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October 30, 2006

Science, Religion, and Policy

Once it's recognized that what we now call Science is simply a skeptical way of thinking about reality in which nothing is taken for granted, its historical conflict with Religion immediately becomes clear. What we now think of as the scientific method began in Western Europe when Gutenberg's printing press democratized scholarship. Relatively quickly, two new optical inventions, the telescope and microscope, disclosed whole new worlds which could not have been previously imagined, but which the brilliant theories of Galileo and Newton interpreted with undeniable clarity. The new technology which science gave rise to quickly enabled Western Europe to exploit advantages already gained from the 'discoveriy' of the Americas and to extend its influence over the rest of the world.

Next year will mark only 560 years since invention of the the printing press; yet the technological blessings of science have since allowed our species to flourish dramatically, both in numbers and longevity. Sadly, we have been far less successful at devising systems of government that would allow us to live in harmony. In fact, quite the opposite; the more wealth our greater population and enhanced technology creates, the greater the strife over who controls it and the more severe the environmental and human damage that strife produces. More recently, we are  also discovering that population growth may have come at an environmental cost that threatens catastrophic changes in weather patterns long considered  permanent.

And so on... what does all this have to do with drug policy in general, and pot prohibition in particular?

Scientific knowledge is derived from healthy skepticism in which past assumptions are supposed to be constantly tested against new observations. Religious (and political) orthodoxy thrives on the deductions of living authorities from 'truths' considered 'eternal' (revealed or 'self-evident'). We have a drug policy enabled by Supreme Court decisions based on century old assumptions about addiction which have remained untested, and yet are still assiduously protected from review. Even worse, the  results produced by precipitous expansion of that  policy nearly forty years ago have also been successfully protected from unbiased scrutiny.

One of the very rare political successes of the movement bent on reforming US drug policy has been 'medical marijuana.' Unfortunately, those in control of the reform bureaucracy are like other successful bureaucrats: better at raising money and exerting control than at scientific thinking. Thus they have remained blind to the opportunities offered (only) by Proposition 215 in California.

Why that is so is best understood by recalling that scientific truth is not known in advance and should always be tested. On the other hand, proponents of religious truth, no matter their differences, uniformly resist any scrutiny of key assumptions made by their dogma. Reform's assumptions about the 'medical' use of marijuana have not been critically examined in a clinical setting since 1996. There are many reasons why that is so; but sadly, the reluctance of reform's political leaders is a big one.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2006

Political Note...

Early next month, the federal government will begin trying my friend Dustin Costa for the crime of growing medical marijuana.  Costa, who just turned sixty, has literally been buried in the Fresno County Jail since August 10th, 2005; If convicted, he faces up to ten years in a federal prison. His story, in capsule form, illustrates two discrete phenomena. The first, hardly  news, is the malevolence and dishonesty of the federal drug war bureaucracy. The second is something I've avoided mentioning directly until now; it's the cluelessness and ineptitude of the medical marijuana 'reform' movement.

The huge federal advantage in court is that the game is rigged against medical pot defendants from the start. The defense can't let the jury know it's a medical case,  the judge won't mention it in his instructions, and the jury, also unaware of the harsh sentencing guidelines the judge will be expected to follow, will almost always vote to convict.

It's the modern equivalent of a fair trial followed by a speedy execution.

That's what happened to Brian Epis in 2002, when the same federal judge in Sacramento who had sentenced the Unibomber to life sentenced a young professional and father, who is clearly not a criminal in any sense, to ten years for daring to use a state law to challenge federal drug policy.

Federal prosecutions do carry some risk for the government; in 2003, Ed Rosenthal's jury revolted after the fact and shamed a different federal judge into a radical departure from standard sentencing guidelines. The major difference between the two  outcomes was venue; when it comes to marijuana, Sacramento is almost as red at San Diego and Bakersfield, while San Francisco and Oakland are as blue as it gets. That Rosenthal was also a well known (in pot circles) author became known to his jury only after they revolted.

What is almost never mentioned by either reform or the feds is the huge tactical error the Raich case represented . Without getting into why the case was ever brought in the first place, its outcome has been a disaster simply because it has encouraged the DEA to prosecute pot cases far more aggressively within California. The Costa case is only the first of many that will follow in relatively short order, also in Fresno, if he's successfully railroaded.

What is perplexing is that the 'movement,' which is tripping over itself to support Rosenthal in his upcoming retrial (more on that another day) seems to have forgotten Dustin Costa completely.

Can't they see that publicity for one is publicity for the other and the one thing the feds have to fear is the possibility that a majority of Californians will find out that the institutionalized injustice of federal marijuana prosecutions rivals that they seek to impose on people they hope to try as 'terrorists.'

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2006

Children of the Sixties; behind pot’s appeal to youth...

Analysis of the interviews of California pot applicants I’ve been conducting over the past five years (and, hopefully, soon to be reported in detail) confirms that pot smoking, as a youthful phenomenon, is comparatively recent, one which didn’t begin on a large scale until the mid Sixties, when youthful baby boomers who had fallen under the influence of Fifties "Beat" writers began using it. What happened next (and largely out of sight) was the rapid  expansion of an illegal cottage industry until it had literally saturated most American high schools with marijuana, an event that took several years to become complete  nationally. It was most overt from the start on both coasts, where pot was associated with several events that still resonate powerfully: Monterey Pop, the Haight Ashbury, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, Altamont, psychedelic drugs, Bill Graham’s Winterland & Fillmore East, and the Stonewall riots. In the Seventies came Kent State, the premature drug-related deaths of several Rock icons, and a somewhat muted spill-over of anti-war protests and social unrest from the Sixties.

The tumultuous era ended with Watergate.

From that time forward, those unsettling events, together with considerable assistance from drug war propagandists, have conferred a somewhat unsavory quality on all pot use as youthful, rebellious,  and irresponsible. Most parents, including many who tried it themselves in high school and may still take a furtive toke or two, clearly don’t want their own kids trying it, let alone ever becoming ‘users’ or 'druggies.'  

Demographic confirmation of the early development of today’s illegal pot market is provided by the Sixties survivors among the ranks of medical cannabis applicants (MCA); it was also brought out by matching the dates at which different year-of-birth (YOB) cohorts first tried pot, alcohol and tobacco. The first sizable group to do so were among the first hippies born between 1946 and 1950. They were also the first cohort of applicants able to try  pot during adolescence; a fact establishing the second crucial condition for growth of the modern market: pot had to become available to vulnerable adolescents near the same time as they were trying alcohol and tobacco. Once that happened, the average age at initiation (by MCA) declined progressively until those born since 1976 have been trying it at the same average ages as they try the two legal agents.

The other attribute explaining pot’s appeal to Sixties youth was its ability to blunt the anxiety associated with several syndromes now being diagnosed with increasing frequency by psychiatrists, pediatricians, and specialists in adolescent medicine.  In fact, by the time MTF surveys began, pot was the only illegal agent tried by nearly as many as try alcohol and tobacco and far more than try all others.
The degree to which California’s MCA population reflects the larger illegal market can only be guessed at, but several factors suggest their profiles may be very similar.

In a later installment I’ll suggest psychodynamic mechanisms which 'explain' how cannabis is able to relieve symptoms of insomnia, ADD, and PTSD in many chronic users: it all comes down to the remarkably prompt, durable, and easily titrated anxiolytic properties of cannabinoids;  properties most reliably controlled when they are ingested by inhalation.
Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:47 AM | Comments (0)