Government has apparently dropped 'gateway' theory, marijuana critics should too

Recently the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) quietly removed a report from its website, suggesting that it is finally giving up the false theories that cannabis is a “gateway drug,” or that it causes permanent brain damage or psychosis.

These myths have been at the heart of positions held by marijuana prohibitionists and often served as their platform when voting against medical cannabis legislation.

The good news is that prohibitions that have been holding out support for medical cannabis policy can now let science guide their policy making decisions.

The bad news is unless elected officials read the DEA’s “Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana (DPR)” issued August 12, 2016, they would still see outdated information being disseminated from the DEA.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the organization I founded, is trying to remedy this problem by utilizing our members’ rights under the Information Quality Act (IQA). We’ve had mixed results.

On Dec. 5, 2016, ASA submitted an “IQA Request for Correction of Information Disseminated by DEA Regarding Marijuana (Cannabis)” which cites 25 violations under the IQA. Specifically, the Request states that the DEA website contained inaccurate statements about:  (1) the gateway drug hypothesis; (2) irreversible cognitive decline in adults; and (3) cannabis causing psychosis.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Information Quality Guidelines require that the DEA respond to a request for correction within 60 calendar days.

While neither the DEA nor the DOJ responded to ASA’s request, the document, “The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse,” which contained the majority of the inaccurate statements was removed from their website.

However, two previously archived documents on marijuana have now reappeared, and the section on “Marijuana” in the “Drugs of Abuse” document has not been updated or removed.

The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has everyone wondering what he will do about cannabis enforcement. Sessions has been a staunch supporter of the DEA and cites their publications and opinions about marijuana to justify his opposition to medical cannabis policy reform.

After all, in a 2014 Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Session mentioned the gateway drug theory:

“I think one of (President Obama’s) great failures is it's been obvious to me is his lax treatment and comments on marijuana. ...

"Lives will be impacted, families will be broken up, children will be damaged because of the difficulties their parents have, and people may be psychologically impacted the rest of their lives with marijuana. And if they go on to more serious drugs which tends to happen, and you can deny it if you want to, but it tends to happen, there will be even greater (consequences).”

In a letter delivered to the DEA this week reminding them of the DOJ IQA deadline, ASA’s legal counsel stated:

“It is crucial that the DEA correct its inaccurate statements, especially in light of Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General of the United States. ... As the top law enforcement official in the nation, Mr. Sessions must have access to accurate information based on current scientific data in order to make informed decisions regarding the enforcement (or non-enforcement) of federal drug laws.

“Allowing Mr. Sessions to make law enforcement decisions based on biased, out-of-date information does a tremendous disservice to ASA’s members and the American people at large. Therefore, ASA respectfully requests that the DEA respond to its Request, and/or remove the remaining inaccurate statements from its website.”

No matter the outcome of the IQA petition, policy makers that have voted or are considering voting against medical cannabis policy and the patients that they serve based on the gateway drug hypothesis, irreversible cognitive decline in adults; and/or cannabis causing psychosis should read the “Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana,(DPR)”, . . . .especially AG Sessions.