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May 2015
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Pot science imbalance

Cute cover of Time Magazine with “The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded, Strangely Promising, World of Pot Science” or The Great Pot Experiment by Bruce Barcott and Michael Scherer.

Time Pot Cover

Not a bad article about the politicization of pot science, although to me it suffers from an attempt to provide “balance” in an area that is actually quite unbalanced.

For instance, the subhead of the article:

Legalization keeps rolling ahead. But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana—or the benefits

Um, no. Yes, there’s still a lot more we can learn, but the idea that we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana is just false. If anything, we oddly know too much about the dangers of marijuana, if you include all the untrue “dangers” that are distributed by politics and bad science.

One key point really hit home, focusing on the imbalance of science supported by the U.S.

The federal antipot policies resulted in a strange kind of scientific trade deficit. The U.S. leads the world in studies of marijuana’s harm, but we’re net importers of data dealing with its healing potential.

And that’s exactly because of the politicized nature of our federal “science” in this area, as particularly shown by putting marijuana science in the hands of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose clear goals are to prove abuse and advocate against drugs, not to, you know, learn science.

And it’s this agency history and focus that should make the authors of the article much more wary of accepting “scientific” pronouncements from Nora Volkow.

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We don’t make the laws…

How many times have we heard that? “We don’t make the laws; we just enforce them.”

Of course, that’s complete crap, as any of us who have attended a legislative session about medical marijuana legalization know – seeing the law enforcement officers in uniform there attempting to influence the process, even to the point of giving testimony regarding what is “medicine.” We see the police associations lobbying and spreading misinformation.

This next bit of information has been already discussed at length here in comments, but I think it’s important enough to have as a main post.

Ray Stern with the Phoenix New Times reported on this: Forfeiture Funds Used to Opposed Marijuana Legalization

A law-enforcement task force in Yavapai County cut a $50,000 check from RICO funds to a substance-abuse group dedicated to fighting marijuana legalization in Arizona, New Times has learned.

The deal between the Yavapai County-based Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) task force and MATFORCE was made soon after the Marijuana Policy Project announced it would launch a 2016 legalization campaign in Arizona — and more public funding against legalization could be on the way.

And here’s no surprise…

We don’t want to make any rash assumptions, but a Google search shows that MATFORCE conducted quite a bit of anti-marijuana-legalization campaigning in early 2014, after it received the RICO funds. Various boards and town councils were approached and asked to sign resolutions against legalization — resolutions which were sometimes filled with half-truths and rank propaganda. A few months after getting Polk’s RICO check, MATFORCE also brought in nationally-known anti-legalization speaker Kevin Sabet for its annual conference that April. We’ll let you know if we find out Sabet received expense reimbursements or direct payments from MATFORCE for his appearance. […]

UPDATE May 14: Sheila Polk got back to us, letting us know — essentially — that we were correct. The RICO funds helped pay for Sabet’s appearance in April of 2014. Here’s her email to New Times:

“The RICO funds have been used by MATFORCE to conduct a public awareness campaign on the harms of marijuana through billboards, focus groups on effective messaging, radio PSAs, rack cards, a marijuana tool kit, books, associated contract and travel expenses, and two conferences on marijuana in 2014. Our first conference was in April where we brought out Kevin Sabet, the leading national expert on marijuana, its harms, and the negative impact on communities in states that have legalized it for either medical or retail purposes, and the second was in November. Both conferences were open to the public. Kevin Sabet is the founder of SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, along with Patrick Kennedy.

This kind of use of taxpayer money to lobby against citizen initiatives is obviously wrong in so many ways, but those doing it were initially bolstered by the Arizona Attorney General:

Last week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an opinion, based on a question by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, that public resources could continue to “educate” the public about the alleged evils of marijuana legalization.

However, this statement created such an outcry, that he has backed off that position.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has withdrawn his May 4 opinion regarding the use of public resources in elections following intense criticism.

A link to the opinion now returns a message of the withdrawal, and Brnovich’s office issued a public statement about it today:

“Attorney General Brnovich takes the allegations that the previously issued opinion may have provided an opportunity for potential government abuse very seriously. Like those who requested the original opinion, our office has a responsibility to protect the taxpayer dollars of hardworking Arizonans.”

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Unproductive

When I write on Facebook, it’s an entirely different audience — coming mostly from my work — so I write on a variety of subjects and I’m careful not to inundate them with drug war rants all the time. In some ways, that makes it more powerful when I do have something to say about drug policy.

We had a football player arrested this week, and I felt like saying something. Thought I’d share it with you as well.

Locally, we have that same tired scenario where a extremely talented young person has made the news and is probably going to have his very promising career sidelined because he got caught with 5 to 30 grams of marijuana.

And, of course, none of the solemn, disapproving articles I’ve read are asking “Why?” And I don’t mean “Why did he smoke pot?” I know the answer to that. Or “Why did he try to sell it to an undercover cop?” I’ve got a pretty good idea on that one as well. No, the question I’m looking for is “Why the fuck are we still arresting people for this?”

