October 13th, 2010

Spice, Marijuana, and the Criminalization of “Gateway Drugs”

photo credit: aforero

Earlier this month, Deseret News editorial page editor Jay Evensen highlighted the issue of spice, a synthetic marijuana substitute, and wrote: “So, where are all the folks who want to legalize marijuana? How come they aren’t jumping to the defense of ‘spice’…?”

Here I am.

For the uninitiated: “spice” refers to synthetic cannabis, a mixture of herbal and chemical ingredients which claim to produce similar results to smoking marijuana. Usage of spice is not detected in most drug screening tests.

The product is relatively new on the world scene, making an appearance only a few years ago. Since that time, it has become popular amongst individuals who are legally unable to procure and consume marijuana. It has, therefore, received significant attention from politicians eager to ban the product, its main ingredients, or both. Several countries, and over a dozen states, have now enacted bans on spice. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s drug czar, said in an interview that the substance is “on our radar”, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency refers to it as a “drug and chemical of concern”.

It’s also on Utah’s radar. Logan, Ogden, Cache County, and Utah County have all recently banned the sale, use, and possession of spice. Police in Salt Lake County are “giving a gentle request”—a letter "asking for voluntary removal"—to owners of stores carrying such products. State-wide, several legislators are itching to introduce legislation on the issue.

In other words, the nanny state is alive and well.

No sentence in this article will be as important as this one: the war on drugs has been an abysmal failure, and the myriad unintended (?) consequences that result from this flawed plan of action create death, poverty, and a massive expansion of government.

Without the war on drugs, gang violence between warring cartels near our southern border would be substantially reduced (PDF) if not nearly eliminated, as would the profits amassed by these groups as a result of U.S.-created black markets.

Without the war on drugs, Americans would not be forced to fund the exponential expansion (PDF) in the “correctional” system required to process, police, and provide for drug users. This war has cost the taxpayers some $2.5 trillion, resulting in hundreds of thousands of arrests for non-violent “crimes”, filling our jails and increasing taxpayer dependency. As of 2004, drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners. Of note:

What’s amazing is that most of this imprisoning trend is recent, dating really from the 1980s, and most of the change is due to drug laws. From 1925 to 1975, the rate of imprisonment was stable at 110, lower than the international average, which is what you might expect in a country that purports to value freedom. But then it suddenly shot up in the 1980s. There were 30,000 people in jail for drugs in 1980, while today there are half a million.

Without the war on drugs, the limited government conservatives claim to champion might be less of a distant fantasy than it currently is. The war on drugs—which is really a war on people who use drugs—has resulted in mandatory minimum sentences, which violate the Eighth Amendment; the creation of drug courts, despite the Sixth Amendment; drug testing in schools, with no regard for the Fifth Amendment; and no-knock warrants and pathetically reduced standards of probable cause for search and seizure, in direct defiance of the Fourth Amendment. This pseudo-war has also been cited as justification for tougher gun laws, in violation of the Second Amendment, and regulations regarding commercial speech, in violation of the First Amendment.

As a chief justice in the Florida Supreme Court once wrote:

If the zeal to eliminate drugs leads this state and nation to forsake its ancient heritage of constitutional liberty, then we will have suffered a far greater injury than drugs ever inflict upon us. Drugs injure some of us. The loss of liberty injures us all.

The attention spice has received by various governments is a direct result of their prohibition on the possession and consumption of marijuana. Forced into the black market, individuals have found one opportunity to circumvent the government’s draconian policies; the government will not admit that it is the disease for which it is claiming a cure. Spice would never have been created, nor popularized, had the much more harmless cannabis not been the target of such bureaucratic ire.

For that reason, my defense of spice is actually a defense of marijuana; legalizing the possession and consumption of cannabis (something with which I disagree, have never done, and would encourage others not to do) would eliminate the consumer demand for spice overnight. If individuals could obtain or grow marijuana cheaply and legally, the disastrous side effects of the drug wars listed above, along with many others too numerous to include, would also disappear. Government, then, could successfully do through a respect for individual liberty what it currently seeks to do through an onslaught of compounding legislative dictates.

