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February 15, 2007

Lou Dobbs, Reform and the American Dilemma

Readers may have noticed my impatience with drug policy 'reform,' a movement I first discovered in 1995, through attending the ninth annual meeting of the Drug Policy Foundation in Santa Monica. Upon returning home, I  became involved, in short order, with personal computing, the internet, and political activism. Those were heady days, indeed. As an almost retired Bay Area surgeon with some unacustomed time on his hands, I soon found myself at the center of the campaign for Proposition 215. Although a pot novice, my age  allowed me to join a famous Market Street Buyers' club where I just happened to make a purchase  late one Saturday evening,  hours before a surprise morning raid by state narcs produced headlines around the world and almost certainly guaranteed passage of an initiative that had been struggling for public awareness.

Lungren's raid also helped inspire creation of Media Awareness Project, which together with its newsletter, would provide me with five years of largely uncompensated employment, as well as an intense education in drug policy history and theory. What I wouild also learn, however, soon after being recruited to screen cannabis applicants at a new Oakland club in November 2001, was that I knew almost nothing of the cannabis culture that had sprung up among American Youth twenty years after I left High School in the Forties. Ironically, it was precisely that naivete that led me to realize that the requirement that I examine a steady stream of pot smokers was also a unique opportunity for clinical research, while, at the same time, convincing the reform veterans I tried to share my (unexpected) findings with that I didn't know what I was talking about.

After all, weren't they all pot using reform veterans who had been immersed in the political campaign for medical marijuana while I had been completely unaware of the movement? Hadn't I been steeped in ignorance while they were developing not only a modicum of rare medical knowledge about pot use, but also a raison d'tre, a strategic agenda and a professional career? How could I possibly have learned anything they didn't already know?

What I would also learn was that the complex evolution of medical marijuana as an orphaned initiative, hated by many bureaucrats and unabe to generate the usual protective 'enabling legislation, had created a political vacuum; one influenced by a number of conflicting interests,  highly variable legal and law enfoercement opinions, and a great deal of uncertainty during its first five years of existence. Ultimately it would also be influenced by the interaction of several new factors, including the number of MDs willing to write recommendations, the number and location of clubs that opened to sell pot to those possessing them, and the response of both local and federal law enforcement agencies to both public opinion and the timid non-decisions of the California and US Supreme Courts. Without going into detail, I would venture that the huge variation in numbers of Californians who had seen a doctor and paid for a recommendatiom has been the best indicator that a lot of interest in pot exists in California. Also; whether one regards its use as 'medical' or recreational' is largely a function of one's political beliefs.

In keeping with my virtual ostracism from the local reform community, I now rarely contribute opinions to the two reform e-mail lists I still subscribe to, but I continue to read them for the news. Recently there has been a surge of outrage toward Lou Dobbs of CNN for his opportunistic criticism of those he considers responsible for the influx of both  illegal drugs and illegal aliens across our Mexican Border. Reform's annoyance with Dobbs has approached that generated by the latest federal proaganda from John Walters or  NIDA, but I have seen Dobbs' uninformed blather very differently: rather than something to complain about, I've seen it as another missed opportunity for reformers to have pointed out just how silly and unworkable our drug policy really is.

If one considers that our inabiity to 'control' both the illegal drugs and illegal immigrants smuggled across our southern border has been documented in numbing detail, the absurdity of our drug policy becomes inescapable. In fact, the failure of CNN, Dobbs' natural enemies in the media and just about every other interested party to answer his bleatings with that response can be seen as a manifestation of the systemic malaise that has allowed our drug policy to become a heavily protected sacred cow, despite the obvious social damage it inflicts on our most important institutions.

The similar failure of reform to take advantage of the dramatic unraveling of the Dubya/Cheney war in Iraq by pointing out its obvious parallels with the drug war is another such omen. I'm not at all sure of the origin of all these omens, but I don't see any of them them as promising for either an effective change in drug policy or for our national future...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 15, 2007 03:46 AM