July 29, 2009
Follow-up to Book ListWhile researching the book list I posted yesterday, I came across the review of Drug Crazy I’d written for Amazon.com just over eleven years ago. It’s posted below with a few minor edits and my current e-mail address. I also learned from Mike himself that it can be read on-line at Libertary.com
Drug Crazy has special significance for me because while still caught up in the thrill of discovering the drug policy reform movement, I’d decided I was uniquely qualified to write a modern history of the drug war and had actually started doing so. Mike’s book (which I read in galleys) shocked me into reality; especially when I realized he’d had a six year head-start and had not only done all the research, but also the job I was beginning to dread: editing an amophous mass of information into a coherent, readable book. Drug Crazy can still be read with profit because to date, no one has written a better overview of the folly our endangered world still remains improbably committed to enforcing.
A long-overdue indictment of a lunatic national policy., June 2, 1998
Tom O’Connell email@example.com (San Mateo, CA, USA) Book Review : Drug Crazy by Mike Gray (Random House, N.Y.- June, 1998)
America's War on Drugs, declared originally by Richard Nixon and waged with varying degrees of enthusiasm by every President since, has become a nearly invulnerable monster, thriving on its own failures and seemingly capable of destroying anyone reckless enough to speak out against it. Its simplistic central premise- drugs pose unthinkable dangers to our children, and therefore must be prohibited- has helped elect legions of politicians who then cite the latest drug scare as reason for tougher crack-downs, harsher laws, and more prisons. So completely has this idea of "illicit drugs" become society's default setting, and so beholden are politicians and others to it, the policy itself receives no critical scrutiny from government and little from academics dependent of federal funding. "Legalization" is a deadly brickbat hurled indiscriminately at all critics without thought that in a society based on capitalism, it is the illegal markets which are abnormal.
Although several scholarly, historically accurate books have pointed out shortcomings of this policy since the late Sixties, not one author has effectively attacked drug prohibition as a policy based on a completely false premise, incapable of preventing substance abuse problems; indeed, certain to make them worse. None, that is, until Mike Gray. A professional from the film world, Gray may have written the book no one else has yet been able to: a concise, readable, historically accurate, and well documented indictment of our drug policy. Very few reading his book all the way through will see the drug war the same way they did before. A major question then becomes: how many people will read it? Will it sink without a trace, overlooked like so many earlier criticisms of official policy- or will it be discovered by a public growing increasingly disillusioned by a perennial policy failure which is jamming prisons, impoverishing schools and colleges and effectively canceling many Constitutional guarantees of personal freedom? Read by enough people, "Drug Crazy" could do for drug reform what "Silent Spring" did for the environment in 1962.
Like the film maker he is, Gray opens with a tight close up: Chicago police on a drug stake-out. The view quickly expands to the futility of enforcement against Chicago's massive illegal market. first from the perspectives of an elite narcotics detective and then through the eyes of a dedicated public defender. A comparison with Chicago seventy years ago during Prohibition reveals that police and the courts were equally unable to suppress the illegal liquor industry for exactly the same reasons: the overwhelming size and wealth of the criminal market created by prohibition. This beginning leaves the reader intrigued and eager to learn more; he's not disappointed.
The rest of the book traces the history of our drug crusade from its idealistic populist origins in 1901 when McKinley`s assassination thrust a youthful TR into the White House. The 1914 Harrison Act, purportedly a regulatory and tax law, was transformed by enforcement practice into federal drug prohibition with the assistance of the Supreme Court. Drug prohibition not only survived the demise of Prohibition, but emerged with its bogus mandate strengthened.
Thirty years of determined and unscrupulous management by Harry Anslinger, the J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, shaped drug prohibition into what would eventually become a punitive global policy. Anslinger was dismissed by JFK in 1960, but not before politicians had discovered the power of the drug menace to garner both votes and media attention.
