Pro-Marijuana Group Mounts New Offensive Against US Drug Policy

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - A group supporting the legalization of marijuana is planning a new Internet offensive against the Bush administration after an administration official alleged that marijuana-related hospital emergency room visits are way up.

Scott Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control, said in a letter to the National District Attorneys' Association that "marijuana is not harmless but has risen as a factor in emergency room visits 176 percent since 1964, surpassing heroin."

He said district attorneys, county prosecutors and other law enforcement officials must better educate the public about the drug's danger.

"Smoking marijuana," Burns wrote, "leads to changes in the brain similar to those caused by the use of cocaine and heroin, and affects alertness, concentration, perception, coordination and reaction time."

He cited an unidentified study of a roadside check of reckless drivers not impaired by alcohol that he said found "45 percent tested positive for marijuana."

Burns also said marijuana is addictive and leads to the use of harder drugs.

Burns was unavailable for further comment on the story Thursday, according to a spokesman for his office.

Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), called the administration's stand an "incredibly disgusting example of government propaganda" and announced that his group is initiating a new offensive next week against the administration's anti-drug policy.

"This war against marijuana smokers has become a jihad. It's a holy war for these [Bush administration] fools. Truth is a first victim of war," said Stroup in an interview with .

"Every single point they make in this letter is either a flat-out lie or grossly misrepresents science. Our intent is by early next week to post both their letter [written by Scott Burns] and our refutation point by point on our website," Stroup said.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said, in a study of 458 hospital emergency rooms nationwide, that drug-related emergency room visits rose six percent in 2001 over the previous year, to a new total of 638,484.

The number of times marijuana was mentioned as a drug used by patients rose 15 percent, greater than the increase in cocaine use, which rose 10 percent, according to the administration.

Dan Alsobrooks, in a letter on the National District Attorneys' Association website, called on prosecutors around the country to heed Burns' words and speak out more "forcefully" against legalizing marijuana and all drugs.

"Unless we speak out more forcefully," Alsobrooks wrote, "our communities continue to face an increasing onslaught of violence and death directly attributable to use of dangerous and poisonous drugs.

"Those who want to legalize drugs advance their position, issue by issue, winning by incremental victories. We can and have stopped their efforts at the national level but will lose all if the states yield individually," he said.

Stroup said the administration must move its drug policy into the 21st Century.

"These guys are simply resurrecting 'reefer madness' from the 1930s, and the cause of their approach is based on lies and misinformation," Stroup said. "They are bound to fail because they never seem to learn."

"Reefer Madness" was a 1930s cult movie about marijuana and its evil effect on people.

Stroup contends the administration's claims that hospital visits have risen because of marijuana use are based on what he called "hospital mentions."

He explained that a hospital "mention" is how hospitals report a patient's emergency room visit. At that time, patients are asked what drugs they have taken.

As an example, Stroup said, "Whenever someone comes in because they broke their wrist in a softball game, among the questions they [hospital officials] ask them is 'have they used any illicit drugs.'"

"So, naturally, when you have over 80 million Americans who have smoked marijuana at some time in their lives, and if people are willing to be honest, it's not infrequent that they mention they occasionally smoke marijuana," he said.

"That [marijuana use] doesn't have a G** D***** thing to do with their purpose for being in the emergency room, but those are still listed and counted as mentions," Stroup said.

The federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, according to its website, counts the mentions of illegal drugs and misused prescription drugs reported by patients and compiles them in semi-annual studies. Often, according to the network, patients have said they had taken more than one drug.

Alcohol, according to the network, in combination with other drugs was the most frequently mentioned nationwide, at 34 percent. Cocaine had 30 percent mentions, marijuana 17 percent and heroin 15 percent.

Burns contends that "nationwide, no drug matches the threat posed by marijuana. It is a much bigger problem than most people, including some in law enforcement, realize."

Stroup scoffed at that statement. "There were something like 450,000 deaths from tobacco smoking, and there were over 100,000 deaths from alcohol drinking, and there has never been a death caused by marijuana," he insisted.

The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services agreed that, "no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose."

"However, when taken at very high doses, marijuana can produce severe psychotic symptoms that can require medical treatment," the department stated in a report on marijuana on its website.

States that allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes are: Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia.

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