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August 2014
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Going to ridiculous lengths

What do they think they’re licensing?

Patients face ‘hoop-jumping’ to gain medical marijuana

Yet now that the state has enacted a medicinal cannabis law and just this month began distributing applications for would-be patients, the Chicago woman is still deciding whether to go through that process or simply continue to use the drug outside of the new legal channel.

She’s particularly concerned about having to submit her fingerprints to the state — Illinois is the only state that requires that of medical marijuana applicants — along with documentation of her Social Security disability insurance, proof of age and residency and a recent photo.

She’s never had to submit such information for the narcotics prescribed to her in the past, she noted.

“Boy, this is a lot of hoop-jumping to go through,” said Falco, 49.

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Ferguson and the war on drugs

Connecting the dots…

In The New Republic: There Is Only One Real Way to Prevent Future Fergusons: End the War on Drugs by John McWhorter.

So, what will really make a difference? Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs. Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale. Without that policy—which would include that no one could make a living selling drugs—the entire structure supporting the notion of young black men as criminals would fall apart. White men with guns would encounter young black men much less often, and meanwhile society would offer young black men less opportunity to drift into embodying the stereotype in the first place.

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Odds and Ends

A particularly busy time for me – last weekend of my show (Living Canvas Rx Fri-Sat-Sun at the Den Theatre in Chicago), plus another Living Canvas show (completely different, performing as part of the Abbie Hoffman Festival this weekend in another Chicago theatre, plus a conference to attend this weekend in Lisle, Illinois, and classes starting on Monday!

bullet image End the Drug War, Save the Children at the American Conservative

bullet image Mark Kleiman: 16.2 million cannabis addicts? No, of course I didn’t say that. Bill Bennett just made it up. And, of course, Mark is completely right. It was, however, also completely predictable that the book would be used to bolster arguments against legalization (in fact, I think I did).

bullet image And you thought Chinese performances were dull before… Chinese theaters won’t hire drug-linked performers. That’s just plain bad for the arts.

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Occupied America



No, there’s no obvious direct connection to drug policy when reading the facts of the case (known to date), yet there’s no way I can, as someone who writes about drug policy, ignore the death of Michael Brown and the resulting military occupancy of the town of Ferguson, Missouri by police forces.

Because the connection is real. The drug war led inexorably to this moment, to the racial applications of the war, to the militarization of police forces, to the sense by many in law enforcement that they are an occupying force surrounded by enemies, to the community disconnect and finally, to the understandable rage that suddenly explodes within communities where a single event becomes a last straw.

#Ferguson is merely a data point. If we don’t do something to reverse our course soon, it’ll turn into a country-wide conflagration. It’s not a desire, but a fact.

Note: Just to be clear, I quote Radley Balko, with whom I strongly agree: “I don’t tolerate threats to kill or harm police officers, public officials, or anyone else. It not only contradicts everything I believe in, it’s also counterproductive to reform. This is the precise sort of crap police officials cite when explaining why they need more power, bigger guns, and more militarization, or when they falsely claim that their jobs are getting more dangerous.”

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Open Thread

bullet image Another good post on the Congressional hearing on pot and driving, this time by Jacob Sullum: Stoned Drivers: The Case Against Panic

Mica, a proud pot prohibitionist who chairs a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened the hearing to raise an alarm about the deadly threat that legalization poses to anyone navigating the roads and highways. But by the end of the hearing, anyone who was paying attention recognized that his grim prophecies have little basis in fact.

bullet image Some people just don’t belong in the criminal drug trafficking business. Irish drugs smuggler arrested ‘after throwing 3m worth of cocaine out of hotel window in fit of paranoia’

A receptionist alerted police after discovering the drugs scattered over an internal patio floor.

Officers arrested the 39-year-old with a second suitcase packed with cocaine outside his room after he allegedly went looking for the drugs and then asked for a duplicate key when he found himself locked out.

We’ll all sleep better knowing that a bumbling idiot has been taken off the streets.

bullet image Hooked on Legalization: Marijuana Is Addictive, Whether Legalization Backers Admit It Or Not

This article gets so much wrong — most notably the idea that cannabis causes addiction, and secondarily the notion that the existence of people who are having trouble managing their cannabis use should be an argument against legal regulation.

