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In a scientific society we might expect that good
epidemiological and medical research would, over time, dissolve myths and
prejudices and generate basic scientific answers on which rational policy
might be based. It is a sad, recurrent theme in the war on drugs that law
enforcement repeatedly tried to limit what research is undertaken by denying
permits to possess and use drugs for studies, and by vilifying and
threatening the professional lives of those courageous researchers who do
the necessary work despite the obstacles. What research is accomplished is
manipulated and spun by various governmental agencies to suit predetermined
national drug policy.
A classic and well documented example of law enforcement misinformation and
shameless bullying of politicians, doctors, and scientists is the story of
NY Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his 1939 blue-ribbon commission, which was
established under the auspices of the NY Academy of Medicine to examine the
absurd claims of the Narcotics Bureau Commissioner Anslinger expressed in
hysterical press suggestions that New York City children were on the brink
of launching "marijuana-induced orgies of theft, sex, and murder."
[Anslinger as quoted in "The Weed of Madness and the Little Flower" by Rufus
King, 1972, available at:
Harry J. Anslinger, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930 - 1962
The Academy did excellent work
documenting the physiological and psychological effects of marijuana
including careful tests of IQ, memory, and learning which failed to reveal
any significant pathological pattern. Further, the Mayor's investigators
found virtually no use of marijuana in high schools or junior high schools,
and no observable association between juvenile delinquency and such
marijuana use as they did find.
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Alas, the LaGuardia Report was to be a
case of winning the battle and losing the war. Anslinger did not challenge
the findings but rather attacked the researchers for publishing them. "From
[the enforcement] point of view it is very unfortunate that Doctors
Allentuck and Bowman should have stated so unqualifiedly that the use of
marijuana does not lead to physical, mental or moral deterioration."
[Harry Anslinger, 1942,
in a letter published in the American Journal of Psychiatry]
The Narcotics Bureau's attack on the
final release of the LaGuardia Report was far more insidious and damaging.
Consider the following excerpt from an editorial in JAMA:
[A] book called "Marijuana Problems" by
the Mayor's Committee on Marijuana submits an analysis [which] minimizes the
harmfulness of marijuana. Already the book has done harm. One investigator
has described some tearful parents who brought their 16 year old son to a
physician after he had been detected in the act of smoking marijuana. A
noticeable mental deterioration had been evident for some time... The boy said
he had read an account of the La Guardia Committee report and that this was
his justification for using marijuana.
[Excerpt from AMA editorial as quoted in King, as above]
King reminds us that "this nonsensical
frothing, which could not conceivably have come from anywhere but the
Bureau," was published under the prestigious AMA masthead. The message to
doctors and to researchers was clear. Expect to be attacked by federal law
enforcement and abandoned by your peers in the powerful AMA for your
professional efforts and honesty.
The ultimate outcome of this brouhaha
was devastating. Few reputable doctors and scientists would risk their
professional lives in this sort of environment and law enforcement officials
in the Bureau unhesitatingly denounced even the facilities of major
hospitals and leading universities as inadequate for the conducting of
responsible experiments, and hence unworthy of a Treasury license required
for studying controlled substances.
["The Weed of Madness and the Little Flower"
by Rufus King, 1972:
Treasury-approved research projects dropped from 87 in
1948, to 18 in 1953, to 6 in 1958.
An investigative reporter might want to
ask of our elected officials:
council will you now turn in this ongoing American tragedy, to the voices of
law enforcement or to doctors, and scientists and public health officials?
Can we not expect that our educated and learned public officials be able to
summons the expertise to tell good science from bad, and to turn a deaf ear
to opportunistic ranting?"
record of government leadership on these issues is as shameful as that of
organized medicine. In Part 3, "Junk
Science Drives Policy," we will very carefully trace the validity of "science" incorporated into the
"Findings" section of a sordid piece of
legislation known as the "Drug Free Workplace Act of 1998."
King RB. The Weed of
Madness and the Little Flower. Chapter 10 in: The Drug Hang Up, America's
Fifty-Year Folly. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1972d. (Available:
I hope you found this document helpful. The "Understanding
Drug War Statistics" series continues with Part 3:
Science Drives Policy."
Drug War Statistics - Table of Contents]