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Splitting Image of Pot

On the one hand, marijuana is practically legal—more mainstream, accessorized, and taken for granted than ever before. On the other, kids are getting busted in the city in record numbers. Guess which kids.

This article in New York Magazine by Mark Jacobson is quite a colorful trip through the marijuana scene in New York, from the arrests of people of color, to the delivery services to the wealthy.

He starts with the global scene as it exists today.

(Photo: Horacio Salinas)

(Photo: Horacio Salinas)


Could it be that, at long last, the Great Pot Moment is upon us?

The planets are aligning. First and foremost is the recession; there’s nothing like a little cash-flow problem to make societies reconsider supposed core values. The balance sheet couldn’t be clearer. We have the so-called War on Drugs, the yawning money pit that used to send its mirror-shade warriors to far-flung corners of the globe, like the Golden Triangle of Burma and the Colombian Amazon, where they’d confront evil kingpins. Now, after 40 years, the front lines have moved to the streets of Juárez, where stray bullets can easily pick off old ladies in the Wal-Mart parking in El Paso, Texas, even as Mexico itself has decriminalized pot possession as well as a devil’s medicine cabinet of other drugs. At the current $40 billion per annum, even General Westmoreland would have trouble calling this progress.

Jacobson does a few taste tests around the city and analyzes the pot today compared to when he smoked it years ago. He knows that strides have been made in pot development over the years, but isn’t impressed (particularly compared to all the reefer madness stories).

This was because the fancy weed I was smoking, and paying twenty times as much for, wasn’t getting me more smashed, at least not in the way I wanted to be.

“I hear this a lot, because back then, you were probably smoking sativas imported from Jamaica, Vietnam, and Mexico,” Danko informed me. Sativas imparted “a head high,” as opposed to the largely “body high” of indicas. The problem with this, he went on, was that tropical sativas, being a large (some as high as fourteen feet!) and difficult plant to grow (the Kush has bigger yields and a shorter flowering time), especially under surreptitious conditions, were rare in today’s market. My lament was a common one among older heads, Danko said, adding that “the good sativa is the grail of the modern smoker.”

Learn something new every day.

Then we turn to the arrests.

The fact is, New York City is the marijuana-arrest capital of the country and maybe the world. […] Harry Levine, a Queens College sociology professor who has been compiling marijuana arrest figures for years, says, “The cops prefer pot busts. They’re easy, because the people are almost never violent and, as opposed to drunks, hardly ever throw up in the car. Some of this has to do with the reduction in crime over the years. Pot arrests are great for keeping the quota numbers up. These kind of arrests toss people into the system, get their fingerprints on file. The bias of these arrests is in the statistics.”

Not everyone, however, is getting arrested.

Francis said the cops weren’t all that much of a factor. “For the most part, I walk through the town unopposed.” But what about the busts?

“What busts?”

I showed Francis a copy of the New York State marijuana-arrest stats. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know a soul who had been pinched. He was not, however, surprised by the ethnic breakdown. “I hate to say it, but there’s no way I’m hiring a black guy to work for me. The chances of a black guy getting stopped is about 50 times more than a white guy. I can’t afford that. Fact is, pot is legal for white people but not for black people, which is total bullshit.”

Fascinating article.

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19 comments to Splitting Image of Pot

  • America will bankrupt itself into a new territory of China before it willingly legalizes anything. America would rather have the union completely collapse than so much as going back to letting people buy Sudafed without showing their ID.

    Any rational society would have legalized drugs decades ago. But that’s the point, with the estrogen-drenched irrationals constantly yelling about “the children” no rational, logical public policy can ever be adopted.

  • kant

    I would have to agree with bruce. It’s not going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years and anything beyond that is impossible to predict. I think if we had a chance during the recession we’ve missed it. Things aren’t great now but the economy is turning around and people are less interested in looking at wasteful programs. That and the current healthcare brewhaha, is going keep the spotlight off the idea of legalization for sometime.

    ultimately the opinions that count (congress) aren’t going to change, they’re too old and set in their ways. Even if they don’t believe their own propaganda, which I do think they believe, changing the law is going to say “hey we got the last 70 years wrong”…not a good position for a politician.

  • I completely disagree. We’ve seen more progress in the last 6 years (since I started blogging — although that’s only a partial reason, I’m sure) than we did in the previous 30. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, and New York Magazine all ran positive pieces in the past week or so, not the Village Voice. In California, marijuana is de facto decriminalized and/or legalized for parts of the population, depending on how you look at it.

    Public opinion is turning around, and that’s what will make all the difference. We’re also seeing a generational shift.

