You are on page 1of 4

—18— O’Shaughnessy’s • Summer 2010

For Howard Zinn:

LaGuardia and the Truth About Marijuana


“LaGuardia in the Jazz Age” in Marihuana Tax Act was answered thus gerated...
The Politics of History by Howard by Vinson: “Our committee heard testi- “The scientific part of the research
Zinn; Beacon Press, 1970. mony of Dr. William Wharton —sic— will be continued in the hope that the
who not only gave this measure his full drug may prove to possess therapeutic
support, but also the approval from the value for the control of drug addiction.”
The Marihuana Problem in the
American Medical Association which he In other words, the NYAM investigators
City of New York by Mayor La- —and Mayor LaGuardia himself— were
represented as legislative counsel.” The
Guardia’s Committee on Marihuana. Act passed on a voice vote and was en- hip to the harm-reduction potential of
1944. (Reprinted in 1973 by the New acted into law in September of 1937. marijuana as a substitute for hard drugs!
York Academy of Medicine.) Fred Vinson, brazen liar, went on to be- A key chapter of the report by Drs.
come Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Samuel Allentuck and Karl Bowman,
By Fred Gardner Court. “The Psychiatric Aspects of Marijuana
Fiorello LaGuardia was the mayor of Intoxication,” was published in the
New York City when Howard Zinn was Marijuana prohibition might American Journal of Psychiatry in Sep-
growing up in Brooklyn during the Great Fiorello LaGuardia tember 1942. It specifically refuted the
Depression. Zinn admired LaGuardia LaGuardia opposed sending 5,000
not have sailed through Con- Federal Bureau of Narcotics character-
and in the end would have important U.S. troops to Nicaragua in 1927 to up- gress if Fiorello LaGuardia ization of marijuana as an addictive drug
things in common with him. LaGuardia hold a government subservient to U.S. had still been a member in that led to insanity.
had flown bombing missions for the U.S. lumber and fruit interests. “The protec- An exhaustive investigation into the
1937. extent of use by New Yorkers was con-
Army over Italy during World War One. tion of American life and property in
Zinn flew bombing missions over occu- Nicaragua does not require the formi- ducted by a Police Department squad—
Marijuana prohibition might not have
pied France in World War Two. Both dable naval and marine forces operating “two policewomen and four policemen,
sailed through Congress if Fiorello
men would come to reconsider the worth there now,” La Guardia declared. “Give one of whom was a Negro,” according
LaGuardia had still been a member in
of those missions. Both would spend me 50 New York cops and I can guaran- to Dudley Schoenfeld, MD, who de-
1937. It was based on false facts that no
their lives speaking for people whose tee full protection.” scribed their findings in the LaGuardia
one in Congress questioned, but which
voices hardly got heard. Zinn wrote that LaGuardia did not see Committee Report. (See excerpt on next
LaGuardia recognized as baloney —no-
the 1920s as a time of “national political page.)
tably that marijuana is addictive and
LaGuardia in Congress es- consensus, when a general mood of well- “While on duty the squad actually
leads to insanity and violent crime. In
being softened political combat.” An- ‘lived’ in the environment in which mari-
tablished Zinn’s reputation as gered by Rep. Fred Vinson of Kentucky’s
1938 LaGuardia, as mayor, assigned the huana smoking or peddling was sus-
a historian. New York Academy of Medicine
reference to New York’s “Italian bloc” pected. They frequented poolrooms, bars
(NYAM) to investigate the premises of
of voters, LaGuardia “denounced the and grills, dime-a-dance halls, other
Zinn wrote his PhD dissertation on marijuana prohibition. A blue-ribbon
drastic restriction of immigration and dance halls to which they took their own
LaGuardia’s years as a Congressman committee of 31 scientists was as-
particularly the ‘national origins’ method partners, theatres —backstage and in the
representing the tenement dwellers of sembled. Physicians from the city De-
of determining quotas... The restriction audience‚ roller skating rinks, subways,
East Harlem. (LaGuardia served in Con- partment of Hospitals supervised clini-
bills were ‘unscientific,’ LaGuardia public toilets and parks and docks. They
gress from 1917 through 1933, minus his cal research involving 77 patients.
