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Harvard Professor Writes Questionable Defense of Trump’s Reefer Madness

Harvard Professor Publishes Questionable Defense of Trump Reefer Madness

Joint Opinions

Harvard Professor Writes Questionable Defense of Trump’s Reefer Madness

Kevin P. Hill offers a signal-boost of the U.S. Surgeon General’s cannabis advisory that nobody needed.

In an essay published on on Sept. 20, Kevin P. Hill, an addiction psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, provided a welcome distraction from the ongoing moral panic over vaping — which to date is believed to have killed 12 Americans, or fewer than half the number of humans on bicycles killed by cars in New York City this year — by offering instead a defense of modern-day “reefer madness.”

In late August, just as the first few reports of a mysterious lung ailment possibly related to vaporizer use were surfacing, Jerome Adams, Donald Trump’s current surgeon general, released the first Surgeon General’s advisory on cannabis in 37 years.

Cannabis, according to Adams and Alex Azar, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a “dangerous drug” that poses a particular threat to youth and to pregnant women — many of whom are under the mistaken impression that using weed, which is many magnitudes more powerful than it used to be, is relatively risk free.

“This ain’t your mother’s marijuana,” warned Adams, who declared without equivocation, that cannabis use is linked to lowering IQs, plummeting school performance and even suicide.

The next day, the official Surgeon General Twitter account posted the claim, refuted numerous times by numerous studies, that legalization has led to more youth cannabis use.

Rather than point out the Surgeon General’s many misstatements and outright fabrications, Hill instead chooses to amplify them while chasing a few apparent beliefs of his own. The public, Hill asserts, have been bamboozled by an “historical narrative” into believing that “weed is safe and good for you.” He laments the paucity of science on cannabis’s benefits (something that even legalization advocates could agree on) while also suggesting that legalization, despite the often draconian restrictions under which it has been cautiously advanced, itself suggests that cannabis can be used “whenever, however, and with whomever we want.”

And Hill also draws a connection between high-potency cannabis and “potentially disastrous results” like the vision of a teenage wasteland of increased psychosis, physical dependence, and declining function invoked by Surgeon General Adams — whose claims Hill does not see fit to examine critically. This is probably because the assumptions on which Hill’s offering to the discourse are based rely on the same thin evidence as Adams’s. That is, they’re thinner and weaker than a roll of off-brand paper towels in the rain and include at least a few strawmen of Hill’s own making for good measure.

Hill writes that “increasing legal access to weed does not and should not imply that weed is risk-free.” To this, Hill should be asked, “Who, exactly, made such an implication?” It certainly was not any pro-legalization campaign. In every recent political effort where legalization was at stake, accepted as gospel were the notions that cannabis and kids are a bad mix; that cannabis should not be consumed in public or most anyplace, ever; and that individual counties, cities, and towns should be allowed to ban legalized cannabis for any reason whatsoever (or no reason at all). And all this —restrictions that are not applied to alcohol or tobacco outside of “dry counties” in the Bible Belt, a vestige of a bygone era — came from the pro-legalization side! Whether a political decision or not, every legalization effort accepts that cannabis use carries risk and is thus an activity that should not be done by anyone aside from an adult 21 or over, and even then only in certain environments.

To buttress his assumption that the general public — the same public of whom 40% can be relied upon to oppose legalization wherever it appears on the ballot — has been fooled into thinking weed is safe, he offers the results of an online survey conducted by a University of California, San Francisco researcher. The researcher, a physician, admits that there’s limited evidence that cannabis is harmful (this despite decades of prohibition and many studies that set out to show some harm, such as the UCLA lung-health study that instead showed long-term cannabis use wasn’t associated with lung issues) but that there could be harm out there somewhere we just haven’t found yet, despite almost two centuries of well-documented use dating back to the British Raj. More problematic for Hill is that the study does find that a vast majority of Americans admit cannabis use carries harms, just maybe not the harms Hill wants us to worry about.

Perhaps worst of all is Hill’s suggestion of a nexus between the increased availability of high-potency cannabis and incidences of serious mental health problems like psychosis. There are two serious problems here. One is that “the weed is stronger than ever before!” is a claim that has been made for almost four decades — with increasingly shameless disregard for facts.