    As far as the recession, it will last for a lot longer than this, and the effects will be felt for the next decade. It can still change how state governments in particular prioritize spending.

  • Corey

    I don’t think some kind of golden opportunity has necessarily been missed, but the tax revenue argument seems to be going nowhere. I like this article in particular because it really emphasizes the racism side of it. I think everybody tends to pay attention when the race card is played, whether it’s legitimate or not. And because it’s very legitimate in this case with bulletproof statistics to back it up, I’d like to see more articles like this one. I never thought I’d ever be in favor of Al Sharpton joining a cause I’d ever be a part of, but one must wonder if it would take something like that to make more progress.

  • kant

    Pete,
    I agree that a lot of good progress has happened in the last 6, arguably 13 years. However, every MMJ bill that has been introduced since Califonria has become more and more restrictive.

    As you pointed there is a lot of public support. But even with nearly 50% in support of some form of decriminalization/legalization politicians on the federal level still refuse (successfully) to even have a conversation about it. we’re not winning a debate, because we’re not having a debate.

    What that tells me is that either people are too apathetic to do anything about it; politicians are too terrified/set in their ways to do anything about it; or some combination of the two.

  • Pete: what progress have we seen? Not ONE drug has been legalized. It’s still illegal in all 50 states to so much as possess a microgram of THC (keeping in mind federal law trumps state law). State medical marijuana laws are nice in theory but meaningless in practice as long as the DEA still has jurisdiction. A meaningless law is not progress.

    The only “progress” I’d even consider is that there are more blogs like this around.

  • kaptinemo

    “”There’s as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a humming bird to fly to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” – Senator Morris Sheppard, ca. 1930

    “The Eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” – 21st Amendment to the US Constitution Bill of Rights December 5, 1933

    “A society has the ethics it can afford.” – Larry Niven

    One thing I’ve learned in the entire time I’ve been working towards repeal of drug prohibition has been that things come in cycles. Like a combination lock, when the wheel turns and the tumblers in the lock fall into position and the door opens, we have been witnessing a similar situation as that back in the days of alcohol Prohibition.

    The last time we got this close to ending cannabis prohibition was during the economic ‘malaise’ of the mid-to-late 1970’s, when things were so bad that it was evident that the Federal government itself had to cut back programs that could no longer be afforded. The false prosperity of the Reagan years and onward, based upon massive deficit spending, was what sustained drug prohibition en toto.

    But the fiscal chickens have finally come home to roost, as the ‘perfect storm’ of all those decades of deficit spending, combined with the planetary credit melt-down and fiscally ruinous (and morally unjustifiable) wars, have brought the tumblers of the lock back around to the point where only a few of those tumblers remain, poised to slide down into the last cylinders.

    Pete is correct: we have not seen the true depth of the recession/depression yet. The next wave of mortgage foreclosures will heavily strain the already moribund economy. One more good shove and it goes over the cliff. And then we just might see that collapse that Bruce is mentioning, and which, I sadly, tend to agree will happen…if some strong measures to cut Federal programs are not taken and soon. And that means re-allocating resources presently being utilized in pointless endeavors like the DrugWar.

    The people alive back during Prohibition and the Great Depression knew that dynamic all too well, while the pols such as Sheppard continued to play to what he thought was the ‘Dry’ majority…which turned out to be anything but, as proven by the votes in favor of repealing the 18th Amendment.

    Today’s pols are no less head-blind, but like Sheppard, will have their come-uppance when desperate and angry people a la the teabaggers show up at their doors and begin pounding tables and demand relief by more funding of social safety net programs. There’s only one way that can happen, and that’s through that re-allocation of funds. And that, ultimately, means ending the DrugWar as we know it.

  • kant

    The one problem with the alcohol prohibition comparison is that the people that were around during alcohol prohibition knew what it was like before the prohibition and was sold legally VS prohibition. In the cannabis context, very few people today were alive prior to 1937, and even then it wasn’t sold as a recreational drug. So we don’t really have a good comparison.

    If we put this in a health care context, health care is arguably as controversial as cannabis reform. Congress have been fighting to get reform for 40 years. the key word there is politicians. we can’t even get politicians to talk about much less fight to get reform done. how much longer once we start getting politicians talking about it?

    when I say politicians I mean those on the federal level.

  • Mike R

    In all honesty, I have to agree that we won’t see anything legalized or even decriminalized on the federal level – I do so hope I’m wrong about that. It really doesn’t have anything to do with apathetic people or terrified politicians. it has to do with a very aparent status quo and the institutions that profit from it.

