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This is your brain on drugs (continued)

But Voth, for one, thinks that Doblin is being less than honest. "If [MAPS] was just a straight argument for legalization, that would be a different deal," he says. "But they’re clouding the issue with the medical applications, and they’re using that to get various drugs in the door. And I think that’s a sad Trojan horse that they’re putting out there for the public. It would be very interesting to get — in print — that [Doblin] would promise that, if ecstasy got accepted as a prescribed, controlled medicine, he would stop. That he would end there if ecstasy was in the hands of physicians only, with tight restrictions like a Schedule II drug [a medically useful drug with a high potential for abuse; more strictly controlled than Schedule III]. That he would stop trying to push its acceptance and saying it’s a harmless drug, and that, to people who use it carefully and recreationally, it’s no big deal. [But] the next step would be: ‘Now that we’ve got the medical acceptance of it, why should it be so controlled, because it’s incredibly safe. And if people want to bring it in from Holland and cook their brains, isn’t that their own personal responsibility?’ MAPS’s sole purpose is to gain legitimacy via trying to find the legal and medical mainstream for those drugs."

Still, Voth does make a few concessions. "I would say, and I believe this in virtually any realm, if any drug — including marijuana — goes through a rigorous FDA process to prove safety and efficacy, and it remains in the hands of physicians to prescribe it, under tightly controlled conditions, for appropriately selected patients, like we do in the practice of medicine, I’m for it. But I’ll tell you what I’m not for. What I’m not for are the ballot initiatives that are a clear end-run around the FDA, the pressure tactics to try to use public support to pressure folks to let go of some of these drugs of abuse."

Doblin’s views on legalization might not be as insidious as Voth would imply, but they’re also more complex than simply advocating for Schedule III status and prescriptions. A member of NORML’s board of directors, he says he feels the distinction between "recreational" and "therapeutic" uses of ecstasy is often "artificial." And he describes a philosophical rift that developed between two sets of otherwise like-minded colleagues some years ago: "One faction said, ‘Let’s just talk about the medical uses of MDMA, and let’s not comment on the fact that people also criminalize non-medical use.’ The other faction was saying, ‘Yeah we want this for medical use, but it’s not a good idea, in our view, to criminalize it.’" Doblin was part of the latter faction; he believes that "prohibition, as a concept, is counterproductive, and doesn’t get us as a society where we want to go."

DOBLIN CALLS this "an extremely delicate time" for MAPS on the PR front. The Mithoefer PTSD study is under way; the Harvard study may soon be, too. But he cites two other aspects of the group that "are going to even further add to this risk of people being upset with what we’re doing. One is that next issue of the MAPS bulletin is on ‘Rites of Passage: Kids and Psychedelics.’ There’s this whole idea that the drug war is to protect the kids. The government’s fall-back position is ‘We’ve got to do this to protect the kids.’" The new MAPS bulletin features several essays asserting the opposite: "That there are appropriate situations where families can create ... experiences with psychedelics or with marijuana, with minors, that teach them about spiritual connections. That it can be very grounding and empowering for families to share this."

The other source of potential controversy has to do with a MAPS fundraiser and conference in New York City, at a venue called the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. "It’s a benefit dinner — followed by an all-night dance until sunrise," Doblin says. "So, that’s pretty clearly associating ourselves with the dance community. I have consciously stayed away from any kind of association, even informally, with the dance community." But he says he’s tired of the government’s "divide and conquer" mentality, the idea that, by painting MDMA advocates as pie-eyed, glow-stick-waving drug freaks, they can delegitimize the real work they do. Besides, he says, he just likes to dance.

Across the sun-dappled grass of an empty park, a tall man in a shirt and tie strides down the sidewalk. "That’s the principal of [my kids’ school]," Doblin says. "He knows the work that I do. We’ve had a lot of discussions about it. It’s necessary for me to meet the principal and all the teachers, in case one of my kids says, ‘My daddy was talking about marijuana the other day.’"

By the time his children (ages five, eight, and nine) are grown, Doblin hopes to have achieved the goals he’s been working toward since the mid ’80s. "What I hope is that, maybe 15 years from now, I can go from primarily focusing on the politics of psychedelics and medical marijuana to actually being a therapist," he says. "My long-term goal would be to have a psychedelic clinic down in Florida, and help people who are tripping. And to trip more than once or twice a year myself."

Can he envision some sort of utopia where MAPS’s work is completely finished? "I’m pretty good at seeing utopias," Doblin chuckles. "But I think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever say we’ve got it all figured out. The study of the mind is what MAPS is about, and I think there will always be a need for more research into the unconscious. MAPS is really not about drugs, so much as the mind and the human spirit."

Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard[a]phx.com

page 4 

Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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