Chronic City: Just The Marijuana Facts, Doc. No, Wait -- The REAL Facts.

Federal Art Project
The truth will set you free.
Medical advice "City Bright" Doc Gurley published a column over at SFGate purporting to be the latest, bias-free, data-based information on Marijuana. On the face of it, that's a great and laudable idea; we'll agree there is, indeed, a "desperate need for data-based information looking at Marijuana in the less emotional context of a pharmaceutical medication." So we suppose we'll have to give an "A" on the concept. But, disappointingly, the execution ranks a "C-" -- at best.

Gurley's summation of what she represents as "bias-free information" certainly makes a game attempt at seeming impartial, and we have no reason to doubt the doctor's fairness -- at least, until we actually read the article. That's where the danger lies, you see: Allowing one's personal biases and opinions to creep into a piece that dares to call itself "data-based."

If Doc Gurley is going to present her information as "bias-free," then she'd damn well better make sure that's what she's giving you -- because "bias-free" information pretty much settles it, right? Right?

Gurley is no stranger to Marijuana research; she published a rather balanced scientific paper about it a decade ago, and was the San Francisco public health administrator tasked with the initial implementation of Proposition 215, legalizing medical Marijuana, back in 1996. Now she identifies "Six Crucial Public Health Issues" that will accompany what she rightly characterizes as the "seemingly inevitable" legalization of pot.

Let's examine those, shall we?

1) Second-hand smoke. First off, there's a glaring omission here: Gurley nowhere even mentions the option of vaporizing Marijuana to avoid inhaling smoke. Vaporization is an increasingly popular way to ingest the herb, especially among medical patients, and preliminary data indicate it's much safer than smoking. But you wouldn't know that by reading Doc Gurley's article.

When it comes to smoking, Gurley admits there's no actual data on second-hand pot smoke, and concedes that the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is different than the nicotine in tobacco. She even further concedes that people typically smoke many fewer joints per day than cigarettes. But we are still given to believe that "From the viewpoint of a pair of lungs, there is no difference between Marijuana and cigarettes."

Hello? Nicotine is used as freakin' insecticide, and THC is one of the safest and most benign pharmacologically active substances known to man. Further, whereas tobacco smoke has been conclusively linked to cancer, Marijuana smoke has not, even among heavy smokers -- and in fact, in the largest study of its kind, has been shown to exert a protective effect on the lungs.

"No difference," you say?

2) Substance abuse/mental health implications. Here's where Doc Gurley really, seriously, drops the ball. According to the doctor -- and I'm not making this up -- "Marijuana, especially in teen boys, leads to a measurable increase in the future development of schizophrenia." Gurley goes even farther, saying "this is as 'proven' as it can be." Except, well, it isn't. Even one of the scholarly articles Dr. Gurley cites admits "the validity of the diagnosis is uncertain."

Quite simply, if Marijuana increases the incidence of schizophrenia, skyrocketing Marijuana use would lead to zooming schizophrenia rates. It hasn't. As recently reported in this space, the latest research shows that widespread pot use by the public has not been followed by a proportional rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia or psychosis, according to a study in the scientific journal Schizophrenia Research.

That Gurley would cite research supporting reefer madness claims, while ignoring research that indicates otherwise, tells us a lot about how "non-biased" and "data-based" her summary is, without revealing anything particularly useful about Marijuana itself.

3) Driving while high. Now, I'm not recommending you take a few bong rips and then rush out onto the freeway, but the data on impairment from smoking Marijuana is not as clear as Gurley suggests.

The doctor suggests that "all it would take is a rash of high-profile disasters to get legalized Marijuana reversed." Has it occurred to Doc Gurley that if there were a rash of "high-profile disasters," that they wouldn't be waiting for legalization to occur? News flash! People already smoke dope! There hasn't been a rash of disasters!

You can damn well bet that if there were an epidemic of pot-induced pileups, it would have been noticed and played up mightily by the forces of prohibition -- to keep legalization from happening. There hasn't been any such epidemic. Could that be due to the fact that any impairment caused by Marijuana is orders of magnitude milder than that of alcohol, prescription sedatives, and pain medication? You make the call.

4) Childproofing. Let me hasten to say that I agree with Doc Gurley that kids should not have access to Marijuana. However, the doctor weakens her case -- and her credibility -- immensely by asserting that the well-known safeness of Marijuana "is NOT true for babies and toddlers, in whom deaths have most certainly been documented."

Say what? I would be very interested in seeing that "documentation," Doc. Especially since it, well, doesn't exist.

Think about it: Wouldn't the right-wing media just love a story where some poor kid ate Dad's stash and died? It would be perfect for them. Only one catch: Never happened, never will.

Former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders got it right: "Unlike many of the drugs we prescribe every day, Marijuana has never been proven to cause a fatal overdose." 

The number of human fatalities attributable to Marijuana overdose, throughout history, remains at a big fat zero. That includes humans and children, Doc Gurley.

5) "Teen protection." Gurley warns us that if "reasonable safeguards are not in place," legalized pot is likely to be overturned. This in spite of the fact that, as she notes, the current proposed initiative states the age of 21 for legal usage.

I'm unaware of any Marijuana legislation, anywhere, at any time, which would provide legal access for teenagers. It's probably always going to be against to rules for teens to smoke pot.

Not that it's ever stopped them, or will ever stop them from getting high.

6) Quality control. The doctor gets this much right: "If Marijuana goes mainstream, people will be more savvy about identifying which source provides a high-quality product." Good old market forces!

Gurley does totally miss the target again, though. After citing a 28-year-old story in which dried feces were used to adulterate black-market Marijuana (insert "that's good shit, man" jokes here), the doctor asserts that "Even without adverse health outcomes, one big story like that hitting the headlines will be forever damning to efforts to keep Marijuana safe and legal."

On the contrary, doctor. When we make a substance illegal, we give up the right to control and regulate its quality. That's one of the best possible arguments to make Marijuana safe and legal.

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