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Marijuana Prohibitionists Furiously Spinning Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed”

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marijuana prohibition sanjay gupta weedSince 1970, marijuana has been classified by the federal government as a Schedule I drug, meaning that:

  • it has no recognized medical use in the United States (never mind those twenty medical marijuana states and the city in which the federal government operates recognizing marijuana’s many medical uses);
  • it has a high potential for abuse (despite ranking lower in addictiveness and toxicity than alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, meth, heroin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and many more drugs, and unlike all those listed, cannot possibly cause a fatal overdose);
  • and it has no acceptable safety for use under medical supervision (forget about the tens of thousands of doctors who’ve recommended it in medical marijuana states and 5,000 years of safe medical use throughout human history).

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta rocked the mainstream and shocked drug policy advocates both pro- and anti-marijuana with his recent apology regarding U.S. medical marijuana policy:

“It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works,” he wrote. “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

Such an esteemed neurosurgeon and television personality pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes is the death knell of a prohibitionist policy.  The industries that depend on the criminalization of marijuana have been fighting against the acceptance of whole-plant cannabis as a legal medical alternative, whether to protect the profits from their products (pharmaceuticals) or their services (incarceration and rehab).

No group has been more vocal about the need to continue the prosecution of marijuana users, even medical users, than Project SAM, the alleged “Smart Approaches to Marijuana”.  Founded by Kevin Sabet, a lifelong moral entrepreneur, former ONDCP staffer, and shill for the forced rehabilitation of cannabis consumers, Project SAM has repeatedly demeaned the medicinal value of cannabis:

Opium has medical value, and it is called morphine. Marijuana has medical value, too — but just as we don’t smoke opium to receive beneficial effects, we need not smoke marijuana to get its medical value.

It is important to distinguish between the whole marijuana plant material and individual components within the marijuana plant. Some constituents of marijuana, including THC, are available today in pill form (dronabinol, or Marinol® is man-made THC); some synthetic mimics of those constituents are also available (nabilone, or Cesamet®).

The idea that the chemicals in the plant are medicinal but the plant itself is not is one of the prime talking points of Project SAM.  It’s a plan to reapportion the supermajority public support for medical marijuana to support of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.  This serves three purposes: making pharmaceutical companies rich, undercutting support for plant marijuana, and maintaining the criminality of plant marijuana that allows for drug courts to force cannabis consumers into rehabs they do not require or want.

On Sunday, Dr. Gupta’s about-face as a medical marijuana supporter culminated in a CNN documentary called “Weed”.  In the show, a 5-year-old girl suffering from 300 epileptic seizures a week is treated with a cannabis extract high in cannabidiol (the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).  Her seizures are reduced to one per week.  A 19-year-old man suffering a rare spastic disorder of the diaphragm smokes cannabis and his halting, hiccup-like speech transforms within one minute to the steady voice you’d expect from a healthy young adult.  Elderly patients in Israel are shown treating Alzheimer’s, pain, and depression with raw plant cannabis.

Kevin Sabet and Project SAM are now trying to spin this landmark television program to their advantage, issuing the following press release following the airing of “Weed” that characterizes Dr. Gupta’s endorsement of medical marijuana as a sarcasm-quotes “reversal”, and going so far as to portray Dr. Gupta’s own statements like “it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana” as support for Project SAM’s goal of keeping plant-based medical marijuana illegal:

“We are troubled that some of CNN’s coverage of Dr. Gupta’s views muddies the water on this issue. For example, a headline stemming from Dr. Gupta’s upcoming documentary on CNN.com is ‘Marijuana stops child’s severe seizures’. However, this story is about a child who is benefiting from a non-smoked marijuana extract that does not get her high because contains trace amounts of marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, and high amounts of the non-intoxicating CBD. Because most Americans think of marijuana as the THC-filled, smoked substance, this headline is misleading. It would be like broadcasting, ‘Opium cures pain for millions of people,’ instead of acknowledging that Morphine, an extract of opium, is the substance at play.

