July 26, 2007
Recent entries on Hinchey-Rohrabacher and the You Tube debate have dealt with items that can be seen as indices of the degree to which an undermanned, under-funded, and demonstrably inept "Reform" bureaucracy has been unwittingly helping its federal opponents. The annual H-R vote yesterday showed that Congressional support for the medical use of marijuana had grown by only two votes over last year as the fifteen Republicans who broke ranks with their colleagues were not nearly enough to offset the 79 conservative ("Blue Dog") Democrats who remained loyal to the memories of Reagan, Nixon, and Harry Anslinger.
We don't know how many of the videos submitted to a small panel representing Time-Warner-CNN dealt with either medical marijuana or drug policy, but neither issue was mentioned in the thirty-nine they selected. The candidates, ever eager to hold forth on the host of other errors and injustices perpetrated by an historically unpopular White House, predictably had nothing to say about drugs
I have, of course, dealt extensively with the "kids" issue in the past. It's been the one that most reliably defeats reformers because they still don't seem to realize that "recreational" pot use is a lot less acceptable to most Americans than recreational use of alcohol. The probable reason: the image of the novice pot smokers immortalized by Cheech and Chong still scares parents more than any outrage sparked thus far by the relentless persecution of patients in California by an unholy alliance of federal and local cops.
There's still another indicator of Reform cluelessness I haven't mentioned yet: MPP's expensive efforts to secure passage of a "legalization" initiative in Nevada, a state which may be symbolized by the "Sin City" of Las Vegas, but is also one in which Mormons have long been heavily invested.
Talk about naive...
July 24, 2007
Drug Policy Reform; still a loser (Political)
Yesterday’s (obviously) hasty entry was uploaded just a few minutes after the East Coast starting time start of the You Tube debate in Charleston. I was concerned about time because I was conducting a little personal experiment: although reasonably certain that the filters that have so efficiently protected our absolutely stupid drug policy from honest scrutiny for decades would easily defeat the new format, I was, as usual, hopeful I’d be wrong and quite curious to see just what would happen.
As usual, my hopes were dashed. Not only were “marijuana” and “drug policy” never mentioned; early detailed reports made no mention of their absence. The conspiracy of silence has survived for a while longer.
Of course, it’s not really a conspiracy; the candidates, CNN, and that great unknown, the General Public didn’t get together and plan to ignore the drug war. They simply did what people have been doing forever: followed their craven instincts. The vast majority of chronic pot smokers stayed safely in the closets they have become so used to since the Reagan era; the Media went on being careful not to offend the federal government, and the candidates— to the extent they even thought about the issue— undoubtedly heaved sighs of relief.
All of which prompts a number of rhetorical questions: how is it that a costly, rigidly enforced, and failing policy focused on an illegal drug that’s been tried during adolescence by at least half of all adults born since World War Two ended not provoke any questions? Especially when its “medical” use is being stubbornly approved by an increasing fraction of voters whenever they have a chance to vote anonymously?
The situation is actually worse than that brief synopsis implies; the current administration is one of the most despised in American history; it’s engaged in a losing war, and the economy is less reassuring than at any time since it recovered from our debacle in Viet Nam.
It’s still early here in California. I must soon be off to Oakland and another medical marijuana clinic. Will take a crack at answering my own rhetorical questions as soon as time permits.
An Interesting Speculation
When the Times deigns to print the story, it becomes news and thus makes it into other newspapers ( a truncated version of Seelye's front page article on the You Tube debte format appeared on the 12th page of today's SF Chronicle. Despite the apparent transparency of the novel format, there are still issues of fear and censorship that may keep any mention of either pot prohibition or the drug war from the questions Democratic candidates will be asked this evening. For example, how many young people submitting videos would want to be identified as pot users? Also, who gets to choose the videos that will be used?
In any event, it should be interesting to see if the drug war is treated as a sacred cow, as usual, or is actually included in the "debate."
