December 17, 2012
America’s Biggest Drug Problem is its Drug PolicyData gathered over the past 11 years from nearly 7000 admitted chronic cannabis (marijuana) users has provided me with such convincing evidence that the Drug War is so profoundly mistaken, and its claimed benefits so contrary to the tragic results produced, that incremental “reform” is impossible; despite the change of heart expressed by two ex-Presidents who supported the policy while they were in office. Ironically, the present incumbent, a dedicated toker in High School (and an unwitting example of the archetypal teen user in my study) considers it a problem to be dealt with later; even after two states just presented him with a ”legalization” dilemma on the day he was re-elected.
Incremental reforms (which I confess to having once believed in) are almost certain to fail for three salient reasons. First, there's the enormous political and financial power amassed by powerful institutions that have learned to profit from the drug war. Second, is the degree to which modern humans have been conditioned to accept unjust punishment as justifiable "collateral damage." Third- and perhaps most disturbing- is that the policy’s essential features resonate powerfully with behavioral imperatives that seem to have been retained for millions of years before their incorporation within the human genome.
Esoteric concerns aside, it's now clear that the damage done to key institutions by four decades of drug war acceptance can’t be undone incrementally. The policy must first be otally repudiated before it can be replaced by one that's more honest, humane, and based on sound medical principles.
A tall order, but one necessary for any hope of success. In the next entry, I'll start explaining my sudden change of mind.
December 15, 2012
A Unique American PresidentOne of many consequences of Richard Nixon’s truncated presidency was elevation of the unimaginative Gerald Ford from Speaker of the House to the Oval Office for what turned out to be two years of caretaker duty. As it happened, Ford, a lackluster performer at best, would soon be undone by his prompt pardon of the man he replaced, an act permitted under the Constitution, but one that probably resulted in his to loss of the 1976 election to Washington outsider Jimmy Carter, himself a unique White House occupant: Annapolis graduate, nuclear physicist, Governor of Georgia, conservative Southern Baptist, and passionate egalitarian,
The other morning, during a session of wee hours insomnia, I happened to catch an engrossing documentary: The Man from Plains, shot about five years ago by Jonathan Demme. the setting was a book tour by Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter to promote Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid in which Carter took Israel to task for what he considers the unfair conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live in the Occupied Territories.
My interest was piqued by the intensity of the reaction to a book I’d never heard of (and still haven’t read). Much of the reaction was generated by Carter’s provocative use of Apartheid, an Afrikaans word for the South African public policy clearly modeled on the American policy of Segregation that was imposed following the Civil War, especially after the Supreme Court ruled in 1896 that forced separation could indeed be “equal.”
Clearly, Carter was also intending to be provocative and he obviously succeeded in pushing his critics to extremes in voicing their opposition, many in the form of ad hominem attacks, some devoid of rudimentary logic.
There can also be no doubt that the lives of many Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are miserable; also that the concept of jihad, as embraced by Islam, means that suicide and murder can both be justified as weapons to be used against those defined as infidels or oppressors of the faithful.
While I don’t share Carter’s religious convictions, (nor those of Islam) I do admire his intellectual honesty, clear thinking on humanitarian and political issues, consistency and courage- not to mention his amazing energy.
I also think those who slam him as “anti-semitic” are allowing their own biases to show. I’ll have more to say on the contentious issue of the intense attachments humans can manifest for “homelands” in another entry.
However, as an interesting post script, I also discovered that President Carter's role as a nuclear trainee under the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover also has a dark side. A little known interview of the Admiral by Diane Sawyer revealed that both he and Carter had much in common: both were outsiders who were not afraid to speak their mind. Both also had an association with the first American nuclear disaster at Three mile Island: the plant's design was based on Rickover's concepts and the famous accident that occurred during his Presidency saw Carter quickly on the scene and later generated criticism of his alleged role in covering up the worst implications of the accident, including an interesting statement from the Admiral's daughter-in-law.