charged, the ‘result of narrow-minded- consorted with the habitués of these
stint in the Army and two years as Presi- “My own interest in marihuana goes
ness and bigotry’ and ‘inspired by influ- places, chance acquaintances on the
dent of the New York City Board of Al- back many years,” LaGuardia wrote in
ences who have a fixed obsession on street, loiterers around schools, subways,
dermen.) a foreword to the committee’s report, “to
Anglo-Saxon superiority.’” and bus terminals. They posed as ‘suck-
LaGuardia in Congress, published by the time when I was a member of the
By 1937, when Congress passed the ers’ from out of town and as students in
Cornell University Press in 1959, estab- House of Representatives and, in that
Marihuana Tax Act, LaGuardia was in college and high schools.”
lished Zinn’s reputation as a historian. capacity, heard of the use of marihuana
his fourth year as mayor of NYC. His The full Report,The Marihuana Prob-
It debunked the prevailing text-book by soldiers stationed in Panama. I was
nemesis, Vinson of Kentucky, was the lem in the City of New York, was pub-
image of the 1920s. Its themes were en- impressed at that time with the report of
Treasury Department’s key ally in push- lished in 1944. Its conclusions, verba-
capsulated in an essay, “LaGuardia in the an Army Board of Inquiry which em-
ing marijuana prohibition through the tim:
Jazz Age,” which Zinn published in The phasized the relative harmlessness of the
House Ways and Means Committee. • Marijuana is used extensively in the
Politics of History (Beacon, 1970). drug and the fact that it played very little
Vinson conducted a hostile interrogation Borough of Manhattan but the problem
“In the United States, the twenties role, if any, in problems of delinquency
of the only witness who understood and is not as acute as it is reported to be in
were the years of Prosperity, and Fiorello and crime in the Canal Zone.
strongly opposed prohibition, Dr. Will- other sections of the United States.
LaGuardia is one of its few public fig- “The report of the present investiga-
iam Woodward of the American Medi- • The introduction of marijuana into
ures who suspected to what extent that tions covers every phase of the problem
cal Association. When the Act came be- this area is recent as compared to other
label was a lie,” Zinn asserted. and is of practical value not only to our
fore the full House, instead of explain- localities.
Nor did LaGuardia mistake the twen- own city but to communities through-
ing its provisions, Vinson recounted • The cost of marijuana is low and
ties for “a time of quiet isolation from out the country. It is a basic contribution
Harry Anslinger’s “reefer madness” tes- therefore within the purchasing power
foreign affairs,” Zinn wrote. “The United to medicine and pharmacology. I am glad
timony as undisputed fact. of most persons.
States was established as a dominant that the sociological, psychological, and
The question of whether the Ameri- • The distribution and use of mari-
power in the Caribbean having pur- medical ills commonly attributed to
can Medical Association supported the juana is centered in Harlem.
chased the Virgin Islands during the war, marihuana have been found to be exag- • The majority of marijuana smokers
possessing a naval base in Cuba, and continued at bottom of next page
exercising such control over the Repub- The Canal Zone Papers
lic of Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Studies by the U.S. Army of soldiers no evidence that marijuana was addic-
Dominican Republic as to make them using marijuana in Panama in the tive or that it had “any appreciable del-
‘virtual protectorates.’ American influ- 1920s had been collectively ignored by eterious influence on the individuals
ence in the Far East extended from the the Congress during the debate on Pro- using it.”
Aleutian Islands to Hawaii and across hibition. The first study was conducted According to “the Great Book of
the western Pacific to the Philippines.” in April 1925 by a committee chaired Hemp” by Rowan Robinson, “Some
by Colonel J.F. Siler of the Medical commanders disagreed with the
Corps. A group that included soldiers, committeee’s findings and ordered a
doctors, and police officers was ob- new investigation in 1929. The surgeon
served smoking cannabis. general who directed the inquiry duly
One officer who participated con- reported that ‘use of the drug is not
cluded, “I think we can safely say, widespread and... its effects upon mili-
based upon samples we have smoked tary efficiency and upon discipline are
here and upon the reports of the indi- not great.’ A third investigation, initi-
viduals concerned, that there is noth- ated in June 1931, found no link be-
ing to indicate any habit-forming ten- tween cannabis and delinquency or
dency or any striking ill effects. All of morale problems” in the U.S.-run Ca-
the statements to the effect that two or nal Zone.
three puffs produce remarkable effects
are nonsense, judging from our expe- The 220-page LaGuardia Commit-
rience.” tee Report was reprinted in full in The
The U.S. government printing of- Marijuana Papers, an anthology edited
fice published Col. Siler’s report (“Ca- by David Solomon, published by
Bobbs-Merrill in 1966 and in paper-
nal Zone Papers,” 1931), which found
back the following year by Signet.