That respect for individual liberty applies not only to those seeking to “recreationally” use these substances, but also to those who desire its medicinal properties to alleviate pain and health problems. As one anecdotal example out of countless that could easily be provided, read the following excerpt from Oriana Iverson, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in April 2007:

I prepped myself for what I knew would be a severely difficult time on my new family, and would certainly wreak havoc on my body. When treatments started it was as bad as I imagined. I was immediately nauseous and had no appetite. When I managed to muscle something down, I had severe digestive issues including excruciating stomachaches. I had constant headaches, suffered depression, couldn’t sleep, had low self-esteem after losing my hair, and generally felt just crappy.

It was not a completely novel idea to me to use marijuana to combat the side effects that I experienced from chemo. I had smoked it recreationally prior to my illness, and had had it in my medicine chest for nausea for years, but until I began using it medicinally for a serious illness, I never really truly understood how powerful and necessary a medicine it could be. I would use a vaporizer to partake, which warms the herb to the point of melting the THC crystals and releasing the essence of the herb but not burning it. I figured in light of the fact that I had cancer I should probably try to limit the amount of carcinogens that I purposely introduced into my system. This method of self medication was far more effective than any of the ten different drugs the doctor had prescribed to me to combat my side effects. One anti nausea medicine that was prescribed to me cost something like $1000 for 15 tablets and was reported to be the only truly effective drug for that purpose. Fortunately for me, I never needed to try it.

A visit to my “medication station” could, within minutes, stimulate my appetite, lift my spirits, relieve my aches and pains, and help me get to sleep. I had resolved from the beginning to keep a positive attitude because I knew it was the only way I could give strength to the people who loved and supported me, and herb was a great facilitator in helping me to achieve this goal.

A ban on marijuana—or spice, if for whatever reason the individual prefers its effects—would have denied this woman a safe and extremely affordable method of obtaining comfort during her physical trials. And yet, countless politicians disregard this scenario; you may recall candidate Mitt Romney’s kerfuffle with Clayton Holton, a 23-year-old New Hamshire man with muscular dystrophy, who alleges that only marijuana can tame his symptoms. Yet, Romney says that “I don’t want medicinal marijuana,” as if his imperial views trump individual liberty. He’s not alone; many of his recent presidential competitors, for example, share his same view. John McCain said that “I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug. That is my view and that’s the view of the federal drug czar and other experts . . . I do not support the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I believe there are other ways of relieving that pain and suffering.” In other words, Americans should be forced under threat of fines and prison to pay massive amounts of money to his big pharma campaign contributors who produce artificial drugs which have long lists of side effects, unlike the safe, affordable alternative he so carelessly disregards. Rudy Giuliani said “The FDA says marijuana has no additive medical benefit of any kind, that the illegal trafficking of marijuana is so great that it makes much more sense to keep it illegal. I will keep it illegal.” Mike Huckabee deferred any effort at forming an opinion by stating that “I think I’d leave that to the DEA.” And, echoing an argument parroted by many who champion the war on drugs simply because it has existed for a few decades and must therefore perpetuate so long as America exists, Duncan Hunter stated: “If you have a federal law, you have to enforce the law. And that’s my answer.”

McCain’s answer should be replied to directly, for he claims, as do many, that marijuana (and spice) is a "gateway drug"—a substance which, when used, leads the individual to desire and consume much more dangerous and addictive drugs that alter perception, action, and lead to violence and destructive behavior. This claim is the most hypocritical argument in the nanny state’s arsenal, for it ignores the blatant fact that legal substances such as nicotine and alcohol produce a similar, if not greater, correlation to usage of hard drugs such as cocaine. If an individual is truly concerned about these things being gateway drugs, then they must similarly support legislation banning alcohol and cigarettes. Good luck with that. (I guess the marijuana industry needs to employ influential lobbyists if they’re to gain the favor of the political class.)

