May 31, 2009
Annals of MisanthropyIn today’s New York Times, there are not one, but two items that promised a marginal understanding of prohibition reality, but sadly; soon devolved into the usual law enforcement sermons on the evils of drugs and addiction. During the first video, I wanted to grab the speaker’s expensive lapels and shout, “it’s not the drugs, you knucklehead; it’s the money!”
The second item, bemoaning the impact of Mexico’s drug war on Ohio, was just as clueless. Although it also mentioned the complimentary illegal arms market through which American gun dealers balance our expenditures on illegal drugs from Mexico, it, like the first one, barely mentioned what is a third facet of an illegal trifecta: aliens who pay to be smuggled across the border for work, which predictably, will turn increasingly illegal and violent if the economies of both nations continue to falter.
The only good news on our Mexican horizon may be that those worsening Economies could force the fools running both governments to reduce their law enforcement budgets and hopefully, coerce some of the cops now busting dopers into either an unemployment line or more honest lines of work; perhaps even “protecting and serving” the people they work for, rather than just ripping them off.
May 30, 2009
Worst Fears Confirmed: Obama doesn’t get the drug war either.After months of mixed signals that began when the DEA raided a South Lake Tahoe dispensary in January, the Obama Administration finally admitted it is continuing the disgraceful federal war on medical marijuana in California; apparently using the tortuous logic that it's simply upholding California law banning sales (of alcohol?) to minors. At least that’s the most logical interpretation one can glean from recent events and the Obama Administration's response to a request for clarification from an openly distraught Judge Wu in the Lynch case.
To understand the well-documented injustice so openly exposed by the Lynch case, one has only to browse any of several videos. Sadly, the latest federal statement is entirely consistent with several pusillanimous non-decisions the Obama administration has made on other contentious issues: gays in the military, Guantanamo detainees, and support for the failed Bush war on terror, to name but three.
That there can’t be an abrupt break with a failed policy of the past, especially one as thoroughly institutionalized as the drug war, is obvious; however that doesn’t excuse the performance of this administration to date; nor does it auger well for its approach to governance, one that seems based more on political maneuvering than on any clear sense of integrity, reality, or history.
There’s more to leadership than besting one’s political opponents, particularly a crew as inept as today’s GOP; one should also have a firm grasp of the major issues of the day.
Any notion the drug war is a failure we can still afford should have long since been discarded.
May 25, 2009
Message from the GulagThe following was OCR'd from a typed message received from Dustin in yesterday's mail. When we spoke on the phone this morning; he was still optimistic and in remarkably good spirits, even though he had already heard of Eddy Lepp's obscene sentence.
I know he would be delighted if anyone reading his message took the trouble to let him know; and that he's remembered.
SEIZE THE MOMENT
For a moment, I thought I was hallucinating. Sure, there have been a number of clues lately that there could be a sea change afoot in the war on drugs: the recent Zogby Poll showing 52% of Americans now support outright legalization of marijuana, Assemblyman Ammanio's bill in California to legalize marijuana, and all the other support it has received; Hillary Clinton's comment in Mexico that the American appetite for illegal drugs is helping drive the drug war violence in Mexico; the call for decriminalization of all drugs by several former Latin American Presidents; the promise of Attorney General Holder to stop the D.E.A. raids against Medical Marijuana care givers. and the President's call to end the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. But none of this was as stunning or as helpful as the new Drug Czar's call for an end to the War on Drugs in his first interview after his confirmation only hours before, which was the page three Headline in the May 14th, 2009 Wall Street Journal.
As the realization sunk in that this was no mirage, and even before I actually read the article, I excitedly showed it around to other inmates here at Big Spring, most of whom are doing time behind drugs. This is a place where rumors of relief, of a return to sanity in government, have circulated since the beginning of the prison system. For years we've heard rumors of a return of parole, an end to Mandatory Minimums, wiping out the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing, and a move toward a common sense drug policy; so I wasn’t surprised when my enthusiasm was greeted with the occasional cynical response, "so what, it don't mean nothin' . . . , but most of the inmates I showed it to were mildly, to very enthusiastic. I think this time the cynics are wrong. I think when America's Drug Czar says the War on Drugs isn't working and it’s time for a new approach, it means something.