O’Shaughnessy’s • Summer 2010 —19—

What LaGuardia’s Police Investigators Found


Marijuana Use in New York City... All Those Years Ago
From The Marihuana Problem in the
A person may be a confirmed
City of New York, also known as “The
LaGuardia Committee Report.” smoker for a prolonged period,
and give up the drug voluntar-
Method of Retail Distribution ily without experiencing any
In general, marihuana is used in the
form of a cigarette. Occasionally some craving for it or exhibiting
individuals chew the “weed” and seem withdrawal symptoms.
to get the same effect as do others
through smoking. The common names in most instances, a rented nickelodeon.
for the cigarettes are: muggles, reefers, The lighting is more or less uniformly
Indian hemp, weed, tea, gage and sticks. dim, with blue predominating. An in-
Cigarettes made of marihuana differ in cense is considered part of the furnish-
size as do cigarettes made of tobacco: ings. The walls are frequently decorated
they are long, short, thick or thin. with pictures of nude subjects sugges-
tive of perverted sexual practices. The
Price varies in accordance furnishings, as described, are believed
with the accepted opinion as to to be essential as a setting for those par-
ticipating in smoking marihuana.
the potency of the marihuana Most “tea-pads” have their trade re-
used in the cigarettes, stricted to the sale of marihuana. Some
ARTIST WILLIAM H. JOHNSON was employed by the federal Works Progress Administra- places did sell marihuana and whisky,
The price varies in accordance with tion to teach art in Harlem in 1938. and a few places also served as houses
the accepted opinion as to the potency of prostitution. Only one “teapad” was
of the marihuana used in the cigarettes, marihuana. It retails for about one dol- found which served as a house of pros-
A constant observation was
and this appears to be determined by the lar per cigarette. The “kick” resulting titution, and in which one could buy
place of origin. The cheapest brand is from the use of this cigarette is reached the extreme willingness to marihuana, whisky, and opium.
known as “sass-fras,” and retails for ap- more quickly than from the use of “sas- share and puff on each other’s The marihuana smoker derives
proximately three for 50 cents. It is made safras” or “panatella.” It appears to be cigarettes. greater satisfaction if he is smoking in
of the marihuana that is grown in the the consensus that the marihuana used the presence of others. His attitude in the
United States. Smokers do not consider to make the “gungeon” comes from Af- There are two channels for the distri- “tea-pad” is that of a relaxed individual,
such marihuana very potent. They have rica. The sale of this cigarette is restricted bution of marihuana cigarettes— the in- free from the anxieties and cares of the
found that they must consume a greater to a clientele whose economic status is dependent peddler and the “tea-pad.” realities of life. The “tea-pad” takes on
number of cigarettes in order to obtain of a higher level than the majority of From general observations, conversa- the atmosphere of a very congenial so-
the desired effect colloquially termed as marihuana smokers. tions with “pad” owners, and discussions cial club. The smoker readily engages
“high.” This opinion, expressed by with peddlers, the investigators esti- in conversation with strangers, discuss-
smokers in the Borough of Manhattan, The investigators estimated mated that there were about 500 “tea- ing freely his pleasant reactions to the
is at variance with that of some authori- that there were about 500 “tea- pads” in Harlem and at least 500 ped- drug and philosophizing on subjects per-
ties who believe that marihuana grown dlers. taining to life in a manner which, at
in the United States is as potent as the
pads” in Harlem and at least
A “tea-pad” is a room or an apartment times, appears to be out of keeping with
marihuana grown in other countries. 500 peddlers. in which people gather to smoke mari- his intellectual level. A constant obser-
The “panatella” cigarette, occasion- huana. The majority of such places are vation was the extreme willingness to
ally referred to as “meserole,” is consid- A confirmed marihuana user can located in the Harlem district. It is our share and puff on each other’s cigarettes.
ered to be more potent than the “sass- readily distinguish the quality and po- impression that the landlord, the agent, A boisterous, rowdy atmosphere did not
fras” and usually retails for approxi- tency of various brands, just as the ha- the superintendent or the janitor is aware prevail and on the rare occasions when
mately 25 cents each. The hemp from bitual cigarette or cigar smoker is able of the purposes for which the premises there appeared signs indicative of a bel-
which the “panatella” is made comes to differentiate between the qualities of are rented. The “tea-pad” is furnished ac- ligerent attitude on the part of a smoker,
from Central and South America. tobacco. Foreign-made cigarette paper cording to the clientele it expects to he was ejected or forced to become more
“Gungeon” is considered by the mari- is often used in order to convince the serve. Usually, each “tea-pad” has com- tolerant and quiescent.
