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April 2014
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Memorizing stats

I was a bit puzzled by this article: If You Support Legal Marijuana, Memorize These 13 Stats

Here are the stats (and each one goes on to describe that it’s a projected tax revenue for some state or the potential market somewhere, or something like that).

  • $1.53 billion
  • $10.2 billion
  • $6.17 million
  • $98 million
  • $40 million
  • 7,500-10,000
  • $190 million
  • $105 million
  • $142.19 million
  • $36 million
  • $21.5 to $82 million
  • $134.6 million
  • $17.4 billion

I read it all, and, you know what? I didn’t care. None of that made a stinking bit of difference to me. Maybe there are some people out there whose minds would be changed by these numbers. But personally, I would throw all those out and just remember one word:






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More on that ‘study’

The scientific malpractice and grossly ignorant reporting regarding the study of a single brain scan from 20 widely disparate marijuana smokers and 20 controls is getting a lot of pushback. Maybe there are limits after all to the deceptions that this area of research can put forward.

In the PolicyMic article Here’s the Real Story behind the ‘Marijuana-Changes-Your-Brain’ Study, which, of course, was also not the complete real story, co-researcher Jodi Gilman was defensive about one charge in particular:

Some people criticize the […] funding source, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among others (which got a laugh out of Gilman: “Your data is your data”).

Um, no, it isn’t. At least not when the people involved are blatantly lying in press releases, among other scientific transgressions. It’s perfectly legitimate to question the funding source’s influence on those lies.

Unfortunately, the media pushes these lies out there and then mostly ignores the corrections, retractions, and criticisms. But we’re getting better at educating the people.

Here are three more interesting articles pushing back against the willful misuse of science.

The very political neuroscience of cannabis by Mark Kleiman

If instead you wanted to score points in the culture wars, push your political agenda, and perhaps please your sponsors at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office of National Drug Control policy, you’d behave differently. […]

… and he goes on to describe exactly what one of the researchers did.

No, Weed Won’t Rot Your Brain by Maia Szalavitz

Here’s the first big problem. The 20 marijuana-smoking participants, who took the drug at least once a week, were deliberately selected to be healthy. If they had any marijuana-related problems—or any psychiatric problems or other issues—they were excluded from participating.

Are you beginning to see what’s wrong? Although the pot-smoking participants showed brain differences in comparison to the controls who were also selected to be normal—both groups were normal! If the smokers had any marijuana-related problems or any type of impairment, they would not have been included in the first place. Therefore, the brain changes that the researchers found were—by definition—not associated with any cognitive, emotional, or mental problems or differences.

Why the Media’s Fearmongering on Marijuana Effects on the Brain is Faulty by Paul Armentano

Such fear-mongering and sensationalism by the mainstream media in regards to the supposed harms of pot upon the brain are nothing new. It wasn’t long ago that the mainstream media was boldly claiming that cannabis use permanently lowered IQ, a finding that marijuana prohibitionists and anti-drug bureaucrats were happy to repeat ad nauseam.

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A 420 Easter

This is, of course, a special day.  That is true whether you are celebrating the resurrection of humanity’s Savior a couple thousand years ago, or enjoing a plant that humanity has celebrated for a couple thousand years. Or both.  Can it really be a coincidence that Easter falls on 4/20 in the year that Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay all legalized cannabis?

These two things have more in common than one might think. After all, the existential epiphanies one encounters through a religious experience are not dissimilar to the existential epiphanies that can be enjoyed through the properties of cannabis, and both can help induce a state of both excitement and peace.

Of course, over the years, many humans who represent organized religion have tried to claim that being a good Christian is incompatible with drug use. And yet… Jesus drank wine.

As a kid, raised in the church, the son of a preacher who believed even ocassional use of alcohol was a sin, I asked about the fact that Jesus turned water into wine. I was told something to the effect that most water at that time was dangerous to drink due to contamination, so wine was necessary and safer, while today, we have modern purification processes and don’t need to drink wine. A gullible kid, I accepted that, until later in life, when I asked “Hey, wait a second. Couldn’t Jesus have turned water into clean water? Certainly he was as powerful as Brita!  No, he must have chosen wine for a reason.”  Even at his last supper, Christ drank wine with his apostles. Drug use was an important part of sharing and coming together as friends.

(On a side note, I think it’s also telling that Christ was extremely harsh on those who abused the financial system for their own self-interest, while he was much more likely to be friends with, and providing help to, the fringes of society — the exact opposite of our judiciary today.)

