Activists plan to present an alternative point of view at a government- sponsored conference on marijuana next week. The "National Conference on Marijuana Use: Prevention, Treatment, and Research" is being sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and will take place on July 19 & 20 in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. (Information on how to get involved in the activists' response is included at the end of this bulletin.)
According to NIDA Director Dr. Alan Leshner, this is "the first national conference to focus on providing scientifically based information on marijuana to dispel myths, increase public awareness of the rising trends in marijuana use, and educate the public about the consequences of marijuana use, especially for young people." [Translation: Clinton needs to bolster his "anti-drug" image in preparation for the `96 campaign, and to that end is using NIDA as a vehicle for propaganda and misinformation.]
Featured speakers at the opening plenary session will include Leshner, Dr. Lee Brown, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy ("drug czar"), and Dr. Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health & Human Services. These officials have not recently been known for honesty with regard to drug policy, and there is no reason to expect them to behave differently at this conference. They are expected to continue to propagate some myths of their own, including the myths of marijuana's "gateway" effect and the increased potency of today's marijuana relative to 20 years ago.
DRCNet holds that the incarceration approach to drug abuse is unjustified and causes far more harm than any supposed good it might do. Whether or not marijuana is dangerous, every major study has found that criminalization has only increased the harms associated with it, to individuals and society as a whole. The denial of medicine and stifling of research are only the most outrageous excesses of the Drug War.
Marijuana is currently a schedule I drug -- illegal even medically except for eight patients receive it through a defunct federal program. The most hypocritical aspect of the administration's marijuana policy is it has cited a "lack of scientific research" as justification for continuing the medical ban, but has simultaneously used federal power to prevent such research from taking place.
NIDA Director Alan Leshner has played a key role in the stifling of medical marijuana research. For nearly three years, Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco has been trying to get the necessary approvals and permits to carry out a pilot study of marijuana as a treatment for AIDS Wasting Syndrome. (Numerous reports from AIDS patients and healthcare providers suggest that marijuana is an effective treatment -- perhaps the only effective treatment -- for this deadly condition.) Dr. Abrams' study has been approved by the FDA (IND #43,542) and all the necessary state agencies. All that it needs to begin is a legal source of marijuana. NIDA has a monopoly on legal marijuana cultivation in this country, and has regularly provided it to researchers for decades. But after an inordinately long delay, Leshner refused Dr. Abrams' request.
There is no valid justification for the stifling of medical research. NIDA's refusal to allow Dr. Abrams' study demonstrates the political agenda behind NIDA's marijuana research: NIDA will only fund studies that look for harms, and will stifle reseach that could find benefits. The activist response next week will focus on NIDA's stifling of medical marijuana research.
The response will be two-pronged:
1) PROTEST OUTSIDE THE CONFERENCE BEFORE THE OPENING PLENARY:
This will be the time when any media in attendance will be likely to arrive. Protesters will hold posterboards outside the hotel from 7:30-8:30 am on Wednesday July 19. This protest will be entirely legal. Its effectiveness will be maximized if protesters emphasize that they are ordinary, concerned Americans who are angry about a cruel policy. For more information on the protest, or to have a posterboard and button prepared for you,
2) PROTEST DURING THE OPENING PLENARY:
DRCNet is one of several organizations funding the travel expenses and registration fees for a number of medical marijuana patients. Patients and other concerned citizens will attend the conference, where they will hold signs, ask probing questions, and be a general presence for reform. (The MPP is producing buttons that supporters can wear in the conference.)
Conference registration is $100. Those who do not pay the registration fee are unlikely to be admitted to the conference. (You can still attend the 7:30 am protest.) Funding may still be available for registration fees for medical marijuana patients; call Rick Doblin at (704) 358-9830 or e-mail "[email protected]".
To register for the conference, contact: Karen Tyler-Barnes, Circle Solutions, Inc., 8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 600, McLean, VA 22102; (703) 821-8955 ext. 440 (voice), 821-2098 (fax), [email protected].
The conference is being held at the Crystal City Marriott Hotel, 1999 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202, (703) 413-5500, across the street from the "Crystal City" stop on the blue and yellow lines of the DC Metro.
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