The DEA is supposed to be using science to inform and regulate the pharmaceutical and health of the United States. But yet, the appointed chiefs of the DEA continue to be ill-informed, ignorant and plain out lie about the substances they are supposed to be researching.
This is precisely why the USA is in an opioid drug crisis right now. Because the DEA is ran by idiots.
The acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was put through the wringer by lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, pressed repeatedly to answer questions about the federal agency’s outdated marijuana policy.
Here’s a roundup of exchanges between DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson and members of the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the opioid epidemic.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
“The DEA has always been in a position of great importance—and it’s important that the DEA administrator stay current with what the people have shown by their actions and their statements what they believe is the right priorities for the DEA,” Cohen started.
In short, the people don’t think marijuana should be a federal law enforcement priority, he said. He then asked Patterson why marijuana is classified in the same drug scheduling category as more harmful drugs such as heroin.
“The reason why it remains in Schedule I is the science,” Patterson said.
“The science?” Cohen responded. He later added, “I’m happy to hear that you believe in science, that’s refreshing.” But Cohen wanted to know what the DEA official’s personal views on marijuana scheduling were, and Patterson delivered: He said that he was worried the country was “going down a bad path with marijuana” and that all of the national conversations around reform mainly had to do with revenue.
Cohen pushed back, arguing that adults also care about racially disproportionate arrests for non-violent marijuana offenses, for instance. Patterson said he didn’t see a link between prohibitionist marijuana policies and mass incarceration, then went into a rant that concluded:
“At what point did we determine that revenue was more important than our kids?”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Johnson began hisquestioningby asking Patterson how many Americans died from opioid-related overdoses among the 64,000 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2016.
Patterson knew that figure, responding that about 44,000 deaths were the result of opioid-related overdoses. But when asked a follow-up question about marijuana-related overdose deaths, the DEA official said that he didn’t believe there were any officially recorded in 2016, but that he was “aware of a few deaths from marijuana.”
(The DEA itself said there were no known deaths attributed to a marijuana overdose in a 2017 report on drug abuse.)
“You are aware of a few deaths from marijuana?” Johnson asked. At that point, Patterson said that he didn’t have materials in front of him to reference, but that he believed these deaths were caused by “adulterated” cannabis and said he ultimately understood the congressman’s point: that in terms of risk of overdose, marijuana and opioids are “not comparable.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
Swalwell used his time at the hearing to talk about the struggles of families he’s met whose children have either fatally overdosed on opioids or suffered from addiction. He asked Patterson what can be done to prevent and address youth substance abuse.
The DEA official discussed the importance of early education drug prevention programs—and then pivoted to marijuana.
“I hate to do this, but I’m going to do it to you—and this is what concerns me about marijuana because those same stories I hear all the time, I generally hear marijuana introduced,” Patterson said. But he then made a surprising admission, telling Swalwell that he’s “not going to compare” drugs like marijuana and opioids, and also that he wouldn’t “say [marijuana is] a gateway [drug].”
That caveat was significant, Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “When the head of the DEA rejects the gateway theory, he’s a witness for an end to prohibition,” Murphy said.
Patterson did go on to say that “the problem is that these things all seem to dovetail together, and my concern is—and again, I’ll take my DEA hat off for a second is as a person in the United States—what message we send as we try to navigate this space in terms of that, and I think that’s problematic.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Gaetz wanted to know whether it is “the position of the DEA that democratizing access to medical marijuana will add to the substance abuse problem in this country.” Patterson said he feels “it’s a conversation that we have to have.”
But that question appeared to set Gaetz up for an extensive back-and-forth during which the DEA head demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about the existing scientific literature concerning marijuana’s health benefits and its potential use as a substitute for dangerous pharmaceuticals, including opioid painkillers.
Was Patterson familiar with a2017 reportfrom the National Academies of Science that found “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis and cannabinoids effectively treats chronic pain—a condition that is traditionally treated with opioid painkillers? No.