A 12-year study, concluded in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh, drove a nail into the coffin of the marijuana gateway drug theory:

The Pitt researchers tracked 214 boys beginning at ages 10-12, all of whom eventually used either legal or illegal drugs. When the boys reached age 22, they were categorized into three groups: those who used only alcohol or tobacco, those who started with alcohol and tobacco and then used marijuana (gateway sequence) and those who used marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco (reverse sequence).

Nearly a quarter of the study population who used both legal and illegal drugs at some point – 28 boys – exhibited the reverse pattern of using marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco, and those individuals were no more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who followed the traditional succession of alcohol and tobacco before illegal drugs, according to the study, which appears in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

If conservatives in Utah are convinced that they want limited government and individual liberty—and I’m far from convinced that they do—then they should put down their pitchforks, allow adults to exercise their agency in regards to what they will consume, and allow parents to regulate the choices their children make, rather than incrementally delegating that responsibility to the government. Spice may very well have harmful substances, but people of any age looking for a buzz often go to great lengths to achieve that goal; if marijuana or spice are not available, then household cleaners are only a cupboard away, and if the person has money, the black market will provide. It is not realistic that we as a society try to legislatively prohibit any substance that is deemed harmful, whether the science supports that claim or not.

Utah has a choice: either we can let parents govern their children, restrain government to its proper role, and secure individual liberty for responsible adults, or we can compound one law on top of another to augment the nanny state, create further unintended consequences, and prove that the conservative, limited government types publicizing their conservative credentials in anticipation of the general election want little to do with such ideals when the campaign trail has been trod and the legislature is in session.

22 Responses to “Spice, Marijuana, and the Criminalization of “Gateway Drugs””

  1. a concerned mommy
    October 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I agree, and I think that some people have a hard time separating law from their own personal values. Speaking out against something is different from wanting the long arm of the law to ban it. I think the fear is that if these drugs are legalized that it will be perceived as sanctioning of their use by the government, when in reality you can speak out vehemently against their use and at the same time not support the war on drugs. The message needs to be clear that government ending the war on drugs is not them saying that drugs are OK to use, and that it’s just not the government’s job to tell us what we can and cannot consume. That message needs to be made clear for the move to satisfy those worried about ending said war while getting us closer to true liberty.

  2. Kelly W.
    October 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    We MUST keep marijuana and spice illegal so the CIA can continue to import the drugs themselves. Otherwise, how would the CIA get the laundered monies to fund their illegal and moral wars to keep poppies cultivated in Afghanistan? If you made marijuana legal, it would put an end to the CIA’s illegal funding!

    Not to mention the pharmaceutical industry’s profits.

  3. Jim Davis
    October 13, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    Whenever I get into a debate with people who want marijuana to remain illegal I ask them one simple question- “Do you think alcohol should be illegal too?” The response I usually get has something to do with marijuana being a gateway drug to which I remind them that alcohol is also a gateway drug- a far more serious, addictive, and destructive gateway drug than marijuana. (If you ask people the same simple question you’ll notice 90% of them will also side-step the logic behind the question and go straight to the tourette-style response–“GATEWAY DRUG!”

    It bothers me to no end that so many people who profess to love liberty simultaneously advocate laws that punish people who have a different dietary code than themselves. I don’t drink caffeine (arguably a “gateway drug”) but I don’t think it’s right for me to force others not to drink it.

    Having said all of this I am in favor of DUI laws and if/when certain drugs become legal I support laws punishing those caught driving with an impairing amount of substance in their system.

  4. Dave
    October 13, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Connor: Nice post. Please educate me more on this matter. Is there a place for regulation of a drug like heroin? I look at it as an actuarial problem. If your behavior A leads to behavior B 100% of the time, and B denies me life, liberty or pursuit of happiness, there is justification to illegalize A. I understand that, at least in the case of cannabis, the A to B causation is barely perceptible with suspect causal links, but in the case of heroin and others, I can make a strong actuarial argument that A and B are causally related and highly probable.

    What would you suggest would be good law or regulation for such substances?