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I have a question

Tom Keane in the Boston Globe: Right wing takes lead on reforming crime policy

DRUGS ARE BAD for you, no question. But wars on drugs are worse — at least the way we’ve been waging this battle. But change may be coming, and from the least likely source: the right wing. Just as it took Richard Nixon to reopen ties with China (a Democrat would have been pilloried as a commie sympathizer), so it may take conservatives to reform our nation’s drug and sentencing laws.

Uh, OK, I appreciate the overall article – some good stuff there, but let’s go back to that first sentence.

DRUGS ARE BAD for you, no question.

Nope. Sorry. I have a question.

What the hell are you talking about?

Last I checked, our bodies are constantly manufacturing drugs that keep us alive. I’m currently taking blood pressure drugs that are also helping insure that I live a longer life. There are millions of people who would be dead right now if it wasn’t for drugs. And countless others whose quality of life has been improved by drugs — of all kinds, both licit and illicit (the differences there being more political than scientific).

The fact is — drugs, when used appropriately, are GOOD FOR YOU.

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Prosecutors have corrupted and undermined the Justice system

Jacob Sullum on Why Prosecutors Love Mandatory Minimums

When you see the stark choices that federal defendants face, you can begin to understand why an astonishing 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty. The bigger the gap between the sentence a defendant can get through a plea bargain and the one he will get if he is convicted after a trial, the stronger his incentive to “cooperate”—and the weaker the system’s claim to be doing justice.

Holder clearly is right that plea bargains do not require mandatory minimums. But from the perspective of prosecutors who are single-mindedly focused on obtaining convictions as expeditiously as possible—and terrified of what might happen if a substantial portion of defendants started asserting their Sixth Amendment rights—there is no reason to give up the enormous leverage that mandatory minimums provide.

This has led to the strange situation where the biggest opposition the Attorney General faces to reform of mandatory minimums comes from his own prosectors.

Just a reminder…

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

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Being a responsible information consumer in the Information Age

While this isn’t specifically a drug policy post, it’s something I wrote for my friends on Facebook that I wanted to share…

How’s your bullshit detector?  In today’s world, you really need a working one, and you need to keep it well-honed.

Before the Information Age, there were editors and curators to manage the flow of information, cull out the obviously false or crackpot, and present the consumer with somewhat carefully vetted digests in the form of the nightly news, the daily newspaper, or the museum. While certainly not perfect, these systems at least provided a filter.

All that changed when the internet made all information, regardless of validity, available equally to consumers. Individuals were then required to become their own editors — something we absolutely failed to teach — and some succeeded, while many have failed miserably. Every crackpot idea, conspiracy theory, and false story can now find an audience ready to believe, simply because they’ve seen it ‘on the internet.’

First it was the viral emails that were circulated by your grandfather, and organizations like Snopes had to come forward to provide a repository for debunking them. Even then, it was amazing how few people seemed to have the capability of taking a phrase and typing it into Google to see if it had already been determined to be a hoax. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Now a wider range of organizations and businesses are actually finding it advantageous to prey on the gullibility of the internet audience and purposely disseminate misinformation for political or financial profit.  

A primary tool these organizations is taking advantage of is “confirmation bias.” Everybody has it, although they may not be aware.  Confirmation bias makes you believe information that supports the opinion you already hold (despite contrary evidence) and to disbelieve even verified information that opposes your opinion. Someone who believes President Obama is unfit to be President is likely to believe any stories that he’s a Muslim, or not a citizen, or has some other defect, regardless of the lack of evidence. Similarly, someone who honestly (and correctly) believes that a group is being treated unfairly, for example, is likely to believe (and share on Facebook) any stories that support that belief, regardless of how far-fetched or untrue.

I had a very bad moment personally with confirmation bias. Years ago, there was a politician I didn’t like, and I heard online that this politician was hosting a horribly racist event. I was outraged (almost gleefully so) and wrote about it everywhere I could on the web, and even contacted local media to tell them about it so they would report the outrage. But I never verified the story. It was fake – a plant by someone to discredit this Congressman. I believed it without checking… because I wanted to.