Was he familiar any of the numerouspatient surveysfrom states where marijuana has been legalized, showing significant reductions in pharmaceutical use correlated with cannabis reform? No.
OK, was he aware of any studies that showed the opposite? That marijuana use was associated with increased use of dangerous illicit drugs? Again, no.
So then, going back to his first question, why is it that the DEA cannot speak to its official position as to whether marijuana legalization would add to the country’s substance abuse problem if its acting administrator can’t defend that argument based on any “evidentiary standpoint,” Gaetz asked. A flustered Patterson reaffirmed the agency’s support for research into medical marijuana and also pinned blame on the lack of DEA-approved research grants for medical marijuana research on international treaties that he claimed were being deliberated by the Justice Department.
Gaetz said he appreciated the agency’s support for research and asked whether the DEA would commit to partnering with lawmakers in their efforts to expand federal marijuana research.
“We’ve been consistent in that message,” Patterson said.
On marijuana and opioids — the DEA has no clue what it’s talking about
BY PAUL ARMENTANO, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR —05/14/18 06:00 PM EDT229
Is state-level medical cannabis access mitigating or fueling America’s opioid crisis?Testifyingbefore Congress last week, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) acting administrator Robert Patterson claimed the latter. But when he prompted to provide evidence in support of the agency’s position, he acknowledged that he could not.
According to one recently publishedstudy, “National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year.” In Canada, where medical cannabis access is legal federally, recently publisheddatareports that over half of trial subjects were able to cease their use of opioids within six-months of enrolling in Health Canada’s cannabis access program.
One might expect the administrator of the nation’s chief drug enforcement agency to be aware of at least some of this data. But Patterson’s testimony proved otherwise.
Specifically, when asked by Florida RepublicanMatt Gaetzif the DEA was aware of the landmark 2017 National Academy of Sciencesstudyfinding, “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis [is] effective for the treatment for chronic pain,” Patterson answered that he was not.
He further acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with several state-specific, longitudinal studies, such as those fromMinnesotaandNew Mexico, finding that chronic pain patients who register to partake in cannabis therapy dramatically decrease their use of opioids and other pain-relieving drugs. (Separate assessments of state-authorized medical cannabis patients inIllinois,Michigan,New York, andelsewhereaffirm these conclusions).
He further claimed ignorance with regard to the findings of a highly publicizedstudyin the Journal of the American Medical Association findingthat medical cannabis regulation is associated with year-over-year declines in overall opioid-related mortality, including heroin overdose deaths.
Moreover, when pressed to provide evidence — any evidence — in support of the DEA’s questionable position, Patterson readily admitted that he knew of none. In fact, upon further questioning, he acknowledged that the DEA has, to date, never even so much as reviewed the issue. He further suggested that those patients seeking an alternative to opioid analgesics may wish to try “Tylenol.”
The testimony concluded:
Rep. Gaetz: “You’re the acting administrator of the DEA. You cannot cite a single study that indicates that medical marijuana creates a greater challenge with opioids, and you’re unaware of the studies, including studies from the National Academies of Sciences, that demonstrate that medical marijuana can be an acceptable alternative to opioids. Is that what I’m understanding?”
Robert Patterson: “Yes.”
At a time when tens of thousands of Americans are dying annually from their use of opioids, it is almost inconceivable that the DEA would willfully and publicly maintain such a Flat Earth position with regard to the use of medical cannabis as a potential alternative. Their failure to acknowledge basic andreadily available facts and scienceis once again indicative of the reality that the DEA, admittedly, is an agency that places political ideology above all else.
As a result, pundits and legislators — particularly those at the federal level — should no longer give deference to the DEA’s cannabis-specific public policy agenda. Rather, they should view the agency as an artifact of a bygone era, whose positions and opinions are increasingly out-of-touch with the emerging scientific, political, and cultural consensus.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.
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