06/15/14 Ethan Nadelmann

Century of Lies

DPA teleconference re DEA obstruction with Ethan Nadelmann, Rep Rohrbacher, Rep Cohen, Dr. Carl Hart, Bill Piper and more

Audio file


Century of Lies June 15, 2014


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Recently the Drug Policy Alliance held a teleconference with a couple of US congressmen, a couple of doctors to talk about the Drug Enforcement Administration and their obstructionist ways.


ETHAN NADELMANN: This is Ethan Nadelmann. I’m the founder and director of the Drug Policy Alliance which is a leading organization in the US promoting alternatives to the war on drugs.

We’ve released a report this week entitled, “The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science”. This report is the first of what we anticipate will be a number of reports pointing out problems about this federal agency which has been in existence since 1973 which has been subject to remarkably little scrutiny by congress or by almost anyone else and which seems to be operating increasingly or consistently I should say in opposition to scientific evidence and to medical necessity.

The report that we released this week is a joint report of MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and the Drug Policy Alliance focuses on the ways in which the DEA has impeded research by abusing its discretionary powers over the scheduling process, by making it incredibly difficult for researchers to obtains marijuana for research purposes.

Much of what we are pointing out are the obstacle that the DEA as posed specifically with respect to marijuana but there are cases as well involving the drug MDMA - popularly known as ecstasy.

Our recommendations in this report call for taking away the power over drug scheduling and over access to these drugs for research purposes from the DEA. The DEA is essentially a police and propaganda agency. It’s demonstrated a regular pattern of abusing its discretionary powers and we believe that this authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm or even better still by an organization that’s truly independent - perhaps something involved with the National Academy of the Sciences.

We will be working to encourage greater congressional oversight and also to call for these sorts of reforms under federal law.

Now I want to turn this over first to Rick Doblin. Rick Doblin is the founder/director of MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) which is the outstanding organization not just in the US but in the world really trying to open up to getting permission for and to fund research studies involving marijuana as well as psychedelic substances.

Rick, why don’t you go ahead.

RICK DOBLIN: Thank you, Ethan.

MAPS is essentially a non-profit pharmaceutical company seeking to develop Schedule I drugs into FDA-approved medicine. We’re focused on doing the research necessary to satisfy the FDA requirements for approval of safety and efficacy.

In 1992 DEA administrator Robert Bonner stated, “Though marijuana has medical uses which serves society better by promoting or sponsoring more legitimate scientific research rather than throwing their time, money and rhetoric into lobbying, public relations campaigns and perennial litigations.”

In 1992 I took Robert Bonner’s words and started active efforts to research the medical use of marijuana. It is now 22 years later and I’ve been unable to start a single privately funded medical marijuana drug development study. The main reason has been the resistance of DEA to opening the door to research. Despite their claim that they would support that research they have not done so.

The problem is inherentantly that the National Center on Drug Abuse has a DEA-protected monopoly on the production of marijuana that can be used in FDA-related research. In order to do research with medical marijuana we have to go to the agency that is focused on conducting research on the harms of marijuana.

We’ve had two protocols that were approved by FDA and the institutional review boards for which we were unable to obtain marijuana. We also tried for 7 years to buy 10 grams of marijuana for research with vaporizers which is a non-smoking delivery system and we were unable to obtain that.

I realize at the time that the focus that we needed to move to was to end the NIDA monopoly. We then were involved in litigation with the DEA for twelve years. We won a DEA administrative law judge lawsuit that the recommendation was that it would be in the public interest to license Professor Al Kraker at UMass Amherst. The DEA rejected that recommendation and we lost in the appeals court on the basis of the grounds that NIDA had an adequate supply.

About 4 years ago I started a marijuana PTSD study in veterans. We all know the tragedy of 22 veterans a day committing suicide. This was going to be for veterans who had PTSD. It took us years and years to get approval by the Public Health Service to get access to the marijuana from NIDA which NIDA claimed they had in writing and that’s why we lost the lawsuit against DEA.