July 20, 2007
Lobbying and Public Policy (Political)
One no longer needs to be numbered among the cognoscenti to know that K Street is to DC lobbyists what Wall Street is to NY financiers. Marijuana Policy Project, a group founded by disgruntled refugees from NORML in 1995, struggled for a while, but thanks to a single wealthy funder, has recently joined the ranks of K street lobbyists. Their major preoccupation has been sponsoring state medical marijuana initiatives in the belief that the publc will eventually see that pot is far more benign than other, harder, drugs and thus clamor for Congress to “legalize” its recreational use. Thus they are following the same general strategy as their larger rival, NORML.
Their political opponents are tax supported lobbies within the federal government (otherwise known as ONDCP, the DEA, and NIDA) which have huge advantages. First of all, there’s all that taxpayer money; then, there’s the generally bad public image pot smoking has enjoyed since hippie days when it was equated with youthful irresponsibility, draft avoidance, dissent, and, although almost certainly in error— the use of “harder” drugs. There’s also the default of support for the federal position by state and local police organizations; primarily because of the bigger budgets and greater political power they derive from drug laws; not to mention the increased opportunities for frorfeiture, graft, and corruption.
Reformers scored an unexpected political victory in 1996 when California’s Proposition 215 passed. Unfortunately, 10 years later, as I have grown weary pointing out, reform has failed to capitalize on that victory and now seems to be going backward.
The latest federal threat, one which promises to be very effective, was revealed in a letter warning LA property owners now renting to pot dispensaries of possible forfeiture of their property. This is the latest and most flagrant escalation of federal activity against the medical marijuana movement (only in California) in the two years since the Raich decision.
Despite my disenchantment with reform leadership, I’d also been piqued enough by their excited chatter about a new TV special, “In Pot We Trust,” to watch it the other night. I should have gone to sleep instead.
It was a documentary by one Star Price, that focused on the activities of a young MPP lobbyist as he made his rounds in Congress. It laid out his message through voiceovers of his rap to lawmakers. Apparently, in a spirit of “fairness,” opposing arguments from various supporters of the federal position were also aired, either as voiceovers or interviews. Talk about boring; it was a rehash of old arguments by the same old antagonists. The only significant new slant was the subtle adjustment in federal dogma: although pot may have some medical benefits, young people seen in clubs are obviously “recreational,” and therefore cheats. They therefore represent the dangers pot poses to youth. Also, since it has to be smoked, it can’t qualify as medicine anyway.
I tuned out the last thirty minutes or so, but did read the review which appeared in an on line journal focused to K Street. Predictably MPP’s fellow lobbyists seem more interested in speculating on the personal drug history of the MPP lobbyist, while (somewhat surprisingly) a business source actually had some disparaging things to say about the feds.
But don’t look for Congress to take on the drug war in an election year...
July 18, 2007
Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself (actually, I've never said it this well.) (Personal)
The following sequence of 2 posts provoked an eloquent rant from a friend of mine. I'm posting them all here because they delivers my message so much more effectively than I've ever been able to. It was sent to me by a mutual friend who discovered it it on the discussion list of a medical marijuana suppport organization (Americans for Safe Access).
I've redacted names to preserve the anonymity of the contributors and also reversed the order of individual messages so they appear in the same order they did originally.
To: ASA LIST <email@example.com>
Sent: Monday, July 16, 2007 3:42:52 PM
Subject: [losangeles] recreational users at dispensaries
I am just getting familiar with the medical marijuana scene out here in California, since I only moved here 3 months ago from the DC area. First let me say how refreshing it is to see all the activity! It is very encouraging to those of us in other parts of the country.
Second, there is no doubt that many people are helped in many ways by marijuana. MS, chronic pain, AIDS wasting, alcoholism, migraines, epilepsy, asthma, and countless other conditions are alleviated or even reversed by cannabis. It truly can be a wonder drug.
However, I think we all need to admit that the dispensaries are often, perhaps even mostly, used by people who have managed to get a medical card or doctor's recommendation, but who don't use cannabis for medicinal reasons, but rather simply for fun. This is pretty clearly evident by the demographics of who enters the clubs, the advertising, the names of the clubs, etc.
