December 29, 2011
Is Mexico our Future?Laws banning alcohol had been passed repeatedly in Midwestern “bible belt” states during the Nineteenth Century, but all were soon undermined by smuggling from other states and eventually repealed. Rather than blame it on a basic flaw in the concept of prohibition, the Anti-Saloon League opted for a national law in 1892, a campaign that finally led to ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1918. Unfortunately, it proved another mistake; national Prohibition encouraged smuggling from overseas and alcohol was produced by stills in the US that were already operating when Prohibition went into effect at midnight on January 16, 1920.
In other words, Prohibition began failing immediately, something that could have been predicted in advance; nevertheless the three different Republican Administrations that inherited the policy all gave it a try: Harding, who died in office in 1923, Coolidge, his Vice President and successor, and Herbert Hoover, whose term in office would be blighted by the Great Depression, all tried to make the Prohibition work. It would take the unforeseen strategy of a “Repeal” Amendment, the Great Depression itself, and the election of FDR, a Democrat, to provide a way out.
The good news was that Prohibition ended; the bad news was that little was learned from its failure, which had come at a high price: crime became "organized," was enriched with illegal profits, and provided with a flexible business plan applicable to other ventures: labor racketeering, illegal gambling, and "protection." Yet there was little formal recognition of either Prohibition's failure or the consequences of that failure.
Nor apparently, was there any recognition that the expensive alcohol mistake was being replicated with "drugs." Even as Repeal was being ratified, Harry Anslinger was settling in as Director of the FBN created for him by his wife's uncle. Whether Andrew Mellon had intended his nephew to deflect attention from the resemblance of the two policies can't be known, but Harry carefully avoided all use of the P word throughout his long career.
Today, nearly eight decades after Repeal, we are still saddled with a failing prohibition policy, one that's become bigger and more costly because humans are just as dishonest, but far more numerous. In addition, we can see that criminal markets only reach their full potential to do harm when demand for their products has been increased to the maximum. In the case of "drugs," that demand has been critically enhanced by a deadly combination; population growth, greater ambient anxiety, and a punitive law that undermines all America claims to stand for. The final twist of the knife is that the federal agencies created by Richard Nixon to enforce and protect his CSA were made dependent on it and have learned to share in the obscene profits it enables.
Thus America’s drug war can’t end until the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA can be shamed out of profiting from the failing policy they either enforce or protect. If that doesn’t happen, we have only to look at Mexico to see our own future.
December 24, 2011
Steve Jobs and the Blight of AdoptionI had several compelling reasons for wanting to read Walter Isaacson’s lengthy biography of Steve Jobs ASAP when I first saw it prominently displayed at my local Barnes & Noble the other day; I didn’t hesitate to buy a copy and have been engrossed in it ever since.
Parenthetically, the book would not have been available this soon after Jobs' death had his subject not invited Isaacson to be his biographer in the Summer of 2004, a fact immediately related in the book’s Introduction. That Jobs had been adopted is something I'd known for quite some time; it had become important to me as a result of several other unexpected findings derived from my ongoing study of cannabis use. For example, biological fathers are far more important to the long term emotional health of their offspring than is commonly realized, a circumstance that can convert their physical or emotional absence from a child’s life into an important cause of lifelong emotional distress. One manifestation of that distress seems to a form of PTSD diagnosed variously as ADD, bipolar disorder, and other entities on the so-called "Autism Spectrum;" all of which may be associated with aggressive drug initiation at the first available opportunity. For most modern adolescents that's the interval between sixth and tenth grades (ages 12 to 16) depending on several other variables, the most important of which seem to be: when they were born, where they went to school, and what drugs were available in the school yard when they reached the age of initiation.
If that’s generally true, then it follows that the drugs most available in the schoolyard during Middle School (Junior High) will be the first ones tried. Indeed, that's exactly what my study reveals to have been the case since the Sixties. 100% of all applicants had tried cannabis (no surprise), all had tried alcohol, and only 4% had not tried cigarettes.
