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Former DEA Bensinger's "Reefer Madness"

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Heading the Drug Enforcement Agency from 1976-1981, 77-year-old Peter Bensinger can’t get with the times, ranting against marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State. Talking like an infomercial for the 1936, 68-minute U.S. government propaganda film “Reefer Madness,” Bensinger watches his voice drowned out by today’s compassionate medical use laws and more recent recreational laws passed in Colorado and Washington State. “I think it’s a disaster,” Bensinger told “Power Players,” referring to 18 states with medical marijuana laws plus recreational laws in Colorado and Washington. Bensinger hopes to throw what’s left of his credibility to stop ballot measures in the Midterm elections hoping to pass more recreational use laws. Speaking like a National Institutes of Health scientist, Bensinger wants to turn back the clock to his days in the Carter Administration.

Bensinger had no problem enforcing the DEA’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous narcotic like heroin, putting away users and sellers in state and federal prisons. Bensinger insists it “will damage the young people in that state, it will damage the industries in the state, and put the highways in jeopardy,” without any data or proof of his contentions. “Plus, it’s against federal law and the Constitution and out international treaties,” insisted Bensinger, making sweeping statements inconsistent with over 17years of legal medical marijuana experience in California. Local, state and federal police agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, have seen no greater accident rates, injuries or deaths attributable, as Bensinger insists, to marijuana. Passed by voters in 1996, Prop 215 permitted marijuana use under doctors’ prescription. Eighteen years later, California’s still intact.

Spewing his own brand of junk science, Bensinger insists that it’s a “myth” that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. He rejects President Barack Obama’s Jan. 19 remark that marijuana is “no more harmful than alcoshol.” “You’ll dissipate a drink in a bout an hour; marijuana can stay in you body for a week,” said Bensinger, not admitting that acute alcohol intoxication more severely affects hand-eye-coordination and reaction-time than marijuana. Whether marijuana is traceable up to a month in the human bloodstream is of no consequence. “It goes to where we’re fattest, which is our brain . . . It cause short-term memory loss if use chronically. It impacts t he immune system if used regularly. It affect your depth perception,” said Bensinger, sounding knowledge but spewing out “Reefer Madness” propaganda. All psychoactive drugs impact the brain and affect perception.

Sweeping statements against marijuana can be made against any class of antidepressant, anti-anxiety, sedative-hypnotic, anti-psychotic drugs, including alcohol, all impacting the immune system and causing some memory impairments. Attributing all the evils to marijuana reverts to the DEA’s pernicious propaganda against weed, all stemming from the depravity showcased in “Reefer Madness.” Pot smokers routinely breach obligations, lie, steal and cheat, induce promiscuity, create out-of-wedlock pregnancies, fueling more crime and disintegration of society. “I don’t agree with the president at all and neither does he director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, nor the American Medical Association. They both say marijuana is not safe,” said Bensinger, taking out-of-context his personal opinions, innuendo and long-standing misguided policies.

Whatever marijuana does or doesn’t do to users, it’s not Bensinger’s expertise to discuss the pros and cons. Bensinger has no problems clogging the legal system with marijuana offenders, packing county jails and state prisons with non-violent pot smokers. If he really reports the scientific facts accurately, he’d say, like global warming, that the preponderance of evidence supports the notion, as Obama put its, that marijuana is “no more dangerous than alcohol.” All psychoactive drugs affect memory, perception, mood, emotion, behavior and decision-making. Reclassifying marijuana in the same category as alcohol at least puts common sense and balance back into the DEA’s drug classification scheme. Bensinger has no problems lumping marijuana with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or other dangerous drugs. Whether or not he or his friends smoke marijuana is anyone’s guess.

Whatever the evils of marijuana, they’re not enough to classify it with heroin and other dangerous drugs. Legalization efforts are not about debating the pros and cons of marijuana use, they’re about solving a long overdue problem in the criminal justice system. When Bensinger talks about marijuana being against the Constitution, he shows how far he’s off the rails. “The Food and Drug Administration, not legislators, should decide what’s medicine. And the Congress should decide, not the president of the United States what’s legal,” said Bensinger, opposing efforts by the Justice Department and DEA to reclassify marijuana. Just as it was arbitrarily designated a dangerous drug, it can be easily reclassified without an act of Congress. It doesn’t serve the Constitution or criminal justice system to throw the book at marijuana users because bureaucrats like Bensigner believe in “Reefer Madness.”

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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