Now, I want marijuana fully legalized for everyone, regardless of medical condition. Some medical advocates may share that policy goal, but maybe not all.
I suspect the real problem with dispensaries being used as sources for recreational pot is that the doctors are giving out recommendations with no real medical scrutiny. Pay $150, get a recommendation; it's really easy. Surely not all docs work this way, but it's pretty clear that many do.
Does the LA public believe that only true medical users go to the clubs? If they realize that many recreational users are going, do they even care? Maybe there are some stats on polling numbers.
I think the medical cannabis community, and all marijuana activists, need to brainstorm together about how to deal with the issue of dispensaries and recreational use. We should always be honest and forthright about realities. We need to demonstrate that all adults should have access to cannabis, and if there are recreational users going to the clubs, that simply shows that the market wants to be legitimate, and should be. We need to state up front that we understand the clubs are being used by recreational tokers, but the solution to that abuse is not to close the dispensaries, but to allow clubs to sell to any adult and legitimize that market.
Name redacted #1
From: Name Redacted #2
Sent: Monday, July 16, 2007 5:01:59 PM
Subject: Re: [losangeles] recreational users at dispensaries
Dear Name #1 and List,
It is my fervent hope as counsel for five clinics, that none of them are dispensing medical marijuana to recreational users. There is grossly insufficient support for total legalization. It is both a federal and state crime, and as one who has been waiting 40 years for the public to accept weed as a recreational drug, I don't think it's going to happen soon....although I suspect Leisure World will have a lot more medical marijuana stoners in about 10 years. Also, please do not assume that those going to clinics are recreational users disguised as patients. First, I think you may be wrong, and second, we would all be labeled as hypocrites, which is not true, and which the DEA has already done, thank you...
Name Redacted #2
From: Name Redacted # 3
Sent: Monday, July 16, 2007 9:10 PM
Subject: RE: [losangeles] recreational users at dispensaries
With all due respect, I have asked well-educated people many times to accurately describe the difference between "medical" and "recreational" use. It can turn out to be a long discussion so let me cut to the chase -- no one can define the difference. No one can tell how much pain you have. No one but you can tell whether you have a nervous condition that requires medication to calm you down. The general convention is that if you go to the doctor to get a Valium, that is "medical". But if you drink a beer for the same result instead, that is "recreational". It is a false dichotomy.
It is even more ridiculous to sit in judgment on someone else's use when you can't feel the pain or discomfort that they are feeling. There is only one person who can really tell whether their pain and suffering is bad enough to require medication. There is only one person who can say what worked to relieve the pain. There is only one person who can really determine whether their use is "medical." That is the patient themselves.
Dr. Tom O'Connell will some day release a large body of research on medical marijuana patients. Dr. O'Connell has provided recommendations for medical marijuana for "mood disorder". What is "mood disorder:? It is the same thing for which doctors prescribe Valium. It is a problem with your "mood" - a recognized medical condition. If you have "mood disorder" then marijuana is a decidedly safer choice than Valium. If a doctor can hand out Valium because someone is nervous and aspirin because they report they have a headache, then what are the limits on the "medical" use of marijuana?
Based on his research, Dr. O'Connell makes a convincing case that much of the regular "recreational" use of all drugs is really medical, in that people are actually self-medicating psychological symptoms -- without going to the doctor to get a prescription for Valium. This would actually apply to most of the regular use of all "recreational" drugs. As the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs pointed out, the most common reason given for people taking drugs (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, and Valium included) is that it "relaxes" them.
Dr. O'Connell has said that, in his opinion, "recreational" use becomes "medical" the first time someone buys it for themselves. By that standard, anyone who went to the trouble to go to the doctor and pay the fee would certainly be "medical".
In any event, it is rather pointless to sit here in judgment on the health of other people the same way that the DEA sits in judgment on you. Stop doing the "yassuh, boss" routine for the Federal Government. The problem is not "recreational" users in compassion clubs. The problem is a______s sitting in judgment on the suffering and proper medicine for others. You don't advance your own medical care by dumping on people who aren't as sick as you think they ought to be. All you do is reinforce the impression that there is lots of abuse.