huana smoker as the highest grade of buyer that the “tea is right from the boat.” fortable furniture, a radio, victrola or, as continued on next page

Zinn/LaGuardia from previous page The “Left” and Marijuana be his last day in the Army) and notified
are Blacks and Latin-Americans. ated with the practice of smoking mari- In the political milieu from which the local police that they had observed
• The consensus among marijuana juana. Howard Zinn emerged, marijuana use marijuana in the house. “Maybe a couple
smokers is that the use of the drug cre- • The publicity concerning the cata- was looked down on. This disapproval of roaches,” Jeff recalls. He was arrested
ates a definite feeling of adequacy. strophic effects of marijuana smoking in by the “old left” was rooted in ignorance and wound up in the county jail. He was
• The practice of smoking marijuana New York City is unfounded. (the Communist Party fell for An- told that because he was not a South
does not lead to addiction in the medical Impact of the Report slinger’s disinformation), but it had a Carolina resident, he could not be bailed
sense of the word. Although the LaGuardia Committee practical application. If you were, say, a out —the whole bond would have to be
• The sale and distribution of mari- provided evidence and documentation in union organizer, you wouldn’t want to put up. “My parents were very upset,”
juana is not under the control of any support of its findings, the Report was give management spies an excuse to re- Jeff says. “If I had been busted on a
single organized group. ignored at the federal level —as would port you to the cops. The fight for higher picket line, that would have been fine,
• The use of marijuana does not lead other painstaking commission reports by wages and better working conditions but not getting busted for pot.” He was
to morphine or heroin or cocaine addic- government agencies and the medical es- would take precedence over your desire set free after three days and told to never
tion and no effort is made to create a tablishment in the decades to follow. to smoke reefer (which was almost cer- again set foot in the state.
market for these narcotics by stimulat- In 1973 the New York Academy of tainly nil, because few Americans, es- Jeff Zinn, a hard-working theater di-
ing the practice of marijuana smoking. Medicine reprinted the Report with a pecially white folks, had ever touched rector, has no regrets about not revisit-
• Marijuana is not the determining foreword by Raymond Schafer, the the stuff) ing South Carolina or about giving up
factor in the commission of major former governor of Pennsylvania, who The “new left” of the ’60s had a dif- marijuana use in his early thirties.
crimes. had been appointed by President Rich- ferent attitude towards marijuana be-
• Marijuana smoking is not wide- ard Nixon in 1970 to chair a commis- cause millions of people on college cam-
spread among school children. sion on “Marihuana and Drug Abuse.” puses and in the military had started
• Juvenile delinquency is not associ- (See story on page 24.) smoking it by 1966, and recognized that
it wasn’t dangerous. Freedom to smoke
The Communist Party Line on Marijuana marijuana became an auxiliary goal of
The New York Academy of Medicine report includes an example of a “reefer “the movement” that was primarily
madness” story from the Daily Worker for Dec. 28, 1940. Headlined “Health aimed at ending racial segregation and
Advice,” the Communist line on marijuana could easily have come from a Wil- bringing the troops home from Vietnam.
liam Randolph Hearst paper —minus any racist overtones, of course: In 1968 or ‘69 Howard’s son Jeff Zinn
“Smoking of the weed is habit-forming. It destroys the will-power, releases was working at a coffeehouse that was a HOWARD ZINN (left) in Berkeley,
restraints, and promotes insane reactions. Continued use causes the face to be- hangout for GIs from Fort Jackson. One February 2009. He was staying with
come bloated, the eyes bloodshot, the limbs weak and trembling, and the mind day the Military Police came to the house a granddaughter, getting away from
sinks into insanity. Robberies, thrill murders, sex crimes and other offenses re- where Jeff was staying to arrest a GI who the cold Boston winter. That’s what
sult... The habit can be cured only by the most severe methods. The addict must lived there. They took the soldier away he was doing in Santa Monica when
be put into an institution, where the drug is gradually withdrawn...” (he hadn’t showed up to sign his dis- he died of a heart attack in late
charge papers on what was supposed to January of this year. —F.G.