  5. Kelly W.
    October 13, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    We need to legalize Hemp, too.

  6. Carolyn Sharette
    October 13, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    I support the bans on spice. It is probably the lazy person in me, but as a parent of 7 (3 underage) and principal of 1140, it is such a relief to just be able to say “sorry, it is illegal”. It ends the discussion and allows us to not have to spend hours in discussion about the merits, drawbacks, etc. etc. etc. that teenagers love to debate.

    I realize in your mind I am probably sending our nation to its destruction, but I am “in the trenches” with the youth day in and day out, fighting the fight, and I am just relieved to not have another fight on my hands that takes us away from focusing on things that will really help kids – academic achievement and character development through hard work and service to others.

  7. Matt Kimmel
    October 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    As a City Councilman in my City of Syracuse we are going to vote on making a law to prohibit this drug soon. I would like your feedback, or anyone else for that matter, on this subject. Did not the First Presidency ask the members to support Prohibition on the Federal level? Do local governments not have the right to set moral standards? i.e. drug or alcohol consumption, “dry counties”. Please explain or clarify so that I may be informed enough to make the proper decision. Thanks

  8. Kelly W.
    October 14, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Hey Matt, I’m certainly no expert on this, but Utah citizens voted to END prohibition, even though the prophet of the Church voiced his opinion to the contrary.

    As a Church, the established doctrine is that the Church is politically NEUTRAL. Any personal political belief of some “church leader” is therefore simply his/her own personally held belief.

    But to legislate a law on the basis of making it easier for the students of a school or the citizens of a community to be forced into morality is EXACTLY the plan of Satan in forcing the inhabitants of the earth to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. Satan’s plan of legislating and forcing morality upon us was considered evil by God.

  9. Jeffrey T
    October 14, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    it is such a relief to just be able to say “sorry, it is illegal”. It ends the discussion and allows us to not have to spend hours in discussion about the merits, drawbacks, etc. etc. etc. that teenagers love to debate.

    No offense, but that IS lazy parenting. Seriously… no wonder our kids are screwed up. Parents would rather just tell their kids no, without ever taking the trouble to explain why.

    Regardless of your position on this issue, I invite you to consider teaching your kids, and to establish your authority as a parent on persuasion and reason, rather than “because I said so.”

  10. Edward
    October 15, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Has the First Presidency asked members to support banning Spice or to support the War on Drugs?

  11. Clumpy
    October 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    I too marvel at the attitude of “ban it because it’s easier and I’d prefer not to think about it.” Carolyn’s comments sound almost like parody but I don’t think they are.

  12. Clif
    October 18, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    I agree with Carolyn.

    Yes, having something encoded in the law does not negate our responsibility to teach our children or to honestly evaluate the pros and cons on a given issue – but I don’t think that’s what she was trying to say.

    I respect that she works “in the trenches” as she said.

    Actions have consequences. When the consequences are getting in trouble with the law, that is a message that seems to sink in more effectively with teenagers and young adults than some of the more abstract consequences related to the use of drugs themselves. Anyone who doesn’t know this should really take a developmental psych class or raise a couple of teenagers.

    I haven’t a doubt in my mind that if drugs were ever legalized, the very next thing we would see would be a massive marketing campaign aimed at getting people to consume them. Think of Joe Camel on drugs. I laugh at you presumptuous fools that say to Carolyn on the one hand, “you should teach your children better” and yet have no problem with enabling society to send a message that directly counters what it is that she is supposed to be teaching.

    The idea that crime would be slashed if we legalized drugs is foolishness. Did organized crime go away when we repealed prohibition? NO!!! It didn’t. They just moved on to other things.

    Hey while we’re at it, why don’t we just legalize prostitution as well. Just think of all the great social benefits that could accure from that one…

  13. L. Brown
    October 18, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    Is the issue freedom of action or protecting people from themselves?

    I don’t know if there has been any instance in the history of man where they were free to do whatever they wanted, with whomever they wanted, when ever they wanted (as long as they did not violate the fundamental rights of another). Are there even ANY examples? (I don’t think we’re free enough at this point in time to even know how it might feel). Maybe if we could find some kind of example where freedom was exercised freely (even if it were to their own detriment) it would make it easier for us to comprehend how people could deal with so much freedom.