In March of this year we were approved by the Public Health Service to do this study and now NIDA is telling us that they won’t have the marijuana that we need until January so there is no adequate and uninterrupted supply as is required by law.

Back in ’92 the FDA had a meeting and they decided with an advisory committee to open the door to research with MDMA and other psychedelics and we’ve been making tremendous progress with our work with MDMA. We have a study with veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. We’re curing some people with PTSD. We are saving lives and we are able to do this research. Other groups are doing research with psilocybin for peoples’ anxiety with “end of life”, with addiction.

Right now there is currently no significant problem with DEA or with FDA regards research. The main problem is that DEA in 1986 rejected the administrative law judge recommendation to MDMA into a prescription medicine and also DEA is protecting the NIDA monopoly which we feel should be ended. That’s the action item that should take place right now.

ETHAN NADELMANN: We turn next to Professor Carl Hart. Carl Hart is an associate professor in Department of Psychology and Psychiatry, Columbia University. He is a research scientist at the Division of Substance Abuse at eh New York State Psychiatric Institute. He’s a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and on the board of directors at both the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPPD) as well as the Drug Policy Alliance.

Carl, please...

CARL HART: Thank you, Ethan.

The major focus with my short remarks deals with the notion that the DEA - well, not the notion - the fact that the DEA has opposed efforts to reform the federal policy to acknowledge marijuana for medicinal purposes, its scheduling of marijuana.

This concerns me greatly as someone who has studied marijuana and given thousands of doses of the drug. When we think about all of the studies that have shown some potential for marijuana....studies that have been funded, by the way, by the federal government that have shown some potential for marijuana.

For example studies that we have done and other people have done as well have shown marijuana’s potential, for example, AIDS wasting – a wide range of studies where marijuana clearly has been shown to substantially and significantly increase food intake of people who had HIV/AIDS and other sort of medical potential benefits.

The notion that the DEA has not acknowledged this and gone about considering the rescheduling of marijuana just seems to be against the scientific evidence and it seems to be against with what we are trying to do in terms of having a society that relies on empirical evidence to base our decisions. That just seems inconstant.

Another sort of concern that I have is whenever we think about medicine being used in practice one of the major things that we consider is the risk/benefit ratio – that is, do the risks outweigh the benefits to the potential patient? There are clear situations where the benefits of marijuana clearly outweigh the risks. We think about kids who have Dravet Syndrome where some form of marijuana as been shown to give them back a quality of life. Those sorts of things clearly meet the standard where the benefit outweigh the risk where it should be considered, at the very least, in this practice.

Those are the major points that I wanted to make.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you, Carl.

If we don’t have any members of congress on at this point let me turn next to Sean Azzariti who is a veteran. He has been a lobbyist working with MAPS to advance their agenda. Sean?

SEAN AZZARITI: Thank you, Ethan.

My name is Sean Azzariti. I served in the Marine Corp for 6 years. During that time I deployed to Iraq twice - once in 2003 and again in 2005. Shortly after exiting the military in 2006 I was diagnosed with severe PTSD.

I started to see some doctors. These doctors started to prescribe me an exorbinant amount of prescription pills. At one time I was prescribed to take 6 mgs of Xanax per day, 4 mgs of Klonopin, 30 to 50 mgs Adderall to kind of balance the first two and then a drug called Phasdon at night to help me sleep. Taking this cocktail turned me into a shell of the person that I am. It made me, basically, an un-functioning human being.

I was fortunate enough to be aware of that and started to research cannabis. Unfortunately there isn’t any official research out there right now so I was reading anecdotal research from other veterans and other people suffering from PTSD and how this benefitted them and how it saved their lives.

I applied to get my medical marijuana card the state of Colorado to treat my PTSD not knowing that PTSD was not a qualifying ailment so I was denied my first attempt to obtain that license subsequently having to get it for chronic nausea.

