Jon Gettman is a long time contributor to HIGH TIMES. A former National Director of NORML, Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy and regional economic development and consults with attorneys, advocates, and non-profits on cannabis related research and public policy issues. On October 8, 2002, along with a coalition of organizations, he filed a new petition to have cannabis rescheduled under federal law. This column will track that petition's progress.
March 8, 2004
Cannabis and Federal Drug Strategy
The new federal drug control strategy is out. More money for this, more money for that, and more attention to prescription pain killers. That’s the big picture, and it’s pretty much the same year in and year out. A little progress here and there while new challenges are emerging all the time. The most interesting part of the drug strategy, though, is what’s not there – medical cannabis.
The National Drug Control Strategy is produced by the Office of National Drug Control Programs (ONDCP). The election-year theme they’ve adopted for cannabis is this: “marijuana smokers account for the lion’s share of Americans who are dependent on illegal drugs.” The report further stresses that: “twice as many Americans confront problems of abuse and dependence stemming from marijuana smoking as from cocaine and heroin use combined.” The ONDCP report overlooks data from the Treatment Episodes Data Set (or ‘TEDS” report) that indicates that a majority of marijuana smokers entering drug treatment (57%) are referred there by the courts as an alternative to a jail sentence for marijuana possession.
ONDCP reports that 14 million current marijuana smokers consume 8,500 metric tons of cannabis (18.7 million pounds). They neglect to clarify that the latest survey results estimate that there are 25 million annual users of marijuana of which 14 million reported past month use. They report that 5000 metric tons of cannabis was imported from Mexico, 1000 metric tons from Canada and that 2,500 metric tons were grown domestically. However they neglect to report a US government estimate in December 2002 that placed annual domestic production between 5,577 and 16,731 metric tons of cannabis (and first reported in the December 2003 issue of High Times.). These figures indicate that 25 million Americans really consume 37.8 million pounds of cannabis annually.
ONDCP seems to be in utter denial about the implications of the scope and magnitude of U.S. cannabis production. Even if their low estimate of 2500 metric tons were accurate it indicates that the US has been unable to decrease domestic production over the last decade. The government claims that the majority of outdoor cultivation takes place on public lands. Their major response to domestic cultivation in 2004 will be to start their eradication efforts during the spring planting season rather than waiting until late summer. It is unlikely that this will have any major impact on overall U.S. production.
Otherwise ONDCP claims that the Mexicans are seizing 4/5’s of their production. However they are getting a little nervous about the cannabis cultivation in Canada. For example ONDCP reports that only 2000 indoor grow operations were seized in the US in 2001. On the other hand, in 2003 Canadian officials closed down 2,800 indoor grow operations. One Canadian report mentioned by ONDCP indicates that there are 15,000 indoor grow operations in Ontario alone. ONDCP hopes that ongoing cooperation from the Mexican and Canadian authorities will help them keep a lid on these important foreign sources of cannabis for the U.S. market.
So much for supply. On the demand side, ONDCP hopes to reduce demand for all illicit drugs through increased funding for drug testing in the schools (up $23 million), increased funding for anti-drug commercials on radio and TV ($145 million), and more money for community programs (up $10.4 million).
And so much for what’s in the national drug strategy about cannabis. ONDCP flashes some self-serving numbers and changes the subject – after all prescription drug abuse has been getting a lot of media attention in the last year, it’s the a perfect candidate for the role of this year’s emerging menace that justifies more drug war funding. But the cannabis problem is not going away.
And the medical cannabis is not going away either. The medical use of cannabis is a major threat to the perception of success that permeates the national drug control strategy. Not only has the government failed to control the illicit production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana in the United States, they have also failed to provide a legal, regulated, and safe source of cannabis for medical use. Their failure in this regard is so pronounced that several states have adopted their own laws to minimize legal harassment of patients so in need of medical cannabis that they have to grow it themselves or otherwise resort to illicit sources of supply.
The omission of the medical cannabis issue from the national drug control strategy is no surprise. This is an election year and the Bush Administration wants to put as positive spin as possible on their anti-drug efforts. Even so, their report on the overall use and supply of cannabis is misleading, and this in turn calls their credibility on all cannabis related issues into question.