    It’s verifiable public fact that various govt agencies throught the course of American history have been involved in and profited heavily from illegal drug trade. It’s no secret that the domestic War on Drugs is hugely profitable to LE and Corrections and provides the federal govt with a huge amount of virtual slave labor.

    Big pharma profits wildly off of an array of drugs that are directly threatened by marijuana. Alcohol and tobacco are opposed to the alternative that marijuana provides for recreation. Lumbering and textiles are also directly threatend by hemp. With emerging studies on “hempanol”, there will soon be another major sector of industry threatend by marijuana. This list could go on for quite some time…

    Finally, the War on Drugs give us a huge reason to have federal agents in other countries stirring up all sorts of trouble. Is it a concidence that we have millitary bases in almost every drug producing area in the world? East Asia, Middle East, South America = marijuana, opium, cocaine. This is a huge revenue stream, directly or indirectly. With a complete lack of financial transparency in American economics (particularly with defense contractors) it’s just not good sense to rule out that the USA is still involved in the drug trade. If not directly, than most assuredly indirectly.

    Seriously, the War on Drugs is the central mechanism behind far too much of what the rich and powerful depend upon to maintain their current standard of living. We have a long and painful battle ahead of us if we ever hope to change that.

  • Mike R

    Oh yeah – I forgot to mention that the War on Drugs allows LEOs pretty much free reign to go where they want, when they want and sieze whatever they want with impunity.

    http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/balko_drug_warriors_want_your_assets_091509/

  • kaptinemo

    Herr Kant, I’d say that you’ve struck a major nail on the head. And to add to the problem, cannabis still is forced to drag along with it, Jacob Marley-style, the chains of the cultural ‘baggage’ attached to it by the so-called ‘Greatest Generation’. The baggage comprised of all the stereotypes, past and present, of what a cannabis smoker is supposed to be like.

    But that’s changing, if only because of attrition: as someone once said, tongue in cheek: “We’ll legalize when Grandma dies.” The generation that was bamboozled into cannabis prohibition, thanks to their trusting natures (and inculcated prejudice) and allowed cannabis prohibition to be maintained is dying off.

    The Boomers (pointing to self) who came after them for the most part have much less trouble with ending the prohibition, but frankly, were too lazy and dropped the ball when we were just a few yards from the goal post. Which condemned us to the latest and worst phase of the DrugWar.

    But now, said Boomers are themselves aging, and rediscovering the medicinal properties of cannabis in time to soothe aching joints…and maybe ward off dementia as well. And that’s plenty of incentive. And the up and coming generations after them, for the most part, have a completely pragmatic view of cannabis, and little tolerance for shutter-brained bureaucracy.

    Things come in cycles, and the cycle for real change has come round once more. The economy is in a shambles and we just cannot afford anything that is a useless draw on the nation’s finances. And that means that sooner or later, the political pressure to revamp the drug laws will grow like the same pressure that allows a blade of grass to upend sidewalk pavement.

    As to a time frame, I’d say another year, once Senator Jim Webb’s National Criminal Justice Committee gets going. Webb has already proven that the juice to the former ‘third rail’ of talking about drug law reform has largely been dampened down, for he’s still politically viable. And when he gets going, the other pols will see that he’s not suffered greatly for it and will join in.

    I’m nobody’s idea of Pollyanna; I have a very clear memory of reading the headline of my local paper when the Shaffer Commission made its’ landmark report of recommending cannabis legalization, and thinking it was only a matter of time. That was 1972, and we all know what happened – and especially what didn’t, and why. But we weren’t as messed up then as we are now, and the situation generationally has changed as well. Which is why I am still hopeful, despite my bone-deep faith in human stupidity gumming up the works every chance it gets.

  • Cliff

    “The one problem with the alcohol prohibition comparison is that the people that were around during alcohol prohibition knew what it was like before the prohibition and was sold legally VS prohibition.”

    There was a time when all drugs were legal and available at the local pharmacy. Tinctures and compounds in all forms for all sorts of ailments. These were priced and marketed in a relatively free market before the Progressives decided what is best for us.

    I was not convinced that medical mj was a path to reform, until I became involved in the medical mj movement here in Colorado. I have seen the people who kaptinemo mentioned (baby boomers) out in force to learn about the medicinal properties of medicinal mj.

    The list of medical mj patients here in Colorado continues to grow as people are becoming aware if the relief it provides to sufferers of many ailments and as people get older or even disabled. At the last medical mj expo I attended, I never saw so many silver haired people mixing with dreadlocked, pony tail sporting medical mj business people who are serious, passionate, determined and compassionate about helping people who are hurting. It actually makes me tear up a little, because I was not aware of so many people getting relief.