—20— O’Shaughnessy’s • Summer 2010

NYPD Report from previous page


One of the most interesting setups of our investigators associate with a mari-
a “tea-pad,” which was clearly not along We have been unable to con-
huana user. The investigator would bring
orthodox lines from the business point up the subject of smoking. This would firm the opinion expressed by
of view, was a series of pup tents ar- invariably lead to the suggestion that some investigators that mari-
ranged on a roof-top in Harlem. Those they obtain some marihuana cigarettes.
present proceeded to smoke their ciga-
huana smoking is the first step
They would seek a “tea-pad,” and if it
rettes in the tents. When the desired ef- was closed the smoker and our investi-
in the use of such drugs as co-
fect of the drug had been obtained they gator would calmly resume their previ- caine, morphine, and heroin.
all merged into the open and engaged in ous activity, such as the discussion of life
a discussion of their admiration of the in general or the playing of pool. There It is their contention that this mild alco-
stars and the beauties of nature. were apparently no signs indicative of holic beverage aids the drug in produc-
Because of the possibility of spread- frustration in the smoker at not being ing the desired effect. Most marihuana
ing disease, note should be taken of what able to gratify the desire for the drug. smokers insist that the appetite is in-
seems to be a custom known as “pick- We consider this point highly significant creased as the result of smoking.
up” smoking. It is an established prac- since it is so contrary to the experience We have been unable to confirm the
tice whereby a marihuana cigarette is lit of users of other narcotics. A similar situ- opinion expressed by some investigators
and after one or two inhalations is passed ation occurring in one addicted to the use that marihuana smoking is the first step
on to the next person. This procedure is Jitterbugs of morphine, cocaine, or heroin would in the use of such drugs as cocaine, mor-
repeated until all present have had an op- couraged, nothing was done to prohibit result in a compulsive attitude on the part phine, and heroin. The instances are ex-
portunity to take a puff or two on the such practice. of the addict to obtain the drug. If un- tremely rare where the habit of mari-
cigarette. There are specific sections in the Bor- able to secure it, there would be obvious huana smoking is associated with addic-
Occasionally a “tea-pad” owner may ough of Manhattan where the sale of tion to these other narcotics.
have peddlers who sell their wares in marihuana cigarettes appears to be lo-
other localities and at the same time calized: 1) the Harlem district; 2) the Marihuana and Eroticism
serve as procurers for those who wish to Broadway area, a little east and west of In the popular agitation against the
smoke marihuana on the premises. Broadway and extending from 42nd use of marihuana, its erotic effects have
One also finds other methods of re- Street to 59th Street. While it is true that been stressed repeatedly. As previously
tail distribution. After proper introduc- one may buy the cigarette in other dis- stated in this report, our investigators
tion, one may be able to purchase the tricts, it is not as easily obtainable as in visited many “tea-pads” in the Borough
cigarette in certain places. This is not an the two localities mentioned. of Manhattan. It is true that lewd pic-
easy procedure, but it can be accom- tures decorated the walls but they did not
plished. In some bar-and-grills, restau- find that they were attracting attention
rants, and bars our investigators were
The consensus of marihuana
or comment among the clientele. In fact
able to establish contact with someone users is that the drug is not one of the investigators who was con-
who in turn, would introduce them to a harmful and that infrequent or centrating his attention on the relation
constant use of marihuana does between marihuana and eroticism stated
in his report that he found himself em-
not result in physical or men- barrassed in that he was the only one who
tal deterioration. examined the pictures on the wall.
Numerous conversations with smok-
The Mental Attitude of the Mari- ers of marihuana revealed only occa-
Blind Singer
huana Smoker Toward Society sional instances in which there was any
Most of the smokers of marihuana physical and mental manifestations of relation between the drug and eroticism.
coming within the scope of our survey frustration. This may be considered pre- At one time one of our investigators at-
were unemployed, and of the others most sumptive evidence that there is no true tended a very intimate social gathering
had part-time employment. addiction in the medical sense associated in an apartment in Harlem, having suc-
Occasional, as well as confirmed, with the use of marihuana. ceeded in securing the position of door-
users were all aware of the laws pertain- The confirmed marihuana smoker man for the occasion.
ing to the illegal use of the drug. They consumes perhaps from six to ten ciga- There was a great deal of drinking,
did not indulge in its use with a spirit of rettes per day. He appears to be quite and the dancing was of the most mod-
braggadocio or as a challenge to law as conscious of the quantity he requires to ern, abandoned, “jitter-bug” type. This
has been reported by some investigators reach the effect called “high.” Once the form of dancing is highly suggestive and
A Flower for Teacher
in other districts. They did not express desired effect is obtained he cannot be appears to be associated with erotic ac-
peddler who apparently made regular remorse concerning their use of mari- persuaded to consume more. tivity. The investigator made careful ob-
rounds of these places in order to sell huana, nor did they blame this habit as a servation of those who were dancing,
cigarettes. It appears that the owners of causative factor in the production of spe- He knows when he has had and found that there was no difference
such places are not aware of this prac- cial difficulties in their personal lives. enough. The smoker deter- between the ones who were and the ones
tice, and in many instances they would Except for musicians there appeared to who were not smoking “reefers.” Simi-
discharge any employee known to be be no attempt at secretiveness on the part mines for himself the point of lar impressions were received after care-
directly or indirectly associated with the of the habitual smoker. This attitude is being “high,” and is ever con- ful observations in public dance halls,
sale of marihuana. in marked contrast to that usually taken scious of preventing himself places where they knew that some per-
On rare occasions public guides, if by those addicted to morphine, cocaine, sons were under the influence of mari-
properly approached would refer one to or heroin. from becoming “too high.” huana.