Throughout history, mild drug use has served to bring people together, to foster friendships, to stimulate creativity and dialogue, and to celebrate peaceful coexistence. These things are clearly not at all incompatible with being a good Christian.

Yes, there are those who abuse drugs, just as there are those who abuse religion. Both can have the power to be extremely dangerous when misused, and it makes sense that we don’t want the irresponsible ones to harm others. However, we should never condemn all those who use drugs because of the self-destructive behavior of a few, any more than we should condemn all those who believe in Christ because of the bigoted and violently hateful actions of some who proclaim themselves to be Christians.

Have a euphoric and safe Easter this 4/20.

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My drug war liberty talk

Some of you asked if my talk on Thursday at University of Illinois, hosted by Young Americans for Liberty, would be available as video online. Sorry, but that didn’t happen.

It was a good session with a nice turnout and some great participation in the Q and A part.

While I can’t give you a video or audio, I can share my powerpoint as a pdf file. I bet many of you can imagine what my talk was like from seeing this outline.

Drug War’s Assault on Liberty.

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Bad science, and really bad reporting

So, of course, everyone in the media has been gushing about the study that proves that even casual pot smoking damages the brain. Of course, that’s not even close to what the study showed, even if you accept the study itself as legitimate.

The people who really know, know better.

Here’s John Gever, Deputy Managing Editor, MedPage Today: Striking a Nerve: Bungling the Cannabis Story

Correlation does not equal causation, and a single exam cannot show a trend over time. Basic stuff, right?

But judging by coverage of a study just out in the Journal of Neuroscience, these are apparently foreign concepts for many folks in the media. [...]

Sad to say, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), which publishes the Journal of Neuroscience, may have driven these dramatic overinterpretations by promoting the study in a press release headlined “Brain changes are associated with casual marijuana use in young adults.”

Also note that the study did not identify any cognitive or behavioral abnormalities in the cannabis users versus controls — it was strictly an MRI study.

That, however, didn’t stop senior author Hans Breiter, MD, of Northwestern from opining in the SfN press release that the study “raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”

Um, no, it doesn’t — not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes.

Lior Pachter, a computational biologist, was even harsher about the actual science: Does researching casual marijuana use cause brain abnormalities?

This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year (as some of my previous blog posts show I am saying something with this statement). [...]

First of all, the study has a very small sample size, with only 20 “cases” (marijuana users), a fact that is important to keep in mind in what follows. The title uses the term “recreational users” to describe them, and in the press release accompanying the article Breiter says that “Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” In fact, the majority of users in the study were smoking more than 10 joints per week. There is even a person in the study smoking more than 30 joints per week (as disclosed above, I’m not an expert on this stuff but if 30 joints per week is “recreation” then it seems to me that person is having a lot of fun). More importantly, Breiter’s statement in the press release is a lie. There is no evidence in the paper whatsoever, not even a tiny shred, that the users who were getting high once or twice a week were having any problems.

Pachter then gets into an analysis of the study’s bad math (which is completely out of my knowledge base and totally over my head, so I can’t really comment on it, but it sounds damning.

And finally:

This issue is one of the oldest in the book. There is even a wikipedia entry about it. Correlation does not imply causation. Yet despite the fact the every result in the paper is directed at testing for association, in the last sentence of the abstract they say “These data suggest that marijuana exposure, even in young recreational users, is associated with exposure-dependent alterations of the neural matrix of core reward structures and is consistent with animal studies of changes in dendritic arborization.” At a minimum, such a result would require doing a longitudinal study. Breiter takes this language to an extreme in the press release accompanying the article. I repeat the statement he made that I quoted above where I boldface the causal claim: “”Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here.


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John Walters is loved

by Elizabeth Hasselbeck on Fox and Friends.

Wow. This clip has everything – reefer madness, Soros-funded legalization groups, Obama wants to turn the country into pot zombies….

I can’t figure out how to embed Fox videos on the blog (Fox doesn’t appear to like it very much), so here’s the link:

Casual pot smoking may damage your brain

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Out and about

Tonight (Thursday) at 8:00 pm, I’ll be speaking at the University of Illinois chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. Topic: The Drug War’s Assault on Liberty. I’ll be covering a number of topics, followed by a Q and A. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.

This is an open thread.

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In the spirit of the season

Via Drug Policy Alliance:

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release a statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.