Beyond that, another important facet of the study is that if fathers are that important, adopted children could well be the most troubled of all. Indeed, that turns out to be true of my applicant population; and to an uncanny degree. Although they represent only 78 of the 6637 applicants in my data base (1.12%) they stand out like sore thumbs because of the intensity of their histories.
That was one of several phenomena I was unable to quantify until I could enter data in a relational data base around 2005. I have not blogged about adopted applicants all that much because their numbers are so small; but, as with several other findings in the study, I'm sure that if other "pot docs" had been examining their own applicant populations with the same issues in mind, we might have had have had more definitive data long before now.
In other words, I've been a lonely voice in a wilderness of cannabis uncertainty, which is one of the important reasons I believe a policy as dishonest and stupidly destructive as the drug war is still being taken seriously on a planet where the most clever hominids ever to have evolved may be poised on the brink of self-destruction
Sorry to sound so apocalyptic at a time when everyone is supposed to be infused with "Christmas Spirit," but hey, someone has to be realistic. More on Steve Jobs and adoption when I can tear myself away from X-mas.
By the way, although I think his biography of Jobs is first-rate, I think Isaacson may have missed the importance of his subject's adoption.
December 23, 2011
A Search for CoherenceA relatively unnoticed characteristic of America’s “drug war” is its incoherence. It simply does not make any sense. I would defy anyone to propose a brief, coherent explanation of how the features allegedly linking all the various "substances of abuse" that have been added to “Schedule 1” under the Controlled Substances Act since 1970 qualify under the terms stated in the legislation itself. Three specific requirements were set by Congress at the behest of John Mitchell and Richard Nixon, neither of whom are remembered for their personal integrity or medical scholarship. Thus, at its very core, the drug war can be recognized as a doctrine of incoherent nonsense, the dubious legacy of medically ignorant scoundrels. Yet because it's been enforced globally by UN treaty for over 40 years, it has been expanded into a significant cause of avoidable mortality and morbidity. If ever there were a better example of our species' desperate current plight, I'm hard pressed to think of it.
Nevertheless, a considerable fraction of influential people tacitly endorse the drug war by their reluctance to either criticize it openly or even acknowledge its disastrous effects. A good, but by no means unique, example is Ken Burns, the talented producer of several uniquely American documentaries for PBS including The Civil War, Baseball, and Prohibition.
Born in 1953, the boyish, intelligent, Burns was a Baby Boomer who must certainly have become aware of the social turmoil developing around him in the late Sixties and early Seventies: Nixon’s election, Watergate, and the war in Vietnam. My interest was evoked by learning he had avoided the relevance of the drug war to Prohibition when specifically questioned about it. After a further search, Google found the evidence. His weaseling response confirms a remarkably common phenomenon: undue respect for a destructive policy that, once we understand another human behavior, is all too characteristic of our species.
The message is clear: until we can overcome our own collective hypocrisy, fear and greed, we will be stuck with a perpetually losing War on Drugs and all the destructive behavior it encourages.
December 20, 2011
Is "Legalization" even a viable option?Many Americans know the Drug War is a rank failure, but most don't know why- and are afraid to say so. The good news is that criticism is now considerably more open than when Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The bad news is that it is still poorly coordinated, the rate of change has been slow, and it rarely equates with a preference for "legalization."
Our study of cannabis applicants is the only attempt to profile pot smoking as a behavior I've been able to find. One of several characteristics shared by many (but not all) in the larger cannabis community is a desire for "legalization." Unfortunately, they also have great difficulty agreeing on just how that should be accomplished. Finally, I'm becoming convinced, by an unscientific straw poll of applicants seen since November 19th 2010, that if all pot users in the state had voted "yes," Prop 19 would likely have passed easily. In other words, a segment of the "industry" is profiting from the status quo. Duh.
