Faith, Evidence and the Immoral Drug War
Religion and Politics - Two Sides of the Same Con
By Perry Bulwer
The slang term I use in my subtitle, which plays on the word coin, is derived from the term 'confidence trick' and refers to the intentional deception of people after gaining their confidence, usually in relation to a financial fraud. Not all confidence artists are swindlers out for monetary gain, however. Politicians and religious believers also use confidence tricks to exploit others. Confidence artists, or fraudsters, exploit various human characteristics such as greed, credulity and naïveté, and emotions such as compassion and fear, to trick their targets into trusting them. Politicians do the same by using ideology, propaganda and demagoguery to misinform and mislead their constituents. Believers do it by using religious dogma to exploit the gullibility, superstitions and fears of adults, or the innocence, ignorance and inexperience of children.
Many aspects of both religion and politics are aptly described as con jobs. Here is how the New Testament describes religious faith in Hebrews 11:1, first in the King James Version and then in the Common English Bible: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” and “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see”. Choose any translation you want, they basically all say the same thing. But it is illogical to claim that the act of believing some thing exists is actually evidence of that thing, that merely having faith or hoping for something to be true is proof of its reality. Faith is not substance or reality, it is merely a belief or a feeling that is not based on evidence. Faith is simply wishful thinking, which sounds nice and harmless, but it can turn deadly when acted upon, as in the case of faith healing parents who allow their children to die tortuous deaths without any medical intervention. Their confidence in the authority of the Bible has tricked them into killing their own children through neglect.
Children also suffer from the religious confidence trick of indoctrination. There is a reason most religious evangelism focuses on children. They are easy targets for spiritual fraud because they already have confidence in authority figures such as their parents and religious teachers. It is easy to exploit their credulity and naïveté to trick them into believing in faith-based fantasies rather than evidence-based reality. But the con doesn't stop with just convincing little children that God or gods are real, or that they will live forever in paradise if they just believe, otherwise most children would eventually out grow their belief in imaginary religious figures and places, just like they out grow their belief in Santa and his toy factory at the North Pole.
No sane parent continues to push the Santa story on a child that has grown to reject that particular myth because of common sense and observable evidence, so that belief is easily discarded at a certain stage of childhood. The myths of religion, on the other hand, are constantly reinforced throughout childhood and adolescence with dogma that prevents critical thinking and disables a child's ability to discern the difference between reality and fantasy. By the time a child subjected to such indoctrination reaches adulthood it is extremely difficult to escape the imposed religious worldview. For example, any child convinced to accept the religious fantasy of creationism over the scientific reality of evolution is a victim of a con job of the highest order as it can infect their worldview throughout their life. Nothing could be more childish than to believe that the Biblical creation myth, and other events in Genesis such as the flood and Noah's ark, were literal events that happened exactly as described. Yet many adults who were indoctrinated with creationist lies as children retain that childish belief contrary to the advice in I Corinthians 13:11 to “put away childish things”. The childish thing in that example of creationism is holding a belief or an opinion on an issue when there is no evidence to support that view and all the evidence supports the opposite position.
That sounds a lot like how many politicians work. Political campaign promises are a common example of a con job. Everyone knows how it works. A politician makes an election promise, often with no intention of keeping it, that helps gain the confidence of voters, but once elected the promise is not kept. That is a confidence trick, a con job that everyone can recognize as such and yet voters continue to get taken in by such lies. There are many examples of confidence tricks, or con jobs, in the political realm. The Iraq war waged on the basis of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist is one recent example. But it is the far more disastrous global 'war on drugs' that I want to focus on here, given the recent report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, comprised of mostly former heads of state and other world leaders.
The Commission's report is just the latest of many that concludes the prohibition of some drugs has been a complete failure “... with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” It has not been a war on drugs, but a war on citizens, often fought along racial lines particularly in the United States. The commissioners, like many others before them, recommend the legalization of cannabis and other prohibited drugs. Whether or not those high profile individuals can help bring the insanity and injustice to an end remains to be seen, especially given the fact that most of them failed to do anything about it when they were in office and had more power to effect change. Ending prohibition will not be easy as long as political leaders like President Obama and Prime Minister Harper continue to base their drug policies on ideology rather than scientific evidence.
President Obama promised in his presidential campaign that his administration would not prosecute medical cannabis patients and providers in states that have legalized it, yet that is exactly what he is doing today. He gained the confidence of large numbers of voters interested in the issue of medical cannabis by deliberately lying about his intentions. He could have easily kept that promise and taken one small, progressive step towards ending the disastrous war on drugs, but he didn't, which is why I think it was a deliberate campaign lie. After all, the prohibition of cannabis was originally premised on, and is perpetuated by, deliberate lies and propaganda. In fact, the prohibition of some drugs, but not the most dangerous ones that cause the most harms to individuals and socities, is a con job on an international scale, started and led primarily by the United States.
The evidence for the efficacy and safety of cannabis as medicine is overwhelming. Yet, under Obama the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to not just ignore that evidence, but to declare without any evidence of its own, that cannabis has no accepted medical use. If that is true, then on what basis have 16 state legislatures legalized medical cannabis? The DEA's lies are absolutely absurd and easy to disprove.
Cannabis has been used as medicine for thousands of years. There are thousands of scientific research studies showing the effectiveness of cannabis for a wide range of health problems. Cannabis was even listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and used as commonly as aspirin, another useful drug derived from a plant but more toxic than cannabis.