“The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust, and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives,” said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

“We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure,” says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

The statement makes the following recommendations:

  • Repeal laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.
  • Eliminate policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates.
  • End policies that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

They will be holding a teleconference today.

More on this: Pastors seek to end war on drugs by decriminalizing use

“God does not care if you smoke weed,” he said. “God is not that petty.”

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Inside the mind of a drug warrior

William R. Brownfield is Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Even the title of his job tells you something about the absolute wrongness of how our government has approached drug policy.

He shared some of this thoughts in this speech: U.S. Official Comments on Drugs, Security and Latin America.

Of course, he denies he is a drug warrior:

A little bit of history: In the 1970s, the United States of America, or at least its government, discovered the drug issue. Richard Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs,’ a very unfortunate selection of terms, by the way, since in fact it’s not a war. It’s certainly not a war against our own population that in some way, shape, or form is part of the drug issue. And for that reason, ever so wisely, in the year 1993, the then newly-inaugurated president of the United States Bill Clinton said, and I quote, “It’s not a war, and we’re going to stop calling it a war on drugs.” Things move slowly in the federal government and the media, but don’t you all come at me in 15 minutes and start condemning me for the war on drugs, because I have already told you in advance it is not a war on drugs, it has not been a war on drugs for 21 years, and what we are doing goes a bit beyond the classical, typical definition of the term war, combined with the word drugs.

Read the rest of his comments as he talks about each effort that has been taken over the years and how it failed miserably, and, at the very end, merely comes to the conclusion that what is required is all of the above and some undefined “more.” Also note his pathetic attempt to claim Colombia and changing drug consumption trends as some kind of validation, and never once questions the damage caused by these policies.

Even as he recognizes shifts (Uruguay, Washington, Colorado), he fails to see them as anything other than new factors in the equation as opposed to repudiations of decades of war.

It’s a powerful blindness, demonstrating either a true believer, or, perhaps more likely, someone who has spent a career under flawed assumptions and is constitutionally unable to question their life’s work.

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Odds and Ends

bullet image Commissioner gives ultimatum; Vermont Reps remove PTSD language from medical marijuana bill

MONTPELIER — A House committee, poised to allow PTSD patients to qualify for medical marijuana, reversed itself Friday when the state’s top law enforcement official stepped in before the panel voted.

bullet image While heroin epidemic rages, Bain seeks profit in drug treatment centers

But as opiates ravage communities from rural Vermont to Hollywood, treating addiction has become big business. The push for national health care, and recent changes to federal health insurance laws could make it even more attractive. Substance abuse treatment is a $7.7 billion industry, according to a recent report by IBISWorld Inc., a New York research firm, and growing at an annual rate of about 2 percent.

bullet image Why You Should Never Believe a Newspaper On The Value Of A Cocaine Bust

So, the total value is more like $17 million than the $250 million in the headline.

There is an economic point to this over and above just quibbling with the numbers being offered to us. Now that we can see the price difference between a half container full of cocaine in Colombia and a half container full of cocaine in Rotterdam we can work out why people try to smuggle half containers around the world. Because there’s a $230 million profit in managing to get one half container through. And a $230 million profit on a possible $17 million cost means that the authorities have to intercept at least 12 out of each 13 shipments in order to make it an unprofitable activity.

And no, no one at all thinks they are managing to do that and nor is there anyone who thinks they ever will. Meaning that we can now understand why that War on Drugs doesn’t seem to be having all that much effect: there’s simply too much profit to be made from the smuggling for the war to have any noticeable effect.

bullet image Legal pot becomes a touchy workplace issue

DENVER — Last month, Colorado diner owner Mark Rose posted an unusual job description: “Looking for part time experienced breakfast cook. Pays well, must be friendly and a team player, could turn into a full time gig by summer. 420 friendly a must.”

With that public declaration, Rose put himself squarely in the camp of employers acknowledging that marijuana use is perfectly legal in Colorado. Perhaps more significant, it also puts him in the camp of employers who officially don’t care if their employees use pot off-duty. The phrase “420″ is shorthand for someone who uses marijuana.

Rose owns Dot’s Diner on the Mountain in the pot-friendly mountain town of Nederland, Colo., just west of Boulder. He says he wanted to hire a marijuana-friendly employee to ensure he didn’t have to deal with someone who might complain about his own pot use.

More employers like him, please.

bullet image For fun, here’s a delightful parody of how the media gets sucked in to all the latest hoax drug scares.

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