Monday, August 31, 2009

Controlling Drunk Driving

Certainly one class of crime for which we want to reduce recidivism is drunk driving. At age 19, while bicycling across the United States on a sunny Sunday morning in May 1970, I was struck from behind by a driver who blew .40. Miraculously, I survived with a broken wrist and many bruises. The driver was so drunk he did not know that two bicycles pinned under his car and gouging into the pavement had stopped the vehicle's motion. As I recall this was his third or fourth offense. As I recall, my lawyer said that he paid about a $150 fine (in 1970 dollars, of course).

Philip J. Cook (and a graduate student at Duke, Maeve E. Gearing) have made a strong case in today's New York Times that ignition interlocks be installed in the cars of those convicted of driving under the influence to reduce recidivism by an estimated sixty-five percent.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Regarding Hemp rallies, the many ways in which I am wrong!

Many very thoughtful and passionate friends wrote directly to me (or posted on their blogs) to disagree with all or part of my concern that hemp rallies are not good politics for our movement. Others agreed with part of what I said, with important caveats. Since their reactions were not posted directly among the more than a dozen comments to the original blog post (with more being added), about a dozen posts are included below. Where I have made comments they are in brackets [like this], and I have added hyperlinks and identifications.
Several posts are powerful evidence that I was wrong. And when two distinguished public figures in the State of Washington use the Hempfest to publish an op-ed in The Seattle Times, it is clear that as far as Seattle and Hempfest go, in many respects I was wrong. (I can only hope that one-one hundredth of the time and effort that went into the Hempfest is directed into organizing the state to support the legislation referred to at the end of this post.)

Dear Eric,
Having just returned from Hempfest (which was more work than pleasure for me) I read your critique of hemp rallies with interest. You are certainly right that hemp rallies are useless as political events. However, I don't share the view that they are actually politically harmful. IMHO, they are simply irrelevant, like any other public party - Music in the Park, a World Series celebration, Oktoberfest, Halloween, the 4th of July, a NASCAR rally.

This year's Hempfest was probably the biggest such event in history. By most accounts, there were 100-150,000 attendees on the first day alone, filling up a space that had been extended 30% beyond previous events. The crowds on Saturday were overwhelming to the point of suffocation. It is a testimony to the pacifying effects of cannabis that there wasn't a riot - there would have been if alcohol had been present.

But that isn't the point. What's important is that this enormous event generated negligible adverse publicity (outside of the ARO list, of course!). The Seattle media treated it with their routine annual coverage. Myriads of local hemp devotees rallied in the park; locals who dislike MJ didn't attend; and that was that. The net impact on public opinion was zero. Along with many other attendees, I personally found the event useful in making connections with other activists, picking up new information, and surveying the medical marijuana scene in Washington - though, to repeat, the suffocating crowds were an ordeal. But I don't see how any damage was done to the cause of drug reform.

Nor do I think that railing against hemp rallies will do any good. People like to get together to party and smoke dope, and there's nothing you nor I nor all the anti-pot laws in the world can do to stop them. That's one powerful lesson that can certainly be drawn from Seattle Hempfest. And that in itself is an argument for changing the laws - when so many people so flagrantly disregard the laws with such minimal public harm, the laws need to be recast to reflect social reality.

So I think your phobia about hemp rallies is overblown. You have amply articulated your own good reasons for avoiding them. It is a tribute to your own serious dedication to drug reform that you don't want to waste your time with them. Certainly, they are useless for political organizing (it's too bad Hempfest doesn't even make enough money to donate to the movement). But, hey, it's Americans practicing their rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and they have every right to do so.

One final note: I take it as a good omen that this year's Hempfest was so well attended. That means that more people than ever are actively interested in cannabis. And, as with alcohol prohibition, I think the prohibition of drugs will only be reversed when more people show interest in using them.
- Dale Gieringer [California NORML]

Eric specifically mentioned the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in his message, and Dale stated, "Certainly, they (hemp rallies) are useless for political organizing "

I have to disagree. Harvest Fest has been a beacon of organizing in WI. With our mmj [medical marijuana] bill, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act expected to be rolled out right before HF39 [Harvest Fest 39], we intend to use it to rally for the bill and use it to get patient's voices into the media. Over the last decade, HF has become a very medical focused event, with media reports focusing on that angle.

For WI and the Midwest, Harvest Fest fills a lot of roles, both political and organizational as well as social, informational and a reunion of like-minded folks.

