Cultural Baggage 7/27/04
Hosted by Dean Becker
Engineered by Steve Nolin
Transcript by Philip Guffy

(Audio Track) Intro

Guest: Dr. Mitch Earleywine, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Southern California Author of Understanding Marijuana.

Bruce Mirken, Communications director for Marijuana Policy Project

Dean: Well we have a busy show planned for you this evening. We do have both our guests online Steve tells me, and, Steve, let’s go ahead and bring in Dr. E.

Mitch: Happy to be here.

Dean: Hello, sir. How are you this evening?

Mitch: Having a great day.

Dean: Yes, sir. If you would tell the folks a little bit more about yourself, the work you do.

Mitch: Sure thing, I’m an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California and I wrote the book Understanding Marijuana and basically I delve into the marijuana research and try to separate the myths from the facts.

Dean: Well, very good, sir. I read an op-ed submission that you and a friend, Bruce Mirken, had put together, “The Potent Pot Myth”, and it’s the reason I wanted to bring you guys on the show to talk about the meanderings of our Drug Czar, John Walters. Let’s see, Steve can you go ahead and bring in Bruce. Hello, Mr. Mirken?

Bruce: Yes, I am here.

Dean: Well welcome to Cultural Baggage. Glad to have you both with us.

Bruce: Glad to be here.

Dean: And as I promised you, gentlemen, you’re going to have the chance to “debate” our Drug Czar, John Walters and some of the things he said up in Canada of late and we’ll go ahead and play that track now, If you would, Steve. Track 11.

(Audio Track) John Walters: Our two countries can have differences about how they approach social problems. We do. We respect that. The issue for us and the reason I became engaged is that the marijuana trade, the high potency marijuana is extremely dangerous. Marijuana today is the single largest cause of addiction among illegal drugs, not the soft drug. It’s 60% of what causes addiction. 23% of those who are addicted are teenagers in the United States. [There] are more of them seeking treatment for marijuana than all other drugs combined. And the high potency marijuana, coming out of Canada, is a particularly dangerous, dangerous substance. And by independent Canadian estimates, 90% of that drug is being sent to the United States. So, this isn’t about, “Well, we have a different attitude about drugs.” It’s about, from the point-of-view of what we’re trying to do with policy in the United States of, the most dangerous threat, the single largest cause of addiction, and a more potent version of it now being produced and sent in, in multi-billion dollar flows, into the United States from Canada.

Dean: Ok, gentlemen, that was the sound byte, the mother of all sound bytes and let’s go with you first, Mitch. What’s your response to Mr. Walters?

Mitch: I’m not sure where to begin, to tell you the truth, Dean. The bottom line is the cannabis is maybe twice as strong as the worst weed you could find in the 1970’s, but, truth be told, it’s not that much stronger than it used to be. This notion that somehow it’s more addictive seems to reflect the idea that Walters sees addiction as a rather slippery term that I’m sure Bruce Mirken can also jump in on. And basically all of these data, he presents them with such precision like, “X% this and X% that.” They’re all based on estimates that when you really take a close look at what he’s drawing from, they really fall down when you really understand the research.

Dean: Alright. Bruce, and your take on Mr. Walters.

Bruce: Oh, indeed! You know, so much nonsense, so little time! (laughter) Let me start with a couple of basics: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, not a group of wild-eyed drug legalizers, issued a report about…pointing out that the amount of the U.S. marijuana supply that comes from Canada is tiny. It’s dwarfed by the amount that’s grown…(unintelligible)...and the amount that’s grown in Mexico. So this is a miniscule part of the U.S. drug picture anyway. Statistics Canada, their national government agency that keeps health statistics, just issued a report on marijuana use in Canada. Now I presume that Canadians are more likely to be using Canadian marijuana than Americans. So, if this is such a dreadfully addictive, horrible stuff, this might be reflected in their statistics, wouldn’t you think? Well, they found that 43.1% of the population of Canada has tried marijuana. Only 6% use it at least once a month. Only 2.8% use marijuana more than once a week. So if this stuff is so horribly addictive, there sure aren’t many people getting hooked!