For instance, Drug Czar Kerlikowske believes drug policy should shift in emphasis from enforcement to medical, this is an opening for Harm reduction strategies for which medical marijuana is ideally suited! This could be an opportunity for Medical Marijuana to show its effectiveness as a substitute for alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin addiction. Pot Docs have been recommending marijuana for years as a Harm Reduction strategy with excellent results. Perhaps now we can become a recognized and potent force in helping to wean the addicted away from the monkey on their backs.
The door is not only open now for Harm Reduction, but also for rescheduling marijuana.
Further, as more states come on line with Medical Marijuana laws of their own, (perhaps as many as 20 or more will have Medical Marijuana laws on their books by the end of 2009) there will be a move to legalize it nationally.
Much of what is positive now in opposition to the War on Drugs is due to the relentless and courageous efforts of people in the Medical Marijuana community, but none of it would be possible were it not for Marijuana's tremendous popularity. Of all the illegal drugs, Marijuana is not only the most popular and least harmful, it is also safe and effective medicine.
Sitting here in this Federal Gulag in Big Spring, Texas, witnessing the changes going on on the outside, I only wish I could be there for the final push. This is an ideal time to organize and lead and actually make a difference - unfortunately for me, I won't have that satisfaction - but I urge anyone with a talent to lead and organize to seize this moment. Make a difference!!
Dustin R. Costa 62406097
Federal Correctional Institution
1900 Simler Ave
Big Spring, Tx 79720
May 24, 2009
Still Connecting Dots: Science, Religion, and Drug PolicyAlthough Science has only been an instrument of human cognition for about five hundred years, the theory and information thus accumulated have had more impact on our species and its environment than occurred in the previous six thousand; roughly the interval since our ancestors began domesticating animals, practicing agriculture, and communicating in abstract symbols.
Nevertheless, the belief systems still dominating modern governments, whether acknowledged as theocracies or nominally sectarian, are predominantly religious in nature; thus in continuing conflict with Science, and with each other.
Despite nearly continuous background warfare throughout human “civilization,” recent scientific progress has been so quickly translated into ever-accelerating expansion of the human population, that we now depend more than ever on fresh water, petroleum, and commerce for essential commodities, a major reason why today’s economic crisis may represent an unprecedented threat to human survival.
In that context, the fact that the poignant description of Autism in today’s NYT makes no mention of cannabinoids should be disturbing, given the fact that all the Californians I’ve seen because they were seeking a recommendation to use cannabis had been illegally self-medicating with it and many had been diagnosed and/or treated for a “high functioning” “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
Since learning to approach pot applicants minus the prejudices still clearly so prevalent in most of society, I’ve been trying to understand the kind of thinking that would allow a federal judge to sentence Eddy Lepp to ten years in prison with a snide quip. Perhaps one day, she will explain the “justice” of her decision, or the physicians specializing in related conditions will also explain why so many of their patients with “high functioning” variants seek solace from drugs during adolescence. Perhaps other professional scientists will explain their passive forty year acceptance of a blatantly unscientific and unfair drug policy.
May 23, 2009
Thanks, Google!One of many frustrations I’ve encountered in trying to educate people about what I’ve been learning about the drug war from the structured interviews of pot applicants I’ve been conducting for over seven years is that most people are too distracted by their own problems to focus on what they are hearing; it’s a problem that has been increasing in both scope and intensity as culture accumulates, one which, for those of us who spend too much time on the web, is epitomized by Google.
For the great majority who aren’t obsessed by information and don’t have the time to conduct endless searches, talking about an abstraction like the “illegal marijuana market” just doesn’t cut it; precisely because it can conjure up completely different images from those intended.
While composing the most recent entry, I came across a new Google feature called Timeline, which can literally create a graphic image from the enormous amount of material already entered in Google archives.
When I googled marijuana arrests, and then selected Timeline view from among the options, I was rewarded with both a graph and a linked collection of relevant web pages. While not the whole answer, it does go a long way toward simplifying the main message I’m trying to get across: any policy as obviously unable to confront its own history must eventually lose all credibility.
Our main problem then becomes one of endurance: how long can our society tolerate such an obviously stupid and dishonest public policy as the war on drugs?
Yet Another Take on GuantanamoYesterday was eventful; at least in terms of an issue that could define the Obama administration's first term: what to do with the “detainees” still being held in varying degrees of anonymity at Guantanamo?
In terms of the evening political line-up that's been evolving on cable TV since the war on terror began in 2003, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann can be thought of as liberal counterweights to the unabashed fascism of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, with Anderson Cooper holding some fuzzy middle ground at CNN.
