DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
Thomas A. Constantine
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:
Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Regarding:
The California & Arizona Medical Drug Use Initiatives

Date:
December 2, 1996

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee: I appreciate this opportunity to appear before the Committee today and discuss the issues surrounding the two recently-passed ballot initiatives in California and Arizona which, in essence, legalize the possession of marijuana, and in Arizona, all Schedule I drugs, such as heroin and LSD for medical purposes by "seriously or terminally ill patients." I also wish to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing in such a timely manner. Most Americans have not yet grasped the consequences of what happened last month in California and Arizona, and it is critical that Congress provide factual information about these initiatives. It is also critical that Americans understand that these legalization initiatives were not local, grass-roots efforts, but part of a well-orchestrated, well-financed national movement, not for the compassionate medical use of marijuana, but to legalize drugs. These efforts will have a profound impact on our children, as they struggle to grow up against the backdrop of increased drug use among young people.

Today we are faced with more questions than answers as we examine the impact of these initiatives. It is fair to say that both propositions were well-crafted and well-thought out, and their authors fully intended to mask their true agenda in the guise of drug "medicalization," while keeping the medical conditions for which controlled substances can be used extremely vague. The passage of these propositions raises important legal and law enforcement issues which we are currently assessing. But there are two very basic facts that have not changed: first, that the Clinton Administration is unequivocally opposed to the legalization of drugs, and second, that the Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to target and arrest the most significant drug traffickers operating domestically and internationally.

What the Propositions Do:

Voters who supported Proposition 215 in California were led to believe that this initiative would simply allow medical doctors to treat terminally ill and suffering patients with marijuana for the relief of pain symptoms. In reality, the proposition allows anyone who receives a doctor's "recommendation" to possess and use marijuana for cancer, AIDs, glaucoma and "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief." It allows doctors to verbally "recommend" marijuana use to minors, prisoners, individuals in sensitive positions --- simply anyone who claims to have a medical condition. The proposition, by extension, also allows individuals to smoke and cultivate marijuana openly, on the premise that marijuana has been recommended for the individual's "medical condition."

In Arizona, voters were asked to approve the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act of 1996." Packaged as a truth-in-sentencing and drug prevention measure, proponents masked the true agenda of Proposition 200. Buried within the proposition was a provision which allows a physician to prescribe controlled substances included in Schedule I to terminally ill patients and to seriously ill patients suffering pain.

The Arizona proposition is more restrictive than the California version in that a physician must cite a study confirming the proven medical benefits of a Schedule I drug and provide a written prescription which is kept in the patient's medical file, and the patient is required to obtain a written opinion from a second physician confirming that the prescription for the Schedule I substance is "appropriate to treat a disease or to relieve the pain and suffering of a seriously ill patient or terminally ill patient." However, the Arizona proposition also provided for other actions which erode effective, tough drug policies, including the release of prisoners "previously convicted of personal possession or use of a controlled substance."

Despite the differences between the two ballot initiatives, there is an indisputable similarity: both states now allow individuals to possess substances which have no legitimate medical use. Both California and Arizona, despite what the proponents claim, have taken the first steps towards the proponents' ultimate goal of legalizing drugs.

Who Supported the Proposition

Proposition 215 in California and Proposition 200 in Arizona were drafted, financed and supported by legalization proponents using the compassionate pain argument as a guise for their drug legalization agenda. Billionaire financier and legalization advocate, George Soros, provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in California alone to garner support for the proposition. In Arizona, Soros almost doubled his California donations, a significant portion of which were made through organizations, such as the Drug Policy Foundation, with which he is affiliated. Other donors included representatives from the Progressive Corporation, the Men's Warehouse, and other pro- legalization groups.

Proponents waged a sophisticated, misleading campaign which led voters to believe that the initiatives were simply limited to compassionate pain relief. Opponents of the propositions, including the American Cancer Society, the California Medical Association, the Glaucoma Research Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the California Narcotics Officers Association and many family groups concerned about the impact of drug legalization on the nation's children, were outspent and out-campaigned by the well-orchestrated effort to legalize drugs on a national basis. These individuals cynically used the suffering and illness of vulnerable people to further their own agenda.

Those of us who fought against the initiative, including General McCaffrey, myself, HHS Secretary Shalala and former Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush, found it extremely difficult to engage the media in California and Arizona and discuss the real issues underlying these propositions. Even the fact that 13,000 members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona in late October, passed a resolution strongly opposing these initiatives, received little attention.

Before discussing the practical implications that these two propositions will have on law enforcement and ultimately on American children, I would like to take a moment to discuss the DEA's position on the medical use of marijuana.

The Medical Use Issue

In March, 1992, DEA Administrator Robert Bonner, re-affirmed the DEA's position that there is "no currently accepted medical use" for marijuana, and denied the petition of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to re- schedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. After a lengthy hearing process, the DEA made this conclusion based on testimony and comments from numerous medical doctors who had conducted detailed research and were widely considered experts in their respective fields. Briefly, the decision states among other things that:

  • Marijuana has been rejected as medicine by the American Medical Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Cancer Society.
  • No medicine prescribed by physicians is smoked.
  • Marijuana is likely to be more cancer-causing than tobacco; damages brain cells; causes lung problems, such as bronchitis and emphysema; may weaken the body's antibacterial defenses....and impairs motor skills.
  • No medical study has indicated that marijuana is significantly effective in controlling nausea and vomiting.
  • Each of the doctors testifying on behalf of NORML claimed that his opinion was based on scientific studies, yet with one exception, none could identify, under oath, the scientific studies they relied on.

