The drug that never killed anyone | OPINION: Peter Eichenberger | Indy Week
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The drug that never killed anyone 

In a past life, I was a subcontractor in the corporate audio-visual business. The gig was a lot like being the kid in school who ran the projectors, although whereas the kid who ran the projector possessed an aura of stardom, my tasks were performed under a mantle of anonymous commodity. The cut of my suit and color of my badge (pink) betrayed my status. We were known as "pinkies," the term for infant rats in the research biz. And there I labored, amid the hushed opulence of expensive carpeting and $3,000 chairs that no one ever sat in--a wraith in a funereal black suit of cheap cloth, all the better to be able to slink into the shadows and remain invisible, a primary job requirement in the corporate A/V business.

Being of an observant and inquisitive mind, and largely an opponent of corporate capitalism, you can imagine my concealed glee when I would be given charge of a Sony 308 Hi-8 video camera and directed to tape internal confidential meetings.

Boy oh boy, did I see some juicy stuff. At one meeting, the presenter joked how female monkeys could be trained to "present" for a cookie, and "wouldn't it be great if that worked on humans." I felt like clotheslining the asshole with the $4,000 camera/tripod combo. But I kept my mouth shut and taped on.

These meetings ran the gamut, but the most illuminating of all involved clinical trials of new medicines, tales of placebo, sugar pills--and mortality rates for different formulations of the same compounds.

Drug companies are no different than car companies like Ford or tire manufacturers such as Firestone--all have gotten in the papers for adding a few pennies to their bottom line by releasing products that were more dangerous, but cheaper--and pocketing the profit. In the case of the notorious Ford Pinto, a human life was worth about 30 1970 bucks for a plastic heat shield that prevented the occupants from being immolated in the event of a rear-end collision. But drug companies will often value human life for less than that--oh, much less, my friends.

As in everything from fuel tanks to pharmaceuticals, to no surprise, careful calculations are given to balancing death rates and the cost of the compound. Guess which won out most every time, in my observation? In any given industry, careful decisions are made--wagers--that the economies of scale will trump the cost of wrongful death litigation. Manufacturers, with the icy bloodlessness of a Detroit bookie, make a bet that the savings from cheaper formulations will exceed the costs associated with wrongful death lawsuits. And considering the money involved, is it any surprise there is a move to cap lawsuits? Do you believe for a second they have consumers in mind? Just look at the campaign contributions, baby.

It would be one thing if the big research companies spent zillions trying to actually cure something, but the simple fact is that they often take on projects where the money is--palliatives that one has to take every day for life, many of them addressing the physical results of the toxic, stressful, all-American lifestyle. See, in many cases, getting "better" is the last thing a drug manufacturer wants for a patient. And once again, despite the pretty talk that comes from these corporate entities about improving lives, why do corporations exist? Profit. To these critters, a human is a "profit center," a dollar and no more. The reptiles running the corporate world (OK, the world) frequently display the same level of concern for human life as a motorist who hits a June bug on the way to the beach.

It comes back to the unfair advantage that the corporate "person" enjoys over natural ones. If you or I, natural persons, acted in a way that was carefully considered and resulted in the death of humans, we would be subject to arrest, trial and imprisonment (or placed in a mental institution--no one can be so callous and not a sociopath, in my world).

But as corporate "persons" have no physical body, no mortality (they don't die), and because of their nebulous, impenetrable spider-web nature, it becomes a nearly impossible task to assign criminal responsibility when the worst happens. Corporate actors can throw a few bucks at the crime and walk. And even in the case of the asbestos industry, there were never any criminal charges. No human person was held personally responsible for the millions of crimes--each sick person. And if one is to expose corporate malfeasance, the corporations, by dint of their economic throw-weight, can crush you and me (SLAPP suits and the like). Some animals are more equal than others.

Death becomes a cost of doing business--a business loss. And while the death rate from faulty/misprescribed drugs is not accurately known--doctors being loathe to bite the hand of the drug industry--the figure is well over a hundred thousand a year and possibly as high as a quarter of a million.

On to the point. So what's the big deal on medical marijuana? The simple fact is that while legal pharms take out unknown thousands of humans, the entire history of cannabis in pharmacopoeia fails to demonstrate one single, reliable report of the death of a human being in a 5,000-year span of history. For reference, ciggies put 400,000 on the slab. Per year. www.jackherer.com/comparison.html

In light of this state's obsequious adulation of the pharmaceutical business, the medical marijuana prohibition is a cruel, stupid and unenforceable law.

How unenforceable? The news to the N.C. legislature is that medical marijuana is a fact. It is happening now. I know, because I personally have procured and delivered medical-grade cannabis to folks who suffer(ed) from a variety of ailments. And the names would surprise Raleigh.

My operations were strictly small potatoes. A bag here, a bag there, with no intent nor expectation of Shaft's Big Score, markup on a quarter of an ounce being a few bucks.

But there are folks who are doing it on a day to day basis. The problem for the end user, often ill and jobless, is the price--$100 to $120 for a quarter ounce of medical-grade marijuana. It is an illegal commodity and the price reflects contraband status.

But marijuana works, as it has for millennia. So well, that nine states have passed their own medical marijuana bills over the curiously strenuous and overreaching objections of Uncle Sam.

Oregon, for instance, where one who is ill has, with a doctor's nod, the right to grow their own or designate a medical marijuana caregiver to grow it for them. While I was in Portland, I met a few of them, and the type of people who were doing it would surprise you. These broke the imagined stereotype of "drug manufacturers": these people showed real concern and a lack of avarice in the course of their duties--no one gets paid on that deal.

Marijuana, if we are to believe the Bible, was created by God, and God, as we are all told, doesn't make mistakes. How is it then that mere humans can categorically make a presumption that God made a boo-boo when he/she/it created marijuana, especially given its proven unique medical uses and lengthy history? And how is it that the products of corporations, manufactured to turn a profit, enjoy what amounts to special protection from a meek, compliant federal agency that cannot even guarantee what it was founded to foster--drugs that are recognized as safe and effective?

Finally, let us undo the wrongheaded U.S. policy, fomented by corporate mendacity and made the law of the land in the '30s via a whipped up, hysterical fear of weed-maddened Mexicans. As the lies have begun to unravel and the facts are exposed, the cruelty of the prohibition on marijuana is made even more so by knowing it stemmed from a paranoia deliberately spread throughout the land.

And then there is the associated matter of how it is that a potential savior of Eastern North Carolina tobacco farmers, industrial hemp (a useful, strong fiber, plus 30 gallons of potential biofuel per acre) remains illegal when if you smoked it all day long, the only thing you would get is a headache.

Nine states have passed medical marijuana initiatives. Faced with a choice between compounds that can kill and one that has never, if North Carolina has a genuine concern for the sick, we should too. Enough.

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