This week, the first organized opposition to Florida's looming vote on legalized marijuana has set up shop in Tampa, thanks to a six-figure donation from GOP power player Mel Sembler. To front his new anti-pot PAC, Sembler chose Carlton Turner, a former drug czar for President Ronald Reagan.
Unfortunately for the anti-weed crowd, Turner's impressive resume comes weighed down with a hell of a skeleton. Namely, a 1986 Newsweek story headlined "Reagan Aide: Pot Can Make You Gay." Yep, Turner's that aide.
In the story, the then-drug czar makes the classic slippery slope argument. He notes that when he visits youth drug recovery centers, nearly half of all residents there have had homosexual relationships.
"It seems to be something that follows along from their marijuana use," Turner told Newsweek. "My concern is, how is the biological system affected by heavy marijuana use? The public needs to be thinking about how drugs alter people's lifestyles."
What's more, that pot use might just make them more susceptible to AIDS, he thought. "No one is saying that marijuana will cause AIDS," he said, but that pot could hurt your immune system and "if you're in a high-risk category, you certainly don't want to use something that will impair your immunological system."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The pro-medical marijuana crowd wasted no time jumping on the old piece, though, with the United For Care Organization blasting Turner and noting "There is no place for bigotry and ignorance in the debate over compassionate medical marijuana policy in Florida."
Turner, to be fair, disputed the story from day one and 28 years later still claims his quotes were taken out of context. "I never said it," he tells TBO.com this morning. "(It's) so outrageous it probably doesn't deserve a response."
Is it possible one of America's pre-eminent news magazines made up quotes from America's top drug official? Decide for yourself. We've embedded the full 1986 Newsweek story after the jump.
Reagan Aide: Pot Can Make You Gay
BYLINE: TERRY E. JOHNSON with MARGARET GARRARD WARNER in Washington and GEORGE RAINE in San Francisco
SECTION: SOCIETY; Justice; The Drug Crisis; Pg. 95
LENGTH: 466 words
Senior presidential aides looked on White House drug adviser Carlton E. Turner as a nattily dressed functionary with zero clout. He spent his time grinding out reports that nobody in the White House, save Nancy Reagan, cared much about. But suddenly that changed. Drug abuse became a hot issue, and Turner was in the spotlight. Now, Turner's views are making a few waves. He believes that pot smoking may lead to homosexuality; at the very least, he says, gays who use marijuana are risking damage to their immune system and vulnerability to AIDS.
Turner offers scant scientific backing for his claims. But he says that when he visits drug-treatment centers for patients under 18, he finds that roughly 40 percent of them have also engaged in homosexual activity. "It seems to be something that follows along from their marijuana use," says Turner, who is convinced that the drugs come first, the homosexuality second. "My concern is, how is the biological system affected by heavy marijuana use? The public needs to be thinking about how drugs alter people's lifestyles."
Turner also holds firmly to his belief that marijuana makes users more susceptible to AIDS, a disease that destroys the immune system. "No one is saying that marijuana will cause AIDS," he says, but he argues that marijuana suppresses the immune system and "if you're in a high-risk category, you certainly don't want to use something that will impair your immunological system." Turner, who holds a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi, says that people who have contracted the AIDS virus certainly should not smoke pot, and he wants the Centers for Disease Control to investigate whether it is a cofactor in the progression of the disease.
Turner's assertions befuddle drug experts and gay-rights activists alike. Stephen Morin, a San Francisco psychologist whose patients include gay men, says there is no evidence that drugs play a role in the formation of sexual identity. Dr. Marvin Snyder of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says tests have shown that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, does weaken the immune system in animals. But he says that immune system is fragile and many things, including some chemicals found in drinking water, can do the same thing. Meanwhile, Dr. Stanley Weiss of the National Cancer Institute says that a preliminary study found no causative link between pot and AIDS.
'Crazy ideas": One White House official said Reagan aides had been pleasantly surprised to find that Turner "wasn't a zealot who'd try to plant crazy ideas in Reagan's head." When asked about Turner's assertions concerning pot and homosexuality, however, one aide groaned and said the White Houses didn't want to get involved.