Gary Storck

Unfortunately, Chris [Conrad] and I didn't make it to the Seattle Hempfest this
year. We had to stay here to work on production of the Fall 2009 issue of West Coast Leaf newspaper, the latest expression of our activism (see the current online version at

That said, I think that while Eric makes some valid points in his post, I also disagree with his assessment of the harms. The press in Seattle tends to be very positive. Hempfest provides a great opportunity to disseminate information and network with activists and the masses, as Dale mentioned. They are good places to register voters (which they've done in the past). But, most importantly, they are a cultural phenomenon. Cannabis consumers need a place to express ourselves and our culture, those of us with Pot Pride, much like the Gay Pride parades (yeah, they may scare middle America with how they express themselves in those parades, and you know they aren't going to end them, because they serve a purpose).

We need to show that there are thousands of us, like-minded people, who deserve a public place to be together, to demonstrate our right to assemble, to not have to hide in shame in our closets, to assert our freedom and equal rights, to have fun, and this is good for our souls. There is strength in numbers, and the people who still go to these hempfests leave knowing that they are not alone, that the organizers are competent, serious people, and that there are many ways to get involved with the movement if they choose. The fact that they have been very peaceful, huge events, speaks well of our movement.

This is also a weekend of tolerance by the police, which also serves an important purpose for our society.

And, I agree with Emma Goldman, a respected political writer and activist, who said (although maybe not quite in these words, "If I can't dance, I want no part of your revolution."

Mikki Norris
Managing Editor, West Coast Leaf
Director, Cannabis Consumers Campaign

[Read this excellent account of Goldman's life. Goldman was a spell-binding lecturer and drew enormous crowds (like Hempfest?). The Wikipedia article notes, "Two years later Goldman began feeling frustrated with lecture audiences. She yearned to 'reach the few who really want to learn, rather than the many who come to be amused.'" The article adds,
In 1973 Shulman was asked by a printer friend for a quotation "by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. She sent him the selection from Living My Life about "the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"; the printer created a paraphrase that has become one of Goldman's most famous quotations, even though she herself probably never said or wrote it: "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution."[170] Variations of this saying have appeared on thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items.[171] Although the words are not explicitly Goldman's own, they capture the spirit of her belief in personal liberty and self-expression."]

I have spoken at a few hemp fests of various sorts. I don't think I converted any conservative Republicans with my speeches. However, I always run into people who are interested in marijuana but were only dimly aware of the reform movement. It is a chance to get them involved, and I have seen them become involved more than a few times.

I also think they are a demonstration of the size of the untapped business market. If you really want to make them effective, figure out how to capture all that potential business in a focused direction.

Cliff Schaffer
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Schaffer Library Hemp Pages
Marijuana Business News dot com

If hempfests are politically insignificant it's probably because people who want that to change do nothing to change it, other than to talk about it, or simply abandon them altogether. I'm not going to the 39th Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in October to smoke pot. I can smoke pot here in NJ if that's what I want to do.

I am going to Madison for the same reason that I go every year. To do whatever I can to get people to help get a medical marijuana bill passed there. I remember two years ago when I implored the attendees, from the steps of the Capitol building (where no pot was being smoked) to fill out a postcard asking their Senator and Assembly representatives to support the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Bill. A couple of hundred did so, many sheepishly apologizing for not being involved until then. Two days later a small group of us "reformers" took the collated postcards to the state legislators' offices and used them to open a dialogue with staffers, and is some cases to talk with the legislator himself (herself). I greatly enjoyed walking into office after office and saying that I was there to talk to the appropriate staffer about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill. When I was invariably asked "are you a constituent?" I would reply "I'm not even a Wisconsin
resident, but I have a postcard from a constituent(s) asking you to talk to me about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill". That changed everything. We didn't share a joint then. We shared a conversation about the realities of medical marijuana. AND...the legislators and staffers couldn't see whether the constituent request came from a tie-dye shirted constituent or not. It was delivered by someone in a suit and tie (me), and not a tie-dye tie.

I understand Eric's logic and can see where image can be a problem. I chose to do something about that as best as I can. I will be doing that again in Madison this year rather than throwing in the towel and not attending any more festivals. I mean...what good would THAT do medical marijuana patients? Having just written all of this, I can say that writing about marijuana reform is certainly easier than physically doing something about it. If all I did was write about it I would undoubtedly have a much easier time staying in New Jersey rather than traveling to Wisconsin.

If I got paid for either life would be sweet. Thanks to Gary and Ben for paying for my way there. But then again...they know why I am coming, to be politically significant.

Jim Miller
[Jim at a memorial for his wife Cheryl Miller at the State Capital in Trenton, NJ. NORML's announcement of the passing of Cheryl Miller in 2003.

