Sunday, May 08, 2016

DC Marijuana Protest

by Don Wharton

I attended the protest demonstration in front of the White House held April 2, 2016. Their 51 foot long plastic joint, inflated by a fan, said “Obama Deschedule Cannabis Now.” This referred to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which lists drugs with a high potential for abuse, no medical use, and no safe use even under medical supervision. Marijuana does not belong on Schedule 1.

A number of speakers described how some variety of cannabis was needed to deal with their seizures, pain, or side effects of cancer. There are many more medical uses for marijuana with various levels of credibility in the published literature. A religious fanatic pranced around the demonstration holding a Bible above his head and spouted various verses. Not until he appeared right next to me did I find out the Healing Church had won a court case defining marijuana as a sacrament. The passages he cited were ones he thought referred to cannabis. It shows how the metaphorical language of religion can justify just about anything.

The single most common reason people cite for using cannabis is to enhance their delight in the world. I consumed some edibles someone gave me at the demonstration. I had five hits from joints that people shared with me including one from Adam Eidinger, organizer of the event. This was in a sea of cameras so there is likely to be ample evidence I was violating the law as a point of civil disobedience. I also got royally stoned for the first time in decades. I love life as it is, so I feel little need to chemically enhance things. My choice to engage was purely political.

That said, the experience was quite delightful. I use mindfulness meditation where the goal is let go of all ideas and abstract understandings to attend solely to what is real. Perception can be maximized by choosing to place attention only on one's physical being and surroundings. The cannabis enhancement of this effect brings it to an amazing new level. I was richly reminded of the peak in joy that can occur when someone feels totally unified with everything that is. Many people have mistakenly presumed such peak experiences are a transcendental communicating with God. The vibrancy of flowers and the singing of birds are examples of experiences that become massively richer. A wren landed a few feet in front me. I stopped walking and attended to the bird. I was amazed this small wild creature showed no fear. It cocked its head five different ways to look at me. It felt like a quasi-conversation where each of us shared awareness of the consciousness of the other.

Given my delight in interacting with the wren it was obvious I was enjoying my abstract understanding of what happened. I then looked what I was doing in front of the White House. There were five million people arrested for marijuana just during the Obama administration. Some of these suffered radically outsized penalties such as the veteran who got life in prison for the two pound stash used to manage the pain from his wounds. Ehrlichman in the Nixon administration had made it clear the motivation for the war on drugs was to target their major political opposition, the anti-war left and blacks. The facts about marijuana literally did not matter. What mattered was allocating power to the pro-war conservatives who supported Nixon. I loved the idea of being there in civil disobedience against the repressive stupidity of that drug war. I was standing against the pain and destruction of millions of lives because a power elite deemed segments of the population to be their political enemy. These ideas and many others covered by the protest speakers were included in one massive non-verbal network of ideas that somehow appeared in my mind as a single unified whole. It became clear that ideas could be as awesomely vibrant and luminous as direct sensory perceptions. With this awareness the goal ceased to be a mindfulness empty of ego and abstractions. Instead I became aware of the vast range of choices possible concerning consciousness and savored exploring that range. Later I spent an extremely delightful evening with my loving significant other with no hangover the next day. In fact the next day had a wonderful afterglow of happiness.

A central scientific claim by those who support keeping cannabis on Schedule 1 is that there is no safe use and no medical use. It is not a goal of this article to do an extensive review of either the benefits or possible negatives, but we do need to review the major problems and fears. There are some allergic reactions which can be severe. Some people get panic attacks. Some cannabis supporters claim that users do not get addicted. Routine use does increase the prevalence of cannabinoid receptors and there are some negative symptoms such as irritability upon withdrawal. The fact the percent who get addicted is much lower than the case for alcohol and tobacco and the symptoms more mild is no excuse to pretend that cannabis addiction does not occur. It does. There are no deaths whatsoever from the direct chemical effect for average people. It is nominally even safer than caffeine. Caffeine has a lethal dose level only 75 to 100 times the typical dose in a cup of coffee. With marijuana the lethal dose of tetrahydrocannabinol is not know with precision but it is certain to be thousands of times greater than the amount required to saturate all cannabinoid receptors in the human body and produce the maximum possible psychoactive response.

Obviously, it is highly recommended that people not drive or engage in dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana or any drug. The possible harms from marijuana are the exception and it is clear the vast majority of people can safely use it. Medical services are needed only to determine which variety and dosage is required to provide benefit and to respond to the small percent who have the unfortunate responses noted above.

Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill, S. 2237, titled "Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015"1. In his opinion it is crazy to continue having marijuana on Schedule 1. A recent Gallup poll had 58% of American favoring legal use of marijuana2. As with LGBT rights there is a sharp differential across generations. A PEW Research poll earlier found 68% of the millennial generation supporting legal use3. Personal quotes cited in the PEW report:
“It is not as harmful as alcohol. [...] It also helps medical conditions as a more natural substitute to pharmaceuticals.” Female, 46
“My grandson was diagnosed with epilepsy a year ago and it has been proven that it helps with the seizures.” Female, 69
“I think crime would be lower if they legalized marijuana. It would put the drug dealers out of business.” Female, 62
“Because people should be allowed to have control over their body and not have the government intervene in that.” Male, 18
“I think that we would have more control over it by allowing a federal agency to tax and regulate it like alcohol.” Male, 25

Footnotes
1: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s2237/text
2: http://www.gallup.com/poll/186260/back-legal-marijuana.aspx
3: http://www.people-press.org/2015/04/14/in-debate-over-legalizing-marijuana-disagreement-over-drugs-dangers/

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