On a warm windy night in late September, members of Las Vegas’s faith-based community gathered in their neighbor’s homes to learn more about cannabis legalization, which is likely to pass in Nevada this November. The special guest speaker was flown in straight from Denver and bills herself as a leading expert on the effects of marijuana legalization.
“In-dee-ca [aka indica] calms you down and chills you out, sativa amps you up and hypes up—kind of like cocaine,” Jo McGuire said. “People tell me they stay away from ‘the sats’ [aka sativas] because they raise the heart rate, raise blood pressure and make [them] really edgy.”
McGuire says she is knowledgeable about the topic because she is a regular reader of High Times Magazine.
However, McGuire has no scientific or medical training and is not a neutral authority on the subject of cannabis. She sits on the board of directors of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) whose express purpose is to “create new opportunities for the drug and alcohol testing industry.”
The facts are simple; sativas, pharmacologically speaking, are nothing like cocaine. Both sativas and indicas are subspecies of the Cannabis species, of which includes varieties grown for industrial hemp. While sativas are known to have more uplifting or alert effects, scientifically speaking, they are not stimulants like cocaine nor would they have the effect of raising blood pressure.
McGuire’s events in Las Vegas were sponsored by the No on 2 Campaign, headed by Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy—indirectly. Flyers appeared around the Las Vegas valley offering information on Question 2 (Nevada’s legalization initiative) to faith-based communities. Among the services advertised were brochures, social media messaging, church bulletin language and “pastor talking points”. The contact on the flyers, Steve Wark, only provided information to members of these communities in opposition to legalization.
Tax-exempt religious organizations and non-profit are explicitly not allowed to use their resources for political lobbying, so is the No on 2 Campaign actively encouraging local churches to break federal tax law for them?
The Drug Testing Industry Is Not Neutral
McGuire’s job relies on the criminalization of drugs and government-mandated testing, specifically cannabis, and the corporate and governmental rules surrounding mandatory drug testing—a much smaller industry if drug tests are limited to proving impairment during actual on-the-job incidents.
Earlier this year DATIA started the “Marijuana Education Fund” which they have encouraged their members to donate to so they can continue to spread blatant falsehoods about cannabis, such as “impairment lasts up to 24 hours”. In reality, cannabis impairment is variable and lasts between 30 minutes for heavy users and a few hours for less frequent consumers.
“The primary work of DATIA is focused on helping those involved in mandatory testing for safety sensitive employees under the Federal Omnibus Act to remain compliant with those federal guidelines. DATIA—and my work with the organization is only in support of safe and drug-free workplaces and politics that support public health and safety,” McGuire said in an email statement after the event.
McGuire maintains DATIA’s motivations are not financially incentivized, but instead the organization is investing resources into an anti-marijuana campaign solely for the public benefit.
McGuire works with the larger anti-cannabis lobby, Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). In fact, McGuire leads the ever-important Colorado chapter. SAM lobbies for pharmaceutical approaches to cannabis rather than legalization of the whole plant for medicine or adult use. Project SAM regularly works with federally-funded non-profits and lobbyists to indirectly represent the financial interests of a handful of special interests such as drug testing and pharmaceuticals.
And, according to McGuire, the fight has never been more important than now. As a Denver native, she says she has seen the “cultural decline” of her home and the will of the voters thwarted by “Big Marijuana”.
Her presentation was full of scare tactics—saying 50 percent of conventions are no longer held in Denver because of the homelessness (which she egregiously claims is directly tied to legalization without actual proof), kids can’t have cupcakes at schools on their birthdays anymore for fear they might be laced and “the violence in the streets [is] overwhelming.”
“It’s not a little weed, it’s not some harmless pot. These are chemical extractions that are highly potent. The industry is now taking the grass people roll in a joint and are spraying them with oils [to make them stronger],” McGuire warned.
She went on to say that these chemical extractions, or butane hash oil (BHO), are made by “taking the flowers and super-heating them with butane.” BHO is made using butane as a solvent, there is no heat required, instead the solvent strips the oily glands from the leaves before it is purged away using commercial ovens. When produced commercially in closed loop containers this is a safe process, one taken from the food industry—it’s how vanilla extract and decaffeinated coffee are made.
But Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?!
While the safety profile and medical utility of the cannabis plant has mainstreamed, opposition is firm that legalization harms children the most. McGuire’s opposition is firmly routed in the “what about the kids” mantra used by Project SAM.
“The earlier a child is exposed to cannabis the worse it is for the brain. Cannabis shrinks the corpus colosum—it does not have the same effect on the brain that is developed. On the developing brain it is highly disruptive and doesn’t repair itself over time,” McGuire said.
McGuire is not a medical professional. Kevin Sabet, founder of Project SAM, has a PhD in public policy, but is not a medical doctor. Credible medical professionals backed by decades of studies and over 10,000 years of historical human use dispute Project SAM and McGuire’s message.
Dr. David Bearman is a medical doctor with a long-running practice in Santa Barbara, California. He has a history in pain management and harm reduction in addition to authoring a two-part historical textbook of drug laws and their implications on public health and society from 3,000 B.C.E. to present day.
“The government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to find something, anything, really bad about cannabis and has gotten little or nothing for its money,” Dr. Bearman said.
Bearman points out that although the federal government has paid researchers to prove the negative effects of cannabis, they couldn’t find them and disputes the narrative that cannabis legalization harms children.
He also points to various moments in recent U.S. history where the federal government was presented with information from credible medical organizations proving the safety of cannabis and recommending decriminalization but ruled in favor of financially incentivized special interests instead.
“In 1988, after a two-year rescheduling hearing, the DEA’s chief administrative law judge recommended rescheduling. In his ‘finding of fact’ he found that ‘marijuana was one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man,’” Dr. Bearman says. “In 1937, the American Medical Association (AMA) testified against the Marijuana Tax Act [which first made cannabis illegal], saying ‘the AMA knows of no dangers from the medical use of cannabis.”
Bearman has been recommending cannabis to patients in California for 20 years. He says he regularly sees pediatric patients with ADD and ADHD.
“I have seen their grades go from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s after they started using cannabis,” Bearman says. “The fact is that her [McGuire’s] charge about permanent, irreversible brain damage is pure rubbish. We know that cannabis is a neuroprotective. In the case of injury and stroke, cannabis and cannabinoids limit brain damage.”
McGuire says the main danger in cannabis is that it is botanical and cannot be standardized like a pharmaceutical drug—a key tenant of Project SAM’s goal. She insists, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed every year to pharmaceutical drugs, that pharmaceuticalization is the safer route. But the facts tell a different story; every day 249 people die from prescription drugs, zero die from cannabis.
She cites uncontrollable potencies as the major problem behind legalization and need for pharmaceuticalization.
“Marijuana is highly, highly variable. The cannabis plant is really unstable and affects everyone differently. We still don’t have standard weights and measurements,” McGuire said.
McGuire is referring to the fact that different plants produce cannabinoids—including THC—at inconsistent rates. However, unless a plant (or any organism) is cloned, its offspring will be genetically unique from both its parents and its siblings. Botanical cannabis, like coffee, is comprised of thousands of compounds that work synergistically to create its effects. The need to control potencies is one rooted in the ideology of pharmacologicalism ism.
The pharmaceutical industry has been involved in what is called “biopiracy” since the early 20th century. The idea is that like pharmaceutical drugs, herbs, and plants with medicinal effects have one identifiable “active ingredient” responsible for its effects. Pharmaceutical companies regularly patent the “active ingredients” in plants in order to exclusively profit from them. In the case of cannabis, botanical plant access is bad for business—despite often being a safer and more effective route for most patients.