December 11, 2012
Same Old, Same OldYesterday, NPR aired an update of a story that’s actually been around for months: there’s a critical shortage of the trained medical personnel needed to treat the growing number of returning veterans with PTSD. I immediately recalled an article published eight years ago in the the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). I remembered it well because it had confirmed something I had already learned from screening pot users: illegal “marijuana” became popular in the Sixties because the “hippies” of that era had discovered (without realizing the medical implications of their own youthful behavior) that it was excellent treatment for a number of psychiatric conditions that had yet to be described or classified by the Psychiatrists of their day. The reasons for those deficiencies are both historical and complex. Some observers claim they were part of a “conspiracy.” My own view is that a conspiracy is unlikely; in any event it would be far more important to understand what happened (so the problem can be addressed) rather than argue about the possible culpability of long-deceased human actors.
I would not have been that familiar with PTSD, one of those very entities; but unheard of by me until long after medical school, had it not been for my experience as an ad-hoc “pot doc” taking histories from people seeking to use “marijuana” legally under the grudging protection of California's proposition 215.
I also remembered being mildly surprised that the NEJM had even printed such a paper in 2004; also hopeful it might be a prelude to recognition of pot’s potential utility as therapy for anxiety.
Now I know better; eight more years of frustration have convinced me that our species' failure to see through the Nixon-Mitchell rhetoric behind the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is a critical litmus test of both our cognitive competence and our ability to ward off serious self-inflicted disasters. Science hasn't helped; in fact its benefits have made us more dangerous than ever to both the planetary ecology and our own long term survival. That's because rather than the kind, loving protectors of our children and the environment we claim to be, modern humans are more likely to be frightened, selfish children themselves seeking to live as long as possible and believing that wealth is the best way to achieve that goal. Not everyone, by any means, but a big enough majority to drag the others into supporting a bogus drug war because it allegedly protects "the kids."
December 07, 2012
Sic Transit Gloria: Our Debt to Harry AnslingerAs “Medical Marijuana” slowly morphs into “Recreational Marijuana” before our very eyes- (apparently against the wishes of a President who was once a head himself, but now seems bent on enforcing an increasingly unpopular anti-pot law) it may be appropriate to remember our debt to another clueless federal official. I’m speaking of “The Honorable” Harry J. Anslinger, as he enjoyed being addressed in his heyday.
Harry was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a government agency created expressly for him by his uncle Andrew (Mellon) the richest man in the whole country, and Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury.
Although it was a position well beyond Harry’s intellectual capabilities, he soon fancied himself an authority on drugs, but, as a wannabe cop, he was unfortunately fixated on punishing their use rather than understanding it. For reasons that have never been definitively clarified, his major legislative gambit was introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The MTA was a clumsy imitation of the same formula that had empowered Harry's federal career: the Harrison Act of 1914. Unfortunately for Harry’s reputation, he didn’t realize that two critical differences between them would adversely affect the judgment of history. Most importantly, the plant he chose to outlaw is actually a cornucopia of multiple complex and still-unrecognized therapeutic effects which the MTA declared completely illegal. Secondly; although the it would be endorsed by state and federal law enforcement establishments from 1937 until the mid Sixties, the sudden discovery of "reefer" by a new generation of “Baby Boomers” would quickly lead to the MTA’s nullification by the Supreme Court in 1969.
Worse yet, the MTA’s replacement by an far more malevolent law contrived by John Mitchell and Richard Nixon in 1969 would both magnify and compound the damage done by Harry’s MTA. In any case, it would not lead him to be well remembered by History; in fact, quite the opposite.
Because I often ask pot applicants if they’ve ever heard of him, I can report that as of 2012, most of the older ones have a decidedly negative image, but- somewhat surprisingly- many of the the younger ones have never even heard of him. My judgment is understandably different: I am forced to ask myself how we would ever have discovered pot’s many benefits without Harry's clueless MTA. One of the more consistent lessons of history is that- at least so far- our species has been incredibly lucky to survive its biggest cognitive errors. Hopefully, that luck will continue to hold for a while longer...
December 06, 2012
Logical Insights re: Illogical BehaviorThe idea that nations, like families, are inclined to carry out the wishes of a ruling iconic father figure (patriarch) resonates powerfully throughout human history from "ancient" to modern times. Although there have been some notable exceptions, (Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and three British female monarchs come to mind) the overwhelming majority of national rulers have been male, a dominance compatible with "nature" where the males of most mammalian species must compete in ritualistic fashion for both the privilege of mating; also for dominance in herds, prides, troops, and other hierarchical family groups.
