treatment. And it works. By combining tough drug laws with coerced treatment, drug courts have turned thousands of criminal addicts into clean and sober law-abiding citizens.

However, the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project opposes coerced treatment. That’s not surprising. They represent drug users, who just want to be left alone to get high. But if we side with them, we’re undercutting the Democratic answer to substance abuse.

Groups that want to legalize pot have coalesced into a powerful marijuana lobby, intent on pulling the nation in their direction. In effect, we now have two tea parties in this country. On the left they smoke their tea; on the right they throw it in the Boston harbor. Both tea parties distrust government, disregard science, and make selfish demands that would undermine the public good. What’s different, and what Democrats can be proud of, is that while Republicans have completely caved to their tea party, several Democrats, including the President, are standing up to ours. And protecting the long-held principles of the Democratic Party.

A shorter version of this post appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times on November 8, 2012.

About Edward Gogek

I've been practicing psychiatry for 25 years, doing general work with adults, children and adolescents. My subspecialties are addiction psychiatry, classical homeopathy and nutritional medicine.
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