a place where the “reefer” could be The consensus of marihuana users is Visits to brothels which occasionally
bought. There was no evidence that the that the drug is not harmful and that in- He knows when he has had enough. also served as “teapads” revealed that the
guide received money when acting as go- frequent or constant use of marihuana The smoker determines for himself the use of marihuana was not linked to sexu-
between. Terminal porters, mainly Ne- does not result in physical or mental de- point of being “high,” and is ever con- ality. These observations allow us to
groes, appeared to be more directly con- terioration. scious of preventing himself from be- come to the conclusion that in the main
nected with the traffic of marihuana. In describing the most common re- coming “too high.” This fear of being marihuana was not used for direct sexual
They were more conversant with the sub- action to the drug they always stated that “too high” must be associated with some stimulation.
ject and it was easier for them to estab- it made them feel “high.” Elaboration of form of anxiety which causes the
lish contact between purchaser and ped- just what the smoker meant by “high” smoker, should he accidentally reach that
dler. varied with the individual. However, point, immediately to institute measures
Marihuana smoking is very common there was common agreement that a feel- so that he can “come down.” It has been
in the theatres of Harlem according to ing of adequacy and efficiency was in- found that the use of such beverages as
the observations of the investigators. We duced by the use of marihuana and that beer, or a sweet soda pop, is an effective
have reason to believe that in some in- current mental conflicts were allayed. measure. Smokers insist that “it does
stances, perhaps few in number, employ- Organic illness was not given as a cause something to the stomach” and that it is
ees actually sold cigarettes on the pre- for smoking “reefers.” always associated with “belching.” A
mises. In the Harlem dance halls smok- A person may be a confirmed smoker cold shower will also have the effect of
ing was frequently observed either in the for a prolonged period, and give up the bringing the person “down.”
lavatories or on the main floor. The pa- drug voluntarily without experiencing Smokers have repeatedly stated that
trons as well as the musicians were seen any craving for it or exhibiting with- the consumption of whisky while smok-
in the act of smoking. There was no evi- drawal symptoms. He may, at some time ing negates the potency of the drug. They
dence of sales being made by employ- later on, go back to its use. Others may find it is very difficult to get “high” while
ees on the premises, or that there was any remain infrequent users of the cigarette, drinking whisky, and because of that
gain on the part of the owners or employ- taking one or two a week, or only when smokers will not drink whisky while
ees in permitting this practice. Whereas the “social setting” calls for participa- using the “weed.” They do, however,
the smoking of marihuana was not en- tion. From time to time we had one of consume large quantities of sweet wines.
Jitterbugs 2
—28— O’Shaughnessy’s • Summer 2010

A Stall in the Name of Science

The Institute of Medicine Report (1999)


Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Sci- American people. “We Should Use Science, Not the users are misleadingly pre-
ence Base, edited by Janet Joy, Stanley J. Ballot Box, to Minister to Disease,” wrote McCaffrey, sented as effects on chronic us-
Watson, Jr. and John Benson Jr. National Acad- echoing Varmus, in one of his syndicated op-ed pieces. ers. The IOM researchers con-
emy Press, Washington, 1999, 267 pages. “Crude marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, veniently ‘distanced’ from and
and we know the effect of only a few... The active in- discounted numerous subjec-
Why, you may wonder, was another federal study gredient in the cannabis leaf, THC, is synthesized in tive accounts from patients.
into the safety and efficacy of marijuana as medicine measured dosages as Marinol, a prescription drug that Their chronic skepticism —rationalized as objectivity
undertaken in the late 1990s? Here’s the chronology: has been available for years.” yet politically driven— is grotesque and unethical. They
In November, 1996, California voters passed Propo- “Crude” marijuana means the plant as it grows in did not look at data from when marijuana was in clini-
sition 215 by a 56-44 margin. Within weeks, Attorney nature. Among some 600 components, the main psy- cal use prior to Prohibition.