Although Maddow had been an Obama supporter, she has, of late, been critical of his backsliding on gays in the military and failure to emulate Harry Truman by solving that problem with an Executive Order. Yesterday she surprised me a bit by firmly taking him to task because his position on Guantanamo actually extends their (illegal) detention. Thus, while claiming to correct the Bush Cheney “mess,” it compounds it by accepting its major premise (I don’t recall if she mentioned Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus).
I completely agree more with Maddow’s impeccable logic. On the other hand, I would also point out that the model for such legal (and “scientific”) schizophrenia has long been Nixon’s drug war, which has sold its particular brand of pseudo-scientific nonsense so successfully that one of the few things every nation in our deeply divided world now agrees on is that any traveler daring to bring a minute amount of herbal cannabis into one of their ports of entry will be arrested forthwith and treated as a criminal.
When Maddow, who hails from San Leandro and went to Stanford, is able to spare some outrage for the federal medical marijuana “criminals” from her home state who have been unfairly prosecuted and are still being imprisoned for obeying a valid state law, maybe I’ll find her quest for federal Judicial purity a bit more credible. Until then, America’s vaunted "Rule of Law" is nothing but politics: whatever one is able to get away with.
May 21, 2009
A Classic Example of Getting it WrongOf all federal agencies, those most obligated to follow the erroneous road map supplied by drug war policy makers would be the uniformed services; which was the main reason a headline in today’s USA Today caught my eye as I was leaving the local super market
The obvious (to me) reason commanders aren’t punishing those who test positive is almost certainly because there are simply too many of them and although the article carefully avoided naming the drug most frequently found in positive urines, there’s little doubt in my mind it’s marijuana, because I also know with considerable conviction that pot is probably the most effective drug for treating PTSD, a condition already identified as a major cause of depression, suicide, and “substance abuse,” problems among those returning from overseas deployments.
By the way," I also see “substance "abuse"” as a synonym for "self-medication; thus I might be amused at the basic cluelessness of the article, if I weren't so upset by the needless suffering and avoidable mortality it (typically) fails to recognize.
Is Obama Starting to Live up to Expectations?Have just heard Obama’s speech on closing Guantanamo and am now listening to Cheney’s rebuttal. Since I’ve also lived through the last ten years as a sentient human being, there’s no question in my mind who’s version of “truth” deserves more respect.
As a nation, we’ve been here before; it’s known as the “ends justifying the means,” with each man laying out reasons why such is occasionally necessary: Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War and Roosevelt imprisoned Japanese-American citizens in California (but not in Hawaii) during World War II. However, historians have not defended either of those actions as consistent with our values in retrospect.
Both Obama and Cheney are asking that we trust them and their judgment. For me, Cheney was still using the unmistakable reasoning of Nixon, Limbaugh, Reagan, and Anslinger. I’m still not certain about Obama because his Presidency is mostly in the future; but I am sure about the past administration, because their repetition of so many classic errors of the past, together with their equally classic justifications, are still fresh in my mind.
I’m waiting to see if Obama will apply similar reasoning to our grievously mistaken war on drugs.
Finally; a comment about the fear expressed by a Republican Congressman from Colorado that the the federal supermax prison in his district might be ued to house Gitmo detainees: I can't think of a sillier argument- or a better example of Cheney's despicable "logic."
May 20, 2009
Annals of UncertaintyIn addition to its recent mixed signals on medical marijuana, the Obama Administration seems to be rethinking another controversial policy: the awkward “don’t ask, don’t tell” position on homosexuality in the Military that became policy in 1993 when Bill Clinton was unable to keep a campaign promise and demonstrated that he lacked the political courage of a Harry Truman.
Since DADT became policy, about 12,500 service members have been outed; however, the rate has declined significantly since the military has been fighting in two protracted wars started by the Bush Administration in response to 9/11. In addition to the well-known conservatism of Republicans and flag officers, two other subtleties may be hinted at in that statistic.
One is that retention of younger gays who have have already demonstrated their willingness and ability to do the job makes perfect sense in a setting in which recruitment has become a problem and rank and file service personnel seem untroubled by their presence.
Another is suggested by the otherwise irrational decision to cashier an outstanding Lieutenant-Colonel two years short of retirement: his potentially expensive lifetime benefits would be saved.