It is common knowledge that the active ingredient in marijuana, known as THC, is available in pure form, manufactured pharmaceutically in capsules as Marinol. There have been no medical studies indicating that any property in marijuana other than THC has any beneficial medical effect. There have been dramatic advances made in relieving the side effects of cancer treatment during the past decade, and drugs such as Zofran and Kytril are available to physicians. Many medical experts consider these new drugs far more effective than Marinol. In the DEA's opinion in 1992, and in 1996, there is no scientific information which supports re-classifying marijuana as a Schedule II substance, making it available for medical use.

To say that marijuana should be used for pain relief is similar to saying that cigarettes should be prescribed as an appetite suppressant to those seeking to lose weight. Our research shows definitively that smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema, and our society acknowledges the dangers of tobacco. Why, then, should we believe, simply on the word of those who seek to normalize their own behavior, that marijuana should be widely available for all to smoke? Why should we allow a few individuals, who write checks in the comfort of their upper-class homes, to dictate policies which we know are harmful?

Implications for Law Enforcement

Perhaps the most complex questions we are facing today as a result of these propositions pertain to law enforcement. As representatives on the panel of state and local experts will testify, the passage of these initiatives raises important law enforcement issues in both states. Earlier this month, General McCaffrey convened a meeting of representatives from state and local law enforcement to discuss the practical implications of these propositions, and how federal law enforcement together with their state and local task force partners will continue to target and arrest major drug traffickers.

I would like to discuss a few scenarios which raise questions and graphically illustrate the practical issues which face law enforcement in light of these developments.

  • Can state and local law enforcement officers seize marijuana in California, and in Arizona, marijuana and other Schedule I drugs from individuals claiming to have received them as a result of a doctor's recommendation or prescription?
  • Are these substances medicines under state law or contraband?
  • Are police officers liable if they let individuals with marijuana, who claim a medical condition, drive off and later injure or kill someone?
  • Are state and local officers able to detain individuals possessing Schedule I drugs, and call federal officials to come and arrest them on federal charges? How will the federal government meet the burdens of charging and prosecuting cases previously handled on a state level --- without any additional resources and with already staggering workloads?
  • How will law enforcement officers respond to large marijuana plots when the owners claim that they are "caregivers" who must cultivate marijuana for their customers suffering from AIDS, cancer, or whatever medical conditions they identify?
  • Can inmates in prison claim that they are suffering from a medical condition requiring treatment with Schedule I substances? Are prison officials obligated to allow the inmates to use these drugs? If so, how are prison officials in Arizona expected to maintain order and discipline with the inmates high on heroin, marijuana, LSD or other Schedule I drugs?
  • How will law enforcement handle prescriptions or recommendations from doctors or caregivers from other states, or from Mexico and Canada?

These are serious questions which now face California and Arizona law enforcement officials on a daily basis. There are also significant issues which face the citizens of both states. Parents should ask how these propositions will impact on the safety of their children; will workplaces, including schools and transportation, maintain drug-free requirements? How will parents be assured that their child's Little League Coach or scoutmaster is not using drugs? Perhaps the biggest question of all, however, is what impact the liberalization of drug policy will have on our children at a time when drug use has increased. The mixed messages we are sending will most likely have a terrible effect on parents' ability to provide unequivocal information about drugs to their young children.

What the Federal Government Can Do

The California and Arizona initiatives do nothing to change federal drug enforcement policy. The DEA will continue to target major drug traffickers, including major marijuana growers and distributors. We also can take both administrative and criminal actions against doctors who violate the terms of their DEA drug registrations that authorize them to prescribe controlled substances. Doctors are registered with the DEA to prescribe only Schedule II-IV substances. Technically, those doctors who prescribe or recommend Schedule I substances are violating federal law. The licenses of over 900 physicians have either been surrendered or revoked in the last two years for fraudulent prescription practices.

The DEA is working with the Department of Justice and the Office of National Drug Control Policy to ensure close coordination between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement agencies. We have met with officials from California and Arizona in an effort to ensure that they have the necessary support from the federal government, but there are still many issues to be worked out. Although there are no guarantees, the DEA is hopeful that continuing consultations with state and local officials will ensure that the citizens of both states will be protected from major drug traffickers and unscrupulous medical practitioners. In some cases, they will be one and the same.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, it is important for us to recognize that the proponents of drug legalization will not stop with California and Arizona. They intend to support and finance initiatives in many other states. Citizens of California can overturn this proposition in 1998 through another ballot initiative. It is possible for the Arizona legislature to overturn Proposition 200 within a shorter period of time.

We should keep our attention focused on the next tier of states targeted by the legalizers, and should learn from the California and Arizona experiences. I firmly believe that the legalizers will pour millions of dollars into legalization campaigns, and will work diligently to disguise the legalization issue as a compassionate pain relief issue. However, we must continue to educate Americans about the true nature of the debate, and ensure that they have the facts necessary for them to make a sound decision.

It is instructional to look at what happened in Alaska after marijuana was decriminalized between 1975 and 1990. Marijuana abuse among teenagers doubled during that time period, and parents recognized the need to re-criminalize marijuana. In 1990, Alaskans voted to re- criminalize marijuana after a grass-roots effort educated voters in that state about the consequences of a liberalized drug policy. With marijuana use among 12-17 year olds dramatically increasing, and with surveys indicating that 35% of our children list drugs as their number one concern, we need to provide our next generation with the leadership necessary to reverse the current trends. We need to put our energies and limited resources into reducing the demand for drugs, not legalizing them. I firmly believe that most Americans recognize how dangerous and counterproductive these propositions are, and with encouragement and a fair airing of the pros and cons of the issue, they will stand up to the legalizers and their millions of dollars.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

(This testimony was not coordinated through the interagency clearance process and reflects the views of the Drug Enforcement Administration.)

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