Notice how Sabet easily dismisses the 19-year-old man who is smoking raw plant marijuana chock-full of that THC to focus on the little girl using a CBD extract.  Dr. Gupta even delved into the potential for a “high” created by that young man’s marijuana use and found that not only did he not get “high”, he was perfectly capable of driving Dr. Gupta around in a car shortly after getting “high”.  (By the way, opium is used as medicine in America in the tincture form of paregoric and morphine will get you really, really high.)

It is also curious how Sabet is now demonizing THC, when his own Project SAM website is touting the medical benefit of synthetic THC contained in Marinol pills.  Apparently, THC is OK when it is by itself in a pill, CBD is OK when it is a non-smoked extract, but CBD and THC naturally occuring in a marijuana plant is somehow a dangerous, addictive drug with no medicinal benefit.

As for the little girl with epilepsy, she gets her CBD extract from a team of brothers who, empowered by Colorado’s constitutional medical marijuana amendment, are growing marijuana plants for her.  Project SAM and its board members, particularly Dr. Christian Thurstone in Denver (the rehab entrepreneur featured in “Weed”), oppose Colorado’s medical marijuana law.  If they had their way, those brothers would still be a “continuing criminal enterprise” under Colorado law and subject to numerous felonies, including a four-year mandatory minimum sentence for sales to a minor.  It is more than likely that little Charlotte would still be suffering 300 seizures a week, assuming she’d have lived through them.

Just because marijuana is a Schedule I drug, it does not mean that medicines based on certain parts of the marijuana plant cannot be approved in the United States.

No, that’s exactly what Schedule I means.  Dr. Gupta did a great job explaining this in “Weed”, how legitimate researchers are stymied by the Schedule I designation and the approval process that includes permission from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.  As the New York Times noted in a 2010 story, Researchers Find Study of Medical Marijuana Discouraged:

Marijuana is the only major drug for which the federal government controls the only legal research supply and for which the government requires a special scientific review.

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use,” said Shirley Simson, a spokeswoman for the drug abuse institute, known as NIDA. “We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.

Sabet and Project SAM continue by putting words into Dr. Gupta’s mouth:

We fully agree with Dr. Gupta that the medicinal value of marijuana should be studied to develop pharmacy-obtained, legitimate, standardized, non-smoked medications.

I searched Dr. Gupta’s essay on medical marijuana and could not find the words “pharmacy”, “standardized”, or “non-smoked”.  In fact, I saw numerous people in his documentary smoking a non-standardized plant not obtained from a pharmacy and Dr. Gupta was endorsing their use.  I did, however, find “legitimate” three times:

…I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis. [Not “pharmacy-obtained, legitimate, standardized, non-smoked medications.”]

[Marijuana] doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. [Nnot “medicinal value of marijuana should be studied”.]

Stuck in the middle are the legitimate patients who depend on marijuana as a medicine, oftentimes as their only good option.  [Not patients who depend on “standardized, non-smoked” marijuana as a medicine.]

Sabet concludes by again trying to paint Dr. Gupta’s support of the current use of plant marijuana by “legitimate patients” as only support for the research into developing cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Gupta is a person America looks up to with high esteem — and for good reason. He is thoughtful, thorough, and dispassionate about the science. That is why we are troubled by how people might interpret his comments: as a license to support legalization, when in fact, it appears that he is simply arguing for the need to study marijuana’s medicinal value and end the demonization associated with marijuana. Project SAM agrees with those ends too, and urges the media to correctly cover this story.

Without the medical legalization enacted in Colorado, the 5-year-old and 19-year-old profiled in “Weed” would still be suffering their life-threatening seizures and downing handfuls of stupefying, side-effect-laden, toxic, addictive pharmaceuticals to no avail.  When Kevin Sabet tells you he supports research into marijuana’s medicinal value, even under the best case scenario of the FDA approval process, those young people would be suffering for another two-to-four years. That’s what Kevin Sabet supports.

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation

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About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.