Oh sure, some of you are getting ready to roll out the propaganda that we’ve been force-fed for decades about how it’s necessary to protect people from the evils of this plant — that it will enslave them, take away their motivation and make them unproductive members of society.

And that reminds me of a recent Daily Show with an appearance by Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson has made sixty-eight studio albums, ten live albums, thirty-seven compilations, and twenty-seven collaborations. He’s toured all over the place in his bus. He founded Farm Aid and is president of the board. He’s done benefits, has been involved in politics and an activist for animal welfare and for LGBT rights. And he managed to do all this while smoking more pot than any other human probably has in the history of the world.

Yeah, pot really shortens your career. Just take a look at the unproductive lives of such potheads as Carl Sagan, Louis Armstrong, Bill Gates, Stephen Colbert, Rick Steves, Maya Angelou, Barrack Obama, Susan Sarandon, Ted Turner, Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, Morgan Freeman, Steve Jobs, Shel Silverstein, David Letterman, John Lennon, and the list goes on and on.

Yes, I know that (in some places anyway) it’s still against the law. That doesn’t make the law right. There’s a certain role we’re supposed to play when this happens, but I’m quite frankly too damned tired of doing the requisite sad shake of the head in disappointment when someone is caught doing this kind of law-breaking. In the meantime, societal leaders joke about their “youthful indiscretions” and because they weren’t caught (whether through luck or privilege) they face no consequences, even as they enforce damaging consequences against others.

Using marijuana responsibly isn’t particularly hard to do, and compared to many other ordinary activities in our world (like bike-riding, eating sugar, or playing football) it’s far, far safer. But the laws against marijuana? Those can really mess a person up bad.

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Help Wanted

Brilliant! Via Tom Angell at Marijuana.com

One of the U.S.’s foremost drug policy reform organizations is lending a tongue-in-cheek assist to the country’s top anti-drug enforcement agency.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is taking out a mock “Help Wanted” ad to aid the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in finding a new leader in the wake of its administrator’s recently announced resignation.

Here’s the ad:

Drug Policy Alliance DEA ad

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It’s always the money

Nice little article in Time by Aileen Teague, a Ph.D. history student, about the impact on Mexico of the U.S. war on drugs.

How Our War on Drugs Undermines Mexico

But here’s the key point:

And yet last year’s federal drug war budget — topping $25 billion — and the continued efforts of U.S. institutions abroad in the name of drug control, remind us that a war on drugs is still alive and well.

The current system is propped up by many different U.S. and Mexican institutions—police forces, the military, the CIA, the State Department, etc.—each with its own set of interests. Methodical funding cuts would have to be made alongside fundamental revisions of the roles these institutions play for real change to take place. For all of the talk of marijuana legalization and an end to the war on drugs, policies along these lines have yet to be established, let alone brought more fully into the global drug debate.

Exactly. For long-term meaningful change, it’s the budgets we hae to tackle, and there are very entrenched interests involved. I’ve been through some government budget excercises before and it’s rather amazing how hard it can be to cut agencies’ funding – it becomes a political nightmare regarding affected jobs and communities rather than being about actually spending the money in ways that provide value in terms of the larger picture.

Of course, if the DEA continues to piss off the Senate, maybe it’ll get a little easier to start making the kinds of cuts we need to make.

And it doesn’t hurt for us to raise the issue of wasteful spending on the corrupt drug war every chance we get.

Personally, when talking about fiscal implications, I prefer talking about savings from eliminating drug war wasted and corruption rather than talking about tax revenues from legalization, even though I realize that it’s the mere hint of talk about cutting budgets that gets the lobbyists who protect drug warrior jobs out of bed each morning.

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Government theft still going strong

This article is nothing new to us, but it’s a story that needs to be continually circulated so the rest of the population starts getting a little bit more pissed off about it.

DEA to traveler: Thanks, I’ll take that cash

All the money – $16,000 in cash – that Joseph Rivers said he had saved and relatives had given him to launch his dream in Hollywood is gone, seized during his trip out West not by thieves but by Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a stop at the Amtrak train station in Albuquerque. […]

Agencies like the DEA can confiscate money or property if they have a hunch, a suspicion, a notion that maybe, possibly, perhaps the items are connected with narcotics. Or something else illegal.

Or maybe the fact that the person holding a bunch of cash is a young black man is good enough.

I have hopes that Joseph will get his money back eventually – a good samaritan at the station helped him get home and contacted attorneys and the press about this situation.

This continued rampant theft by government agency cannot be allowed to go on. As the article notes, New Mexico has recently passed a law prohibiting this kind of thing, but that wouldn’t stop the DEA from continuing to steal money even in New Mexico.

And at some point, we have to put the DEA on some kind of watch list – you know, like a terrorist group watch list – where simply being a member of the DEA results in travel restrictions and possible arrest and trial for the world-wide destruction caused by this rogue agency.

DEA Can’t Tell Senate How Detained Student Was Left to Drink Own Urine to Live

During an obscure Senate hearing on Tuesday morning, lawmakers vented their frustrations with the Drug Enforcement Administration for failing to answer questions about an incident that saw a man almost die of dehydration while in its custody.

