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Drug Free Schools Coalition: Prosecute marijuana farmers, sellers

David G. EvansThe Christian Science Monitor
OPINION: Anyone who is cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana is violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law. Obama must enforce federal law and begin prosecutions to stop the proliferation of "medical" and recreational marijuana that is harming our kids. flickr / Bob Doran

An open letter

To: Hon. Eric Holder, US Attorney General

and Michele M. Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration

From: David G. Evans, Executive Director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition

Dear Mr. Holder and Ms. Leonhart:

Parents across America are waiting for you to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act in the states of Colorado and Washington, which have legalized recreational marijuana, as well as in the 19 states where “medical” marijuana is legal. These laws were passed as the result of a well-funded lobbying campaign by the marijuana industry. The public has been misled by this campaign to see marijuana as harmless, natural, and medicinal, just as we were misled years ago by the tobacco industry, which claimed that tobacco was not addictive and that smoking had no ill effects.

Anyone who is in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, including “medical” marijuana, is in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which preempts state law. You must enforce federal law and begin prosecutions to stop the proliferation of “medical” marijuana stores and widespread recreational use of marijuana. I also urge you and President Obama to use the “bully pulpit” to make parents aware of the dangers of these pro-marijuana laws to our kids.

The damage of marijuana – and these laws – is clear. Legalization of marijuana for “medical” use and recreational use in those states has resulted in more marijuana use, particularly among young people, which can permanently impair brain development. Teens who use marijuana are more likely to engage in delinquent and dangerous behavior and experience increased risk of schizophrenia and depression. Despite arguments by the drug culture to the contrary, multiple studies show that marijuana is addictive. Marijuana is the number one drug causing young people to enter treatment and there has been a substantial increase in the people in treatment for marijuana dependence.

Marijuana use also damages the American economy. Employees who test positive for marijuana had 55 percent more industrial accidents and 85 percent more injuries, and they had absenteeism rates 75 percent higher than those who tested negative.

Medical marijuana

Science and experience say that passing “medical” marijuana legislation is bad medicine and poor policy. A past evaluation by several federal Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the National Institute for Drug Abuse, concluded that “no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use.”

A major study, “Early Findings in Controlled Studies of Herbal Cannabis: A Review,” concluded that despite the widespread public interest in the therapeutic potential of herbal cannabis, “the data alone fails to make the case that crude, smoked cannabis should be made available to patients.” Numerous other studies have replicated those findings.

If marijuana is going to be considered a medicine, it should be treated as such and be subject to the Food and Drug Administration approval process that includes clinical trials to determine its efficacy as a medication.

Who is really using 'medical' marijuana?

“Medical” marijuana is generally a ruse for recreational use of marijuana. Let's look at two states with medical marijuana dispensaries – Colorado and California. Who is really getting “medical” marijuana in Colorado? As of December 31, 2012, there were 108,526 people getting “medical” marijuana. Of those, 94 percent are treating “pain,” and 16 percent are treating “muscle spasms.” These are very subjective determinations. Very few are getting it for serious conditions such as cancer (3 percent), glaucoma (1 percent), and HIV/AIDS (1 percent). The average age of cardholders is 41, and 68 percent are male; 37 “patients” are under the age of 18.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which coordinates federal and state drug enforcement efforts in Colorado and nearby states, conducted a study to determine if Colorado's “medical” marijuana is being diverted for unintended purposes. The report cites more than 70 public record examples of diversion by patients, caregivers, and dispensaries within Colorado and 23 different states. The assessment is just a sampling of what is suspected of being diverted. The Colorado program is not effective in stopping diversion.

A recent study examining California's average “medical” marijuana patients found that the average “patient” was a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and no history of a life-threatening disease.

Our children are being hurt

Mr. Holder, last month, during your testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, you were asked what factors would be weighed by the Department of Justice in deciding how to respond to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. You stated that: “When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children.”

It is time for you to act. Our kids are being hurt.

A recent Colorado study surveyed kids from adolescent drug treatment programs in the Denver area and found that 73.8 percent of them reported using medical marijuana that had been recommended for someone else and was diverted to the kids.

A recent article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics edition found that there is “a new appearance of unintentional marijuana ingestions by young children after modification of drug enforcement laws for marijuana possession in Colorado.”

A major study recently published by researchers at Columbia University in New York found that “medical” marijuana states have significantly higher rates of marijuana use and of marijuana abuse and dependence than states without such laws.

In California, drugged driving is more prevalent than drunk driving nowadays.

“Medical” marijuana negatively affects public health especially in regard to our youth. Since the message that “marijuana is medicine” has been popularized, perceived harm from smoking marijuana among kids has steadily decreased.

America is violating international law

In addition to the harm being visited upon our children by recreational and medical” marijuana, your failure to adequately enforce federal law is also in violation of international law – the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, to which the United States is party. America has been warned by the International Narcotics Control Board about this violation. The UN can place sanctions on the US for violating the treaty. How could you let that happen?

To date, your enforcement has been spotty and only in a few states. Most of the marijuana states have seen no enforcement or even threats of enforcement by your office.

Please take action in Colorado and Washington and all the “medical” marijuana states. In many of the “medical” marijuana states, a simple letter from you that you were going to enforce federal law would have stopped “medical” marijuana laws from being passed or implemented.

Put our kids first and enforce the law.

Sincerely yours,

David G. Evans

Executive Director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition

Special advisor to the Drug Free America Foundation

This commentary was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor. Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com