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April 24, 2007

An Overdue Special that Doesn't Quite Cut It

I haven't had many good things to say about the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of medical marijuana because I think the dominant newspaper in a region that has remained the epicenter of the medical marijuana movement should have demonstrated more understanding of the issue itself; that's been especially true since the Chronicle was bought by the rival Hearst Corporation in a controversial deal in 2000. From an historical point of view, the Hearst name has a lot to live down, and when it comes to 'medical marijuana,' the newly emergent Chronicle just hasn't been up to the job.

On April 22, it  apparently tried to make amends by devoting much of its Sunday Magazine, complete with  the obligatory marijuana leaf on a green cover, to medical pot. The first of three featured articles, by Katherine Seligman, dealt dealt with the intricacies of modern cannabis lore from the standpoint of afficianados. Her reports on the activities of growers and other assorted devotees were rendered  in the same detached fly-on-the-wall style a non-oenophile might have used to describe vintners, winemakers and other serious wine lovers;  however, the major difference is huge: some had asked her to omit last names and other specifics out of concern that she was describing activities regarded as crimes by the DEA. So successful was Seligman’s detachment that I was unable to guess her age; let alone if she had ever tried pot herself. I can, however, vouch for the accuracy of her descriptions of growers, because I've met several who are clearly motivated by love of their art, much the same as some gardeners who grow only roses, orchids, or tulips.  It was also interesting for me to learn that Dale Gieringer, California NORML's most visible member, has little appreciation for 'pot ‘lore’ as it relates to strains, aromas, and other distinguishing qualities. Although I share his ignorance, I also realize that, over the years, talented growers have made enough improvements in the baseline quality of the product reaching the public that we can take certain effects for granted in the majority of users.

The second article, ‘Getting Carded’ is David Rubien’s account of the process of obtaining a recommendation and how, after finally doing so, he had experiences at a number of ‘dispensaries,’ some visited as a reporter, and others as a patient. While the author freely admitted his own prior use, as well as partaking while legal, he gave no background on the present confusing mess: why are there so many clubs in San Francisco? Why is the recommendation process now in such a state of flux? What has been the background of the Board of Supervisors' belated involvement? To say that Rubien might have done a better job of setting the stage for his report is gross understatement. 

The deep policy divisions at the root of the controversy were unwittingly underscored in the third article by Joe Garofoli: ‘Parenting Through the Haze.’ From my perspective, it's the most informative of the three; but only because it allows a comparison of the widely divergent beliefs held by both federal officials and their opponents in ‘reform.' His article simply confirmed what I'd had to learn long before reading it: neither side will even look at evidence that threatens their staked-out positions. For example, Bertha Madras, identified by Garofoli as a professor of psychiatry on leave from Harvard to work for the drug czar, is quoted as claiming that a glass of wine is a legitimate 'relaxant,'  but that 'when people smoke marijuana, they are experiencing 'a whole range of distorted perceptions and distorted  behaviors,' which she presumably thinks justify treating them as felons.

Dr. Mitch Earleywine is another professor (PhD in Psychology), with a opposing opinion. Now 43, he told Garafoli he he's been using pot since age 15. Earleywine authored a book in 2002 called 'Understanding Marijuana, A New Look at the Scientific Evidence' and is currently writing another called 'A Parents Guide to Marijuana,'  I read the first one a few years back, but couldn't get him to look at  my patient data, even after we'd been introduced by e-mail. His opinions about medical use may lack a clinical foundation, but they are classic 'harm reduction,' the strategy endorsed by an overwhelming majority of reformers. 

The irony I’ve been focused on lately has been reform's squandering of the  political advantage it had gained by 2003 before the Oakland City Council responded to a clueless expose in the Chronicle (where else?) by moving to 'crack down' on what were then called 'clubs.' For the past three years, the reform movement has had no response to an orchestrated chorus of criticism from local police that the young people seen in dispensaries are 'cheating.' Is the movement's refusal to consider evidence of another explanation because its 'leaders' are unwilling to accept that their own chronic use may have been impelled by the same factors as the patients I've been seeing?

Just asking.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at April 24, 2007 01:23 PM