What you should be doing is standing up for the only thing that makes sense -- "medical" is determined by the patient, not by the government or some casual observer on the street -- and it is nobody else's g______n business.
If someone complains about "recreational" users I want to know how the hell they know anything about that person's personal life and medical history. In truth, anyone who makes that judgment doesn't know s__t about the other person and is just expressing the same old bigotry that got us into this situation in the first place.
July 15, 2007
Science and Religion (logical, political)
Less than two centuries ago, 1831 to be exact, a youthful Charles Darwin made some critical observations during the Beagle’s comparatively brief stopover in the Galapagos. Those geographically remote and unique islands had been as unknown to Darwin as to the rest of the world, yet the observations he made there in a few weeks triggered a scholarly obsession that would occupy him for the rest of his long life. That work eventually turned his last name into a household word, capable of sparking controversy as easily today as at any time since his views were first made public in 1859. Although the exigencies of Nineteenth Century travel are presumably why Darwin never returned to the Galapagos, further studies of the rich and diverse life forms found there have amply confirmed his observations and validated his original conclusions. In fact, complex observations of modern marine life that would have been well beyond Darwin’s capability are, if anything, even more convincing than his were.
It would take nearly three decades for the world to learn of young Darwin’s insights, and how similar they were to those of Wallace, his less famous contemporary. The resultant hypothesis quickly became a productive scientific theory and a cornerstone of of modern Biology. “Evolution” as the theory eventually came to be known, is now capitalized to distinguish it from the word’s more generic meaning, which refers to any directional changes occurring over time.
Despite the scholarly acceptance and unprecedented degree of validation it has received from several new scientific disciplines, Evolution is probably thought by a majority of humans to conflict with its presumed alternative: the belief that a Divine Being created the universe (cosmos) and all forms of life. Even though scientific thinking pointedly avoids assumptions that can’t be falsified, the creationists who make them insist that because ”darwinism” hasn’t been “proven,” the teaching of “creationism” should receive equal time and resources in schools. That such a contention betrays a degree of misunderstanding which renders any resolution by mere argument essentially impossible is implicit in their position, but It also explains their persistence in attempting to pass legislation that would force schools to devote equal time to the teaching of “creation science.”
It doesn’t take much insight to recognize that both American drug policy and the ongoing attempts of “right to life” supporters to criminalize abortion are rooted in the same kind of religious thinking; nor that our wars on “terror” and “drugs,” are near relatives.
As if to underscore that observation and further emphasize the futility of logic in countering such arguments, the drug czar just made a whirlwind trip to a remote venue in Northern California in support of a marijuana eradication program he promised would uproot every plant in our national forests, at whatever cost. Why? Because those who planted them are “terrorists.”
Nor is federal “science” any more enlightened than the drug czar; all one has to do is listen to the current Director of NIDA echo the absurdity trumpeted by predecessors Robert DuPont and Alan Leshner: addiction is a “disease.”
Unfortunately, despite her blather about dopamine reward, Dr Volkow doesn’t define addiction any more coherently or precisely than the Holmes- Brandeis Supreme Court did when they upheld the Harrison Act by decreeing an addict’s optimum treatment is best determined by a medically untrained federal bureaucracy empowered to arrest and imprison those afflicted.
Very little has changed since 1919...
July 11, 2007
An Unexpected Ally?
I remember being duly impressed after reading that resume when he was nominated; but I quickly realized that the anti-smoking Bush appointee, was very unlikely ever to advocate the medical use of cannabis.
Now I’m not so sure; yesterday in widely broadcast Congressional testimony, Carmona explained why Bush Administration attitudes toward science had forced his resignation after a comparatively short tenure: "The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party."
On can hope that he really believes those stirring words and, unlike either ONDCP or the Drug Policy Reform movement, might be able to open his eyes widely enough to see beyond the long-accepted political dogma that has obscured the truth about cannabis for at least the four decades since his idealistic enlistment in the service of his country and Medicine at the age of 17 (and long before that).