That experience made me feel horrible, and I vowed never to let it happen to me again. Sure, I still despised that Congressman, but I was determined to use the truth and not be used by lies.

These days, confirmation bias is used in a variety of ways. A simple example is The Daily Current. While The Onion has established itself as a funny parody news site, the Daily Current instead prefers stealth — writing outrageous things that people would like to believe are true while subtly disguising the parody status, thereby getting people to share it and increasing revenue from links.

However, there are much more insidious approaches to misinformation. Advocacy groups of all kinds have discovered that they get more Facebook shares, more followers, and better fundraising the more that they are able to outrage their supporters. So, many of these groups exaggerate, manipulate the data, leave out key information, or repeat debunked points in order to motivate us. While probably the prime example of this technique is a lot of what you see on Fox News, it is also heavily used by mainstream advocacy organizations and websites across the entire political and social spectrum.

Some of this is going to get even worse as we approach the election cycle. Both parties know full well that the best way to motivate their base and stimulate fundraising is to find ways to get people outraged at the extremes on the other side. There’s nothing better than the boogie-man in the opposition — “If you don’t vote for us, people like THIS will be controlling your life.” Fear motivates, and it also keeps the party from having to actually defend or explain what it has done.  Irrelevancy and misinformation is part of the bullshit coming from both parties.

Now, I write about drug policy. Because I care about writing accurately, when a new study comes out, I don’t just read the reporting about the study, I track down and read the study itself, which means I had to learn how to understand science writing. That’s all very time consuming and a lot of work, but it’s important to me to be accurate with what I share.  I’m very careful not to share positions when I don’t have good information. That doesn’t prevent me from having a strong position.

I know, you can’t do that kind of work all the time on every subject yourself. But you can try to find the sources who do.

There’s no perfect source – you might think that a professional reporter would get it right, and yet I’m in the position of contacting reporters weekly to correct false information that they’re printing related to drug policy issues. And you certainly can’t necessarily trust the government – the drug czar, for example, is required by law to lie (true, check it out).  There are false data points that have been repeated so many times in the media that they have developed a life of their own (human trafficking figures are a prime example).

So how can you detect the bullshit?  It’s not easy. The first step is to be aware of your own confirmation bias — be suspicious of any information that automatically outrages you and makes you think “Yep, I knew it.” Before sharing it, try to find out some more – see if more than one site is reporting it, and find a source that you trust.  

If a political or social “fact” has been photoshopped into a picture for easy sharing without links to verify it, it’s probably an exaggeration, out of context, or outright false.

If you’re getting nutritional science information from someone who calls herself The Food Babe, or an anchor on a television morning show, rethink it.

When a source of information you normally trust fails you even slightly, call them on it; if they fail to provide links, ask them for it.

Finally, if you care enough about a topic to share it with people, have the integrity to actually find out what the arguments are on the other side, and I don’t mean how your side characterizes the other side’s arguments, but what the other side truly believes and why. Actually try to step in their shoes. If your position is right, you shouldn’t fear this due diligence.

Be a good and responsible editor of your own information. Use your bullshit detector liberally.

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Economics 101

Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls in the Washington Post.

Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.

“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

Growers from this area and as far afield as Central America are sowing their plots with opium poppies, and large-scale operations are turning up in places where authorities have never seen them.

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Fun and games with the ONDCP

The ONDCP ‘blog‘ talks about a recent Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) training event, where Acting Director Botticelli was apparently the life of the party.

Acting Director Botticelli drew even greater applause with his announcement that ONDCP will increase funding for CADCA’s National Youth Leadership Initiative (NYLI)

Yeah, whenever I go to a party and hand out money, people seem pretty pleased with me.

Earlier in the day, the Acting Director took part in several roundtable discussions with DFC coalitions, exploring such themes as how to address the issue of marijuana legalization and the importance of forging partnerships with ONDCP’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.

That’s important – Kevin Sabet can’t do everything for them.

In what was certainly the liveliest event of the day, the Acting Director got to play the part of “Mayor Botticelli” in a mock Town Council meeting. His task, which he eagerly accepted, was to preside over a make-believe council of young people as it heard opposing arguments and then voted on a proposal to ban the use and sale of “medical” marijuana.

Our government officials at work.

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