All of which raises more troubling questions. If; as they have been hinting, the Obama people plan to wait for a more propitious time to seek certain changes once “believed in,” would those changes be retroactive? Would medical marijuana offenders arrested, convicted, or sentenced by the feds in California either be pardoned or have their sentences commuted? Would gay service members swindled out of their retirement benefits have them restored?
May 17, 2009
Sea Change or Trial Balloon?It’s fitting that I didn't learn that our newly confirmed drug czar had hinted at a radical change in the policy he’s paid to support in a WSJ interview last Thursday until Dustin Costa called from the federal prison (in Texas) where he’s serving an obscene fifteen-year sentence as a political prisoner of the drug war.
Although many media outlets either didn’t bother to report it or pretended Kerlikowske’s bombshell was just some minor heresy, its muted reception was further evidence to me that we are starting to see a modern replay of the phenomena that brought down Prohibition in the early Thirties: the Depression had simply made it too expensive to enforce as national policy and its central myth was no longer believable.
That doesn’t mean that de-emphasis of the drug war will follow quickly or won’t be fiercely resisted by current beneficiaries; only that any criticism or suggested modification is no longer the political third rail it once was, itself itself a huge, and essential, step forward.
Still to be resolved in the relatively near future are some vexing details: how will the Obama Administration’s Department of “Justice“ proceed with several grossly unfair federal cases now stuck in the pipeline between conviction (or plea bargain) and sentencing?
We Americans pride ourselves on fairness; yet our media routinely covers trivial injustices far more intensely than those inflicted in support of our failing drug policy.
May 13, 2009
The Human ParadoxSome have called the human brain the most complicated device in the universe; so long as we remain the only species with our degree of cognition, that judgment can’t be challenged; however it doesn’t answer the troubling question at the heart of humanity’s most mportant dilemmas: are we in more trouble from our incompetence or from our dishonesty?
In late 1995, I became intrigued by the drug war as a prime example of a failing policy. A little over seven years later, that same interest, together with my medical training, provided me with an unexpected opportunity to study the drug war’s relentless campaign against cannabis from a unique perspective. I soon discovered that, like all other unresolved scientific issues, it was much more complex than it appeared from the outside; also the more questions one answers, the more it’s necessary to ask.
Not all is frustration, however. Such efforts do hold the implied promise that since all our behavior depends on our complex brains, understanding ourselves might allow us to avert, or at least mitigate, the looming disaster of climate change, and associated shortages of food, water, and energy.
As it happens, there are useful parallels between the drug war and another fraud in the news: that of Bernard Madoff’s breath-taking Ponzi scheme, which like marijuana prohibition, had been undermining a host of worthwhile institutions and claiming countless innocent victims for about the same interval, while also receiving undeserved respect from the very agencies that claim to protect Society’s vital interests.
In the Madoff case, Frontline has assembled an impressive indictment of the SEC and Madoff associates hinting at several prosecutions to come. The most compelling evidence turns out to be the pathetic statements of participants unwise enough to explain their behavior on camera. One does not have to be a sophisticated investor or an economic pundit to realize how much Madoff’s cronies had looked the other way while lining their own pockets; especially after specific charges brought by Harry Markopolos and Frank Casey were first aired over ten years ago.
The situation with the drug war and the federal agencies created to prosecute and defend it is even worse. Both the DEA and NIDA are still carrying on a tax supported campaign that trashes the canons of Science while attempting to protect a policy widely known for its grotesque failures.
But help may be closer than we think, and in a form that has yet to be widely considered: just as the realities of the Great Depression finally made all thought of suppressing America’s thirst for alcohol easy to brush aside in 1933, so may the realities of today’s economic collapse allow us to finally recognize the greater psychotropic benefits of pot over alcohol and tobacco.
One can always hope.
May 09, 2009
Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong ReasonsThe push to legalize marijuana in California is motivated primarily by a growing awareness of two separate realities; one is the tsunami of debt that has engulfed the state over the past year. The other is the stubborn popularity of pot’s medical gray market since Proposition 215 was passed back in 1996.
While I have come to believe that we should allow marijuana to be freely grown, sold, and used under adult supervision, I’m realistic enough to accept that some more restrictive form of “legalization” is more likely and would still be preferable to the status quo. Thus I’m hopeful California will push for legal pot sometime in the next few months.