Illegal drug markets have since thrived on the free advertising of their products which inevitably accompanies intense press coverage of the futile suppression effort and dire official warnings over the latest drug scare. This expansion was accelerated when Nixon declared the drug war in 1972. Gray covers that expansion beyond our borders Colombia ("River of Money"), Mexico (Montezuma's Revenge"), and at home ("Reefer Madness"). He also describes how some European countries have blunted the most destructive effects of our policy forced on them by the UN Single Convention Treaty ("Lessons from the Old Country").
In his final chapter, Gray opines that the push to legitimize marijuana for medical use may have exposed a chink in the heretofore impregnable armor of drug prohibition. Beyond that, he believes that the policy, having thrived on relentless intensification, can't allow relaxation without risking the sort of scrutiny which might reveal its intrinsic lack of substance, therefore, any change must come from outside government. He doesn't offer a detailed recipe for a regulatory policy to replace drug prohibition; rather he suggests that it will be very similar to that which replaced alcohol Prohibition after Repeal in 1933- a collection of state based programs, sensitive to local needs and beliefs.
There is a desperate need for this book to be read and discussed by hundreds of thousands of thinking citizens. The pied piper of drug prohibition has beguiled our politicians and led us dangerously close to the edge of an abyss. Mike Gray's warning has hopefully come just in time and could itself be a major factor in initiating needed change of direction toward sanity. Thomas J. O'Connell, MD
July 28, 2009
An Unexpected Request"The other morning I received an unexpected "thank-you" e-mail of the kind that can suddenly brighten an otherwise drab day. It ended with a request for something I've long been considering, but never quite got around to: put up a list of books I think all serious drug policy reformers should read:
"I was also wondering what recommendations you would have regarding literature on cannabis (I'm already reading your blog). As a student of the social sciences I am more inclined towards books on law, policy, history, psychology, etc. although I do have a casual interest in the medical/scientific side as well. I am formulating a "reading list" for myself. Can you think of any must-have titles for that list? I respect your opinion very highly, and I appreciate the input... My answer: There were several early Seventies books that took on the drug war, shortly after its inception:
The Drug Hang-up by Rufus King, a lawyer, was one of the first to see through Harry Anslinger and earn his enmity. A classic; it can be read online at: http://www.druglibrary.org/special/king/dhu/dhumenu.htm
Consumers' Union Report on Licit & Illicit Drugs, Brecher. ditto: http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/LIBRARY/studies/cu/cumenu.htm
High in America; Patrick Anderson ditto. http://www.druglibrary.org/special/anderson/highinamerica.htm The inspiration for Anderson's 1981 chronicle of the foundation of NORML begins with the author's attendance at a party mourning Nixon's 1972 election.
Agency of Fear; Ed Jay Epetein 1978; Story of the Nixon Administration's push for its own federal police force (which became the DEA) online at: http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/epstein/index.html
Three mid- Nineties books very worth reading:
Smoke & Mirrors, by Dan Baum. 1996. Excellent update of Epstein, with greater focus on the politics of pot prohibition.
Drug Warriors & their Prey Richard L. Miller Compares drug war to Nazi techniques.
Drug Crazy: Mike Gray 1998 Very accurate and succinct overview of war on drugs just as 215 was going into effect. Last chapter is especially prescient on how medical MJ has potential to end prohibition.
July 26, 2009
Knowledge vs Belief 3 (Personal)Saturday's entry promised to explain how current media interest in the medical marijuana controversy suggests that the drug policy reform movement may be close to its original goal of marijuana legalization. That seems likely even though the policy's supporters and opponents are still unable to discuss its essential features, a situation I have come to see as indicative of a pervasive human cognitive fiaw. To state it as directly as I can: the same preference for denial that has allowed the UN to impose a grotesquely unscientific, destructive, and failing drug policy is reflected in our species' obvious reluctance to take decisive action against the plausible threat of accelerated climate change.
In each case, the problem can be seen as an irrational preference for an institutionalized behavior in the face of abundant credible evidence that such behavior has been damaging to the environment, grossly unjust to human populations, or both.