    Maybe the problem is not, “Do this” or “Don’t do that”, maybe it should be, “Your freedom is diminished when you do this/that” or “Your freedom is enhanced when you do this/that”.

    I feel that It should be more than just a nice warm fuzzy feeling that we get when we talk of freedom. It should be a sense of hounour and respect for the ability to choose for ones self. And it should be jealously kept from others, especially from Governments who use Satan’s designs to protect us from everything.

    The issue is not “legalising” this or that but to allowing people to make their own decision in participating in said activities. It is the parents responsibility in ensuring that their children understand that their choice has consequences….good or bad.

    The problem is that there are some parents who fail in that regard and their children miss the education that comes from loving parents (maybe not perfect…but at least loving). The problems are not out there in some black hole….it’s right here with you and I. As the primary hymn goes….kindness begins with me….(don’t know if it’s still sung in primary…it’s been awhile). When I take the freedom to act in kindness it WILL affect others around me. Faith precedes the miracle….and in the end, the world can become a better place.

    Again, freedom is more than legalising “things”….it’s about choice. Will we be instruments in helping our youth/children/friends in understanding how to use their freedom? Or will we do the easy thing and take it away so we don’t have to worry about what will happen?

  14. Tom
    October 19, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    Good write-up. Though I disagree with your personal preferences of the herb generally speaking, I agree with the outline and thoughts regarding the nanny state and mankind’s penchant to accept laws, ordinances and regulations on everything under the sun, as if the legislation of morality would cure cancer itself.

    As to the principle and city councilman who spoke up, hoping for some peace of mind on this issue, I’d suggest that one of our main problems (as Kelly noted) is in our inability and disdain for explaining things to teenagers and children alike. It is much easier to just say, “it’s illegal,” but that ignores that larger issues and, as one noted, the “debate” of the herb itself. It’s illegal because the hemp industry posed a substantial monetary threat to those creating and fabricating nylon ropes, not out of some inherent evil contained therein. Heck, ask James E. Talmage what he thought of the herb itself.

    Our cultural bias for the herb is largely predicated on a total and complete misunderstanding of how and why marijuana became illegal. If you want to teach youth to think, debate with them, and show them how to analyze arguments and the like. If you want to teach them how to conform, tell them “it’s illegal” and continue on your merry old way.

    The problem we’re now seeing is that not only is the rising generation being instructed on how to conform, but their parents were fully indoctrinated in its methodologies as well. John Taylor Ghatto wrote a book on this very topic, and I suspect those roots go fairly deep.

  15. Christiaan
    October 19, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    I hardly sympathize with Carolyn and her position of having to raise 7 kids, but while we are talking about choice, lets not lose sight of the fact that THAT WAS HER CHOICE! My wife and I had one child, which was our choice, and it was surely rough at times, but overall, we had a far easier time raising him than many of our friends co-workers etc who had multiple children. As he grew, he was included in our life, understood our choices because he was a big part of those choices. He wasn’t treated like he was on the other side of issues, it wasn’t us vs. him…it was just US. When it came to drugs (alcohol and tobacco included) he adopted the same position on the issue as we did, that drugs and alcohol are reserved for those who are of legal age and responsible. If cannabis would have been legal, it would have been treated no different than any other substance in our home, and he would have respected our position…He knew the dangers and he knew the facts of all of the drugs that were most commonly available to him, (including my wifes pain medications which were numerous)…because we taught him. All of that being said, if he had screwed up and tried cannabis or another illegal drug and got caught, I surely wouldn’t have wanted the government to handle the situation by locking him up, removing him from the home, putting him through a rehab against his or our will, taking away his opportunity for educational grants and loans, or any of the numerous other punitive measures that we have allowed to be stacked up on a person with a drug conviction. Apparently Carolyn thinks that if her kids err in regards to cannabis (and apparently spice), they should be sent to jail….But then I guess in her case, she’s admittedly too lazy to raise her kids anyway, so she may as well leave it to the state.