I’d also like to point out that it couldn’t be the quick fix its advocates hope for because that belief is, like much of what is now believed about pot itself, profoundly mistaken. To keep it as simple as possible, today’s huge illegal market didn’t start growing until "kids” discovered the emotional (anxolytic) advantages of pot over alcohol and tobacco in the Sixties. Unfortunately, the excesses of the “kids” who made that discovery frightened their elders into electing Nixon in 1968, thus creating the drug war that has plagued us ever since.
One of several consequences of having a thriving illegal market develop in the nation’s schoolyards for forty years has been a chronic user population that had to discover pot’s advantages over alcohol and tobacco for themselves while still avoiding the punishments mandated by Nixon. It was that population my study of California pot applicants has discovered and (loosely) characterized. Under ideal circumstances, several residual loose ends should be studied before the modern (criminal) product is embraced as medicine, but because I’m now painfully aware of how dishonest we can be in setting public policy, I’ll simply point out the most obvious traps: the cannabis now reaching the US market is a criminal product originally developed by amateurs and long neglected by academic Pharmacology. That situation should be reversed with as little political interference as possible, while still maintaining pot’s availability to the public.
Over the next several weeks I hope to develop these themes more coherently; for the moment I’ll end by suggesting that, now that we may finally have a chance correct the errors of such insecure mediocrities as Hamilton Wright, Harry Anslinger, and Richard Nixon, in creating our current drug policy mess, let’s take care not to repeat them.
May 02, 2009
Is the Lynch case the Ultimate Drug War Sell-Out?I’m now nearly certain that within the past two weeks, the Obama Administration has been quietly signaling its intention to continue the federal war on medical marijuana in California through Attorney General Eric Holder's failure to answer the request of an obviously distraught Judge George Wu for direction in the sentencing of Charles Lynch. For me, it is both a sickening development and a clear sign that, for all his bright promise, Barack Obama is just another politician.
For those still unfamiliar with the case, Lynch was running a squeaky clean pot dispensary in the coastal community of Morro Bay when he was arrested by the (Bush) DEA in 2007 with the collusion of his local sheriff. The case is well summarized in a video narrated by Drew Carey. What I hadn’t emphasized when reporting it here was that the underage patient featured in the video is such an unequivocal example of the medical benefits of cannabis and the sentencing of Charles Lynch to prison such an unequivocal example of drug war dishonesty that I could not support any government that would excuse it.
The lesion leading to amputation in the case was almost certainly an osteogenic sarcoma, a relatively rare, but well-known form of bone cancer that typically affects teens and often presents as a broken leg following minor trauma, as it did here. During my medical school and surgical training, most such cases died shortly after amputation because tumor cells were already present in one or both lungs when the diagnosis was made. During my senior year in college a popular young fraternity brother broke his leg before Thanksgiving, returned in February minus the leg, but full of hope, but soon had to go back home when he began coughing up blood. News of his death shortly before Graduation in June had been the shocking finale.
That sequence remained typical of osteosarcomas in young people throughout my next several years in medical school, surgical training, and military service. However, just as I was entering private practice in the early Seventies their outlook was greatly improved by adding two aggressive new therapies to the standard amputation. One was what would normally be lethal chemotherapy to treat the invisible spread to the lungs, followed by a “rescue” agent to keep the patient alive. Because some lung lesions did survive, a tight schedule of follow-up x-rays and prompt removal, by multiple operations if necessary, was added. Although controversial when first advocated, those aggressive additions were deemed justified by the youth and generally good condition of most patients, and overall survival rates quickly increased from a dismal 5% to over 50% after they became the standard. One of my more gratifying cases in early private practice was just such a patient, treated at about the same time as Senator Ted Kennedy’s son Teddy.
Thus I know multiple aspects of this particular case from personal experience: the therapeutic ordeal, the unique benefits of cannabis, the amazing dishonesty of the drug war in justifying the conviction of Charles Lynch, and the outrageous courtroom behavior federal prosecutors routinely get away with in these cases.
The sequence of events in the Lynch case suggests Holder has already embraced what is clearly a desperate and despicable new DEA strategy; whether Obama knew those details or has simply accepted them as his staff’s best judgment is unimportant. Right now the only chance of keeping it from becoming a humanitarian disaster for the cause of Medical Marijuana and a political disaster for the Obama Administration would be a prompt course reversal by the Attorney General.
I’m not holding my breath.