SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — In an exclusive interview with The Internet Chronicle, former DEA Administrator Peter Bensinger discussed the waning percentage of citizens using illegal drugs, his opinion on the relative harm posed by different drugs, and penalties imposed in December against British banking giant HSBC for its role in aiding Mexican drug cartels. Speaking via Skype from his Chicago office, Mr. Bensinger relayed confidence that declining illicit drug use translates into decreased drug abuse, and that vaporized cannabis possesses medicinal value. The full interview is available for viewing on YouTube in three parts, below.
In Part 1, Mr. Bensinger says marijuana “is not a safe and effective medicine.” After our pressing the point about the vaporized cannabis point, Mr. Bensinger said he thought there was “a couple of interesting research projects,” one of them being Sativez. Sativex contains cannabinoids but in liquid, not in a gaseous vapor form. The former DEA chief then returned to the subject of his enthusiasm for the medical applications of medicines extracted from the cannabis plant available in pill or patch form. Mr. Bensinger said, “Marijuana has 60 percent more cancer-causing agents than tobacco,” referring by the term “marijuana” to “smoked marijuana” — not vapor, patch or pill forms.
Despite Washington state and Colorado’s legalizing referenda, and legalization proponents’ confidence that criminalization romanticizes rebellious behavior, Mr. Bensinger says he is confident that criminal penalties — “whether it’s just a trip to see a judge or a temporary arrest” — “does make a tremendous difference in the number of people using.”
We referenced our 2007 interview with Mason Tvert, a Colorado-based and (now) Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated activist who spearheaded a successful pro-legalization Denver referendum. Mr. Bensinger praised Washington and Colorado for their “good protections” limiting legal cannabis use to those over 21 years of age. But he said “the biggest segment” of the people who use marijuana “are 18- and 19-year-olds.” Those young, still-illegal users, he said, are the users that would still enable an illicit trade. “This won’t drive away the cartels,” he said. “They’ll love it. They’ll be selling to the biggest user population that is now consuming marijuana.” Most marijuana users are not under 21 years old.
Asked about the possibility of drug abuse rising even as drug decreased, Mr. Bensinger urged readers to analyze treatment admissions overdose deaths.” Heroin overdose and marijuana illicit use treatment statistics, he said, are far higher than the 1970s.
Asked about stigma faced by adults with “expunged” drug convictions seeking to enter the fields of law enforcement, education or social services, the former DEA administrator said that “we have a problem with stigma,” although added that he did not have the statistical data to comment on the specific hardships these convicts face.
Mr. Bensinger declined to comment on Michele Leonhart’s claim to Congress that whether heroin was more harmful for individuals than cannabis was a “subjective” matter. “All of these drugs,” he said, “are in Schedule I or illegal because they don’t meet the FDA’s standards of efficacy and safety. And marijuana can cause, as a I showed you, deaths [from secondary effects.]”
Mr. Bensinger referenced a January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reviewing a DEA decision as to whether cannabis should be a Schedule I substance. He said the court “reviewed the DEA’s decision on whether it should be a Schedule I or Schedule II [drug,]” claiming that the court decided that the DEA “interpreted the FDA’s scientific information correctly.” The former DEA administrator added a claim that medical marijuana proponents are acting in opposition to “decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals.” On the other hand last month the court said that the question before it was “not whether marijuana could have some medical benefits.”
In a 2011 white paper, the DEA officially weighed in on the medicinal value of cannabis, saying:
An April 2007 article published by the Harm Reduction Journal, and funded by the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, argues that the use of a vaporizer has the potential to reduce the danger of cannabis as far as respiratory symptoms are concerned. While these claims remain scientifically unproven, serious negative consequences still remain. For example, driving skills are still impaired, heavy adolescent use may create deviant brain structure, and 9-12 percent of cannabis users develop symptoms of dependence. A vaporizer offers no protection against these consequences.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) website ignores unclear guidance on the risks and medical value associated with “marijuana.” By “marijuana,” the ONDCP appears to refer only to “smoked marijuana.” The dictionary — at least Merriam-Webster — does not define “marijuana” strictly in terms of it being a smoked drug but rather “the dried leaves and flowering tops of the pistillate hemp plant that yield THC.” These are the same plant components that yield THC through vaporization. Indeed on the same page the White House uses “non-smoked” as a literal parenthetical of “safe.”
Marijuana itself is not an approved medicine under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) scientific review process. Yet 16 states and the District of Columbia have permitted marijuana to be sold as “medicine” for various conditions. Although, some of the individual, orally-administered components of the cannabis plant (Dronabinol and Nabilone are two such drugs available today) have medical value, smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for delivering the constituent elements that have or may have medicinal value . . . No major medical association has come out in favor of smoked marijuana for widespread medical use.
Douglas Valentine, author of the drug enforcement history, The Strength of the Pack, obtained through Freedom of Information Act request an internal DEA memo, advising that the agency suspect “all . . . support for CIA electronic surveillance.” As early as 1977, lack of transparency and information-sharing was creating problems for the law enforcement community. If suspects showed up during the course of attempts by the CIA to surveil them, courts would undermine Justice Department efforts to enable the CIA to continue its work. His Counterpunch article from five years ago referred to this as an “emasculation” process.
As Mr. Valentine recounted five years ago in Counterpunch, CIA surveillance efforts actually protected drug traffickers. And thus the outgoing assistant administrator left his recommendation, below.
Alexandra Bruce of Forbidden Knowledge TV provided production to this story. Our Washington correspondent provided video editing.