A reader writes:
First, I want to thank Dr. Gupta for his change of heart and welcome his support. However, it is mind blowing to hear this: “I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof.”
This is ridiculous because there was a supreme court case not long ago (Raich vs. Ashcroft / Gonzales, shortly before Roberts was nominated) where the sole outcome of the ruling was to affirm Congress’ right to ignore and even fabricate “scientific evidence” as they see fit. Interestingly it was one of the few cases where Scalia and Thomas disagreed. I remember it well because the speculation at the time was that Scalia was siding in favor of the war on drugs because voting in favor of ending the drug war might knock him out of the running for Chief Justice.
While I’m grateful for Dr. Gupta’s about-face on cannabis and hopeful that it accelerates the mainstream acceptance of prohibition’s demise, I was also struck by something in that interview: both he and Piers Morgan admitted to smoking weed “a long time ago”. I’m not saying either is lying, but it does seem like temporal distance has become the new “I didn’t inhale”. It’s okay to admit you smoked, but make sure to relegate that experience to a past life. It’s a sign of both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. When a respected member of the mainstream news media (and I use the words “respected” and “news” loosely in regards to Morgan) admits to current or even recent use, that’s when we’ll know the door to the cannabis closet has been fully torn off its hinges.
Quick anecdote that may be of interest: Back when I was at the Marijuana Policy Project, Dr. Gupta wrote a column for Newsweek opposing marijuana legalization measures on the Colorado and Nevada ballots in 2006, and I emailed him to complain of what I considered faulty logic and incomplete facts.
I was polite, but pretty firm that I thought he was profoundly missing the point in failing to consider the harm prohibition does when evaluating the pros and cons of legalization. To his great credit, he picked up the phone and called me, and we had a respectful but spirited conversation for a good 20 minutes.
That in itself is extraordinarily rare for a national TV personality responding to a totally un-famous stranger. I didn’t convince him at that point and he actually seemed pretty locked into his viewpoint, but he engaged with me and came across as a guy truly wanting to do the right thing. I like to think that I helped plant the seeds of his eventual rethinking in that conversation, though of course I have no way of knowing.
When he took the first steps toward acknowledging possible medical value to cannabis a couple years later, I wrote him again to express thanks for his willingness to keep an open mind, and got a thoughtful and appreciative email back. So I think we should bear in mind that things about cannabis and cannabis laws that seem obvious to us seem much less so to people who’ve been immersed in drug war groupthink all their lives – and, at least at the time Dr. Gupta was in med school, anything medical students were taught about marijuana was mired in that groupthink (and after all, if you’re selective enough with your evidence, it’s not hard to make a plausible-sounding case against the stuff).
So I end up being really impressed with Dr. Gupta. He had semi-informed opinions that turned out to be mostly wrong, and took a lot of criticism for them (and I can tell you positively that some of the responses he got were far nastier than mine), but instead of getting his back up and circling the wagons, he kept studying, thinking and learning and publicly admitted a mistake. That’s pretty classy, and not exactly common in the cable news universe. I wish more of our public commentators behaved like that.
Readers are also sounding off at our Facebook page.