21 Comments

  1. Project SAM is a shill for the pharma industry and Sabat is a parasitic jerk. Smoking, eating or sticking cannabis up your ass might get you high but it KILLS CANCER….WTF that should be enough for any compassionate person without even mentioning all of the other benefits. Sabat and his ilk are brainwashers that begin with their own delusions and try to convince all of the sheep they are like them.

  2. The latest “scientific” talking points from SAM http://learnaboutsam.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SAM-MMJ-20131.pdf published 8/17/13. The highlight for me is the bullet that says:

    In states where smoked marijuana for medical reasons is legal,

    less than 5% of users have HIV, glaucoma, cancer or MS.

    The average user is in his 30s and 40s and has a history of drug

    abuse, no chronic illness, and reports pain or headaches.

    It’s so scientific…….

  3. MarijuanaRanc h on

    I seen this Kevin Sabet in action at the Wayne State University Medical Marijuana Conference in 2009…He’s a Refer Madness kinda guy sucking a paycheck promoting lies.

  4. There are options that could both protect kids and allow adults access to it. These people prefer a system that shuffles more kids through treatment programs that are not needed and that has you risk becoming a cog in the prison grinder where something far more dangerous could happen to you than what you are being protected against. He makes money from the current system and does not care how many he harms to keep the cash flowing. Sabat is arrogant and he sets out deliberately to deceive others for his own benefit. You are right. They use kids as an excuse but are unwilling to take any real action to protect them and they certainly don’t want to protect any of the rest of us.

  5. EVERYONE needs to be aware that under Project Sam’s “smart approach”………….

    They dont want adults to be able to buy marijuana from a safe legal source. The entire market will be controlled by dangerous criminals where you dont know the potency or quality of the marijuana. You dont know if the marijuana has been laced with other drugs or been stuffed in a car gas tank. it doesnt separate marijuana from the hard drugs like crack and meth and the criminals selling it dont check for id.

    Project Sam wants adults who use marijuana to be funneled into drug courts. Its the equivalent of forcing anyone who enjoys a a few beers into drug courts.

    Project Sam says theyre against incarceration of marijuana users. BUT if you dont pay thousands of dollars in fines for simple possession, your going to jail. If you try to get out of going to the drug courts your going to jail. If you fail a drug test after leaving the drug courts your going to jail. And if you choose to grow marijuana only for your own use, your going to jail.

    Project Sam wants to force patients who prefer marijuana to treat their illness to buy big pharma drugs like Marinol and Sativex. This means they wont get the homegrows and they wont get the real marijuana they want. They wont get the strains and brownies they enjoy, and all those patients will still be thrown in jail for growing their own marijuana!

    Theres NOTHING smart and NOTHING middle ground about this! Its a total 100% war on marijuana. Dont let their gentle sweet talk fool you.

    Next time Kevin Sabet says hes against incarceration of adults who choose to use marijuana, Ask him, am I still gonna be arrested for growing my own!

  6. I DONT CARE whether or not its easy for kids to get marijuana! As long as they dont try and take away my rights to use, buy and grow marijuana. The problem is theyre using the kids as an excuse to take the rights of adult marijuana users. Its just like the guns with that Sandy Hook shooting. Law abiding gun owners shouldnt have to give up their guns to protect the kids! Same with marijuana.

  7. Everyone has heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Since we made them illegal the only way for you to obtain this benefit is by taking vitamin C. It’s more expensive than apples but it is better for you because it has our approval. The FDA is working on other good parts of the apple that may be available soon but we don’t want you to have any of the rest of it yet. We’re doing this for your own good. You remember don’t you? The nursery rhymes that said they could be poisoned? We also had to do this because they claimed to be beneficial to your health and they lacked FDA approval to do that. We need more studies before we let people eat them openly. When I stop chuckling the scary thing is that a lot of folks buy into equally ridiculous arguments about the dangers of marijuana. Marijuana is not poison, in fact its not toxic at all. It is a remarkably effective natural herbal medicine that works for a variety of ills. I’ve talked to people of many nationalities that cannot get some of the most effective herbal treatments that they used to use because the FDA has banned their import. It’s time to reign these governmental agencies in and to make sure they have true evidence of harm before they protect us from anything. Someone makes a lot of money by selling us just a piece of it. 30 ten mg tablets of Marinol will cost you between $1050 and $1080 as close as I can tell. Sativex (actual cannabis extract) costs about $533 currently in England for one small bottle. I doubt if that would last a month. That’s what these governmental agencies are really all about…

