photo credit: aforero

Earlier this month, Deseret News editorial page editor Jay Evensen highlighted the issue of spice, a synthetic marijuana substitute, and wrote: “So, where are all the folks who want to legalize marijuana? How come they aren’t jumping to the defense of ‘spice’…?”

Here I am.

For the uninitiated: “spice” refers to synthetic cannabis, a mixture of herbal and chemical ingredients which claim to produce similar results to smoking marijuana. Usage of spice is not detected in most drug screening tests.

The product is relatively new on the world scene, making an appearance only a few years ago. Since that time, it has become popular amongst individuals who are legally unable to procure and consume marijuana. It has, therefore, received significant attention from politicians eager to ban the product, its main ingredients, or both. Several countries, and over a dozen states, have now enacted bans on spice. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s drug czar, said in an interview that the substance is “on our radar”, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency refers to it as a “drug and chemical of concern”.

It’s also on Utah’s radar. Logan, Ogden, Cache County, and Utah County have all recently banned the sale, use, and possession of spice. Police in Salt Lake County are “giving a gentle request”—a letter "asking for voluntary removal"—to owners of stores carrying such products. State-wide, several legislators are itching to introduce legislation on the issue.

In other words, the nanny state is alive and well.

No sentence in this article will be as important as this one: the war on drugs has been an abysmal failure, and the myriad unintended (?) consequences that result from this flawed plan of action create death, poverty, and a massive expansion of government.

Without the war on drugs, gang violence between warring cartels near our southern border would be substantially reduced (PDF) if not nearly eliminated, as would the profits amassed by these groups as a result of U.S.-created black markets.

Without the war on drugs, Americans would not be forced to fund the exponential expansion (PDF) in the “correctional” system required to process, police, and provide for drug users. This war has cost the taxpayers some $2.5 trillion, resulting in hundreds of thousands of arrests for non-violent “crimes”, filling our jails and increasing taxpayer dependency. As of 2004, drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners. Of note:

What’s amazing is that most of this imprisoning trend is recent, dating really from the 1980s, and most of the change is due to drug laws. From 1925 to 1975, the rate of imprisonment was stable at 110, lower than the international average, which is what you might expect in a country that purports to value freedom. But then it suddenly shot up in the 1980s. There were 30,000 people in jail for drugs in 1980, while today there are half a million.

Without the war on drugs, the limited government conservatives claim to champion might be less of a distant fantasy than it currently is. The war on drugs—which is really a war on people who use drugs—has resulted in mandatory minimum sentences, which violate the Eighth Amendment; the creation of drug courts, despite the Sixth Amendment; drug testing in schools, with no regard for the Fifth Amendment; and no-knock warrants and pathetically reduced standards of probable cause for search and seizure, in direct defiance of the Fourth Amendment. This pseudo-war has also been cited as justification for tougher gun laws, in violation of the Second Amendment, and regulations regarding commercial speech, in violation of the First Amendment.

As a chief justice in the Florida Supreme Court once wrote:

If the zeal to eliminate drugs leads this state and nation to forsake its ancient heritage of constitutional liberty, then we will have suffered a far greater injury than drugs ever inflict upon us. Drugs injure some of us. The loss of liberty injures us all.

The attention spice has received by various governments is a direct result of their prohibition on the possession and consumption of marijuana. Forced into the black market, individuals have found one opportunity to circumvent the government’s draconian policies; the government will not admit that it is the disease for which it is claiming a cure. Spice would never have been created, nor popularized, had the much more harmless cannabis not been the target of such bureaucratic ire.

For that reason, my defense of spice is actually a defense of marijuana; legalizing the possession and consumption of cannabis (something with which I disagree, have never done, and would encourage others not to do) would eliminate the consumer demand for spice overnight. If individuals could obtain or grow marijuana cheaply and legally, the disastrous side effects of the drug wars listed above, along with many others too numerous to include, would also disappear. Government, then, could successfully do through a respect for individual liberty what it currently seeks to do through an onslaught of compounding legislative dictates.

That respect for individual liberty applies not only to those seeking to “recreationally” use these substances, but also to those who desire its medicinal properties to alleviate pain and health problems. As one anecdotal example out of countless that could easily be provided, read the following excerpt from Oriana Iverson, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in April 2007:

I prepped myself for what I knew would be a severely difficult time on my new family, and would certainly wreak havoc on my body. When treatments started it was as bad as I imagined. I was immediately nauseous and had no appetite. When I managed to muscle something down, I had severe digestive issues including excruciating stomachaches. I had constant headaches, suffered depression, couldn’t sleep, had low self-esteem after losing my hair, and generally felt just crappy.