In 1975, authorities told us that cannabis was 20 times stronger than it was in the 1960s. In 1986, according to NIDA, cannabis was seven times stronger than it was in the 1970s. In the mid-1990s, according to Joe Biden, using cannabis was analogous to using a “laser-guided missile” as opposed to a shotgun. Exaggerations like this hide the limited truth on which they are based.

Cannabis potency has absolutely increased. A decade ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that the average strength of cannabis confiscated was 11.1% THC, up from 4.8% in 1988, an increase of about 125%. But any link between potent cannabis and accompanying health problems is questionable at best. And while adults do seem to prefer stronger cannabis, Hill’s axiomatic suggestion that this is in any way problematic is undercut by his own admission that science is sorely lacking.

And what’s the missing and unspoken second leg of the suggested logical argument? “Today’s cannabis is more potent; therefore, today’s cannabis users are all using more potent cannabis.” Is this true? To assume yes would dismiss the CBD craze and those users seeking out THC-CBD blends. About the worst case scenario Hill can conjure is the “unpleasant and scary” outcome when an edibles consumer, either deliberately or by misadventure, eats too much weed. While definitely very bad and avoidable, edibles scare-tactics have largely evaporated thanks in part to strict new state regulations that limit edibles to no more than 100 milligrams of THC per package. This does extremely sick patients who need much more than that to manage pain or other serious symptoms a grand disservice — and apparently hasn’t done much to satisfy the pearl-clutchers’ cynical fear-mongering.

Hill does make a few good points. He calls for “sensible, evidence-based education on weed for all stakeholders… to bridge the gap between the science of cannabis and public perception.” He also recognizes that the science, such as it is, is sorely lacking and lagging far behind society. Though he oddly has praise for the National Institutes of Health, which has been notoriously tight-fisted with research money and has also earned a reputation for only funding cannabis-related studies having to do with abuse rather than health or wellness, while also failing to mention the very salient fact that the only government-approved cannabis available for research is the very same weak stuff he earlier declared irrelevant.

The good thing about Adams’s own screed, the latest incidence of health officials using the power of their office for political purposes, is that it went away quickly and was replaced by the panic over vaping. Hill is surely a clever fellow, well-educated and well-read. Why he’s choosing to spend his time and a national platform on a crusade in search of a problem is his business, but amplifying Adams’s blinkered logic was not the contribution to the discourse anyone needed — anyone except Adams and the anti-legalization brigade.

TELL US, what is the craziest “reefer madness” story you’ve heard?



  1. carl vagg

    February 9, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    World Health Organization has, after consideration of relevant realities, research and suchlike, officially recommended that cannabis be removed from scheduling or rescheduled to United Nations CND, which failed to vote on it, until March, a matter of weeks away.. There is no precedent for rejecting WHO recommendations to UNCND such as for cannabis scheduling.. only corruption of process can prevent this official cannabis status – the basis of all international treaties held up as the basis for scheduling including USA S.1 – from following that official WHO recommendation[s]..
    All ‘reefer madness’ musunderstandings as to cannabis effects, predate, our knowledge and understanding of the human endo-cannabinoid system, only relatively recently understood as one of our primary health/healing systems..
    No manipulation of terminology can remove this fundamental reality, or our own bodies creating and using CBDs – and plant based CBD’s, to kill cancer and many other physiological realities.. Rest assured big pharma is well aware of this unfolding field of medicine, and of course pharmaceuticals..

  2. YearofAction

    September 29, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Good article, and good fact-checking. Here is a historical narrative with some additional fact-checking:

    The U.S. Constitution in 1787 had no prohibition of cannabis. Its Commerce Clause anticipated cannabis commerce between states, with foreign nations and Indian tribes. Its Necessary and Proper Clause intended for laws to be correctly composed.

    The plant Cannabis sativa L. was such a versatile, valuable, renewable natural resource in 1791, that the Bill of Rights intended for its legal use to remain locally controlled.

    The 9th Amendment intended for the right to use cannabis to not be denied or disparaged, even though the right to bear arms was established by the 2nd Amendment. The prohibition of gun ownership by cannabis users violates that amendment. However, there is a way to respect both Amendments by reinforcing the Well Regulated Militia Clause.