Ditto Cliff.
I firmly believe that about 20-25% of the population are so deeply into prohibition they will never be converted no matter how much logic/emotion/posturing or whatever combination we apply.
To some degree, they are a tail wagging the dog and most politicians do not want to piss off this fanatic minority. This is why something as simple as medical mj has most often had to be settled by ballot initiatives rather then appealing to elected officials. Hopefully this will change in our lifetime.
On an anecdotal level, I was born in 1951 and took my first toke of herb September 1970. I did not quit like other people, just quietly went into the closet until 1992. That is when when I decided to check out "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor. I realized then I was not alone, and gradually got more aggressive in my reform advocacy over the years.

Best Wishes,
Tim Beck
[Tim has been one of the most important leaders of the reform movement in Michigan. EES]
[EES -- I spoke at the 1992 Hash Bash... Tim's post may be the most pointed rejection of one of my main theses.]

It is easy for well funded, self proclaimed leaders of the drug reform movement (one of whom wore a jester's hat at a rally in the early 90's on Boston Common) to chastise rallies with an elitist rant.

MassCann does not promote the civil disobedience, that would be a violation of the Court order that permits it to happen, as organizers are enjoined from inciting unlawful behavior.

Without the Boston Freedom Rally, which has introduced a whole generation of Boston area college students to the "movement" and alternative candidates for office I dare say the "movement" would not be where it is today nationally as these students get involved and move on to other areas of the country. There would have been no Question 2 in Massachusetts as there would have been no MassCann, an organization of volunteers, without a sugar daddy, to lay the foundation. In 2011 when we expect the same money that paid for Question 2 will be conducting a mmj initiative in Massachusetts our event will, as it was in 2007, be the unofficial, and if the people with the money want to share credit the official, kick-off of the signature gathering campaign. It is an event at which with enough petitioners, one-fifth to one-quarter of the signatures needed to put a question on the ballot can be obtained in six hours.

Instead of contributing to bringing us together rants like Eric's are divisive.

Attorney Steven S. Epstein
Clerk, Treasurer and Database Manager
Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition\NORML
A State Affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Proud Sponsor of Freedom Rally XX, Sept. 19, 2009 on the Boston Common
P.O. Box 0266, Georgetown, MA 01833-0366
781-944-2266 -
"We shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption."
John Adams as Humphrey Ploughjogger, 1763

Radical Russ Belville who spoke and performed at Hempfest had this detailed and passionate rebuttal of my post on the NORML Daily Audio Stash! I am confident, that despite the context, that Russ's jokes about "Yo Mama" in the comments to his denunciation of my post were not directed at my mother.

While I understand and even agree with many of Eric's arguments, the fact remains that: (1) the organizers of events like Hempfest, Freedom Rally, Million Marijuana March, etc. are going to keep doing what they're doing and (2) people keep enthusiastically attending these events. Are movement leaders going to keep boycott these events? The attendees are a ripe target for education (both political and legal, since many of them are breaking the law by attempting to use controlled substances in public) and political mobilization.

Although many people are there just to party, I've met quite a few who were honestly curious and thankful that reform orgs were there to protect and educate. Let's not write these crowds off as source for new DPR activists.

Doug Greene

The only thing I disagree with is that ALL rallies encourage this behavior. I can understand why some partake at the rallies as they may feel it is one of the few times they will not be judged harshly---even by enforcement. I believe that even if folk did not partake the general media and paranoiacs would portray reform the same exact way, they just would not have photo ops.
Mary Barr

(11)And in a most embarrassing renunciation of the entire point of my argument, from the op-ed pages of The Seattle Times:

Time for Washington state to decriminalize marijuana

The Washington Legislature should enact Senate Bill 5615, which would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime to a civil infraction, write guest columnists Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, and former state Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland.

By Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Toby Nixon
Special to The Times

ONCE again, the Seattle Hempfest drew tens of thousands to parks along the waterfront this weekend. In its mission statement, the all-volunteer organization that produces the event says, "The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals."

We agree. That is why we, as a Democratic state senator and former Republican state representative, support state Senate Bill 5615. This bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime carrying a mandatory day in jail to a civil infraction imposing a $100 penalty payable by mail. The bill was voted out of committee with a bipartisan "do pass" recommendation and will be considered by legislators in 2010.

The bill makes a lot of sense, especially in this time of severely strapped budgets. Our state Office of Financial Management reported annual savings of $16 million and $1 million in new revenue if SB 5615 passes. Of that $1 million, $590,000 would be earmarked for the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account to increase support of our underfunded drug-treatment and drug-prevention services.