    Look people, if you make the choice to have 7 kids, and are too lazy, unable, or otherwise incapable to raise them properly, don’t take away my freedoms because of your poor choices! I am not responsible for your kids, and the laws that I am bound to live by should be based on liberty, not on your choices!

  16. Jon H
    October 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    @L. Brown\nI am sure there are and have been places with freedom. The first that comes to mind is the United States during its early years, although in some ways this is a bit of a stretch. They started from the ground up. Most laws were on the local level, but even then they were way more lax than they are today. Sometimes too lax, such as allowing slavery. But the general idea was to have a government whose sole purpose was to protect people from things that they have no power to protect themselves from. When there was a problem, communities just worked them out themselves. No one cared what you did on your own land, as long as you weren’t hurting others. Mostly. Granted, sometimes people would start witch hunts and run out the people they don’t like.\n\nOne great example of how they viewed the purpose of laws in those days is the age of consent. It was set at 10. This does not mean they saw anything over 10 as appropriate. Quite the contrary. In the literature of the time, fathers are often teaching their daughters that they shouldn’t get married until they are 18. They set the law at 10 trying to hit a number that they could be certain the child would not be able to protect themselves, not at what was seen as moral. Rape was still rape, it just wasn’t based on your birth certificate. Later, during the years 1880-1920, people decided to instead force the moral standard on everyone of 16-18. Today, society tries to keep moral and legal in sync. It really is strange that the moment it becomes legal it also becomes acceptable. \n\nNow that I am already started, I guess I’ll need to rant for a little bit. Every time that the government does anything, someone gets hurt. That’s just the nature of the institution. It is simply expensive and clumsy. When solving large problems, like military threats, the benefit of government clearly outweighs the costs. For small problems, we are simply exchanging one problem for another, each time running the risk of a larger problem in the end. Therefore, if people can solve problems on their own, then let them and save everyone’s money. \n\nThe cost of government goes well beyond taxes. The government really can’t do anything without hurting people. When someone is simply suspected of a crime, they are arrested (government sanctioned kidnapping), booked into jail with a strip search (government sanctioned voyeurism/molestation), not released without a bail (ransom), and over all severely degraded and psychologically abused. They can do all of these things to a person anytime someone else accuses them of doing just one of them, or even something more benign. Someone accidentally visits a site with child pornography, and in the process of prosecution the photo is distributed amongst law enforcement, lawyers, and other people in the legal system. In a law suit, the winner rarely gets compensated for all the time, stress, and legal fees of the process, while the loser gets hurt even worse. \n\nThose are just some examples. I go on for hours listing more. For some reason, people think it is alright if the government does these things, but God forbid anyone else even thinks about it. I wish more people could see the irony and double standards. The government has power to do a lot of damage to individuals and society. Sure, people hurt each other. It sucks. I would rather everyone lived moral and happy lives. Using the government to force it to be so is moronic. A better society is far far away from the power of the government. We can’t hire a government to make us happy. A better society comes at the local level, starting with the way you treat your family and neighbors. People benefit most from good examples and love, not coercion and isolation.

  17. brennan
    October 23, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    I think people also fail to realize there is a difference between legalize, and de-criminalize.

    Might I suggest the latter is the true libertarian choice for government interaction with the individual. Legalizing pot would then allow the Government to still have a role in enforcement, taxing, regulating it and telling us what to do.

    Decriminalizing pot (a victimless crime unlike prostitution as cliff mentioned we should also legalize) would take government involvement out and just leave them to deal with it when they HAVE to.

    And thus, the individual is left with the true choice, true, AGENCY. You can educate your kids on the harms of it just like you do with alcohol and cigarettes.

    I wonder what that Carolyn lady does with alcohol cigs and guns?

  18. Easy
    October 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    If you want to be on the Lord’s side and not His enemy then you will not practice unrighteous dominion.

    Some here might want to read the book, Many Are Call, But Few Are Chosen to understand this more fully.

    You can read it here for free:


  19. Connor
    October 27, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    American Fork, Lehi, and Saratoga Springs have now banned spice as well.

  20. Connor
    November 10, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    And now, Provo.


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