July 08, 2007
Why the Drug War is Still in Charge (Political)
For over ten years, drug policy reformers have been betting that a single rhetorical argument would turn the political tide in their favor; in other words, they think that if the American Electorate can be sufficiently enlightened about the drug war’s many failures it will demand that it be abandoned as policy. Their basic argument, “drugs are bad, but drug prohibition is worse” is catchy and, to some extent, true. The problem is that it hasn’t worked; for reasons the reform brain trust simply refuses to acknowledge or discuss openly.
The public knows the drug war is a failure; but for a variety of understandable reasons, has been unwilling to “legalize” drugs. First among those reasons is that although neither drug use itself, nor its presumed principle risk of “addiction” have never been objectively studied, they have been so successfully misrepresented that fear of addiction still provides our cruel and futile policy with all the support it needs.
Two good examples of how policy advocates wage their propaganda war were just published; one was a nasty little unsigned editorial in The Dallas Morning News; the other is the cover story in this week’s Time Magazine. While it contains several nuggets of truth, its important conclusions are completely without foundation and could have been written by the Director of NIDA.
The main reason Reform’s efforts at educating the public aren’t working is that by agreeing that “drugs are bad,” they’re necessarily blind to what would be their best argument: present policy significantly increases the likelihood vulnerable teens will use alcohol and tobacco and will also try other, more harmful, drugs.
That’s an argument they can’t make because of their commitment to the idea that, “kids shouldn’t try drugs.” The main problem with that statement is that it’s pious nonsense. Martin Lee put it very well on page 129 of Acid Dreams when he observed that,” authorities either did not tell the truth (about marijuana), or did not know what they were talking about...when young people get high, they know this existentially from the inside out." Lee goes on to another telling observation, one with particular reference to the pivotal Summer of 1967 and helps explain the loathing that era inspires in modern fascists, themselves too young to have been there:"young people saw... through the great hoax, the cover story for ...the entire system. Smoking dope was thus a political catalyst, for it enabled many a budding radical to begin questioning the official mythology of the governing class."
Lee wrote those words over twenty years ago; you would think Reform might have figured it out by now.
July 07, 2007
Anxiously Avoiding Anxiety (Personal)
Perspective is critical. One way to understand the situation existing when Proposition 215 passed unexpectedly in1996 was that for twenty-five years, our drug war had thrived by successfully translating its bipartisan federal support into steadily increasing financial, bureaucratic, and professional endorsement of the (unlikely) assertions central to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act: cannabinoids, like other ‘drugs of abuse,” are illegal by Act of Congress; therefore, they cannot have any “redeeming” medical value.
It had also helped acceptance of the drug war that a veil of ignorance and confusion was created when the Marijuana Tax Act demonzed “reefer” in 1937. Its acceptance was further reinforced when Nixon summarily buried the timid, (but unexpected) Shafer Commission report in 1972.
Proposition 215 thus represented the first successful political challenge to an enduring sixty-year old policy myth. As such, it was the first opportunity to study several related phenomena which had been evolving beyond direct public scrutiny from at least the mid-Sixties onward. The main one, and most obvious place to start, was the inexorable development of an enormous illegal marijuana market, not only in North America, but in many developed nations where the use of inhaled cannabis had been relatively unknown.
I’ve derived many insights from my own unanticipated obsession developing from the (equally) unanticipated opportunity Proposition 215 created for clinicians: the chance to profile the pot market with relative ease; or at least that fraction consisting of repetitive (“chronic”) users seeking the required doctors’ “recommendation.”
I can now see how fortuitous my timing had been: by not screening applicants until nearly five years after 215 passed, I’d allowed time for a few pioneering “pot docs,” (the most prolific was Tod Mikuriya) to create a population of buyers for the scattered “clubs” that were developing in response to their needs in a few friendly Bay Area communities.
The owner who recruited me to screen his potential customers is now retired in Costa Rica. He had been one of the few visionaries among those early club owners; perhaps the first to understand how huge the potential demand really was, and thus how critical was the shortage of physicians willing to certify his potential customers. His offer of free use of a large area in his Oakland club on week-ends was brilliant. Upon reviewing the demographics of the applicants seen there over my first eight months, I can see that among the locals from San Francisco and Oakland, were at least as many from Central California towns as far apart as Reddiing to the North to Bakersfield to the South. It was both the volume and variety of applicants seen in that interval that allowed me to appreciate that they possessed so many (unexpected) features in common that profiling them was literally a no-brainer.
