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International Prohibition: The Next Battleground

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Joint Opinions

International Prohibition: The Next Battleground

Recently two U.S. cannabis reformers Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMCA) traveled to Geneva to address a committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) about cannabis reform. In the complicated scheme of international drug control, WHO is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). And like the USFDA, WHO has numerous committees and sub-committees that have their fingers in the cannabis control pie. Among them is the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) which had its first meeting in 1949 and, according to its website, “has played a central role in the international drug control system.”

ECDD is rather like a blend of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) with the tonality and thought-processes of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It’s main task is “to carry out medical and scientific evaluations of the abuse liability of dependence-producing drugs falling within the terms of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.”

In November the ECDD held its 37th Open Session and invited comments on drugs under their purview. Of the nine presentations only two, from Sherer and Krawitz, addressed cannabis. The other seven were focused on ketamine. This surprised both Sherer and Krawitz since the UN has announced a Special Session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in April 2016. The reformers reasoned that this meeting of the ECDD would be a “dress rehearsal” for the upcoming UN meeting which goes by the rather odd acronym, UNGASS. Additionally, in June 2014, the ECDD had been presented with an Information Document entitled “Cannabis and Cannabis Resin” which frequently makes reference to “when the committee reviews” cannabis. It was natural to think that this last scheduled meeting prior to the UNGASS review would be ECDD’s opportunity to discuss cannabis… at least openly.

The committee chairman began the meeting by proudly stating, “Everybody who requested a speaking slot got one.” Krawitz knew that wasn’t the case since two colleagues, one from Czechoslovakia and the other from France, had submitted requests to speak and were turned down. Being able to cherry-pick witnesses is a hallmark of prohibitionists throughout history but there is another, more sinister tactic — censorship.

Both Krawitz and Sherer provided written statements ahead of the meeting and were allowed to orally present those statements in Geneva. Krawitz used part of his precious presentation time to aim some criticism at ECDD member Bertha Madras.

Dr. Madras is a U.S. professor of psychobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School. She served as the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction in the G.W. Bush White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She believes that marijuana causes a loss of IQ in teenagers, supports random drug testing of students and was the single witness called by the government in 2014 during evidentiary hearings in a California courtroom. She steadfastly maintained that plant-derived medicines were inferior to single-ingredient medications.

It can be safely said that Dr. Madras’ mind is made up when it comes to medical cannabis.

Aware of Dr. Madras’ stance on cannabis, Krawitz was appalled at her presence on the ECDD committee and he wrote:

“Finally I just have to make a note that in the United States we have been making efforts for years to reschedule cannabis at the national level and one of our key opponents, speaking for the United States government in opposition to us in our efforts was Dr. Madras and I would ask the committee to look into this relationship between the United States government and Dr. Madras.”

Krawitz must have struck a nerve. When the committee published the presented papers from the meeting there were only eight. Krawitz’s paper was nowhere to be found. He immediately contacted the ECDD, asking that his paper be included in the list. Several days later he asked again.

When Krawitz’s statement was finally added to the online list of presentations the 68 words on Dr. Madras were missing.

Had Krawitz’s words been inflammatory or derogatory it might make sense that they would be redacted. But when a citizen requests a review of one of the policy makers and that request is eliminated from a written statement there can be only one word — censored.

The writing may already be on the wall with regard to the UN’s long awaited “Critical Review” of drug control policy.

Have you ever been censored when speaking about cannabis? Tell us in the comments below.

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