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Remembering Dr. John P. Morgan

Remembering Dr. John P. Morgan

Dr. John P. Morgan, a drug policy reform leader and close friend to the U.S. Drug Policy Alliance, died suddenly last Friday of acute myeloid leukemia. Morgan was a professor of pharmacology at the City University of New York Medical School for 26 years until he retired in 2004, and published widely in medical journals on pharmacology, drug toxicity and other topics.

Morgan was well known and well loved in the drug policy reform movement. Along with sociologist Lynn Zimmer, Morgan co-authored Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, an iconic book that used sound scientific evidence to debunk popular myths about marijuana. He was also a frequent presenter at the biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference hosted by DPA.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, remembers his friend and colleague here: http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/022208morgan.cfm. Morgan is also remembered by DPA's Marsha Rosenbaum here: http://blog.drugpolicy.org/2008/02/memories-of-dr-john-morgan.html, and you can read a tribute by Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine here: http://www.reason.com/blog/show/125029.html.


John P. Morgan, 68, 'Pharmaco-Ethnomusicologist' STEPHEN MILLER, Staff Reporter of the New York Sun February 27, 2008

John P. Morgan, who died February 15 at 68, was among the most outspoken physicians favoring drug legalization, and testified as an expert witness for the defense in hundreds of trials.

A self-described "pharmaco-ethnomusicologist," he liked to track down drug references in popular music to illustrate the history of drug use in America for students at the City University of New York's Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, where Morgan was chairman emeritus of the pharmacology department.

"Alcohol songs, like heroin songs, tend to be negative and warning," Morgan told the New Yorker in 2003. "Marijuana songs are almost always funny."

It was as an expert on the non-dangers of marijuana that Morgan was best known, especially for his 1997 book "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence," co-authored with a Queens College sociologist, Lynn Zimmer. The book concludes that warnings about cancer, addiction, and other side effects are overblown, although he did have some reservations about the drug.

"I oppose driving, babysitting, or entering into marital contracts after smoking," Morgan said in an Internet video produced by the Drug Policy Alliance.

But, hammering home his pro-legalization message, Morgan added that if marijuana were found to be harmful, such a finding would be an additional reason to legalize it, as the government should then regulate it.

"Marijuana Myths" found approval on the left from the American Civil Liberties Union, which relied on Morgan's testimony in defending people dismissed from their jobs for positive urine tests. It found approval on the right from commentator William F. Buckley, who called it "a miracle of intelligent concision." And it was rapturously received by the gonzo middle, receiving four stars from the Erowid Center, an advocacy organization for psychoactive drugs. Morgan sat on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Morgan also had a professional interest in narcotics. In a 1985 book chapter he coined the word "opiophobia" to describe clinicians who habitually under-prescribe pain relievers for seriously ill patients "based on an irrational and undocumented fear that appropriate use will lead patients to become addicts."

As an expert witness, he argued against heightened penalties for crack cocaine by pointing out that smokable cocaine was often less potent that the powdered form because it was adulterated by baking soda.

"He taught us the underlying science so that it was possible to litigate issues based on facts," the former chairman of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, said. Adds Mr. Glasser, "He never let his politics color his science. And his knowledge of music was amazing."

A fan of old-time blues who at one point taught classes in music appreciation, Morgan pursued a long-term research project into an odd form of paralysis that stuck poor residents of Oklahoma City in 1930. Memorialized in dozens of blues songs with titles like "Jake Walk Blues" was a mass poisoning of at least several hundred who drank an adulterated patent medicine to get drunk during the prohibition.

"The jake-leg story is almost completely about class," Morgan told the New Yorker. "If someone had poisoned the Canadian source of bonded Scotch, something would have been done." He published a handful of journal articles on the pharmaco-ethnomusicology of the "substance-induced epidemic."

Born into a working-class Cincinnati family in 1940, Morgan attended city schools and was a star varsity athlete. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and trained in internal medicine at Syracuse University and pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University. He began teaching at City College in 1977.

In addition to over 100 papers in academic and medical journals, he was responsible for several Merck Manual entries, including at least one relating to marijuana, according to a Queens College sociology professor, Harry Levine. Morgan was a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Reds and made it out to Shea several times each summer to watch his often-hapless squad, which he derided with cheerful epithets. Having become an emeritus chair at his 2003 retirement, he continued to teach and to amass the cultural effluvia of American drug use over the decades. He planned to tour Europe this summer in a new Mercedes, then ship the car home. But when he checked himself into Lenox Hill Hospital with what appeared to be pneumonia, he was instead diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of leukemia. Within hours, he was dead.

Morgan is survived by a daughter, Jennifer, two sons, Zachary and Mark, and five grandchildren.