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is far from new. In 1970, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. A bipartisan body with 13 members - nine appointed by President Nixon and four by Congress - the commission was tasked with conducting a yearlong, authoritative study of marijuana. When the commission issued its report, "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," in1972, it surprised many by recommending decriminalization:

Possession of marijuana in private for personal use would no longer be an offense; and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

Twelve states took action and decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s. Nevada decriminalized in 2001, and Massachusetts did so in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states where marijuana possession is decriminalized represent more than 35 percent of our nation's population.

These states have not seen a corresponding increase in use. Nor have the 14 states that have adopted legal protections for patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana. Nor the several cities and counties that have adopted "lowest law enforcement priority" ordinances like Seattle's Initiative 75, which made adult marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority in 2003.

On the flip side of the coin, escalating law enforcement against marijuana users has not achieved its intended goals. From 1991 to 2007, marijuana arrests nationwide tripled from 287,900 to a record 872,720, comprising 47 percent of all drug arrests combined. Of those, 89 percent were for possession only. Nevertheless, according to a study released earlier this year by two University of Washington faculty members:

* The price of marijuana has dropped;
* Its average potency has increased;
* It has become more readily available; and
* Use rates have often increased during times of escalating enforcement.

We now have decades of proof that treating marijuana use as a crime is a failed strategy. It continues to damage the credibility of our public health officials and compromise our public safety. At a fundamental level, it has eroded our respect for the law and what it means to be charged with a criminal offense: 40 percent of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. It cannot be that 40 percent of Americans truly are criminals.

We hope that the citizens of this state will work with us to help pass SB 5615, the right step for Washington to take toward a more effective, less costly and fairer approach to marijuana use.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, left, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. Toby Nixon was state representative for the 45th legislative district, 2002-2006, and served as vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus and ranking member of the House Committee on State Government Operations and Accountability.

[The irony of this important op-ed as a rejection of my thesis did not escape who wrote "So much for Eric Sterling's rant and rave"].

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hempfest is huge, but is it good politics?

In the months leading up to the 2009 Hempfest in Seattle, Dominic Holden, one of the long-serving leaders and organizers of the famous Seattle Hempfest, criticized what he saw as Hempfest’s narrow cultural foundation. He argues that the movement for drug policy reform needs to be much broader, and that the Hempfest could be more valuable politically if it were not exclusively a “tie-die” affair. Some leaders of Hempfest, responding to his published critique, had his VIP pass revoked and was ejected.

Aside from the personality issues involved, I think his political critique is important. (Of course, that may be because I largely agree with him.)

More than a fifteen years ago I became very concerned about the role of hemp rallies in the politics of drug policy reform. This post was started and mostly written in the early 1990s after I stopped speaking at hemp rallies.

* * * * *

In many towns around the nation, the entirety of the drug policy “debate” is either on the letters to the editor page of the local newspaper or a hemp rally on a campus or in a park. But in larger cities, within the next six weeks, there will be various hemp rally–“harvest festivals,” such as the 20th Annual Boston Freedom Rally on September 19, 2009 and the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, Oct. 1-4, 2009. The fall semester will probably see a resumption of campus marijuana policy protests packaged as hemp rallies.

Of course, these rallies are not a debate, at all. Even as a “political” rally or protest, the hemp rally is a hodge-podge of bands, speakers, and clouds of smoke. I am deeply troubled that for much of the public the most common face of the politics of drug policy reform is teenager smoking a pipe at a pot rally. Does it need to be said that this is profoundly counter-productive? Well-meaning and passionate, but immature strategies and tactics keep holding back our movement.

Around the nation – indeed around the world – serious analysts and commentators know that our drug policy is a counterproductive failure leading to more crime and little drug abuse prevention. The U.S. government and its political establishment are the linchpin for reform, but until a proper political campaign is executed, the status quo will remain firmly in charge. We are close to a global tipping point for reform, but our reform movement squanders the energy and political force of tens of thousands of our activists on ill-conceived events. Protests are necessary, and large, well-planned demonstrations would be a tremendous asset to the global reform movement. But the hemp rally paradigm is out of date.

Woodstock was a great cultural moment. But it is preposterous to think that two-bit re-enactments of the Woodstock vibe in parks and quads around the nation are a positive political tactic.

The drug policy reform movement has many organizational problems. In this paper I suggest that one of our reform movement’s most serious image and organizing problems are "hemp rallies." I am using this term to describe any marijuana legalization or hemp legalization rally or festival at which marijuana is smoked, encouraged, or justified and at which persons college age or younger predominate.

