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Marijuana, Accutane, and the Suspension of Science By the Cultural Left

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On November 2 California voters will chose a new governor and hopefully a new United States Senator. 

Meg Whitman, the former head of eBay leads current Attorney General and former governor Jerry Brown in the race to succeed Arnold. 

And Carly Fiorina is within three points of the United States Senate's dimmest bulb, Barbara Boxer, whose embarrassing 18 year run of incompetence and irrelevance may at last be coming to a merciful end. 

These two contests will dominate most of the headlines out of the Golden State over the next four months --except for those concerning the state's fiscal meltdown. 

But there will be one other enormously important contest on California's November 2 ballot --Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana use in the state. 

If passed, Proposition 19 will allow adults 21 years and older to possess, cultivate, or transport cannabis for personal use, and will permit local governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sale of cannabis to adults 21 years and older. President Obama who was quick to authorize a law suit against Arizona on that state's immigration law hasn't said whether he will direct the Department of Justice to challenge Proposition 19 if it passes, but given the hyper-partisan record of Eric Holder, don't expect the DOJ to challenge a cultural breakthrough for the left.  

Anyone with a bookmark to Google can quickly access the studies that detail the known long term and serious side-effects of chronic marijuana use.  What is really interesting is what we don't know about the drug and its impacts on health and whether voters will throw that caution born of our ignorance to the wind. 

Which brings me to Accutane. 

After reading a story on air about the long term side effects of Accutane on some users --effects which include irritable bowel syndrome as well as even more acute diseases such as Crohn's disease and which may also include an array of other disabilities including depression-- a number of listeners emailed for guidance on how to proceed if they had taken Accutane and suffered from such a serious condition. 

I dug into the subject and along with one of my law partners interviewed two of the leading mass tort lawyers who specialize in the area and learned not only about the extent of litigation emerging on Accutane but also on claims brought in a number of other areas against a number of other drug manufacturers including, for example, claims brought by women who had used anti-depressants during pregnancy who had given birth to children with birth defects. 

Time and again the long-term consequences of drug use turn out to be unanticipated and harmful. 

This isn't an argument against rapid FDA evaluation of new treatments and compounds.  Promising treatments for disabling or deadly conditions need to move forward to market quickly and to allow for individuals to make choices about the risks they are willing to run. 

But rarely do we rush forward to make widely available a powerful drug for recreational use. 

As this conversation among the lawyers proceeded I was thinking of Prop 19 and its low profile in the media as well as remarkably high approval rates among young voters who see in dope nothing more than another form of recreation very much akin to alcohol.  

Young people are not particularly good evaluators of risk, and they are certainly not careful analysts of trade-offs that are more speculative than concrete. 

But ask a young person if he or she would take Accutane now for even a severe case of acne against the backdrop of the suspected side-effects in all their unpleasant detail?  Chances are they wouldn't make that trade-off because the information on which they are evaluating the choice is far more complete than it was even ten years ago. 

Would a young voter draw the connection between the Accutane choice and the Prop 19 choice?  Will they be willing to be persuaded that the information gap around the latter issue parallels the gap that existed around Accutane a decade ago and vote accordingly? 

Not likely, because increasingly the electorate has lost its ability to evaluate risk. 

The left is willing to launch a world wide economic revolution based on speculations about the impacts of a yet unknown global temperature change. 

And the left is willing to set aside the known impacts of increases in marginal rates of taxation on income and investment in order to serve political agendas that demand punishment of the successful. 

And now the left --especially the left within the MSM-- is willing to ignore the enormous data gap concerning marijuana because its agenda long ago identified with dope. 

Because the left has systematically abused the idea of risk for so long it is an almost impossible concept to employ effectively in a down ballot issue like Prop 19.  

If Prop 19 passes and the president decides not to order the DOJ to move against it, then we will eventually get the data on dope use that has long eluded the public because of the inability to easily study the consequences of illegal behavior.  What we discover will almost certainly be bad news.  What a shame it will turn out to be that the issue wasn't judged worthy of sustained debate in 2010.

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