The DEA’s tangled web

By Paul Danish for the Boulder Weekly

For the last 80 years the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its predecessor agencies have been lying about the risks of marijuana use and getting away with it.

Now the pro-medical marijuana organization Americans for Safe Access is pushing back — with evidence the DEA itself used, amazingly enough, when it blocked a petition to change pot from a Schedule I Controlled Substance to a status more in keeping with reality.

Americans for Safe Access has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Information Quality Guidelines, challenging the accuracy of 25 separate statements posted on the DEA’s website about the health risks of marijuana. The complaint argues the statements have been directly contradicted and debunked by numerous studies — and that the DEA accepted the conclusions of the debunking studies and even cited them in the decision it issued when it refused to alter marijuana’s Schedule I status.

The complaint requests that the DEA either change its website to reflect the findings in those studies or delete the 25 statements from its website.

The Americans for Safe Access based its complaint on a little-known federal law called the Information Quality Act. The act requires federal administrative agencies to devise guidelines to ensure the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information” they disseminate and to establish “administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information maintained and disseminated by the agency that does not comply with the guidelines.”

The complaint asserts that in the “Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana” (aka the DPR), the DEA “directly contradicted a multitude of previously disseminated statements, which are currently available on the website.”

The latter are found in web publications titled The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse and Drugs of Abuse.

The complaint cited four separate packs of DEA lies:

1) Seven statements on the website claiming that marijuana use could induce psychosis, including the claims that “marijuana use can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even suicide.” The DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition referred to “Numerous large, longitudinal studies show that subjects who used marijuana do not have a greater incidents of psychotic diagnoses compared with those who do not use marijuana.”

2) Eight DEA statements regarding pot’s “alleged capacity to induce lung cancer and cause damage comparable to that caused by tobacco use” — including the claim that “smoking one cannabis cigarette increases the chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 cigarettes.” The complaint said the DPR cited five statements from studies that contradicted the marijuana-lung cancer link, including the finding that in “a large clinical study with 1,650 subjects, no positive correlations were found between marijuana use and lung cancer.”

3) Seven “scientifically inaccurate statements” on the website “regarding the ‘gateway theory’ and cannabis,” including the assertion that “teens who experiment with marijuana may be making themselves more vulnerable to heroin addiction later in life, if the findings from experiments with rats are any indication.” The Americans for Safe Access complaint cited six statements in the denial of the rescheduling petition contradicting the gateway drug claim, including a longitudinal study of 708 adolescents that “demonstrated that early onset marijuana use did not lead to problematic drug use.”

4) Three claims on the DEA website regarding “the alleged permanency of cannabis-associated cognitive deficits,” including the claim that “Memory, speed of thinking, and other cognitive abilities get worse over time with marijuana use.” The denial of the rescheduling petition cited five studies contradicting them.

Why would a DEA document denying the rescheduling of pot contradict some of the agency’s favorite lies? Probably because the DEA realized that it couldn’t build a defensible case against rescheduling using its old reefer madness narrative, so it justified denying the petition by arguing the studies that debunked its old narrative were evidence that — wait for it — more research is needed before marijuana can be rescheduled.

Chances of getting an agency run by three generations of pathological liars to change the way it operates are slim, but Americans for Safe Access has done a real service by showing what a tangled web the DEA weaves as it practices its deceits.