After I obtained my medical marijuana card I went from taking 10 to 13 prescription pills per day that if I continued taking I don’t think I would be on this teleconference right now to 0. I weaned myself off using cannabis when I need it. As of right now I take none of those prescription pills.

That set me on my course of advocacy. Since then I’ve had countless veterans, mothers and fathers of veterans just, in general, people who know somebody who is suffering from PTSD that reached out to me saying, “Look, this has been helping my father/my brother for years. What can I do to get this legal in my state? I know this is something that could be very beneficial to others. What can we do?”

There’s been an outpouring. It’s been pretty amazing. To say the least I am living proof that cannabis saves lives. I completely understand this may not be the answer for every single person out there but not only veterans but all people should have the safe and legal option to treat their ailments with cannabis in lieu of whatever prescription pills they are taking right now. They should have that safe, legal access. I am living proof and I would not be on this teleconference if I did not have cannabis in my life.

Thank you very much.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you, Sean.

I just want to turn briefly to Bill Piper who is the director of DPA’s Congressional Affairs in Washington, D.C. and was deeply involved in the recent vote whereby the House voted to prohibit the Justice Department from expending any funds to go after medical marijuana in the states that had legalized it. Bill?

BILL PIPER: When you look at what is going on in congress many members of congress are being driven by the same thing that is driving state legislators which is a frustration that the DEA is blocking research and preventing FDA clinical trials in medical marijuana from moving forward and that’s one reason the House voted in a bipartisan fashion to prohibit the DEA from undermining states with marijuana laws.

If you look at the DEA talking points against the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment a lot of it is centered on marijuana not being approved by the FDA but members of congress figured out that the reason it has not been approved by the FDA is the DEA is blocking the FDA trials from moving forward so the more the DEA obstructs science and research the more support for changing federal law grows.

I think if the DEA continues to block research I think you are going to see greater support in congress for not only changing federal law but stripping the DEA of some of its authority and even cutting its budget. The day when the DEA can quietly block this stuff is over and the agency is just going to face political and budget consequences if they stand in the way of reform. I think that’s the message that the House sent a few weeks ago. We are probably going to see more of that until the DEA stops blocking research and stops blocking reform.


DEAN BECKER: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We are tuning in to a recent teleconference featuring a couple of US congressman, doctors talking about the obstructionist ways of the Drug Enforcement Administration.


MODERATOR: Our first question will come from Sage Koblensky with the New York Times.

SAGE KOBLESKY: Good afternoon. The [inaudible] figures said something that caught my interest. I’d like to hear something more about how specifically the DEA has impeded medical marijuana research.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Rick, do you want to start with an answer to that one?

RICK DOBLIN: Yes. Any pharmaceutical company that’s wants to do research with a drug to make them into medicine needs to do the Phase 3 studies which are the large scale, multisite definitive studies to prove safety or efficacy must do the research with the same drug that you want to market. Right now NIDA, with their monopoly, has the authority to provide marijuana for research but they are not authorized to provide marijuana for prescription use.

As long as the NIDA monopoly exists nobody is going to be spending ten million or more on research with a drug that is inferior quality and that is not available for use as a prescription medicine so the DEA by protecting the NIDA monopoly has obstructed the research. That’s the main way the DEA has really blocked private/public research that wouldn’t cost the government a penny.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Is Congressman Cohen on the phone yet?

STEVE COHEN: I’m here. I’m here.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Sir, why don’t we just wait one more moment so that Congressman Cohen who just joined us remote can come into the conversation. We just had other speakers speak about this report and why don’t I turn this over to you for your comments about the role of the DEA in impeding and rejecting science.

STEVE COHEN: The DEA and the director, Miss Leonhart, has constantly been opposing any source or any science or any thoughts that would change her mindset and her opinion was created somewhere around 1937 - somehow channeled into her body at a previous time. She is totally against marijuana. She will not admit that it is not as harmful as heroin or crack or cocaine. She is on a war, the war against drugs and includes marijuana on the same category as meth, heroin, crack and cocaine.

