October 23, 2007
Questions Seldom Asked (political)
No, I haven’t been on vacation (what are they?), but I have been wrapping up a long project I hope to report on in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve found a bit of time for the following short entry.
Just under 10 months ago, Jon Gettman’s estimates of the value of American marijuana production caused a ripple of commentary from a gamut of drug policy experts ranging from academics to the DEA. Most accounts almost immediately raised the usual questions about “legalization” or compared pot and alcohol as intoxicants. Either omitted, or buried in the middle of most reports, was compelling evidence from government sources and also cited by Gettman, that the illegal pot market has been growing steadily since at least 1980. Also notably absent were three obvious questions Gettman’s conservative estimates should have given rise to:
1) When did that huge illegal market start to grow?
2) Why did it begin expanding when it did?
3) Why has its growth been so steady despite a determined “war” on drugs for the past four decades?
After six years spent profiling the pot market’s customer base and attempting, with little success, to interest people claiming drug policy expertise in my findings, I’m been forced to add two more questions to the ones listed above:
4) Why are humans so averse to factual descriptions of their own behavior?
5) Can our species, survive its own cognitive success?
It should be no surprise that now, after coming up with tentative answers to those questions, it’s easier to answer all five in reverse order:
5) The jury is still out on possible human extinction, but current evidence suggests that so long as our emotions can provoke us into destructive wars and mindlessly expanding our numbers, the odds favor human extinction in relatively short order, at least on a geologic time scale.
4) We humans have particular difficulty in applying scientific principles to the “Behavioral Sciences” because denial usually kicks in. Michael Shermer discuuse that problem quite lucidly in the October Scientific American.
3)The illegal pot market has continued to grow steadily because a significant fraction of those who tried it as adolescents have continued using it on a regular basis; almost certainly because it is a safer and more effective psychotherapeutic agent than those intrioduced by Big Pharma since the Fifties.
2) The pot market began expanding right after inhaled pot was introduced to white adolescents in the mid-Sixties by a combination of East Coast “Beats” and West Coast “Pranksters” who, between them, created a youth-based "counterculture" in opposition to that being directed at post war baby boomers by Madison Avenue advertisers entranced by the brand new medium of Television.
1) The nation's pot market had remained dormant from 1937 until the mid-Sixties when pot became known to members of the multiple protest movements inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and eventually spread to unruly demonstrators against American involvement in what had been a smoldering post-colonial war in “French” Indo-China.
The truth is, as usual, both messier and more complicated than we imagined, but government demands that its drug policy be driven by a myth rigorously protected against unbiased examination may yet create the biggest mess of all.
October 08, 2007
How Big is Big? The gray market for medical marijuana
In a few weeks, the highly specialized gray market for "medical" marijuana created by California's unexpected rejection of unsolicited advice from all manner of high ranking federal and state officials just prior to the 1996 General Election, will be eleven years old. That Proposition 215 would have reached that age and still be an unwanted orphan in a state whose citizens had given it a comfortable margin is something I hadn’t anticipated; nor do I think many others would have predicted such an outcome in November 1996.
In fact, there were remarkably few specific predictions about what might happen following California's unprecedented voter rebellion against the drug war. But Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey had a plan: destroy the new law with a lightning thrust by lifting the licenses of any doctors attempting to comply with it. The Ninth Circuit scotched that threat on First Amendment grounds, a move New England Journal Editor Jerome Kassirer quickly applauded, only to be just as quickly cashiered for his temerity.
Actually, McCaffrey's threat worked to limit the number of physicians willing to sign recommendations and the few activist doctorss who did so quickly found themselves under attack from the Medical Board (the state's licensing body). At the other extreme, Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick clearly thought they could experiment with clones intended to supply the pot distribution network they realized would soon be needed. They were made to pay dearly for their mistake: McWilliams with his life, and McCormick with five years of punitive incarceration in a federal prison. Not that punitive treatment of pot activists by law enforcement was limited to the feds; far more numerous abominations have occurred at the state level, a pattern that began during Dan Lungren’s final year as AG, and has persisted under both successors.