It's thus not too great a stretch to propose that our own species, recently established as a product of mammalian evolution (although not all agree) may well be expressing certain behavioral tendencies as part of its genetic endowment; in other words, to what degree is human culture a product of evolution and how much control can we exert over obviously problematic mass behavior?
We are now reasonably sure our cognitive potential for language and writing were gradually acquired over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in Africa, but it took only a few thousand for Science to evolve in Western Europe and North America, and a few hundred more for the fallout from scientific "progress" to pose an existential threat to the planet.
Could it be that our recently recognized ability to influence planetary events through our combustion of fossil fuels may be an expression of our male-dominant genetic heritage and our unwillingness to acknowledge it also an example of how we tend to work against our own best interests by denying unpleasant reality?
Pursuing those insights a bit further, it may well be that the same competitive urge displayed so prominently in mammalian males is playing a key role in persuading their human counterparts to deny an unpalatable truth: that our greatly increased consumption of energy over the past two Centuries now has our species in an existential hole.
In that respect, the just announced details of Washington State's new "Marijuana" legalization law make absolutely no sense. According to CNN's lead report this morning, it is now "legal" to possess as much as an ounce, but still illegal to grow, buy, sell, or smoke it in public.
As we ponder that apparent absurdity, we are still awaiting the details of Colorado's legalization law, also passed on November 6th, but not yet signed by its Governor.
These conflicts are now awaiting resolution by a victorious second -term President who has yet to be inaugurated, but is still clearly not accepted as legitimate by a majority of Republicans.
Can this species be saved (from itself)?
December 05, 2012
Beyond LegalizationI’m going to assume that the recent public announcement- however muted- that two Democratic ex-Presidents, are willing to label the drug war a failure signals its ultimate replacement as both US and global policy, thus it’s not too soon to think about what should replace it.
I’m also going to assume that if the “legalization” process becomes incremental, the first drug to be legalized would be cannabis, thus it's important to decide just how it will be dealt with. In that respect, it will be important to avoid the compromises that have so often dominated in the aftermath of other bitter struggles. All too often, old mistakes have been allowed to survive to the point where they again undo whatever new “peace” emerges.
Perhaps the two best modern examples of that tragedy are American: after both our Revolutionary and Civil Wars: the nominal “winners” retained the racist beliefs that had allowed chattel slavery to play a critical role in the economy of their day. These are matters of historical fact; and while it’s not possible to assign blame to any one actor or group, I would contend it is possible to recognize a dominant behavioral imperative that, if uncorrected, could easily lead to a similar disaster. Just in passing, Hitler and Nazism are extreme modern examples of a similar tragedy; thus it's hardly a unique phenomenon.
Following the American Revolution, the noble expression of egalitarianism in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) was undone by the compromise with chattel slavery that followed in 1787, a decision that W.E.B. Dubois would later say (1896) “opened a road that led directly to the Civil War.”
As is now obvious, without Lincoln, The US might have been balkanized and history would have certainly been different. Thus has humanity lurched unpredictably from one watershed moment to another since we learned how to record our past in writing.
To pursue the American example a bit further, the tragic assassination of Lincoln at the very beginning of his second term prevented whatever plan he had for Reconstruction from being realized. Instead, Segregation emerged, a policy based on the same racism that had originally justified Slavery, but even more oppressive in practice. It would be another seven decades before the Civil Rights Act would (grudgingly) turn Jefferson’s lofty rhetoric into (still unrealized) reality. Ironically, we now have a nominally black President who experienced the anxiolytic benefits of inhaled cannabis as an adolescent (albeit apparently without fully understanding them).
In the meantime, the lessons of history have been accumulating at a dizzying rate. The one saving grace is that modern Science has given us tools to analyze history in ways that were never possible before and we have yet to become so contentious as to resort to nuclear war; thus we still have a chance to share our home planet without risking its destruction.