It was not a completely novel idea to me to use marijuana to combat the side effects that I experienced from chemo. I had smoked it recreationally prior to my illness, and had had it in my medicine chest for nausea for years, but until I began using it medicinally for a serious illness, I never really truly understood how powerful and necessary a medicine it could be. I would use a vaporizer to partake, which warms the herb to the point of melting the THC crystals and releasing the essence of the herb but not burning it. I figured in light of the fact that I had cancer I should probably try to limit the amount of carcinogens that I purposely introduced into my system. This method of self medication was far more effective than any of the ten different drugs the doctor had prescribed to me to combat my side effects. One anti nausea medicine that was prescribed to me cost something like $1000 for 15 tablets and was reported to be the only truly effective drug for that purpose. Fortunately for me, I never needed to try it.

A visit to my “medication station” could, within minutes, stimulate my appetite, lift my spirits, relieve my aches and pains, and help me get to sleep. I had resolved from the beginning to keep a positive attitude because I knew it was the only way I could give strength to the people who loved and supported me, and herb was a great facilitator in helping me to achieve this goal.

A ban on marijuana—or spice, if for whatever reason the individual prefers its effects—would have denied this woman a safe and extremely affordable method of obtaining comfort during her physical trials. And yet, countless politicians disregard this scenario; you may recall candidate Mitt Romney’s kerfuffle with Clayton Holton, a 23-year-old New Hamshire man with muscular dystrophy, who alleges that only marijuana can tame his symptoms. Yet, Romney says that “I don’t want medicinal marijuana,” as if his imperial views trump individual liberty. He’s not alone; many of his recent presidential competitors, for example, share his same view. John McCain said that “I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug. That is my view and that’s the view of the federal drug czar and other experts . . . I do not support the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I believe there are other ways of relieving that pain and suffering.” In other words, Americans should be forced under threat of fines and prison to pay massive amounts of money to his big pharma campaign contributors who produce artificial drugs which have long lists of side effects, unlike the safe, affordable alternative he so carelessly disregards. Rudy Giuliani said “The FDA says marijuana has no additive medical benefit of any kind, that the illegal trafficking of marijuana is so great that it makes much more sense to keep it illegal. I will keep it illegal.” Mike Huckabee deferred any effort at forming an opinion by stating that “I think I’d leave that to the DEA.” And, echoing an argument parroted by many who champion the war on drugs simply because it has existed for a few decades and must therefore perpetuate so long as America exists, Duncan Hunter stated: “If you have a federal law, you have to enforce the law. And that’s my answer.”

McCain’s answer should be replied to directly, for he claims, as do many, that marijuana (and spice) is a "gateway drug"—a substance which, when used, leads the individual to desire and consume much more dangerous and addictive drugs that alter perception, action, and lead to violence and destructive behavior. This claim is the most hypocritical argument in the nanny state’s arsenal, for it ignores the blatant fact that legal substances such as nicotine and alcohol produce a similar, if not greater, correlation to usage of hard drugs such as cocaine. If an individual is truly concerned about these things being gateway drugs, then they must similarly support legislation banning alcohol and cigarettes. Good luck with that. (I guess the marijuana industry needs to employ influential lobbyists if they’re to gain the favor of the political class.)

A 12-year study, concluded in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh, drove a nail into the coffin of the marijuana gateway drug theory:

The Pitt researchers tracked 214 boys beginning at ages 10-12, all of whom eventually used either legal or illegal drugs. When the boys reached age 22, they were categorized into three groups: those who used only alcohol or tobacco, those who started with alcohol and tobacco and then used marijuana (gateway sequence) and those who used marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco (reverse sequence).

Nearly a quarter of the study population who used both legal and illegal drugs at some point – 28 boys – exhibited the reverse pattern of using marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco, and those individuals were no more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who followed the traditional succession of alcohol and tobacco before illegal drugs, according to the study, which appears in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

If conservatives in Utah are convinced that they want limited government and individual liberty—and I’m far from convinced that they do—then they should put down their pitchforks, allow adults to exercise their agency in regards to what they will consume, and allow parents to regulate the choices their children make, rather than incrementally delegating that responsibility to the government. Spice may very well have harmful substances, but people of any age looking for a buzz often go to great lengths to achieve that goal; if marijuana or spice are not available, then household cleaners are only a cupboard away, and if the person has money, the black market will provide. It is not realistic that we as a society try to legislatively prohibit any substance that is deemed harmful, whether the science supports that claim or not.

Utah has a choice: either we can let parents govern their children, restrain government to its proper role, and secure individual liberty for responsible adults, or we can compound one law on top of another to augment the nanny state, create further unintended consequences, and prove that the conservative, limited government types publicizing their conservative credentials in anticipation of the general election want little to do with such ideals when the campaign trail has been trod and the legislature is in session.


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