    The power to control cannabis was removed from the federal government, and reserved to the states and the people by the 10th Amendment. The 20th century’s federal misconstruction that prohibited-marijuana also means prohibited-cannabis, and the 21st century’s misguided federal definition of hemp as a variety of cannabis for the purpose of excluding it from prohibited-marijuana, both violate the 10th Amendment.

    Hemp refers to cannabis fibers, but it is defined at the federal level by the THC content of cannabis, which is misleading. That is like defining “darkness” as electromagnetism with less than 0.3% light.

    Furthermore, in 1868 the states ratified the 14th Amendment to establish privileges and immunities for citizens, both freeborn and newly emancipated, to continue to grow and use cannabis, which the states could not abridge. Allocation of “marijuana businesses licenses” to oligopolistic corporations, violates the 14th Amendment.

    In the context of these amendments, the powers, rights, privileges, and immunities to control cannabis were established for states, people, and citizens, not for the federal government, nor for corporations. The definition of marijuana should be reconstructed to respect that contextual framework.

    When the malformed definition of marijuana was introduced by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, when it was subtly modified and placed in Schedule 1 by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and when it was severely modified to exclude hemp by the Farm Bill of 2018, each of those definitions contained these same three constitutional deficiencies that can easily be rectified:

    1. Instead of using the anglicized homonym “marijuana”, each definition uses the Mexican term “marihuana” to imbue racism into the law.

    The trick of imbuing racism into the definition misdirected the enforcement of marijuana prohibition, and dishonored the Constitution.

    2. Instead of clearly describing how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis, each definition adumbrates the actual meaning of marijuana with this riddle embedded within its circumlocutory text: Marijuana is what substance that is “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.”, and simultaneously “does not include the mature stalks of such plant”?

    The trick of adumbrating the actual meaning of marijuana enabled the strategic misconstruction of its meaning, facilitated the malicious propaganda about marijuana, and dishonored the Constitution.

    3. Instead of explicitly including the legitimate federal use-prohibitions of cannabis, each definition subsumes them under the overreaching prohibition of marijuana.

    The legitimate federal use-prohibitions of cannabis that control the undesired proliferation of marijuana can be derived from the 2nd, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments. The trick of subsuming them is how the prohibition of marijuana got aggrandized to dishonor the Constitution.

    The persistent tricks of the imbued racism, the adumbrating riddle, and the subsuming of cannabis use-prohibitions, are proof that each of the malformed federal definitions of marijuana have never been “necessary and proper” federal laws.

    Those deficiencies can be altogether rectified, by combining the corrective phrases in a reconstructed definition having the straightforward, necessary and proper format that literally upholds the Constitution.

    “The public, Hill asserts, have been bamboozled by an ‘historical narrative’ into believing that ‘weed is safe and good for you.’ He laments the paucity of science on cannabis’s benefits (something that even legalization advocates could agree on) while also suggesting that legalization, despite the often draconian restrictions under which it has been cautiously advanced, itself suggests that cannabis can be used ‘whenever, however, and with whomever we want.'”

    The asserted bamboozling, the paucity of cannabis science, and the suggestion that legal cannabis can be used carelessly, can all be addressed by reconstructing the malformed federal definition of marijuana in the necessary and proper way to literally uphold the Constitution.

    Because it is Congress that must reconstruct the malformed federal definition of marijuana to make it literally uphold the Constitution, and while Congress is working on marijuana reform, more people should contact their members of Congress about reconstructing the definition to carefully deschedule cannabis by rectifying the deficiencies to make the definition uphold the Constitution, like this:

    (16) The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L., which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is their intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    Reconstructing the definition this way will carefully deschedule cannabis within a perimeter of legitimate but limited federal cannabis use-prohibitions, while retaining the Schedule 1 status of marijuana itself until its adulterated medical value is separately reconsidered. That reconsideration could come quickly, or not. Keep in contact with your members of Congress.

    p.s. Compare the reconstructed definition to the current malformed definition:

    (16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    (B) The term “marihuana” does not include (i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946; or (ii) the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.

  3. Jeff

    September 28, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I just want to know is which big pharma company did he come from before he got this govt. job? They say there is no evidence of medical benefit, what they are really saying is there is no financial benefit for the big drug companies and we want the Feds to continue to demonize this plant.

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