That unexpected consequences may flow from any new law is axiomatic, which is why the stubborn persistence of both sides of the spurious “drug debate” is so revealing: Ten years after it became possible to study large numbers of pot market participants, both sides were still mired in the rhetoric of the 1996 campaign.
Three laws directly affecting marijuana policy have been passed since 1937: the MTA, the CSA in 1970 , and Proposition 215 in 1996; yet vested interests on both sides remain blind to the unique opportunity 215 created for studying the consequences of the first two.
The blindness of the feds is no surprise; that of reform was more unexpected. My (now belated) insight is that it simply reinforces the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from study of pot use: uncertainty, best understood as “anxiety” in its myriad manifestations, is the single most powerful force impelling all human drug use.
The next most obvious conclusion is that inhaled cannabinoids are safe and effective anxiolytics which can be readily controlled by most users according to their needs.
Such was the key (but unrecognized) discovery made by the first Baby Boomers trying pot in the mid-Sixties. It spread, simultaneously and rapidly, downward to their adolescent successors from about 1970 on; but was fiercely resisted by the same “over thirties” the first Boomers had famously warned everyone against.
Of course “kids” (and most adults) still don’t know anxiolytics from a bale of hay. That pharmaceuticals could treat anxiety directly was itself a brand new concept to Medicine as recently as the early Fifties. That such treatment is still associated with stigma renders many, especially those of the male persuasion, anxious to avoid any admission they might be suffering from it.
July 04, 2007
On the New Curia and the Limits of Hypocrisy
As we celebrate another national birthday, it may be useful to imagine what our founders might have thought about a Supreme Court that will be dominated by five Roman Catholic men for another ten or fifteen years and perhaps a lot longer. That’s merely one of several bizarre developments in the second term of an inept administration mired in controversy, trapped in a losing war they were warned against, and now openly despised by a majority of Americans.
The nominal leader of the new Curia, Chief Justice John Roberts, surprised very few in assuming that the witlessly provocative banner, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” somehow advocated “drug use” and, as such, justifies further restricting the Constitutional rights of juveniles. After all, hadn’t the Court ruled earlier that students could be required to urinate into a cup to prove drug purity before participating in extra curricular activities? Will it surprise us when this same body eventually decides that the privilege of attending public school requires similar confirmation?
As for the limits of hypocrisy in the 213th year of our Republic, there seems little fear they will be reached before November ‘08; especially since there was essentially no recognition by mainstream pundits that the greatest hypocrisy implicit in President Bush’s characterization of Libby’s sentence as “excessive” relates to the mandatory minimums for drug offenses now being served in federal prisons. The most egregious example may be
Is this a great country or what?
July 01, 2007
Is there a Steroid Exception?
Barry Bonds is now within hailing distance of MLB’s career home run record; barring some unforeseen development he should overtake and pass Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755 sometime after the All-Star break.
Aaron’s approach to the game was as steady and methodical as Babe Ruth’s, the larger-than-life playboy whose record he pursued for most of his career, was erratic and flamboyant. Also, given that Bonds’ assault on the record began late in his career and has almost certainly been steroid-assisted, there is considerable drama being added to whatever disgraceful racial hatred remains nearly thirty-one years after Aaron retired.
That drama is certain to draw increasing interest in the weeks ahead; however, as usual, those with an urge to comment will probably continue to treat the steroid issue as if there were no such thing as a drug war, while drug policy pundits will predictably remain just as curiously silent on whether ad-hoc steroid therapy has anything in common with the use of other non-prescribed “drugs of abuse.”
Perhaps it’s time for a rhetorical question: how would Bonds, or any sports superstar for that matter, be treated if caught with a couple of ounces of pot in an airport under circumstances as compelling as the known facts in the Balco Case?