The idea of medical marijuana she rejects and it is my understanding that the Massachusetts DEA officials have even called the doctors who are serving as physicians at medical marijuana dispensaries “advisors” not to prescribe marijuana to patients but simply to advise the medical marijuana dispensaries and threaten their DEA licenses.

This type of intimidation, this type of warning people who are physicians with DEA licenses basically to choose whether they will continue to practice and have access to prescribe certain drugs or advise medical marijuana dispensaries is wrong. It is a heavy hand of the law and it’s intimidation and the medical dispensaries need doctors to advise them.

There’s no question that the dosage of marijuana is important to know. We’ve all read about people taking edibles at higher quantity and doctors would suggest to the dispensaries that they tell the patients what level of marijuana to take and how it will affect them and give them some good advice.

We should encourage doctors to be involved with medical marijuana dispensaries so that they are medical dispensaries and yet they are trying to run people off.

I was thrilled to be part of the coalition that passed the budget amendment, the appropriations amendment because the DEA shouldn’t be involved in these areas. They have plenty that they should be doing in other areas and they should encourage science to let us know what marijuana can affect medically or harm that can be -anything used in excess can cause harm – and to learn about marijuana.

Some have suggested that it did...Dr. Sanjay Gupta says how it helps children with epilepsy and how it helps people with other illnesses. There should be studies.

For years Oxford, Mississippi has grown marijuana but people have not had access to that marijuana for research and other areas. We need to do the research to protect the American public. The DEA should be interested in that. Theoretically there function is to protect the American public relating to drugs and they should allow and encourage research but they haven’t done that.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you, Congressman.

BILL PIPER: Can I follow up to Rick’s comment just briefly in terms of how the DEA or this monopoly on marijuana might impede research?

When we think about NIDA having control over who gets this marijuana if a researcher proposes to do a study with marijuana in general they must have a NIDA-funded grant or NIH-funded grant otherwise they can’t get access to the marijuana and that is problematic.

MODERATOR: Our next question will come from Mike Ludwig with TruthOut.

MIKE LUDWIG: Thanks for having this call.

I haven’t been paying attention to the stuff that is going on in congress as much as you all probably had so maybe this is a good question for Representative Cohen or anyone else who is up there right now. I’m kind of interested in the politics behind these bills. If I could learn a little bit more about what exactly is in the bills, how you got bipartisan support to pass the bills and if you think they stand a chance of moving to the higher chamber.

STEVE COHEN: “Higher chamber” is probably a poor choice of words, nevertheless, the bill was an amendment to an appropriations bill saying the DEA can’t use funds to enforce federal law in states where medical marijuana or the District where medical marijuana has been approved and where they are operating pursuant to the law.

It was a great victory. We’ve been voting on it since I’ve been in congress in 2007 - Maurice Henchy was the leader at the time. Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr headed this up. They did a great job getting Republicans on board. He made an impassioned speech about states’ rights. I spoke, as I always do, about Louie Brandeis - Judge Brandeis and Justice Brandeis and the laboratories of a democracy and to give that opportunity to study and see what happens.

The Democrats always had about 165 votes and I think we had a few more this time but it was about that amount. In all about 0 Democrats, maybe, had a pretty good turnout. The Republicans had in the 40s which was the most. They used to just have maybe a handful - Ron Paul was one and Dana and a few others.

This time I think some of the younger members are more Libertarian. To be honest some of the younger members just know people who have testified to them that medical marijuana has helped them with their illnesses and/or helped them through life.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thanks, Congressman Cohen. Bill Piper, do you want to add anything to that?

BILL PIPER: A good coalition of progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans and we are hoping to build a similar coalition on the Senate side. The Senate has never voted on this issue.