An Example of Drug Policy Denial
Friday morning, on my way to Oakland, I happened to catch the last half-hour of a discussion of medical marijuana on the local NPR station. I soon became so distressed at its content in that setting that I was forced to turn it off. Fortunately, the broadcast was available online, so I was later able to listen to it in a more settled state of mind. That experience confirmed I had been right to turn it off; also that the composition of the panel itself is another subtle clue that, barring some unforeseen national emergency, we are headed toward marijuana legalization.
What the less distracted hearing revealed is that although the discussion was superficially congenial, each participant was taking such a decidedly different position on key issues, there was essentially no discussion at all because none made an honest attempt to recognize or explore their differences. The only consensus reached was actually a cop-out: that a large, but unknown fraction of applicants for a doctor's recommendation are “recreational users” who must be cheating. No participant mentioned federal opposition to legalization, which despite the lack of a federal presence on their panel, had just been been reasserted within California by none other than the new drug czar who, along with the new AG, and new President have been sending their own mixed messages on medical marijuana since taking office.
When I belatedly realized I couldn’t recall a similar panel discussion of medical use without at least one representative from law enforcement, I grasped the extent to which the drug czar’s role and voice have been diminished by the Obama Administration. It also became clear that, on Friday, the default "official" policy representative had been academic Mark Kleiman from UCLA's school of Public Policy. He is one of an elite coterie of such specialists tenured at our most prestigious graduate schools. Although few in number, they have played an essential role in validating American drug policy by failing to criticize it as it deserves. When one considers the over-the-top bombast of John Walters, one has to be impressed at the rhetorical and literary skill required of an academic drug policy critic who has to come across as thoughtful and intelligent, but can't afford to be seen as too disdainful of ONDCP. It didn't surprise me that Professor Kleiman had little to say on Friday.
July 25, 2009
Knowledge vs Belief 2 (Personal)The crescendo of media attention being lavished on medical marijuana confirms it was a good ploy for attacking America’s obscene drug war, even as the arguments of various “experts” now holding center stage can only hint at the eventual end-game. What definitely couldn’t have been predicted back in 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215 to the consternation of the federal establishment and its law-enforcement toadies, was the improbable evolution of the initiative, or how its course would be impacted by the “election” of an unqualified candidate like G. W. Bush and that his eight inept years in power would force the election America’s first nominally black President.
I now expect that the various complex elements of the drug war, like similar chapters in human history, will be parsed, picked over, and misrepresented for decades, perhaps even centuries, unless some cataclysmic natural disaster suddenly erases a majority of our species or we wither away progressively from the accumulated injuries we are now inflicting on the planetary ecology.
To return to a more mundane level, one of this bog’s themes has long been that both sides in the medical marijuana argument have been relatively clueless. Since I’d been influenced by my own previous education and experience, I shared many of the same misconceptions of my era until chance led me to become an enthusiastic recruit in the drug policy reform movement in October 1995.
At the time I was unaware that a medical marijuana initiative was being prepared for the ‘96 ballot, let alone that it would pass and I would ultimately be recruited to screen applicants. From there, once I tumbled to the opportunity I'd been handed to conduct an opportunistic study of illegal drug use, it seemed entirely logical to do so. When I suspected the validity of its unexpected findings, I couldn’t wait to report them to presumed allies in the reform movement. What I would gradually discover in a series of unwelcome insights, was that the claimed default presumption of most human organizations: that individual humans are “naturally” honest, and sincerely, aspire to get along with their fellow beings, is seriously flawed. Further, that unless we find a way to correct that assumption, we are in for big problems.
In fact, we may have already progressed sufficiently along the path of self-destruction to render recovery from the combined effects of our current energy consumption, water pollution, and accelerated climate change doubtful, at best.
The next entry will return to the recent spate of media interest in medical marijuana and attempt to show how far behind the curve of current reality both its (probably successful) sponsors and (probably unsuccessful) adversaries are lagging, and, eventually, how that relates to the glum assessment offered above.