    It is this kind of responsible medicinal use which allows a real free market to develop with an exchange of real goods and services (not derivatives and financial instruments and other corporate corruption) which actually helps people without robbing them. We are showing the prohibitionists that, yes it can be responsibly grown, sold and used without the attending consequences of the black market. Medical mj is leading the way to a realistic legalization formula.

    Medical mj is safe and effective and does not require ad campaigns, sales reps, or drug companies to convince people it can help them.

  • But that’s the point, with the estrogen-drenched irrationals constantly yelling about “the children” no rational, logical public policy can ever be adopted.

    BruceM, I feel your pain.

    Here’s a strategy for consideration. Since “they” have stomped on so many people’s personal lives, and continue to bully us in ours, perhaps it’s time to pick out the biggest personalities and loudmouths against us. Delve into their personal lives instead of just looking at them as a figurehead of the nasty organizations they run.

    Not to mudsling, but my sense is they are probably not upholding the ethics of organizations they belong to. For example it could be their religious denomination has issued a statement against the drug war or on cannabis. Or perhaps civic clubs they belong to, etc… Then at some point an exposé can be published.

    Since many of them probably claim to cling to religion, use my website (which is not a blog, and I’ll update the homepage to reflect that so it doesn’t look like a blog) to learn defenses and “surges” against their crooked religious beliefs.

    Use the contact page to send me any of their “logic” so I can dissect it and publish it. There are some time-worn arguments from them I’ve already analyzed elsewhere and haven’t published at CAP yet, but will. There are some “heavy hitting” pieces over there, like one I brushed up, “Comparison: Prohibitionists are to the Devil What Abolitionists are to God.”

    Even if you hate religion/Christians, etc… it doesn’t hurt to learn some of this stuff, we do the same thing with the prohibitionists; we greatly dislike their stance, but we learn what they say so we can pick their statements apart and show them to be the falsehoods they are.

    I’ll try to publish more essays about children later. On the “to do” list. 🙂

    The “Book Navigation” section is where each page is being systematically organized to locate information quickly. Not a blog. I do not wish to duplicate others’ efforts, but clearly — to me at least — this was a niche that needed to be filled so I stepped in.

  • truthtechnician

    I think the country wants change but the mechanisms for change are broken or in disrepair. At this point in America’s history everybody is at the beck and call of the Federal Congress. They decide everything and every policy that the States adopt. State politicians have been reduced to budgeting and bean-counting. Democrats and Republicans rule everything about American policy, foreign and domestic, Federal and State.

    The bureaucracy is so entrenched that reform through the proper mechanism seems impossible. Drug law is one of those bureaucracies. Drug reform is fringe. Even reasonable reform for Marijuana is untouchable by politicians everywhere in the country. Even the relaxed state in the Union, California, has no congressional support for Marijuana reform. California’s budget crisis and economic recession have not garnered any support for reform.

  • kaptinemo

    “The bureaucracy is so entrenched that reform through the proper mechanism seems impossible. Drug law is one of those bureaucracies. Drug reform is fringe. Even reasonable reform for Marijuana is untouchable by politicians everywhere in the country. Even the relaxed state in the Union, California, has no congressional support for Marijuana reform. California’s budget crisis and economic recession have not garnered any support for reform.”

    Normally, I’d be tempted to agree, except for the fact that we as a nation are still perched precariously on what amounts to the ‘event horizon’ of a fiscal black hole that could (and I believe, will) tear this country apart if push comes to shove.

    Bureaucracies are like any other living creature, they need sustenance to survive. Instead of air, water and food, they need money. Lots of it. And, with things getting as bad as they are, WRT the DrugWar, the expenditure of that money is getting harder and harder to justify.

    Right now, not much attention is being focused on this aspect of government operations, but it will, for when some relatively honest politician (or your typically opportunistic one) realizes that s/he can turn to the electorate and say with impunity that the DrugWar’s a waste of money that could go back into the electorate’s pockets in the form of beneficial social programs, that pol will have hit the jackpot.

    And we are already hearing this in the form of a respected political figure: Senator Webb of Virginia. He’s already announced that he will engage in a serious critical review of this nation’s drug laws…and you haven’t heard one peep from the prison-industrial complex about it. They’ve had plenty of time to, but…they’ve been very, very quiet about the direct threat to their gravy train. Because Webb is the kind of person who ‘shoots back’. And the P-IC is used to getting its’ own way without fighting for it. It won’t be that easy, this time. And they know it.