General Dan Lungren led a delegation to Washington choactive ingredient is THC. The effects of some of “The IOM investigators went to great lengths to get
to urge federal officials to block implementation. the other major components have been determined. input from medical marijuana users, but they failed to
On Dec. 30 Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, flanked Marinol comes in a knockout dose, whereas drawing incorporate it in their findings. For example, they warn
by Attorney General Janet Reno, Health & Human Ser- on a joint gives patients the precise minimum amount about the dangers of smoking, but fail to note the pro-
vices Secretary Donna Shalala, and NIDA head Alan of the drug needed to alleviate their symptoms ASAP. active efforts of users to develop less harmful vapor-
Leshner held a press conference to declare the Clinton “No one argues that people should eat moldy bread ization techniques.
Administration’s opposition to medical marijuana. Mc- instead of taking a penicillin capsule,” wrote McCaf- “Unwillingness to believe or trust numerous can-
Caffrey declared, “This isn’t medicine, this is a Cheech frey. (More relevant is the fact that penicillin was ap- nabis users is the worst aspect of the report and results
and Chong show.” He warned that MDs who approved proved for use after its efficacy was proven on just six in a lack of clinical information. Left out is the reason
marijuana use by patients could lose their licenses. patients.) “If components of marijuana other than THC patients use cannabis in the first place —it works, and
are found to be medically valuable,” he reassured the with minimal toxicity for chronic conditions.
McCaffrey abruptly changed his line to American people, “the current scientific process will “By failing to acknowledge the relative freedom
approve those components for safe use.” from adverse effects (when cannabis is compared with
“More research is needed.” Having claimed for years that marijuana had no ben- “conventional” medicines) the IOM perpetuates the
McCaffrey’s threat evoked a strong response from eficial effects whatsoever, the drug warriors now prom- false stereotype of a dangerous drug. The investiga-
doctors, who joined a suit organized by the ACLU and ised that the pharmaceutical industry would deliver us tors made a conscious decision to avoid discussing the
the Drug Policy Alliance to enjoin federal retribution. the “good” part of the plant without the “bad.” Which stress and harm caused by inappropriate use of the
Someone must have explained to 4-Star Gen.McCaffrey is fine —many people want the anticonvulsant effects criminal justice system and widespread medical igno-
that a new strategy was called for —a stall in the name without psychoactivity. What’s reprehensible is keep- rance. Why? Negligent design! All previous studies —
of science—because he abruptly changed his line to ing the plant illegal while “more research” gets con- starting with the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in
“More research is needed.” ducted indefinitely. 1894— included sociopolitical information.
In January ‘97, McCaffrey announced that his of- The IOM report, finally released in March 1999— “The recommendation to limit short-term treatment
fice would allocate $1 million for an 18-month study • confirmed that marijuana has been effective in to six months ignores the needs of patients who suffer
of the medical potential of marijuana by the Institute treating chronic pain, nausea from cancer chemo- from serious chronic illnesses, i.e., most patients who
of Medicine (a branch of the National Academy of Sci- therapy, lack of appetite and wasting in AIDS patients. could benefit from cannabis.
ences, whose function is to give the government objec- • strongly advocated research into and development “Another error of omission is the use of cannabis as
tive answers to scientific questions). of cannabinoid drugs. a treatment for patients suffering from mood disorders,
On Jan. 30 an editorial in the New England Journal • debunked the notions that marijuana is addictive alcoholism, and other chemical dependence. Substi-
of Medicine (NEJM) derided the U.S. government’s and that its use leads to heroin and cocaine use. tuting cannabis to reduce harm to the user has been
policy as “misguided,” “hypocritical,” “out of step with • noted that marijuana has a lower potential for known since 1843 and widely cited in medical and phar-
the public,” and “inhumane.” On the very day the abuse than alcohol or tobacco, and is safer than many maceutical literature until the Prohibition of 1938.
NEJM editorial appeared, Harold Varmus, director of commonly used drugs. “It is worth recalling —and highly ironic— that
the National Institutes of Health, announced a special the initial motivation for the medical marijuana move-
conference to resolve “the public health dilemma” The report contained strong warnings ment was the 1991 decision by Undersecretary of
raised by the passage of Prop 215. “I don’t think any- about the dangers of smoking Health, James O. Mason, MD, to close down the com-
one wants to settle issues like this by plebiscite,” said passionate IND [Investigational New Drug] program.
Varmus, calling instead for “a way to listen to experts However, the report contained strong warnings This cruel and unethical act in the midst of the AIDS
on these topics.” about the dangers of smoking and saw “no future in epidemic sparked a populist revolt.