“At what point do I have to conclude that the [Drug Enforcement Administration] is hiding something about what happened here?” asked Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, unsuccessfully prodding a DEA witness to explain why Senate inquiries into what happened to Daniel Chong have been met with silence. […]

It’s been now eight months — I still don’t have a response from DEA to these questions,” Sen. Grassley said on Tuesday. He asked DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator of Drug Diversion Joseph Rannazzisi to commit the agency to responding to his inquiry by the end of the month.

Rannazzisi responded that “This was a regrettable tragic event,” before admitting that “I can’t speak for DEA or the department when the letter is going to come to you.”

Also lamenting the agency’s lack of transparency was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Her office sent two unanswered letters to the DEA last year in July and August seeking answers about the detention of her constituent.

“When we don’t get responses to our letters, that colors our view of the agency — particularly when we’re writing about a constituent who suffered from a real lapse in process,” Sen. Feinstein said during the hearing.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Times revealed that the most severe punishment meted out to the agents responsible for Chong’s nightmare was a seven-day suspension.

“It blows my mind,” Sen. Feinstein said during the hearing, referring to the leniency afforded to the agents who were involved in what she described as a “serious infraction.”

Those of us in drug policy reform are almost used to the DEA’s maddening non-responsive tactics (when it comes to rescheduling, etc.). The Senate definitely isn’t enjoying it.

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Apparently, the only doctors who know what they’re doing are legislators

I know we’ve got a lot of veterans here, and this one is really going to make your head explode…

GOP congressman warns pot is making our veterans psychotic

In a debate on the House floor over the Department of Veterans Affairs’ policies on medical marijuana, Representative John Fleming (R-LA) warned colleagues that allowing veterans to smoke pot could turn them psychotic or schizophrenic.

“As a practicing physician and a veteran myself,” Fleming stated during the April 29 legislative proceedings, “the way we approach health care is not to just allow any healthcare provider to do whatever he or she wants to do at the time. That is simply not the way health care works.”

According to Fleming, letting doctors and patients make their own decisions about marijuana could be dangerous, which is why the federal government needs to step in.

“Smoking pot increases psychotic episodes by a factor of two to four times normal,” Fleming elaborates. “The conversion to schizophrenia, a permanent mental disorder, is enhanced by pot by a factor of two — double. Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under Schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane.”

Even forgetting about the fact that he’s mixing up correlation with causation in the whole psychotic episodes and schizophrenia discussion, or the fact that a factor of two is really quite small… The part that is really mind-boggling is his notion that federal legislators are more competent to decide on medical treatment than doctors and patients.

Maybe veterans should start asking Representative John Fleming for advice on cancer treatment, what to do about hemorrhoids, and how to fix their hernia. After all, “letting doctors and patients make their own decisions… could be dangerous.”

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Open Thread

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. It’s the end of the semester and I’ve been going non-stop with a variety of events and responsibilities. It’s great fun, but I’m completely wiped out. It’ll ease up after Commencement this coming Saturday.

I’ll definitely have some more things to say this week, so stick around, but the comments section here is, as always, lively and informative (and I’m following all of them), so if you’re looking for some drug war news and links, that’s a great source.

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David Simon, Baltimore, Drug War

David Simon has an outstanding interview with the Marshall Project. Nothing new to us here, but very well said…

David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish

I guess there’s an awful lot to understand and I’m not sure I understand all of it. The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages, but even in the time that I was a police reporter, which would have been the early 80s to the early 90s, the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.

Probable cause from a Baltimore police officer has always been a tenuous thing. It’s a tenuous thing anywhere, but in Baltimore, in these high crime, heavily policed areas, it was even worse. When I came on, there were jokes about, “You know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.” Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court. […]

We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war. The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court. You sit in the district court in Baltimore and you hear, ‘Your Honor, he was walking out of the alley and I saw him lift up the glassine bag and tap it lightly.’ No fucking dope fiend in Baltimore has ever walked out of an alley displaying a glassine bag for all the world to see. But it keeps happening over and over in the Western District court. The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian and it’s a disaster.

I know that there’s a lot of push to simply call the problem in Baltimore racism, and racism is part of the picture, but the bigger issue is the drug war and the need for us to dramatically reform the criminal justice system in America.

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The War on Drugs and the streets of our cities

The world is talking about Baltimore right now — another battleground between police and citizens who have lost respect for each other in large part due to the war on drugs.

Freddie Gray a victim of America’s longest war

Overall, the record on Freddie Gray reveals a young man who had frequent encounters with police as they carried out local operations in America’s longest war: the war on drugs.[…]

So, generally speaking, Gray was a low-level, nonviolent offender.

Some people will say his record is irrelevant to the central issues — how he died while in the custody of Baltimore police, and why the police pursued him on April 12 to begin with — and I agree.

But I mention his record because his encounters with the law stemmed from the enforcement of our drug laws.

Such encounters occur constantly throughout the country.[…]

Still, even with that change, we have the war on drugs. It goes on, day after day, constantly creating needless encounters between police and people like Freddie Gray.

A tweet from Sanho Tree last night…

I’m just trying to imagine what police/community relations might be like today if there’d never been a war on drugs.

police

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