Review by Peter Webster of 
Medical Marihuana

 in a Time of Prohibition

"Medical Marihuana in a Time of Prohibition" was published in the April 1999 issue of The International Journal of Drug Policy. Prior to publication it was peer-reviewed by a member of the editorial board, Peter Webster. Mr. Webster has kindly shared his comments on the paper which we present here.

The submitted article, "Medical Marihuana in a Time of Prohibition" is timely, excellently and clearly written, and examines in significant detail the ramifications of current drives in the U.S. to allow doctors to recommend, and patients to use, possess, and grow marijuana for medical purposes, a drive which in the U.S. has all but supplanted efforts to simply repeal marijuana prohibition. And the results of this drive, its associated medical marijuana initiatives and proposals (even by the government) to move cannabis (or its synthesized derivatives) to a less restrictive drug schedule, as the article so convincingly argues, are not necessarily going to lead us to more sane drug policy, and may even constitute a setback. The author, who has obviously been in the thick of things concerning drugs and drug legislation for many years, leaves the reader with greater consternation on the advisability of depending on medical marijuana issues to "lead the way" toward much broader and necessary reform.

Such a message will not sit well with many reformers and groups in the U.S. who have worked hard for and funded the medical marijuana initiatives that have been voted for by large majorities wherever they have been proposed but the message of this article, even if it might seem to belittle some current reform efforts, is a very important message indeed, and needs to be thoroughly evaluated by reformers, for in the long run all serious workers in the reform arena know that the ultimate goals is not simply allowing dying patients to use marijuana! It is the doctrine of Prohibition itself which is the root of the "drug problem." The author makes this very clear, not by direct statement, but by unavoidable inference, and under the circumstances, this seems the best attack to take. The article thus clarifies much ongoing debate on medical marijuana and drug law reform in general. The article should ignite an important turning point in perceived tactics on fighting Prohibition, and if it does not, it will not be the fault of an incomplete or faulty analysis by the author, but the by-now-all-too-familiar phenomenon of logic and common sense playing at most a minor role in the evolution of modern society’s thinking and approach to "drug problems."

The article once again poignantly illustrates that the U.S. federal government has, with its policies and regulatory agencies, over the past decades but escalating rapidly in recent years, painted itself into a corner with no hope of escape or even compromise; it seems to be betting its entire credibility and future on a policy which almost everyone knows to be a horrible fiasco. Thus my only disagreement with the article is with its conclusion, in which the author thinks that cannabis prohibition will gradually fall into disuse by popular demand rather than be subject to revision or official repeal, much as the notorious and still-on-the books "blue laws" of many U.S. states concerning sexual practices among consenting adults simply became obsolete, unenforced, and ignored. Prohibition goes far deeper into the collective psyche than would permit its enforcement to simply be forgotten. (And the momentum of the multibillions invested in the Drug War also will not allow de-escalation.) We have in drug use no mere insult to someone’s bogus views on morality as with oral sex, for instance, but something deeply ingrained into the collective unconscious of Western Civilization, a phenomenon which provided a major motivation and excuse and lubricant for the atrocities of the colonial age, the stealing of aboriginal lands and the genocide of those drug-using "heathens" living there; something deeply ingrained into the more regrettable religious convictions of medieval Catholicism, ingrained in and revealed by the very hubris of a civilization whose main goal appears to be "conquering" the entire universe rather than the infinitely more wise course of cooperating with it. The battle of Prohibition seems to be shaping up as the mother of ALL battles, a hinge upon which not only fundamental paradigms of modern civilization swing perilously, but the very survival itself of advanced human societies. Thus I would be very surprised, even though it would be a pleasant surprise, if cannabis prohibition simply died out of its own absurdity, or discredited like McCarthyism or other notorious witch-hunts; I unfortunately see yet much greater atrocities on the horizon of the Sargasso Sea of Prohibition. But of course, this article is not the proper medium for getting entangled in THAT issue. "One thing at a time" is a dictum which the author has respected very effectively.