“I come to represent the actual science”—it was a bold opener for testimony that was to include the clear and present danger of bunnies getting too high.
The man giving that testimony was Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Matt Fairbanks. He argued that legalizing medical pot in Utah could have a powerful effect on the state’s ecosystems. One of the threats: dazed and confused rabbits would abound.
“I deal in facts,” Fairbanks said during the surreal hearing last March. “I deal in science.” Surprised by his continued reference to “science,” FOIA expert MuckRock requested that the agency hand over any and all documents showing the effects of marijuana—and its legalization—on rabbits.
This week in a brief letter, the DEA’s answer arrived: There is none.
“After reviewing your request,” the FOIA letter reads, “no responsive records were located.” The absence of any documents doesn’t mean no studies on rabbits and weed exist (they do), just that none prove legalizing medical marijuana would cause bunnies to get high.
Fairbanks, when reached by The Daily Beast for comment, was surprised to learn about the FOIA. “That was merely an observation,” he says. The larger goal was to show that the bill was lacking any type of enforcement in terms of cultivation. The bunnies, he said, were an aside.
“Everyone latched on to that one bit,” he says. “Maybe they should listen to the rest.”
The rest—being cannabis’ ability to wreak havoc on ecosystems—is something that he says “no one has looked at.” Asked why he kept saying his arguments were based in facts and science if no one had looked at it, he pointed me to the DEA website where he said it was listed.
Side note or not, Fairbanks’s bunny claims are worth revisiting, if for no other reason than a look inside a modern argument against legal medical weed. His theory stems from his time “up on [the] mountains” in Utah protecting the environment as a member of the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Team.
The $18 million program relies on 120 agencies to demolish marijuana grow sites nationwide—a mission which is hugely successful. In 2014 alone, the program led to the eradication of 4.3 million marijuana plants, just shy of the 4.4 million that were eliminated the year before.
While digging up marijuana plants, Fairbanks apparently noticed that rabbits had “cultivated a taste for marijuana”—which he suggested was to the detriment of their brains. “One of them refused to leave us and we took all the marijuana around him,” Fairbanks said. “His natural instincts to run were somehow gone.”
It’s unclear whether Fairbanks actually witnessed the bunny eating marijuana or whether its failure to run means it was high. According to Indiana Public Media, wild bunnies sometimes freeze when scared and can stay motionless for minutes at a time. In her book Rabbits, Janice Biniok says a rabbit that is startled will either “freeze” or scurry to safety.
If Fairbanks was grasping for straws in the fight against marijuana legalization, the agency behind him is too.
Shortly after taking his post as DEA chief, Chuck Rosenberg delivered a half-baked rebuttal to medical marijuana. “What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal because it’s not,” he said. “We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine—that is a joke.”
The statement incensed medical marijuana activists, patients, and congressmen, who viewed it as an indicator that the DEA doesn’t take marijuana seriously. In the wake of the statements, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of the most vocal opponents of the war on drugs, called Rosenberg an “inept, misinformed zealot.”
“Sadly, these actions by administration officials are indicative of a throwback ideology rooted in the failed war on drugs, which needs to stop,” said Blumenauer. It’s an ideology that led President Nixon to implicate everyone from Jewish psychiatrists to black and Hispanic men, and today leads people to argue that bunnies need protecting more than cancer patients.
But the DEA’s chief is not the only part of the agency that’s under fire.
In November, a number of House representatives filed a bill (PDF) asking Congress to strip the Cannabis Eradication Team of its funding, calling the program a waste of resources.
“As multiple states legalize marijuana across our nation, it is a huge waste of federal resources for the DEA to eradicate marijuana,” said the bill’s sponsor, California House Rep. Ted Lieu. “The federal government should focus its precious resources on other issues and let the states innovate in the cannabis field.”
As far as Fairbanks is concerned, the rabbits are safe—for now. While the state legislature did not agree with his theory, the bill (narrowly) missed the Senate. The lawmakers will debate the bill again this year, hopefully sans bunnies.