This isn't intended as a rehash of anti-pot abuses since January 1997; that would take a long book indeed; however I do want to sketch some highlights of what may be the next phenomenon able to surprise everyone while frustrating the obvious desire of our drug war leadership to crush the gray market for marijuana that has evolved during 215's quixotic eleven year evolution.
I'm referring to the medical market's sheer size, which, at this moment, can only be guessed, but is proving much larger than most suspected. Equally unexpected was that the power of that market seems to have quietly shifted from the liberal Bay Area which had been so important to its early development, to more conservative places like San Diego and LA which, although dormant for years, are now manifesting surprising strength. Even now, after the DEA has entered into belated alliance with local police in what appears to be a desperate federal effort to stave off the inevitable. Or is this just be just another interesting wrinkle in the poorly understood attempt of pot users to oppose the law that oppresses them?
Part of the problem is the generally timid and inept reportage of all matters pertaining to pot by fearful mainstream media outlets, an ineptitude offset, at least partially by the internet since the early Nineties.
All of which brings me to the point of this entry. It's a site started by Cliff Schaffer, long an intellectual opponent of the drug war whose Drug Policy Library was an early inspiration to me, and whose fertile brain keeps coming up with new ideas. His newest site, just by coincidence, was inspired by the same weakness I've been clamoring about for a while: the latent potential of the modern pot market which has been forced to remain deeply underground for nearly four decades.
Cliff has researched the clubs that are still opening in LA to take advantage of the surge in both interest and numbers of people with a physician's recommendation. His prediction is that the phenomenon isn't over and new clubs will continue to open. Only time will tell. In the meantime, the reform discussion lists are torn, with the majority of those commenting still lamenting "greedy" owners and patients who don't appear sick to the untrained eye.
What will happen over the next several months is anybody's guess. Will the DEA continue to imitate Burma, or will it back off ?
October 01, 2007
Science and Scientism (Political, Rhetorical)
A good general rule of thumb is that because neither political beliefs nor belief in a supreme being can be “falsfied”, they are not proper subjects for study by empirical science. One way to recognize such beliefs is that they usually have “ism” as a suffix: Fascism and Hinduism are convenient examples. The unfamiliar term, scientism has ben used in that context, and the even less familiar democratism certainly could be.
The current issue of Scientific American contains an article on consciousness co-authored by Susan Greenfield who is also a professor of Pharmacology at Oxford, a baroness, a well known authority in the hot new field of “Neuroscience,” and a dogmatic opponent of any liberalization of cannabis laws. The current article is of little interest in that context; however Greenfield’s views on pot, which can be found here and here; certainly are. Both provide good examples of how otherwise smart people can be led into absurdity by their political beliefs.
In the Guardian article Greenfield began by creating a straw man with the statement: “One of the most frequently touted myths currently in the news, is that alcohol and cannabis have the same effects on the brain, hence if alcohol is legal, then cannabis might as well be.” This is disingenuous in the extreme; not only is the basic premise obviously false; (she disagrees with herself in the next article), but it has clearly been offered to create another false premise which is even easier to attack. Unfortunately for the baroness, very few advocates of more liberal pot laws ever use that argument.
The rest of the lecture is a rambling cluster of disingenuous arguments, often by analogy, about a potpourri of unproven assertions and assumptions. Typical is the one, based on the nature of synapses and drug effects, which assumes a “molecular handshake” at the synapse, and because cannabinoids have receptor sites and alcohol does not, leads her to claim that the cannabis metabolites stored in fat and demonstrably much slower than alcohol to be completely excreted, must somehow be damaging the brain for that entire interval.
She also conveniently ignores that the policy she endorses has made the kind of clinical research she bemoans the lack of nearly impossible. So much for the Baroness and her vaunted championing of science. It’s too bad she’s really endorsing scientism, whether she knows it or not
The same arguments are repackaged in the Observer article, along with an assumption, recently disproven- by Donald Tashkin- of all people, that smoking pot is as dangerous to health as smoking cigarettes. She also wonders why people aren’t using pot to relieve pain!
Perhaps the baroness should read some contemporary peer reviewed literature about cannabinoid agonists before making a further fool of herself. Her unrealized vulnerability as a scientist may also explain the hidden basis for a catty observation in the Guardian.