Dean: Exactly right. I’ve heard it said that even in Amsterdam that they’ve reached kind of a threshold, that people don’t want to buy marijuana beyond a certain potency, just for the flavor or something.

Mitch: The other contributor, Dean, is that stronger pot doesn’t mean that you get higher. Mark Kleiman was one of the first to write about this, but it’s getting considerable press actually in laboratory work. People who smoke stronger pot tend to take smaller hits, they tend to hold them in not as long, and they get to, basically get to the same desired effect with a markedly smaller amount. So it’s not that they’re paying extra to get higher, it’s that they’re paying extra so that they don’t have to go buy pot again in this horrible prohibition market.

Bruce: And by smoking less, they’re probably less potential injury to their lungs. So in a very real sense, stronger marijuana is probably healthier.

Dean: Very well said. Now Steve let’s go ahead and run that Track 12. Here’s a little bit more about what Mr. Walters had to say.

(Audio Track) John Walters: What I have spoken out on in my position is the fact that Canadian production of high potency marijuana is a business that is large, that is the vast majority of which, by all available estimates is shipped to the United States and it is the single greatest drug threat. It’s twice as important a factor in addiction than cocaine. It’s vastly more important as a problem than the methamphetamine or heroin.

Mitch: I’m flabbergasted by that, Dean. I don’t even know where to begin. The idea that marijuana is the single greatest drug threat, and more so than methamphetamine? I mean, clearly this guy hasn’t looked at the data. We’re talking about a drug that has no toxic dose. If you smoked two pounds by yourself, you might die, but, in truth, if you have two pounds and you smoked it by yourself, you probably deserved to die. (laughter) The idea that crack/cocaine or cocaine is less important of a threat than this is really going to backfire on him and we’re going to end up having kids say, “Oh, the Drug Czar said that marijuana is worse than heroin, so I’m going to do heroin.”

Bruce: You know that’s a very important point. You know, you the problem with a lot of the stuff that comes from John Walters and that the office of National Drug Control Policy is that it assumes that young people are morons and that the way to keep them off drugs is to lie to them and sooner or later they figure out that you’re lying, you know. And anybody who has ever known people who have used various substances learns very quickly that something like crack/cocaine or methamphetamine can very easily ruin peoples’ lives and to say marijuana is worse and more dangerous…it’s crazy. I mean, there’s no polite way to put it. It’s nuts. You know, to take a step back into the earlier sound byte, you know, he loves to throw out this claim that 60% of people in treatment for substance abuse are in treatment for marijuana. Well, if you look at the statistics, the government’s own statistics, you see that’s because they were arrested. They were offered treatment instead of jail and, wouldn’t you know, they took treatment. That has nothing to do with addiction, and it has nothing to do with a diagnosis of substance abuse. It is absolutely an artifact of marijuana’s illegality and to misuse those statistics in that way is such blatant dishonesty that one doesn’t know where to begin.

Dean: I saw a correlation of data, I think it was put together by the U.S. Justice Department, and, I can’t remember specifically, it was 82.5% or 87.5% of those who are undergoing treatment are there because they were caught by bosses, parents, school officials, or someone else that, as you say, led them to take treatment over incarceration.

Mitch: And, Dean, let me throw in that during my clinical work, I am a clinical psychologist, these are the people who are actually taking up beds that could be used for people that really do have problems with hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. It’s really a shame that somebody is out there addicted to crack and might go to a hospital and say, “I need treatment.” And they say, “Sorry, we have to turn you away because we got somebody in here who got busted for a joint and he is forced into treatment instead.” That’s just such a disservice; I don’t even know where to start.

Bruce: Yeah, I mean, it is the sort of policy that does, in fact, literally kill people. And I think we need to say that.

Dean: I have…John Walters is actually coming to Houston here Thursday. He’s going to speak at a local high school, with Tom DeLay, about drugs and gang problems and address some of these same answers you’re giving to his statements.

