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The Science of Medical Marijuana Prohibition

Kenneth Michael White , Frontiers of Freedom, 16th June 2006

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently opined that smoked marijuana has no scientifically accepted medical uses. The FDA received much criticism for this decision because in 1999 the Federal Government's own scientists concluded that even in smoked form marijuana has medical uses.

At the heart of the debate about medical marijuana is the question of science. But what, exactly, is science? Since modern civilization bases itself on a belief in the ability of science to solve any and all problems (human or otherwise), prudent people are obligated to at least try to understand just where the faith of modernity really rests.

Modern science starts with the concept of "pure reason," as articulated by the philosopher Descartes - who said, "I think therefore I am." In short, Descartes argues that the quest for knowledge, i.e., "science," is based on an objective understanding of that which human beings can see, touch, smell, taste, or hear.

According to the people we call "scientists," there are three types of activities that pass for "science," though it is important to note that these activities are inseparably interrelated. First, there is the descriptive method. Second, there is the empirical method. Third, there is the theoretical method.

The descriptive method generally relies on case studies, which amounts to the observation of (either from afar or up close) the behavior of one or more persons and the objective reporting of what was experienced. The benefit of the case study is that a single phenomenon or event can be described "thickly" and in great detail, such that there is a "deep" appreciation for what is being studied.

The empirical method generally takes many individual case studies, gathered either by experiments or surveys, and then uses numbers (statistics) to objectively report or "model" what was experienced. The benefit of the empirical method is that it appears more objective than the case study because it can "control" for confounding explanations. The empirical method is indeed a more precise science; however, the descriptive method is reliable and valid, too.

Literally, behind both methods is the theoretical method, which provides the basis or reason for doing either descriptive or empirical science in the first place. Basically, descriptive or empirical science is a "test" of some particular theory. The irony of the theoretical method is that sometimes what a scientist assumes theoretically is exactly what a scientist finds descriptively or empirically.

In 1937, for example, the 75th Congress theorized that Spanish-speaking immigrants were "low mentally" because of "social and racial conditions" and, since some of these immigrants used medical marijuana, the Federal Government "reasoned" (over the objection of the American Medical Association) that medical marijuana should be criminalized. It is an ugly truth: racism represents the beginning of today's Federal medical marijuana prohibition.

Anyone doubting whether racism is in fact behind the founding of today's Federal medical marijuana prohibition should read the legislative history of The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Anyone doubting whether race still plays a role in the war on drugs should read the American Civil Liberties Union's policy report on race and drug prohibition. That Federal medical marijuana prohibition stems from Jim Crow thinking is beyond doubt to everyone who takes the time to research and consider the issue with an open mind.

Science is only as good as the theory that drives it. Since the FDA operates from a misinformed viewpoint based in large part on the racial stereotypes of 1937, no case study or double-blind experiment could ever show that the marijuana plant in its raw form has medical utility. Why? Follow the money.

The FDA is politically prohibited from recognizing the value of a medicine that can be grown by people for free because the agency has such close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. This is my "theory" because shortly after the FDA said that marijuana has no benefit in smoked form the agency recognized the medical efficacy of a pill-based marijuana medicine. Is it a coincidence that the FDA discourages the use of a medicine that can be grown for free, but endorses the use of that same medicine if produced synthetically for profit?

Soon the 109th Congress will vote on an amendment that would recognize, under Federal law, the legitimacy of the medical marijuana programs in the various states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Let's hope, a bold hope, in these partisan times - that a majority-of-the-majority in Congress will finally end a 69-year-old error and thereby follow a more factual and compassionate theory when it comes to medical marijuana.

Call your representative now and instruct him or her to support the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment. In a sense, the future of science is at stake.

Kenneth Michael White is an attorney and the author of "The Beginning of Today: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937" and "Buck" (both by PublishAmerica 2004).

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