What I've also learned from studying them for 10 years, is that over 96% of applicants were born in 1946 or later, a similar fraction had tried it before age 18, and many were troubled by behaviors now diagnosed as ADD or other conditions on the "Autism Spectrum." However, none of that information could possibly have been made known to them, the Scientific Community, or the public at large; let alone the now-deceased characters most responsible for today's "War on Drugs." That's because Hamilton Wright MD, Harry Anslinger, and Richard Nixon were all opportunists who were unknown to each other and, in any event, could not possibly have foreseen where their political power plays would lead.
More generally; "behavioral" scientists are the most dependent on NIDA and DEA approval for funding. They are understandably loathe to criticize the policy that feeds them; thus it's no surprise that our findings, which implicitly contradict drug war dogma on "marijuana," are rarely quoted and usually misconstrued when they are. However the study itself would have been impossible had it not been for the initiative, simply because declaring any "substance" illegal effectively blocked unbiased clinical research after 1970 (vanishingly rare before then). The public might even be shocked at how quickly, and in what numbers, the "scientific" literature on "drugs of abuse" began dancing to the tune of the federal agencies created by Nixon to implement and defend the CSA. The basic story of the drug war is how rules contrived by a few well placed historical characters have evolved into a policy monster that could hardly have been more wasteful or destructive had it all been planned by a single evil genius (a fact no Congress would dare admit) which is why I think "legalization" is so unlikely.
One would think that, by now, everyone should know that the criminal prohibition of popular products is a public policy loser because it creates illegal markets that become short term bonanzas for criminals by enabling them to sell cheap unreliable products at exorbitant prices. That's exactly what happened under alcohol Prohibition, a mistake the US federal government has never formally admitted and was quick to back away from after "Repeal" and the election of FDR in the darkest days of the Great Depression...
Unfortunately the same mistake was already being repeated with "drugs" and has, improbably, been intensified into today's "War". The Harrison Act, a clumsy federal attempt to restrict the use of two drugs in 1914 has subsequently evolved into today's "Drug War" through an irregular series of expansions, each with at least the tacit approval of all three federal branches of government at each stage. The single exception was when the Supreme Court declared the Marijuana Tax Act unconstitutional shortly after Nixon's election and the trickster quickly seized the opportunity to transform what had been a sputtering, incoherent policy into coherent dogma-driven monster that soon became a full-fledged War. Nixon had invaluable help from John Mitchell. Perhaps the least appreciated facet of the CSA is how soon it opened the door for lobbyists working on behalf of the Prison Industry, Big Pharma and Law Enforcement, all of which soon became powerful allies.
The very ease by which the right catalyst could transform a bad law and a failing policy into a destructive "drug war" is what makes its "repeal" by Congress so unlikely and its non-legislative destruction so attractive. What's needed is an end- around tactic at to use against a federal government that has been so historically unwilling to admit past screw-ups and so guilty of intensifying its serial prohibition failures that a law contrived by the only AG who ever served time at the behest of the only President ever forced to resign because of personal dishonesty. The same reluctance would inhibit a Supreme Court that has upheld John Mitchell's CSA on every occasion it could have been questioned. Not to mention the Presidency itself: every chief executive since FDR has backed our drug policy; not one has even suggested a timid revision.
Thus it may be that some form of cognitive judo, which could use the failures of the Drug War to render it politically incorrect might be the most efficient way to neutralize it.
The Drug war has evolved into the most destructive sacred cow in American politics, one predictably beyond legislative repeal in the foreseeable future. The next entry will outline a simple, viable strategy for its neutralization, one that should be both possible and affordable.
December 13, 2011
Bad Ideas and their ConsequencesThe “War on Drugs.” is a monumental failure, yet it remains one of the few policies nearly all the squabbling nations of our divided and overcrowded planet can agree upon. Not that it's being rigorously observed. Rather; it's openly violated by a variety of rogue nations: for example Somalia, which has become a pirate haven because it lacks a functional government, North Korea, a family-operated dictatorship masquerading as a nation, Mexico and Colombia, both poor nations claiming to support UN drug policy while turning blind eyes to illegal drug production and extensive smuggling operations from within their borders. In Asia, both Myanmar, and Afghanistan have been well known sources of heroin for decades. The list goes on.