Mitch: Invite him on your show. See if he’ll debate. He’s refused to debate us.

Dean: Well, I have tried about a half-dozen times thus far, and, again, it’s slim pickings.

Mitch: I was NPR and he was supposed to come on right after me and he actually went down to the studio five minutes early to make sure I didn’t get to talk as long as I was scheduled. (laughter)

Dean: It’s amazing that they dare not debate this openly in public…

Mitch: Well, when you start looking at the data, you can see why. If he is going to be the Drug Czar and suddenly cannabis is recognized for the harmless substance that it is, suddenly we realize we only really have six to ten million people who use hard drugs and then the budget of billions and billions of dollars suddenly doesn’t seem very justified when you’re really only talking about ten million or fewer Americans using hard drugs. He’ll be out of a job if we, you know, unmask this.

Bruce: You know the other thing I would say is that they’re having to…I think part of the reason that you see this more and more hysterical and over the-top-rhetoric is that they’re having to dance faster and faster to try and justify policies that don’t work. You know, we’re told constantly that the reason that marijuana has to be kept illegal is to protect our kids, to keep young people from smoking pot. Well, in my organization, the Marijuana Policy Project agrees that kids should not use marijuana. The question is, is what we’re doing working? Now the Centers for Disease Control came out last…about two months ago with their annual youth risk behavior survey. They surveyed teenagers all over the country on things that could put them at risk, including drug use, sexual behavior, violence, etc. And, according to the CDC, more American high school students right now are current user of marijuana than current users of cigarettes. So, it’s not working. The emperor has no clothes.

Dean: None whatsoever.

Mitch: The irony, too, when we start comparing teen use in our country to teen use in countries where cannabis is essentially de-criminalized, we find that it’s a bigger deal to our teens than it is to theirs. They end up with, in de-criminalized countries, fewer people experimenting as young adults or, in, you know, the twelve to eighteen-year old age range, and markedly fewer going on to use hard drugs like heroin and cocaine because those markets are separated. If you can go to a coffee shop and get cannabis and only cannabis, that may be what you do, but it’s extremely unlikely that then someone is going to try to push cocaine or heroin on you. With an underground market, of course they’re going to make an attempt to turn you to a drug where there’s more potential to gain profits because it’s smaller and more potent and things along those lines. And, so, what a surprise when you compare, say San Francisco to Amsterdam, you find that people who use in San Francisco are also more likely to use hard drugs than the folks who use in Amsterdam.

Dean: Well, gentlemen, I’ll tell you what. We’re going to take a one minute break here and when we come back we’re going to hear a little bit more from Mr. Walters.
(Audio Track) “Can you believe this quote?” – “Name that drug” – Vapor-med plug 

Dean: Ok, now we’re, certainly the three of us are well aware there are many means of consuming marijuana without having to smoke it in a joint. Would you like to talk about that briefly, Dr. Earleywine?

Mitch: Well, the vaporizer, as we’ve alluded to is a way to essentially raise the temperature of the cannabis without it actually catching on fire so that the cannabinoids come out in this mist that’s easily inhaled and then there are no carcinogens and essentially no tars or anything like that that would create any respiratory problems. I do want to point out, though, that I have data that suggest that folks who an ounce or less per month really don’t report a lot of respiratory symptoms in the first place. So you don’t see a lot of coughing and hacking and waking up with phlegm, tightness in the chest and things like that for people who smoke cannabis and don’t smoke cigarettes, particularly if they’re not smoking more than an ounce per month. So, I think the idea that we’re taking all these steps to sidestep respiratory harm kind of implies that cannabis creates more respiratory harm than it actually does.

Dean: Well, alright. Thank you Dr. Earleywine. Let’s go ahead and hear a little bit more from John Walters.