In 2009, the American Medical Association reversed its opinion (an opinion informed not by science but by political propaganda) that cannabis had no medicinal application, and called for more research. Ironically, the AMA's original position on cannabis was that it has a great deal of therapeutic value for a variety of ailments, and in the 1930s the organization argued against prohibiting it in the first place because it considered cannabis a potential wonder drug, which it is. That call for more research has so far gone unheeded, except for a few exceptions, even though the American College of Physicians has called for the same thing. The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health, refers to cannabis as alternative medicine and admits it has been used as medicine for thousands of years, though the political climate requires it to refer only to potential benefits of cannabis for cancer patients. If you ask the multitudes of cancer patients who use cannabis whether the relief they derive from it is a real benefit or merely potential, I am quite sure I know how they will reply.
In 1997, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the scientific evidence of the health benefits and risks of cannabis. The IOM's report emphasized evidence-based medicine as opposed to ideology-based medicine, and concluded that cannabis has therapeutic value for pain relief, control of nausea and appetite stimulation. In fact, the U.S. government still grows and supplies cannabis to a handful of medicinal users under an investigative program that was cancelled in 1992.
So, on what basis has Obama approved the DEA's latest attacks against desperately ill people for whom cannabis is the most effective and safest drug they could use, and one which they could produce on their own very easily and cheaply? It is certainly not on the basis of any credible evidence. Does Obama really believe the DEA's propaganda that cannabis has no accepted medical use, or is he merely playing politics with people's lives? As Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, said: "It's always a danger if the government acts on certain kinds of persuasions or beliefs rather than evidence." Obama's ally in this immoral war against sick people, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also seems to prefer ideological propaganda over scientific evidence. He has proven that by his government's efforts to shut down North America's only medical center where drug addicts can legally inject illegal drugs.
All of the evidence proves that Vancouver's INSITE effectively saves the lives of individuals and improves the community, yet Harper has used the courts to try and shut it down. When the case recently reached the Supreme Court of Canada, British Columbia's lawyers presented the justices with stacks of scientific evidence demonstrating that INSITE was effective public policy. What evidence did the government's lawyers present to the court to counter that? None, because there is none. Incredibly, the government's argument relied solely on a jurisdictional issue. In other words, federal government lawyers argued on the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. They admitted to the Supreme Court justices that there was no credible evidence that the program does not work, but insisted that the province of British Columbia had no jurisdiction in this matter because it is a criminal law issue falling under federal jurisdiction, and not a public health issue which is governed by the provinces.
Just a week after that Global Commission recommended ending the failed drug war, the Canadian government pledged $5 million to keep fighting it in the Americas. Prime Minister Harper does not care much for scientific evidence, not wanting the facts to get in the way of his religious ideology. I say religious rather than conservative ideology because the prohibition of drugs, particularly cannabis, is not a conservative position. As Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who supports legalization of cannabis, recently wrote:
William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman, two of the most respected conservative intellectuals of the late 20th century, were among the drug war's high-profile critics. These great thinkers did not argue that recreational drug use should be celebrated -- far from it! Instead, they argued that the prohibition of drugs was causing far greater harm to society than drug abuse itself. And they were right.
So, if Harper's drug policies are not based on scientific evidence or on conservative values, what could they possibly be based on other than his religious ideology. (I will have much more to say about Harper's religious affiliation in future posts.) Harper had the gall to recently crow that "Conservative values are Canadian values. Canadian values are conservative values.” Nothing could be further from the truth. He bases that hubris on his recent election victory that finally gave him a majority in the House of Commons. However, the majority of Canadians, around 60 percent, did not vote for Harper or his Conservative party. Only 40 percent of Canadians support Harper, yet over 50 percent support the legalization of cannabis, showing just how out of touch with reality Harper is. That latter number would be much higher but for decades of prohibition propaganda that deliberately obscures the facts.
As part of Harper's tough-on-crime agenda, also based on ideology rather than evidence (e.g. spending billions on new prisons when the crime rate has fallen to lowest level since 1973), he plans to impose mandatory minimum sentences for various crimes, including small-scale cannabis cultivation. The U.S. experiment with mandatory minimum sentences has been a failure, especially for drug cases, and is being discontinued in many states. Yet despite that strong evidence from the U.S. that such sentences are ineffectual and a massive waste of money, Harper seems to think they will work in Canada. Harper's rejection of evidence in favour of ideology has many international observers bewildered.
Continuing to prohibit some drugs that have proven health benefits, but not others that are far more dangerous, and imprisoning users based purely on ideology rather than on evidence of harm caused to individuals and society is immoral. As Sam Harris recently wrote: “The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time.” And it is not just jailing harmless people that is immoral. Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer needlessly from great pain simply because of hyperbolic drug war propaganda and policies that prevent them from accessing a common, cheap drug that could free them from their misery. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, thinks that the war on drugs is a conservative value and a Canadian value, but it is neither. It is an inhumane, immoral injustice and a complete failure.
I wonder what those who dishonestly hold to the dogma that Cannabis has no scientifically confirmed medical benefits would say to the father and son in the following video?
"Marijuana Moms" A group of moms in California, where medical pot is legal with a prescription, have declared that marijuana makes them better parents and partners.
RELATED ARTICLES AND LINKS ON MY BLOGS
An Open Letter to Canadian Law Societies, Bar Associations, Judges and Lawyers
The Failed War On Drugs
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Safe Injection Facilities: Compelling Government to Act
The Constitutional Obligation of the City of Vancouver to Support Safe Injection Facilities
Canada's Christian fundamentalist Prime Minister tells millions of poor no need to protest
A modest proposal to end homelessness in Canada
Asbestos, Abortion and the Canadian Prime Minister's cats