Most likely you’ve heard the rumor circulating or seen one of the dodgy news sites trumpeting the news that a former DEA associate, Belita Nelson, has admitted that the organization confidentially admitted that weed is “safe” but regards pursuing it criminally as a “cash cow” that they “will never give up.” Initially reported by Illegally Healed, the story is setting off fake news radars while simultaneously sending tongues wagging. Yes, the sources are dubious. But the reason that these reports aren’t written off right out the gate is simple: it’s not hard to believe that the DEA is intentionally perpetuating lies about the dangers of marijuana.
The People vs. The Government
In the U.S., the curtain has been brutally yanked back from so many shady dealings in general over the years that a general political dissatisfaction has set in. A Pew-Research Center poll reported in 2015 revealed a mere 19% of Americans felt they could trust the U.S. government “always or most of the time”. That number has likely nosedived further following the appointments of Donald Trump which seem to be in direct opposition to his campaign promises and the majority of the nation’s interests. In just a few days, his disapproval rate has skyrocketed while his approval rate has plummeted according to Gallup polls. So why would the average American expect anything less from the DEA than shady, underhanded, self-serving strategies given the general lack of faith in the government and the DEA’s track record of opposing public interest?
Fake News or a Veiled Truth?
When do we give credence to a conspiracy theory? In this case, we know Belita Nelson is a real person so the information isn’t coming to us through a veil of anonymity. Her actual connection to the DEA is a little more mysterious. Nelson did appear on major talk shows such as Oprah and Leeza in the late-‘90s to discuss the dangers of marijuana as part of an anti-drug non-profit called The Starfish Foundation. Yet, there is no public record of any official link between the DEA and The Starfish Foundation. This doesn’t necessarily contradict Nelson’s story. She described her role with the DEA as that of a “propagandist”; someone trained to push the organization’s agenda. However, her position as a devout propagandist was tested when a friend developed cancer…and a medical marijuana treatment produced favorable results. In the mid-2000s, Nelson resigned from her possibly official, probably unofficial position with the DEA, going so far as to reject an alleged $20,000 monthly stipend of hush money.
The DEA’s Vested Interest in the “Dangers of Marijuana”
Obviously, some of Nelson’s story is hard to swallow. The DEA has shown on several occasions that they don’t really give a rat’s ass about public opinion, so why would they spend $20,000 a month trying to mute a non-profit worker with an undefinable relation to them? It’s not impossible but it’s improbable. Let’s look directly at Nelson’s accusation. Her claim is that the DEA is fully aware that marijuana is not a harmful substance, yet they choose to perpetuate “facts” about the dangers of marijuana in the name of job security. That’s not a deep conspiracy; it’s an obvious fact. Enough evidence has been churned up over the years, despite the DEA’s best efforts, to convince over 60% of Americans that marijuana should be legalized. Are we expected to believe that an organization designed to understand drugs has not come to the same conclusions about marijuana?
The Deeper Cycle
But does the DEA cling religiously to these outdated and archaic ideas in service of the almighty dollar? I’ve heard it suggested that they are doing it to save face but I think the situation is a bit more complex and deeply rooted in American culture. The DEA is just a cog, albeit one with a lot of grease to gain, in the wheel of a machine keeping a lot of facets in business. The DEA is given the responsibility to uphold the war on drugs through highlighting the dangers of marijuana (even where none exist). Police are then tasked with spending resources on arresting non-violent criminals for offenses related to a plant that we all know is harmless. Prisons make money off of “housing” the prosecuted. But the cycle doesn’t stop there. The incarcerated are then released back into society but without a fair chance at gainful employment and thus turn to drug-related activities once again. For those abused by this system, it’s a snake eating its own tail. For those benefiting, it’s job security.
Maybe Nelson is telling the truth, maybe she’s embellishing a few details, maybe she’s straight up lying. Regardless, it does nothing to prove or disprove the DEA’s involvement in a conspiracy. Instead, we’re left to make our own conclusions based on the information we’ve received over the years; scientific evidence pointing to benefits of medical marijuana, results highlighting that marijuana is far too safe to be regarded on par with heroin, and the DEA’s unwavering insistence on disregarding all of this information in favor of staying a course that has been statistically proven to get us nowhere.