(Audio Track) John Walters: We’re trying to do some advertising for prevention in the United States but the…you know people are victims of their own experience. Baby Boomer era adults now think of this in terms of marijuana that was 1% THC content in the 1980’s, the psycho-active ingredient, they were using in their late teens. The reality of marijuana use today is the average in the United States is 7% to 9%. BC bud goes to the high teens to twenty. We’ve had imports that go as high as 27% THC content. It’s many times as potent and kids are starting not at seventeen but at thirteen, twelve, eleven, and ten.

Dean: Alright, gentlemen, what do you think of that?

Mitch: Bruce, do you want to start in?

Bruce: Of, where do you start? Mitch, do you want to start on that or should I?

Mitch: Well, the thing that always blows my mind is this idea that cannabis in the 70’s was 1% THC. (laughter) When we have laboratory cannabis that’s 1% THC, it’s the placebo weed. Nobody wants to smoke it. It gives you a headache. It does not get you high. Obviously if that were the drug that was around then, nobody would have used it. What happened? Well, police would get some cannabis, they’d throw it in a hot evidence locker, send it down to Mississippi to have it analyzed, you know, sometime later that month. Well by then, the THC had all degraded. So of course it was 1% THC. I think that’s the first and foremost point to make. And then Bruce, if you want to jump into the next of them, by all means...

Bruce: Well, you know, two things I would add: One is, first of all, I went to college in the 70’s. Trust me, there was marijuana around that was more than 1% THC. I know. I smoked some of it. There was always good stuff and cheap stuff. That has never changed. The reason that there has been something of an increase in average potency is that the higher potency stuff has become a little bit more common, a little bit easier to get. But, you know, there’s good reason to think that what increase in potency there has been, is, to some degree, a side effect of prohibition. If you look back in the history of the prohibition of alcohol, back in the 1920’s, the bootleggers started making beer. They quickly learned that is much easier to conceal hard liquor because you could make it in a much smaller quantity and give people the same kick and you could get more money for it. Prohibition increases potency. 

Dean: Now I wanted to address the one point he made about kids thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten using this. Children have always, you know, done what was possible, I suppose. And it is the black market that makes this more possible, that gives that access to…I’ve heard it said that children have easier access getting marijuana than they do alcohol or tobacco, and it seems to me that we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot with this policy of prohibition.

Mitch: Big Michigan surveys support that, Dean. So that when you ask seniors in high school how easy is it get beer or how easy is it get marijuana they usually say marijuana is easier. And, in part, it is because nobody in the black market, in the underground market says, “Can I see your ID please?” before you purchase. You can imagine a legal market where a state-run store or an independent store might be allowed to sell to folks 21 and older and then, of course, if they’re in danger of their license and their livelihood they’re going to card people. 

Dean: Well this is true. Now, gentlemen I want to ask you up front: If you had the chance to speak to John Walters, I’m figuring I’ve got ten seconds before they shut me off, how would you phrase a good question to him?

Bruce: Oh, Mitch? You want to take a whack at that?

Mitch: The first thing I’d like to ask is, what does he have against medical cannabis? Because I feel like this entire administration has basically taken crippled people and tried to throw them into jail. I mean, I know it sounds melodramatic, but all I really want to know is what does he have against medical cannabis? The institute of medicine, his own crew, says medical cannabis has (unintelligible) potential. They said, “Oh, we don’t want to smoke drug.” Well, we have the vaporizer now. What do you want? What else do you want? You want a randomized clinical trial? Well, then fund one and let somebody have the cannabis in order to do one legally. That would be where I would want to start because I feel that’s where 70 to 80% of Americans are behind the idea of proving medical cannabis and he knows, he knows that he just can’t say it’s ok.

Dean: Well, one of our guests last week, Dr. Rick Dobbin was one of the parties to that suit against the ONDCP, the FDA, I don’t know a whole litany of U.S. government abbreviations, to allow those studies to happen, to allow that marijuana to be available to these scientists to do that work.