    Between the economy and this proposed legislative assault on their satrapy, the P-IC will have to do what they’ve never had to do before, and that’s engage the public…that is showing markedly less patience with the political system as a whole.

    And in time of economic uncertainty, having some fat cat bureaucrat lecture you on the importance of him keeping his job to keep your kids ‘safe from drugs’ (when they can’t even keep drugs out of prisons) while Joe Taxpayer needs that money to feed those kids, well, that will ‘fly’ as well as a cinderblock with paper wings glued on it.

  • paul

    We’re going to have to wait for the health care ruckus to calm down before anything else can be addressed in Washington. Here’s my best guess as to the direction of events in the next year or so.

    First, the health care bill will pass, but it will be watered down and confused by the whole process. Odds are it will find a way to spend a lot of money without actually accomplishing much. But it will add to government expenses, which will help feed the crisis (below).

    Second (and this is a much tougher call), the economy will tank again. This time, the government will hold T-bill auctions in which not all the inventory is sold, which is a disaster and means that foreigners are unwilling to fund more borrowing by Washington.

    This will cause a new panic as the politicians will see that they’ve finally run out of other people’s money to spend. The Democrats will be forced to raise taxes, which will deepen the economic crisis, and they may actually start thinking about things to cut.

    They won’t cut much unless the crisis is VERY alarming…and it might be. This is the moment that we have a chance to see some of Washington’s dumber ideas finally get cut, and our foreign adventures, like Afghanistan, seriously re-examined. There will be around a 6 month window during which things like this can be examined before the next congressional elections.

    In the next elections, the Democrats will be exhausted and have burned out a lot of political capital over health care reform and their spending spree. The Republicans will probably take either the house or the senate, and grid-lock, mercifully, will return to congress.

    At that point, after the congressional election, things will depend on the state of the economy. If the economy is still very bad and they can’t borrow money, we still have a chance of seeing drug laws revisited because they are expensive.

    It all depends on the economy. Very few people are still alive who remember a government forced to live within its means, but we could get one if this recession really turns out to be a Depression. Nobody really knows what is going to happen next, but based on the sheer debt that built up in the boom years, we have every reason to think a second Depression is possible.

    Such a calamity would be wrenching and painful for everyone, but it also means that big change is coming. The silver lining is that drug laws have a chance of changing along with everything else.

  • kaptinemo

    “It all depends on the economy. Very few people are still alive who remember a government forced to live within its means, but we could get one if this recession really turns out to be a Depression.”

    Which has been my contention all along. The DrugWar, like so much else the government has been doing for the past 50 years, was run on borrowed money, not tax revenues.

    The tax revenue only goes to pay the interest on the ever-mounting National Debt owed to the Federal Reserve banks. Treasury has been running the Fed Reserve Note (those green pieces of paper you have in your pockets, folks) printing presses like crazy, churning out more and more paper and driving the value of it down, down, down. Which is why everything costs so much more, and is getting even more expensive.

    When the day comes that our foreign creditors refuse to take the FRN, because there’s so many of them that the value of their investments have gone down, then we are facing a Weimar Republic type crash-and-burn as a society. On that day, it won’t matter what drug laws are on the books as there won’t be any real money worthy of the name to pay the DrugWarriors…or anyone else for that matter. Expect Hell to open its’ gates shortly afterward…

  • claygooding

    One of the strongest lobbies,Strength=$$$ in election funds,etc,etc
    is the pharmaceutical industry.
    And they are the industry that will lose the most $$$,when marijuana is recognized as a medicine .
    The Office of National Drug Control Policy is required,by congressional mandate,to refuse,and refute,any clinical and any scientific proof of marijuana as a medicine,by ANY means necessary.
    The FDA,cannot approve marijuana as a medicine until all clinical studies are accomplished.
    The DEA,under the ONDCP,is the agency that all clinical studies must submit application too and is the agency for supplying the marijuana,from a government grow facility,for any testing and pharmaceutical study.
    The DEA,may not and will not approve any study or clinical testing of marijuana that proves medical application.because it is illegal for them too.
    All these are facts,that prohibitionists cannot hide from,and they need to pack up their wagons and find another cause.
    There are two things no one can hide forever from the world,the TRUTH,and the sun.
    Our whole movement hinges on getting marijuana rescheduled from I.
    If our Attorney General would clarify the “new” federal marijuana policy,now 7 months old,wouldn’t his first step
    be the movement of marijuana from schedule I? How do you have a “medical marijuana” policy that has no medical applications?

  • claygooding

    And the fact that most of ONDCP’s multi-billion dollar budget is dedicated for interdiction and stopping marijuana probably
    has something to do with why he has not done it yet.