Presidential disconnect on pot

January 19, 2014:  President Obama opines that marijuana is “not very different from cigarettes” and no more “dangerous” than alcohol, just “a waste of time” and “not very healthy.” Maybe like super-sized drinks?  

January 23:  Attorney General (AG) Holder says marijuana money should have legal access to the American banking system, and that he would make way for regulations to protect what is, under federal law, illegal money laundering.  Arrival of the Mad Hatter?   

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January 25:  The “Maryland Mall shooter” kills three, and police soon discover he was using marijuana and needed mental health support, by his own admission. Shadows of Columbine?

January 29:  The AG testifies before the U.S. Senate, refusing to condemn pot legalization and adding that “all drugs are dangerous,” lumping alcohol in with Schedule One narcotics. Curiouser and curiouser …

Here are the incontrovertible facts:  Marijuana is a Schedule One narcotic, meaning a drug assessed as possessing “high potential for abuse,” based on science.  The drug has put hundreds of thousands in treatment over the past ten years, accelerated emergency room incidents according to the Centers for Disease Control, and raised levels of drugged driving, domestic abuse and marijuana-associated crime, according to State and Federal criminal justice databases.  

Since the early 1980s, forward thinking policy makers, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses and caring experts have pointed out, in hundreds of studies, how devastating marijuana addiction is. Nor have we rounded some new corner, where the danger is falling.  According to the Columbia University Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), marijuana potency jumped 175 percent since 2006.  The jump has accelerated both marijuana use and addiction, together with hospital Emergency Room (ER) incidents and voluntary treatment admissions.  And CASA has long observed that the ratio of addicts to first users is roughly one in eight.  So, a little math:  If the President’s and AG’s remarks have encouraged only eight million young Americans in our 315 million-person Nation to try pot, they have just condemned another million young Americans to addiction.  Nor is this addiction easy to shake off.  Those addicted are trapped, which – at best – produces a costly new stream of treatment cases, at worst a rise in overdoses and grieving parents. 

The rise in marijuana addiction correlates with other trends.  Friends of the President’s are among the wealthy promoters of this drug’s abuse.  Billionaire financier George Soros, a friend of this White House, has contributed millions to marijuana legalization.  Meantime, other trends demonstrate where this rabbit hole really leads.  Over the past seven years, America has witnessed a 492 percent increase in the proportion of teen medical admissions for marijuana addiction, according to CASA.  The President ignores these numbers, and the devastation they portend, while pouring billions into public messaging against obesity and cigarette companies.

How about a few more trends?  The marijuana spike has led to rising medical and social costs, challenging families and professionals with disinformation as they battle associated domestic abuse, mental health issues and drug-influenced crimes.   The Justice Department has linked poly-drug use to four in five domestic abuse cases, while the President’s own Drug Czar released a 2013 nationwide study showing that “80 percent of adult males [incarcerated for non-drug crimes] tested positive for at least one illegal drug, [and] marijuana was the most commonly detected drug.”  It was “found in 54 percent of those arrested.”

Between 2009 and 2011, there was a shocking 19 percent rise in ER visits tied to marijuana according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), while related overall drug overdose rates – with marijuana a major accelerant – rose for the eleventh straight year to more than 38,000.  Against this backdrop, how can anyone justify indifference?  How can the President speak of compassion and leadership to those 72,000 heartbroken parents, many of whom lost a child that began their drug addiction with marijuana?  Or think about it this way:  The annual numbers of children who die from drug abuse in one year is now five times the Nation’s total losses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  We pulled out of both those wars, but our kids still die of drug addiction in combat numbers.

Another CDC fact:  The nearly 500-percent increase in marijuana treatment cases is in stark contrast to a more than 50-percent reduction of admissions for other abused substances.  In other words, pot is now outpacing all other addictions. 

Finally, peripheral impacts from increased social passivity include reduced test scores and graduation rates for marijuana users, increased family dissolution for adult users, increases non-overdose medical incidents  (e.g. lung, heart and brain issues), and birth defects associated with  pot addiction.  Are these not reason enough to throw the brakes on, Mr. President?  The addiction curve for marijuana is already steep and dangerous.  How about a public correction of the record?  How about siding with us – just everyday Americans who think addiction, overdoses, drugged driving and drug-related crime are bad things?  How about siding with the country’s parents, kids, doctors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement officers and “the average folks” you so often talk about?  How about public opposition to pot, instead of validating illegal narcotics abuse?  In short:  Why don’t you help us, Mr. President, instead of working against us?

Charles, former assistant secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement for Secretary of State Colin Powell, has worked for more than 20 years on drug prevention, addiction treatment and criminal justice issues.  He now heads The Charles Group LLC in Washington D.C.