Bruce: Well, you know that’s absolutely right and I guess the other thing that I would like to ask Mr. Walters is, I would love to just ask him why he so relentlessly misrepresents the actual data. You know, do you need to do that to make your case? And if so, do you think that maybe it’s time to rethink? Where is the evidence Mr. Walters that your policies are doing what they’re supposed to do. You know, frankly I’ve got to say, I’m not sure, there’s some people that you can’t argue with and he’s probably one of them, it’s sort of like discussing ethics with a piranha. (laughter)

Dean: Well, this is true. I kind of dread going into the same room with Tom DeLay and John Walters, but I’m going to do it and I appreciate those questions for him.

Bruce: You’re a braver man than I. (laughter)

Dean: All right, Steve go ahead and run that next Walters track for us.

(Audio Track) John Walters: Nobody wants to see, you know, relationship on drugs make Canada look like Mexico here. And it creates problems for free trade…(unintelligible)…across our borders and we want to stop and we’re trying to aggressively treat and reduce use and break up the organizations that market it in our streets. But, if the new, most dangerous form of marijuana being produced is uncontrolled at the production stage, it’s very hard to control the border without cutting into things like trade and free movement of people. So, the real issue here is, we have to be able to go after at the place where the production is being done at a more aggressive fashion if we’re going to optimize it. Otherwise, then we have to continue to increase enforcement at the border and it makes our job in our own streets in the United States more difficult.

Dean: Bruce, this might be a better one for you. What do you think? Is this some type of blackmail against the people of Canada?
Bruce: Well, it certainly sounds like it and the Canadians, I think, tended to interpret it that way. But the bottom line is that there is not the slightest shred of evidence that all of our government’s marijuana eradication efforts have ever made the slightest dent in the marijuana supply. You know, if you look at the government’s own statistics from the various surveys they put out every year, you can see that from the early 90’s to the last couple of years, the number of marijuana arrests have skyrocketed. Through all that time, in fact going back as far as 1975 when they first started taking these statistics, high school seniors have reported in a survey called “Monitoring the Future”, 83% to 90% have called marijuana “easy to get.” And that number has virtually not changed for 30 years.

Dean: We are running out of time, but I’m looking at a copy Dr. Mitch Earleywine’s book here Understanding Marijuana: A new look at the scientific evidence and I recommend to everyone out there that they get a copy. That they educate themselves and they stand forth against this jihad on marijuana users. It’s an insane policy and Bruce, if you would, tell the folks a bit about your organization, where they might learn more on this subject.

Bruce: Sure, and I do want to say I also highly recommend Mitch’s book which I refer to all the time. The Marijuana Policy Project is a national organization based in Washington D.C. You can find out more about us on the web at and you can sign up and get free e-mail updates and alerts about bills and legislation and developments and please do. We need all the support we can get. As you can hear, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Dean: Indeed we have. Dr. Earleywine, if you would…just some closing comments you’d like to make.

Mitch: The bottom line is, it’s not about getting everyone to smoke pot; it’s about making sure that nobody goes to jail for owning a plant.

Dean: Very true, very true. Gentlemen, I want to thank you both for joining us on Cultural Baggage, and as you both know we’ll do this again. You guys are super and I thank you so much.

Mitch: Thanks a lot Dean.

Bruce: Thanks very much.

Dean: Alright, bye-bye. Steve, let’s go ahead and run the Poppygate.

(Audio Track) Poppygate Report featuring Glenn Greenway:

Dean: It’s not possible to wage a moralistic war against consensual vices unless privacy is eliminated along with the Constitution. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world in large part due to the war on some drugs. America can either be a free country or a drug free country but not both. That’s from Robert Sharp. He’s a policy analyst for the Common Sense for Drug Policy, Please be sure to join us next week when our guest will be Emily Reilly, a working city councilwoman for the city of Santa Cruz. She’ll be coming to Houston as part of project Housterdam and speaking to our council as well. Working together, we can bring this drug war to an end. In closing, as always, I must remind you that because of drug prohibition, you really don’t know what’s in that bag, so you need to be careful; you need to consider your purchases. You need to think about doing drugs in the first place. Be careful my friends.

(Audio Track) Closing track