One of the themes of this blog has been that for the only surviving cognitive species to perpetuate such obvious folly while also failing to agree on a plethora of existential threats (global warming is just one) is a sign of serious trouble. Not that I claim to have a solution; only that when serious problems are ignored, they are unlikely to be solved.
On Sunday, Rupert Murdoch’s NAT GEO aired hours of unwitting evidence in support of that contention: several propaganda videos featuring drug war failures in which all were portrayed as valiant attempts by law enforcement agencies to identify and arrest drug criminals or-at the very least- keep their products "off the street." All included glaring, but time-honored lies and exaggerated claims about the dangerous products produced by drug criminals. Because I've spent the last fifteen years gathering evidence exposing the underlying hoax NAT GEO supports, I was disappointed that such claims could still be aired and angry that they are still widely believed.
I quickly realized, however, I was the one out of step; the drug war is more supported than ever, precisely because a majority of living humans have no other choice and many of those who do are either too frightened to speak up or too busy participating in the bonanza the drug war creates. In other words, America's 40 year drug folly, has evolved along the lines of the basic Nazi model, but has thus far avoided the fatal errors that brought down the Third Reich and its Japanese allies in 1945. Perhaps the most important reason it is still tolerated is that it claims to oppose an idea rather than a human population. Originally, the idea was "addiction;" later the designated enemy was morphed into the drugs themselves. When the CSA was passed in 1970, it went beyond Hitler's infamous Nuremberg laws by giving the US Attorney General sole authority to add new "drugs of abuse" (thus victimizing their users) to the list of absolutely forbidden items.
Despite the support- verbal and monetary- of national governments, organized religions, and most "leading" human institutions, the drug war rests on one enormous vulnerability: its implicit contention that a policy of criminal prohibition can succeed.
If that notion were to be exposed for the failure it has always been, the drug war could come crashing down at least as quickly as Joe Paterno's public image.
December 07, 2011
How the CSA Became Omnibus Drug ProhibitionA friend sent me the URL of an article in Monday’s Huffington Post: its author, drug policy wonk Kevin Sabet, is an outspoken opponent of medical marijuana. He had cited our paper on pot applicants in a piece criticizing the CMA’s recent decision to endorse legalization of marijuana. My immediate response was that Sabet was being dishonest; as a drug policy “expert,” he certainly should have recognized that my position was very different from his simply from reading our paper, yet he cited us as supporting his position. Had he really read ours? Or was he simply padding his bibliography?
With respect to the CMA decision; although justified by a curiously self-protective logic, it is welcome, correct, and long overdue. I've only had time to skim the summary, but it clearly recognizes the lack of appropriate studies before "marijuana" was made illegal. That the conservative CMA has been the first state association to do so is also important.
15 years spent studying drug policy issues, the last 10 of which included recording histories from over 6000 applicants, have convinced me that the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was the critical error that converted a failing and mistaken, but relatively tolerable federal drug policy into the expensive, punitive and dogma-driven tragedy now known as the “War on Drugs.”