July 23, 2009
Knowledge vs Belief 1 (Personal)That we live in perilous times is being underscored ever more clearly by scientific “progress” in ways most have trouble imagining. Even as the discoveries of Science were adding to the convenience of everyday life, they were revolutionizing commerce in ways that many are now finding increasingly difficult to adjust to. Those same advances have also been allowing knowledgeable specialists to uncover details of past planetary and galactic events with significant implications for traditional religious beliefs, while also suggesting that planetary life may be facing additional mass extinctions that would include us. Closer to the present, the current political squabble over CO2 emissions and climate change reflect how thoughtlessly our species has been both proliferating and consuming the planet’s resources as if there were no tomorrow.
To put it somewhat simplistically, the impact of Science on humanity may have moved so far beyond the ability of our species to either comprehend or "control” that our existence is now seriously threatened by our cleverness. For any who might wonder why a "pot doc" of my age and background would have the temerity to discuss such profound issues, I would simply say that my study has given me a window on human thought and our highly evolved brains are the organs most responsible for our present predicament. For those who consider that a confession of Atheism, I would further submit that Atheism is a religious belief just as deserving of protection under our Constitution as any other.
I would further submit that we have reached a point in human cultural evolution that is unique in that we finally know enough to behave more rationally as a species; thus the most compelling issue we now face is the irrationality of our own mass behavior.
Our primary problem, I would suggest, is that the emotional centers which had been evolving as intrinsic parts of our brains have long been in conflict with its more recently developing rational centers. The consequences of that conflict didn't begin to threaten survival until our knowledge of the environment (universe, cosmos) was suddenly accelerated by the discovery of empirical science, and then only because a peculiar set of circumstances had contrived to render science subordinate to its less rational competition, both within the brain and on the planet.
That seems like quite enough heresy for today; I must now get back to the increasingly challenging task of my own survival in the greedy and dishonest American economy.
July 22, 2009
Groping for InsightMarijuana’s appeal and the remarkable resilience of its modern market, even in uncertain financial times, are very much in the news. Last week, pot was featured in articles in the still-proud New York Times Magazine and the Insight section of the struggling San Francisco Chronicle. Both reported a melange of opinions from the usual "experts," which tempted me to compare a few of them to what I've learned during seven years spent interviewing self-medicating pot smokers seeking my agreement that their use is "medical."
That experience allows me to point out how key comments by those experts unwittingly reveal their own ignorance. One such was NIDA Director Nora Volkow’s comparison of whiskey and beer in trying to make a rhetorical point; the potency of alcohol has nothing to do with that of marijuana and the effects of each drug on cognition are so different as to invalidate any comparison. Smoking pot allows a rapid, accurate titration of its potency, thus protecting users against overdose, while oral preparations do not. Volkow’s ignorance, although shocking, is understandable: prevention of any research that might be favorable to pot use is the mission of her agency by Act of Congress. That also explains her ignorance of another easily demonstrable finding: that pot smokers’ alcohol consumption and use of other problematic agents were consistently diminished whenever they began self-medicating with inhaled cannabis.
Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project provided an example of unwitting expert ignorance by the other side with his characterization of the recent surge in LA pot dispensaries as “an absolute freaking disaster" in the Insight article. What was actually revealed was Mirken's displeasure at learning that his cherished beliefs about “medical” and “recreational” use weren’t reflected by the behavior of the pot users he claims to represent, while his follow up statement shows that he has yet to understand that in the modern world, the markets for all popular products, are subject to manipulation by criminals.
July 12, 2009
Sounds of SilenceSeveral important implications can be drawn from our study of medical marijuana applicants. One is that prior to the Sixties, American youth had shown remarkably little interest in inhaled cannabis, which is interesting because “reefer” had been banned as "marijuana" at the behest of Harry Anslinger in 1937, allegedly because it led to homicidal mania in at least some adolescents. Another implication is that inhaled marijuana hadn’t become well known to adolescents until after many hundreds of thousands had tried it within the span of few years in the mid-Sixties, but once that happened, its market began growing steadily to soon transform it into the most popular of all “drugs of abuse;” indeed, the only one ever to approach alcohol and tobacco in number of adolescent initiates year after year.