Congressman Cohen is right that there has been a shift especially among younger Republicans that I think is beginning to change things so we’re optimistic that we’re eventually going to be able to move something significant.

MODERATOR: Our next question will come from Dean Becker form the Drug Truth Network.

DEAN BECKER: This question revolves around a couple points. The drug war has never stopped even one determined child from getting their hands on marijuana. It sends hundreds of billions to terrorist cartels and I’m wondering can you summarize the stance, the position, the rationale of the DEA to continue down this same failed path?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Rick, would you like to answer that quickly?

RICK DOBLIN: [laughing] Well, I think the DEA rationale is really not focused on protecting kids - it’s protecting the DEA and their jobs and their focus because what we see is that the DEA is really focused on the perception of risk of marijuana and anything that decreases that perception of risk (and this is similar for NIDA) is something that they are not comfortable with and so research into the medical use is a way to both demonstrate evidence of both benefits but also risks in context.

I think that, therefore, the DEA has felt threatened by permitting scientific research to go forward because they are concerned about the findings. I think they are increasingly aware that the constituents of marijuana have demonstrated proven properties that are effective in a lot of different clinical indications.

I think that NIDA is just really way behind the curve. In 1998 GW Pharmaceuticals started work with a marijuana extract that was 50% THC and 50% CBD...

ENGINEER: We have Congressman Rohrabacher here.

ETHAN NADELMANN: We’ll try him in one moment.

RICK DOBLIN: I’ll just say that the reason NIDA doesn’t have to supply marijuana for our study with marijuana with PTSD in veterans is they don’t have any marijuana with CBD in it to give to us so they are 16 years behind the curve. Both FDA and DEA are frightened of the researchers.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you, Rick.

Congressman Rohrabacher, we’ve had Congressman Cohen speak before as well as a few others. Why don’t you offer us your comments on DEA’s role in impeding science in this area?

DANA ROHRABACHER: The first thing that you have to understand is those people who are basically calling for a limit on any scientific endeavor are usually the ones who understand that they have a weak argument [laughing]. Some of these arguments they don’t look into this because it might verify what I believe is marijuana is harmful – no, what we’re facing here is a declaration by the people who are opposing changing the status of marijuana so at least we can have some legitimate scientific answers to the properties and what it could do for you. So, that is number one.

Number two, I was just an hour ago in my office. A gentleman who was a veteran himself and his three sons enlisted right after 9/11. One of them came home unfortunately after being in a major explosion in Iraq with brain seizures. He told me how for years his son had these out of control brain seizures and a guy at the VA hospital (a doctor) said, “We’re going to have to meet outside the VA. I’m not permitted to tell you something while we are on VA property. Come to my private office.”

That doctor gave him some prescription for medical marijuana and this young man, this veteran who was having seizures in the brain now hasn’t had one for one year. The fact that this VA doctor felt that he couldn’t even honestly give this advice to a veteran who was going through brain seizures says that there is something really fundamentally wrong with the way things are working and we need to change that and prove exactly what properties marijuana has - both negative and positive.

ETHAN NADELMANN: If I could just ask the two congressman if you see any prospects for having a tougher approach on Capitol Hill for DEA – whether it’s over funding or over perhaps stripping it of its powers over scheduling. Is there anything in the works that might happen or not?

DANA ROHRABACHER: it was quite a fight coming up with that majority a week ago on just permitting the states to have medical marijuana and not have the federal government interfere. Carrying that one step further where we’re in some way restricting the DEA...if we could really communicate that what we are really trying to do is establish what the truth is through scientific procedures we might be able to make some headway on that.


DEAN BECKER: That’s about it for this week. Be sure to check out this week’s Cultural Baggage. We got a focus on Houston and the 20,000 arrests that happened that didn’t need to and the 20,000 arrests that didn’t happen that needed to be happening.

The drug war has no basis in reality. That’s becoming more obvious every day. It is up to you to do your part to end this madness.

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org