To cut to the chase, cannabis, a complex herbal remedy that eventually emerged as the demon drug of Nixon’s drug war, can now be recognized as a single therapeutic source that, if honestly studied and developed, has the potential to mitigate the anxieties of modern life more safely and effectively than any of the agents now being pushed so aggressively by our pharmaceutical industry. As an added bonus, in its edible form, it mitigates chronic pain as effectively as opioids.
To hobble its “legal” debut with the ignorant prejudices and calumnies of John Mitchell and Richard Nixon at this particular time in history would be a tragedy beyond measure.
December 04, 2012
Is History Catching up with the Drug War?In an uncannily quick response to questions raised recently in this blog, two ex-US Presidents raised fundamental questions about the drug policy they had supported during their combined 12 years in office.
It would have been even better if they had zeroed in on the policy's most basic flaw , but the fact that they are unmistakeably putting the kind of pressure on the current incumbent so soon after his re-election is huge, if for no other reason than it will make it more difficult for our fickle media to indulge in their usual trivializing pot jokes. "Taboo" is on my list of must-see TV shows this week
December 02, 2012
What will be Obama's Pot Legacy?In 1969, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was struck down by the Warren Court in a case involving Timothy Leary. After such an event, the President (then Richard Nixon) is expected to submit legislation correcting the defect identified by the Court. In Leary, it was the finding that the MTA, forced “registrants” to incriminate themselves when attempting to purchase “marijuana” legally. In other words, the law as written was almost impossible to understand, not to mention comply with. It was clearly a clumsy back-door prohibition that rendered all hemp products illegal while naming only inhaled cannabis (“reefer”) as the culprit “narcotic.” Nor had the 1937 law provided any systematically gathered clinical evidence in support its allegations.
Nixon and his Attorney General, John Mitchell, went far beyond mere correction; they submitted the Controlled Substances Act, an omnibus drug prohibition bill based on several unsupported assumptions that built on the unproven assumptions of the original MTA. In other words, the Court, by endorsing Leary's rebuttal on the peripheral issue of self incrimination, had let stand the two most invidious assumptions made in the MTA: first, that "marijuana was dangerous and second, that those imagined dangers justified the re-imposition of prohibition, a failed concept that had been repudiated by amending the Constitution in 1933, but had been nurtured in principle by not recognizing that the Harrison Act represented exactly the same error in a different guise.
The CSA went even further; it created an algorithm based on simplistic (and untested) criteria that gave the US Attorney General full authority to determine if newly released “substances” should be listed on Schedule One(absolutely prohibited). Thus was inhaled cannabis, completely forbidden twice within a span of 32 years without benefit of any research whatsoever. It was the ultimate triumph of judicial logic over scientific skepticism, a latter-day vindication of Urban VIII's punishment of Galileo.
However, there had already been a huge change in the cannabis market that had existed in 1937: In 1960, it began to grow, a change completely missed by both the press and the FBN. Then, in i963, there was a blip in pot arrests that soon become a sustained trend. From 1965, the year Leary was arrested until 1969, when the Court overturned the MTA, rebellion was the message of youthful pot smoking “hippies” demonstrating against the war in Vietnam, even as President Nixon was declaring that “drug abuse” was the nation’s “most serious problem.”
Yet no one asked why "marijuana" had become so popular; even after the trickster was forced by Congress to appoint a committee to investigate its claimed medical benefits, he was able to brush aside its timid recommendation that it be studied with the passive approval of the same press corps would soon drive him from office for lying about Watergate.
It’s now 16 years since California passed Proposition 215; there are “Medical Marijuana” laws in at least 16 states. Nixon's DEA is clearly failing ingloriously and yet is still permitted to enforce his policy with a straight face because people who should know better look the other way and the legal system dithers. Our current President, raised by a single mother and himself an archetypal pot smoker in High School, had only one encounter with his biological father (at age 12) yet he allows US Attorney Melinda Haag to close California Dispensaries.
I’ve got news for President Obama: if he continues his support of the drug war, he will find himself on the wrong side of history- a strange place for a member of the “Choom Gang” who was once famous for “interceptions,” and “roof hits.”
One consolation is that his return to the Oval Office, gives us 4 more years in which to goad him into taking a closer look at his own childhood and adolescent pot smoking.