Monday, January 12, 2009

Our (Potential) Future Surgeon General and Marijuana Legalization

Before I begin, I implore to you watch this Daily Show clip on Dr. Gupta. Aasif Mandvi does a great job. I hadn't laughed that hard in awhile. (start at minute 2 for the good stuff)

Anyway, Dr. Gupta recently wrote an article for Time Magazine entitled "Why I would vote No on Pot". I'm
pretty disappointed in this article by our (potential) future surgeon general. He brings to light both sides of the issue, but I don't think he argues his case very well.

So what did he bring up in the article (which leaves out other valid arguments for both sides):

positives of legalizing pot

- can help really sick people - those going through chemo, and those suffering from Alzheimer's
- 15 million people all ready use it, so wouldn't have to enforce law on them
- cut illegal drug trafficking and make communities safer

negatives of legalizing pot
- addiction
- affect short term memory
- impair cognitive ability
- lead to long term depression or anxiety
- can impair driving - cause accidents

First off I am disappointed by the lack of statistics. From this article I have no idea how severely pot affects short term memory, leads to long term depression, etc. A reasonable question would be, how do these negatives compare to alcohol? It seems that alcohol shares all of these negative consequences and is potentially worse in some cases. He also suggests outcomes that are rather subjective like depression, cognitive ability, etc. It is not nearly as clear cut as tobacco's relationship to lung cancer and other disease. I don't doubt his medical claims, but he should at least link to scientific/epidemiological studies supporting it.

So how authoritarian is Sanjay Gupta? Yes, it would be better medically if we banned alcohol and soda - but is it the right move for the country? There are reasonable reasons to keep marijuana illegal, but Dr. Gupta needs to bring a little more substance to his argument. Granted this was just a short article for Time Magazine, but adding links similar to Frank Rich's style at the New York Times would be refreshing.

One of my major reasons for reluctance of Gupta for Surgeon General is his lack of public health training or experience. If this is the way he would describe a public health epidemic in the future as surgeon general, consider me unimpressed.

Looking further at the Marijuana issue as a whole:

Gallup polling has explored the legalization of Marijuana question for years, and while support is still on Dr. Gupta's side the margin is eroding.

When asked if medical marijuana should be legalized, support jumps into the 70 percent range. Dr. Gupta points out that 11 states have all ready decriminalized marijuana for medical use. I honestly believe that polling (on legalization of both medical and recreational) would change if people were more informed on this subject.

For example, there is a very valid economic argument that would play well in today's economic situation.

Jeffery Miron an economist from Harvard conservatively estimates that the US could receive 14 billion dollars a year from the legalization of marijuana. "...the government would save $7.7 billion a year if it didn't have to spend money policing and prosecuting marijuana activity. Then, if the feds taxed marijuana at a rate comparable to cigarettes and booze, another $6.2 billion would come rolling in."

It will be interesting to see if any "change" is made on this issue with the Obama administration, considering it's the "#1 Idea" proposed on their site


Demers said...

Agreed that Dr. Gupta would hopefully be more objective in any decision-making.

As for the authoritarian question, I think the surgeon general has always had a pretty authoritarian POV. S/he is supposed to be looking out for us from a mom / dad / family doctor POV.

Dan said...

Good point demers, that makes for the SG to have an authoritarian POV.

Anonymous said...

Opulently I acquiesce in but I contemplate the collection should have more info then it has.