The CSA's key elements were Richard Nixon’s desire to intensify the punishment of cannabis use after the Marijuans Tax Act had been nullified in 1969 by the Supreme Court in the Leary case. Another essential element was Attorney General John Mitchell's articulation of a Constitutional justification for the CSA now known as Schedule one. Apparently, because the Congressional drafting committee had its own concerns about cannabis, Nixon was prevailed upon to appoint the blue-ribbon Shafer Commission to study its potential medical benefits. However, when the Shafer Commission finally reported in March, 1972, its unexpected recommendation that cannabis be studied irritated Nixon so much that he buried their report and the studies were never done. I doubt Dr. Sabet even realizes the irony of his position: he's urging delay of research a medical organization has belatedly realized should have been done before the CSA was passed over forty years ago. The final irony is that his reasons are the same as the ones that troubled the original Congressmen: there is still not enough known about the purported medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Beyond that convoluted irony, Sabet ignores (or is unaware of) two additional realities: Most importantly, the Nixon-Mitchell CSA (which has evolved into drug-by-drug prohibitions imposed administratively by attorneys general) passed easily in 1970 and was later implemented in the worst possible way: by executive orders; the DEA in 1973, and NIDA in 1974. Because the global criminal drug markets created and protected by the CSA have been expanding steadily, so have the budgets, political power, and economic influence of the Agencies created to implement and defend the law.
Since becoming aware of Dr.Sabet, I have learned much more about him through his web site; he appears to be younger version of the academic drug policy analysts identified in an earlier entry. They are important for reformers to now about precisely because they provide academic cover for the drug war by treating it with undeserved respect.
I'll have much more to say about related issues in the near future.
December 03, 2011
New Documentary on Medical Use; and a Question about Party AffiliationsThe first episode of Weed Wars, a four part documentary on California's emergent medical marijuana “industry” aired December first on the Discovery Channel. Because I was already tired, I set the recorder and watched it, commercial free, the next morning. For advocates of medical marijuana and cannabis “legalization,” (not always exactly the same goals) the results are a mixed bag. Although the film focuses on a few very interesting individuals caught up in a grim struggle for economic survival, the details that make their story interesting may be so far removed from some cherished beliefs of mainstream American culture as to make them easy targets for Fox News and Bill O’Reilly to portray as dangerously deviant; especially to the Right Wing morons dominating their audience. In fact, that process had already begun, before the first episode aired.
To back up a bit, Harborside, the Oakland cannabis dispensary created by the DeAngelo brothers and their associates, is simply the latest and most sophisticated example of the surprisingly robust medical marijuana industry that began emerging slowly and fitfully after Proposition 215 passed in California fifteen years ago.
Five years later, I would discover, as an unusually naive "pot doc," that a vigorous underground "pot culture" had existed for some time. When I began taking searching medical histories from representatives of that culture, time-lines for both them and their political opponents in law enforcement began to emerge. That led to the discovery that neither side had an accurate take on the other, a situation largely attributable to the secrecy, shame and distrust engendered by the medically uninformed policy that had been imposed on American society by a relatively few ignorant officials over an extended interval and suddenly blossomed into a "war" in the late Sixties.
Whether one considers the drug war as originating with the limited form of drug prohibition created by the Harrison Act of 1914 or the even more complete ban on cannabis imposed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the policy wasn't intensified into a "War" until after passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 authored by John Mitchell at the behest of Richard Nixon.
Thus has a failing policy, one globally endorsed under UN Treaty, been created on the basis of another failure: the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment to the US Constitution, an idea that had to be scrapped after a mere fourteen years of futility. Perhaps the most compelling reason for that grotesque development is denial, the well demonstrated failure of human institutions to admit to their own mistakes; especially when of long standing and great magnitude. Perhaps the best example of the recently enunciated concept of "path dependence" is America's Drug War. One particularly revealing feature is the insistence of its federal minders that it's is really one of "control" and their careful avoidance of the more accurate "prohibition."
As I would eventually also discover, the evolution of pot culture provides an excellent metaphor for an understanding what is usually referred to as "human nature," which itself could be described as that which we (still) do not understood about our own behavior. Although our scientifically informed species has learned a lot about the cosmos, its solar system, and the planet we live on, our own behavior clearly remains mysterious to those who compete for the job of leading us through the perils of modern existence.
If you don't believe that, just look at the sorry group of Republicans now competing for their party's nomination. The one I especially can't figure out is Ron Paul. Why is a man who asks such sensible questions and is a known cannabis advocate trying to win the Republican nomination?
Isn't he in he wrong party?