Another implication of the study is that once “reefer” had been discovered by leading-edge Baby Boomers, its steadily growing market had been sustained by millions more "kids" who continued to try it by getting “high” between the ages of 12 and and 18, as faithfully documented by annual MTF studies since 1975.
By way of ironic coincidence, the phenomenon of anxiolysis had been articulated and the first effective anxiolytics were being discovered, patented, and aggressively marketed by the Pharmaceutical Industry as Miltown,Thorazine and Valium.
The ultimate result was that Nixon’s drug war against marijuana users became easy to sell to the "silent majority" that elected him, thanks largely to a generation gap exacerbated by the Baby Boom, an unpopular war, and the behavioral indiscretions of idealistic pot-smoking “hippies.” Despite its multiple failures, the drug war still retains a measure of undeserved credibility, precisely because of pot’s continued popularity in junior Highs and High Schools.
The quasi-religious restraints of drug war doctrine seem to have prevented anyone in a position of responsibility from asking some very obvious questions: why did pot suddenly become so popular in the first place? Why has that popularity been so stubbornly maintained? Why is it the only "drug of abuse” to have developed its own legalization lobby?
That those questions haven’t been asked throughout the first four decades of a failing drug war is a matter of record; that they are still neither asked nor even discussed 18 months after publication of a widely read profile of pot users confirms that humans have a penchant for denial.
Another facet of drug initiation and use brought up by our study is the possible role of biological fathers in producing anxiety syndromes in their children, a prominent example of which is currently in the news. As I’ve noted earlier, those syndromes shouldn’t be confused with diseases because they lack characteristic anatomical and chemical features, but they are real, nevertheless. That so many are clearly expressions of “anxiety” and have responded well to self-medication with cannabis should not be ignored (but it is).
One is forced to wonder when, or even if, the world will finally wake up. Will it be before or after wishful thinking and “green” propaganda fail to prevent runaway climate change and widespread coastal inundation?
July 05, 2009
History Lessons (Personal)Once I discovered that the major attraction of the “high” produced by inhaling, but not by eating, herbal cannabis is a rather predictable user-controlled anxiolytic state, I was in a position to understand why it had become so popular with “leading edge” baby boomers who began trying it in large numbers in the mid-Sixties. A related understanding was why the youthful excesses of the first “hippies” had frightened their parents into giving “Tricky Dick” Nixon a narrow victory in the pivotal 1968 Presidential Election.
Beyond that, I was also in a position to use drug initiation and YOB data supplied by pot applicants to support a view of recent history quite different from that long insisted upon by the DEA, NIDA, and other drug war supporters with obvious agendas.
All of which introduces a related idea about History: in its broadest definition, it’s a strictly human study, but starting in the early 18th Century, History's reach was gradually extended retrograde to permit detailed study of eras long predating the arrival of our species. The disciplines responsible: Geology, Paleontology, and Archeology, didn’t even exist until 18th Century observers became curious about the marine fossils they began noticing on mountaintops; yet by the early Nineteen-Sixties, we had arrived at a coherent Tectonic Plate Theory that not only explains modern Geography, but is also entirely compatible with the Evolutionary Theory that began developing with Darwin’s 1831 visit to the Galapagos. Through intensive study of Genomics, a science made possible after the molecular structure of DNA had been elucidated in 1951, we now have a better understanding of human evolution, migrations, and current behavior.
Nevertheless, it’s still not difficult to find other viewpoints, some of which adamantly oppose any scientifically informed time line that conflicts with scripture, and others seeking to place a more “scientific” spin on traditional religious beliefs.
Given the fact that most living humans still support, and are bound by, belief systems that don’t accept either Tectonic Plate Theory or Evolution, one can postulate that our species’ greatest challenge may be developing a decision making mechanism able to substitute for the destructive quasi-military competition that may now have also become our modern (human) world’s de facto determinant of survival.