The conference was held Feb. 19-20 and, not sur- smoked marijuana as medicine.” The IOM team did “Starting with Dennis Peron and AIDS activists in
prisingly, the NIH experts called for clinical trials in not recommend using marijuana in the treatment of San Francisco, cannabis buyers clubs were formed on
many areas, maintaining that there was no proof that Parkinson’s or Huntington’s diseases, seizures, mi- a ‘speakeasy’ model enabled by local political support.
marijuana was safe and effective medicine: graines, glaucoma, and many other ailments for which Medical marijuana users found shelter from predation
“Evidence that marijuana relieves spasticity pro- patients and doctors contend that it provides relief. on the streets. Fellowship with other patients provided
duced by multiple sclerosis and partial spinal cord in- President Clinton’s spokesman, Joe Lockhart, sum- respite and a safe haven for victims of chronic illness.
jury is largely anecdotal... There is scant information marized the IOM report thus: “What we found out is The California cannabis centers represented a rebel-
on the use of marijuana or other cannabinoids for the that there may be some chemical compounds in mari- lion against the prohibitionist-corrupted breakdown of
actual treatment of epilepsy... Nausea and Vomiting juana that are useful in pain relief or anti-nausea, but healthcare delivery. In November, 1996, voters showed
Associated With Cancer Chemotherapy: The relative that smoking marijuana is a crude delivery system. So that the rebellion had majority support by passing the
efficacy of cannabinoids versus these newer antiemetics I think what this calls for is further research.” California Compassionate Use Act —despite opposi-
have not been evaluated.... There are no controlled stud- Dr. Mikuriya’s Review tion from the White House and the California Attor-
ies of marijuana in the AIDS wasting syndrome, nor Tod Mikuriya called the IOM report “an exercise ney General’s office.
have there been any systematic studies of the effects of in bureaucratic consensual unreality. The narrow defi- “ The government authoritarian whiners rational-
marijuana on immunological status in HIV-infected nition of the ‘science base’ has been degraded, con- ized their defeat by saying California voters were led
patients.” Etc., etc. taminated, and deprived of clinical experience for more astray by monied legalizers like financier George
The investigators named to lead the IOM study were than 60 years by academic science and medicine. Soros— all the time spending millions of tax dollars
Stanley J. Watson, Jr. a mild-mannered psychiatrist from “The IOM conspicuously chooses to exclude or and utilizing the half vastness of federal agency re-
the University of Michigan and John A. Benson, Jr., a minimize therapeutic efficacy for a variety of chronic sources.
silver-haired, bow-tie-wearing professor emeritus from illnesses. Acute mental effects of cannabis on recent “Even with their pseudo-cautious and tunnel vision
Oregon Health Sciences University. After holding a definitions they delivered a product that contradicted
public hearing at UC Irvine in December ‘97, the IOM McCaffrey’s prevarications. Medicinal use of cannabis
team visited cannabis buyers’ clubs in the Bay Area. is not a Cheech and Chong show! Cannabis has me-
At the Oakland CBC they were addressed by Tod dicinal utility!
Mikuriya, MD, a Berkeley psychiatrist who had de- “Neither the composition of cannabis nor human
voted his career to studying cannabis as medicine. “The physiology has changed since the drug was removed
passage of Prop 215 has made clinical research pos- from prescriptive availability in 1938. Only ignorance
sible once again,” Mikuriya explained. He described and harmful political dogmatism prevail.”
the club’s intake form, which defined illnesses accord- “Grandfather it in!”
ing to conventional ICD-9 codes, and his efforts to Mikuriya called for cannabis to be “grandfathered
gather information about individuals’ use patterns and in” as a federally approved herbal medicine. He noted
the impact on their illnesses. He emphasized the ad- that in 1954, when the FDA began to require that manu-
vantages of vaporization over smoking. facturers of new drugs explain their mode of action,
After holding two more public hearings, the IOM the makers of aspirin and morphine —drugs widely
took a year to review the relevant medical literature used for more than half a century— were exempted.
TOD MIKURIYA (left) observes as Constance Pechura,
and write its report. In this period, McCaffrey and his Janet Joy, Stanley Watson, and John Benson of the Insti- Mikuriya proposed that cannabis should be treated simi-
lieutenants (many of whom were indeed transfers from tute of Medicine learn about clones from Jeff Jones of larly because its removal from the formulary had been
the Pentagon) lobbed grenades of disinformation at the the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club, December 12, 1997. based on factual misrepresentations to the Congress.