President Biden has not yet named a new director of the White House Office on Drug Control Policy (better known as the “Drug Czar”). This is said to mean he considers the position unimportant. In the long fight to legalize marijuana, would-be reformers always saw the Drug Czar —Bill Bennett, Barry McCaffrey, John Walters— as their leading adversary, a zealous strategist and polemicist leading the White Army of Prohibition. Now they can’t name the last person to hold the office.

On March 1 the incoming Attorney General, Merrick Garland, in response to questions from Senators, said that enforcing marijuana prohibition would not be a wise use of limited federal resources. Does this mean that Big Pharma is giving up and that we, the people, can let a thousand flowers bloom?

Of course not. The corporados have developed a neo-prohibitionist strategy that relies on the the National Institute on Drug Abuse endlessly stalling in the name of Science. The director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow, is America’s de facto Drug Czar and the great granddaughter of Leon Trotsky, who led the Red Army that overthrew Russia’s actual original Czar. She once told a mutual acquaintance that she remembered the old Bolshevik’s jackets hanging in a closet —and still smelling of tobacco— in the Mexico City suburb where she grew up. I wrote her a song but my friend lost his nerve and wouldn’t send her the link.
A revolutionary Nora is not. She is a neoprobe. This is how Dr. Carl Hart describes her in Drug Use for Grown-ups:

“Nora is an accomplished researcher with hundreds of scientific articles published in some of the field’s most prestigious journals. She is best known, perhaps, for her fierce defense of the brain-disease model of drug addiction and her impatience with those who disagree with her… Many scientists who study drugs, including some at NIDA, routinely overstate the negative impact that recreational drug use has on the brain, and that she essentially ignores any beneficial effects drug use may have. But the scientists don’t dare share this perspective with her for fear of repercussions that might negatively impact their ability to obtain grant funding, among other professional perks, from her Institute. To put this in perspective, NIDA funds nearly 90% of the world research focused on the drugs discussed in this book. Nora is a kingmaker.”

Hart challenges Volkow’s assertion that, “If early voluntary drug use goes undetected and unchecked, the resulting changes in the brain can ultimately erode a person’s ability to control the impulse to take addictive drugs.” He notes that “the first clause of this sentence seems to encourage caretakers to be paranoid about any potential drug use… The second clause is even more disturbing because it argues that there are inevitable brain changes in response to drug use that cripple the user’s self control.

In the year 2000

Hart laments that “Unsubstantiated claims about alleged long-term brain changes have made their way into the DSM-V, the gold standard for classifying mental disorders.” He quotes the offending line in the Diagnostic Manual: “An important characteristic of substance use disorders is an underlying change in brain circuits that may persist beyond detoxification.”  He observes, “The current lopsided and negative presentation of drug effects on the brain (has) serious consequence…  Journalists write articles consistent with these half truths. Newspaper articles focus on negative outcomes. Films and public service announcements employ these distortions in their depictions of drug users.

Two years after I heard Alan Leshner tell a UCSF audience that money was available for scientists investigating the “neurobiological basis of addiction.”

So the Earth keeps turning and since 2003 Trotsky’s great granddaughter has been America’s de facto Drug Czar! Her role at NIDA is to maintain the endless stall in the name of Science by dismissing as invalid any evidence showing that cannabis is safe and effective medicine… unless and until it is confirmed by placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blinded clinical trials. To placate would-be reformers (whose numbers among the citizenry and in Congress keep growing), Volkow testifies and cranks out articles like one she wrote for the Huffington Post in 2017, “Researching Marijuana for Therapeutic Purposes: The Potential Promise of Cannabidiol (CBD).” In it she called for “addressing barriers that slow clinical research” —a reference to CBD’s absurd status as a Schedule I substance.

The redundant phrase, “potential promise,” is laughably timid and misleading to the point of inaccuracy. Yes, there are many potential uses of CBD for researchers to explore. But the ability of cannabidiol to alleviate symptoms in a wide range of illnesses has been proven —determined, established, confirmed, made evident, QED—  in many studies involving animals, several trials with human patients, and hundreds of thousands of cases monitored by physicians in the states where medical use is legal. CBD provides medical benefit. That is a fact, not a “potential promise.”

You can’t spell Stalling without Stalin

I Created a Frankenstein

Well, I was present at the creation and wrote it up as gospel. My intention, when I broke the CBD story all those years ago and ballyhooed it in O’Shaughnessy’s (and Counterpunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser) was to advance the continuing medical education of pro-cannabis doctors and consumers, myself included, and to hasten the end of prohibition. I somehow forgot Mel Brooks’s dictum that the greatest force in the universe is merchandising. When a multimillion-dollar corporation called Cannacraft hijacked Project CBD and turned it into a stealth marketing device for their “Care By Design” products, I was too demoralized to protest.

 

Medical marijuana is truly a marketer’s dream. The plant can be bred to produce various combinations and permutations of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. The extraction process —alcohol, butane or CO2— alters the effects of a given strain. So does dosage level and the delivery system ­—edible, vape pen, etc.— employed by the patient/consumer. And each patient a unique genome and microbiome and endocannabinoid system that makes them respond uniquely to whatever they ingest! The marketing can be done in the name of scientific research, “personalized medicine,” and even political activism.

With the advent of legalization for adult use, ganjapreneurs have been able to emphasize the number-one selling point of old: mood enhancement. Today’s New York Times (3/1/21) has a front-page story hedded, “Not Quite Pot, This High Slips Past Most Bans.” The article focuses on Lukas Gilkey, who runs Hometown CBD in Austin, Texas, and is making big bucks selling products containing Delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid created when Delta-9 THC is degraded by heat or age.  Gilkey, writes Matt Richtel,  is “offering products with a chemical compound — Delta-8-THC — extracted from hemp. It is only slightly chemically different from Delta 9, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana… Under federal law, psychoactive Delta 9 is explicitly outlawed. But Delta-8-THC from hemp is not, a loophole that some entrepreneurs say allows them to sell it in many states where hemp possession is legal.

“The rise of Delta 8 is a case study in how industrious cannabis entrepreneurs are pulling apart hemp and marijuana to create myriad new product lines with different marketing angles. They are building brands from a variety of potencies, flavors and strains of THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, and of CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that is often sold as a health product.”

Not long ago, as Jack Herer pointed out, the emperor wore no clothes. Today the emperor has a robe made of the finest hemp. We have met the emperor and he is us.