Reefer Madness Forever
“Marijuana’s Role in the Tucson Shooting” was the extremely misleading headline on an article by Joe Califano that the Huffington Post ran Jan. 21. Why is that supposedly liberal site disseminating propaganda by a leading Drug Warrior? There is no evidence that marijuana had any “role” in the Tucson shooting. Readers who only glance at the story will assume otherwise.
Califano begins by blowing politic kisses towards Barack Obama and John Boehner. Then he changes tone to sneer at “the thousands of pundits, left and right, arguing about the meaning of the tragedy in Arizona,” who missed a lesson “as important as any other lesson to come out of this tragedy. It’s about the relationship of marijuana use to psychotic illness.”
After another shot at commentators preoccupied with laws that allow automatic weapons and super-size ammo clips, Califano makes his pitch: “I haven’t seen press reports or talking heads discuss their concern about how easy it has been for this mentally ill young man to get marijuana. And there has been no mention of the potential of marijuana to spark latent psychosis and exacerbate schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.”
Califano cites a study in … the Lancet and two other studies suggesting that using cannabis leads to psychotic breaks. Califano does not allow that these studies are considered inconclusive at best by many psychiatrists, including Lester Grinspoon, whose textbook on Schizophrenia has been the standard text.
Califano quotes reports that Loughner once used marijuana; but he ignores other reports that Loughner quit three years ago and that his drug of choice was Salvia Divinorum. Califano wants the question settled: “If the police have any of the hair shaved from Loughner’s head, they can easily find out if marijuana was in his system at the time of the shooting. They may even be able to do so from hair that grows back in.”
It seems like an easy test to rig if one were so inclined. And we know Joe Califano of old, he has few qualms about manipulating the facts. The following is from O’Shaughnessy’s report on the Prop 215 campaign (the ballot initiative by which California voters legalized the medical use of marijuana on November 4, 1996):
In the final weeks of the campaign some leading drug warriors from Back East -stunned that the people of California were on the verge of rejecting a lifetime of their propaganda-decided to step in. Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, flew out to Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 28 to warn Californians that they did not understand the open-endedness of Prop 215. Califano had hired two pollsters to query 800 residents over the weekend. He must have been very confident of the outcome because arrangements for his press conference were made before the questions had been asked. “It was a push-pull,” explains Paul Maslin, a San Francisco pollster. This is a type of survey in which the questioner, after getting an initial response, provides additional information and then asks again, evoking a changed response. Califano announced at his press conference that 46 percent of the respondents supported Prop 215 when first asked, but only 36 percent after its inherent looseness had been pointed out to them. Califano’s goal in commissioning the poll, according to Maslin was to make voters think that the “no” side still had a realistic chance on Election Day and to minimize any bandwagon effect that would magnify the “yes” vote.
Flash-forward to the Huffington Post, Jan. 21. Califano concludes:
“we should be asking this question: Is Jared Loughner an individual whose psychosis was prompted or exacerbated by the use of marijuana? Whether or not he is, it is important for the press and parents to see this horrendous incident not only as a teaching moment about the easy availability and dangerous potential of automatic weapons, but also as a teaching moment about the easy availability and dangerous potential of marijuana to spark and exacerbate psychosis and schizophrenia in individuals with latent mental illnesses.
“The missing story line in existing news reports and television chatter shows is about the terrible trinity of easy availability of guns, easy availability of marijuana and mental illness. The question for all of us, especially parents of teenagers, to ask is this: Is the media’s failure to acknowledge this tragic trinity due to its tendency to overlook or underplay the dangers of marijuana use?
“Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Founder and Chair of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter Administration, and served from 1965 to 1969 as chief domestic affairs assistant to president Lyndon B. Johnson.”