  8. Sabat and Project SAM say they want to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids. For many years kids have reported on the government’s own SAMHSA drug survey that it is easier for them to get marijuana than it is for them to get alcohol or tobacco. Our present system pretends to regulate but leaves the distribution of marijuana and other drugs in the hands of drug dealers who settle disputes with guns in our neighborhoods and who do not ask for ID from our kids. Regulation like we have with alcohol and tobacco would make it more difficult for kids to get marijuana and would allow sales to those individuals past the age of consent. One person dies every nineteen minutes of an overdose on prescription medicine. In all of recorded history no one has ever died solely of an overdose of marijuana. Marijuana is an incredible natural herbal medicine and only those who are truly barbaric deny others its use. Shame on Sabat for the harm you cause people by lying and shame on Project SAM for supporting a system that allows easy access for children. The people do not believe you and your lies anymore. History will record your actions as examples to others of those who boldly lie and who follow only greed and selfish motive. Step down or fall down, you have no moral high-ground left on which to stand.

  9. Anyone who is that concerned about smoked marijuana should Google Donald Tashkin, one of the nation’s leading pulmonologists, at UCLA. He has done extensive epidemiological research and found that not only is heavy marijuana smoking not associated with the development of COPD or lung cancer but that it may have some protective effect against the development of cancer. This is despite marijuana smoke containing many of the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke.

  10. I would be very, very, interested in finding out who finances this morons ridiculous public comments. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out Pharma is his number one financier….pos

  11. I’m not going to give a doctor my time and money.If and when I want to treat or cure an illness’s i’ll use what ever I want.This pot stuff cause’s cancer cells to commit suicide,it shrinks tumors and it doesn’t harm any other organs in our body so this means we are getting our organs taken out for no other reason except we can’t use anything but something that harms our organs.The studies were done in the early 70’s so all they need to do is pull up these studies and tell the people about them and let the people decide.Plus there are plenty of other countries that have already done the work for us so just get their results and go from there and stop wasting time.The lives of millions of people are in need of some safe medicine.Let the people who don’t want to use save medicines use what’s here already and let the people who demand safe medicines use the cannabis for their medicines and we’ll see who has the longer and more healthy life.Sound good to you?

  12. Very well written and thought out article. Russ is obviously very talented. I feel sorry for this Sabet guy, he doesn’t stand a chance.

  13. “The industries that depend on the criminalization of marijuana have been
    fighting against the acceptance of whole-plant cannabis as a legal
    medical alternative, whether to protect the profits from their products
    (pharmaceuticals) or their services (incarceration and rehab).”
    This says it all!

  14. I really think we need to push for a different title for a PhD in Social Policy. It’s not related to actual science or medicine and should not be considered a doctor. People see Dr. as his title and that gives his words backing because people think he’s actually a professional in the fields he works in.

  15. Sabet is a cynical, greedy jerk who should be studiously ignored. Thankfully, his credibility is no match for Dr. Gupta’s.

  16. What about the HOMEGROWS??? I cant grow Marinol and Sativex in my house! I WANT THE PLANT! I WANT THE HOMEGROWS! It saves money and its convenient not to have to leave my house. Leave my medical marijuana alone.

  17. Fuck Sabet. I read the other day that he brags about being in 50.000 articles on cannabis. That is nothing to brag about. It might be if told the truth one fucking time but he apparently can’t, so fuck him

  18. Sabet isn’t fooling anyone. In fact I don’t know if anyone (except those with a dog in the race) cares what Kevin says. I know if he would allow comments after his “pieces” it’d be embarrassing for people like him.