Have you ever been to a hemp rally? In the early 1990s, at a string of such events – the Texas Hemp Summit, the Boston Freedom Rally, the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, the Illinois Hash Wednesday, the New York Pot Parade, the Fourth of July Marijuana Smoke-in in front of the White House, Hempstalk in upstate NY, the Harvest Festival in Madison, WI, and various similar events in California, North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere, I basked in more than my share of cheers and applause, as I contributed my Washington, DC political perspective. But I haven’t spoken to any in fifteen years, having concluded that they are politically pointless. In the mid-1990s, when I heard the entire drug policy reform movement described as "pro-drug" and "pro-pot," I analyzed my hemp rally experiences and understood why those accusations could be seriously made.

But aside from any accusations, we must fully appreciate that in order to change the drug laws in Congress and the state legislatures, we need the cooperation and engagement of a broad-based coalition. We certainly need a much, much, MUCH larger coalition than we now have. And certainly, we need the support of people who feel most strongly about the drug problem and who are aware of the current approach's failures.

Why haven't the PTAs, the teachers unions or the Chambers of Commerce endorsed drug policy reform? Their reticence is based almost entirely on the plausible fear that teenage drug use will rise. Well, there remains a lot of teenage marijuana use – about one out of five high school seniors is a current user, which is less than it was at the start of this decade. This prevalence certainly and reasonably alarms parents and their teachers.


Let's face one fact. Marijuana use can be harmful. Undoubtedly the harms are grossly, frequently hysterically, exaggerated by anti-marijuana crusaders -- but the harms to some users are real -- often subtle, but significant, none the less.

Marijuana use can be habit forming. Perhaps six to ten percent of users can be considered addicted – the users have tried to quit but quickly resumed using marijuana, and their use is interfering with their lives – their relationships, their studies, their work. One of the great psychiatrists and researchers of drug abuse, Harvard’s acclaimed Norman Zinberg, M.D., the author of the Drug, Set and Setting, and a long time friend of NORML, recognized that marijuana addiction was one of the toughest addictions to treat because it was hard for the addict to recognize the urgency of addressing it. The addict knows it is harmful but not so obviously and deeply harmful and compulsive as addictions to heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine frequently are. I suspect that most of us in drug policy reform know some persons we could fairly call marijuana addicts.

Judgment often is impaired when one is stoned. This doesn't mean one does not deny that one can have useful, valuable insights when stoned. But people can be impulsive while stoned and engage in “risky behavior” that they might not take if sober. Marijuana does not cause the gross impairment that is common with overindulgence of alcoholic beverages. Certainly some athletes believe that cannabis improves their performance, but marijuana-caused impairment can increase the risk of accidents and injuries when bicycling, hiking, skiing, boating, swimming, etc. while stoned. Motor skills and cognitive skills are often impaired when stoned. There is no doubt that this has led to several hugely tragic accidents – usually in conjunction with alcohol use. These tragic examples of the misuse of marijuana, however, do not warrant prohibition of adult use because they are more than balanced by the pleasure millions of people obtain when they are stoned. But these tragedies must not be ignored.

The biological and developmental risks for kids from heavy marijuana use are probably greater than they are for adults, simply because kids’ bodies are still developing. Of course, most teenage users are not heavy users, but some are. In general, the risks for kids engaging in many adult behaviors such as driving cars, using firearms, and having sex – to name just a few – are also greater than the risks that adults run. But we would not think of banning adults from these behaviors to "send a message" to kids that they run risks in such activities. Prohibition is definitely not the approach to address these risks, harm reduction and education are the correct route.

It ought to be obvious that none of us are in the drug policy reform movement to increase the number of teens in trouble or the number of drug addicts. Most of us believe a system of regulation and control of drugs will lead to better control, and more credible prevention, than the out-of-control situation that exists in the prohibition structure of criminal markets, and the prohibition culture that results in a mix of secretive use and flamboyantly rebellious use.

Before we can mobilize the public to end prohibition, we need dramatic expansion of effective public health-based prevention programs to discourage people of all ages, but especially children, from using drugs in risky and inappropriate ways.

The drug policy reform movement wants to create conditions for safer, more responsible, less harmful drug use than is possible under prohibition. When we talk of harm reduction, of course, we are explicitly acknowledging the risks and dangers of drug use. But we must be more forthright in acknowledging those risks, especially about marijuana. Our political work demands that we be truthful and that we are truly working to reduce the harm from drugs. Our mission requires that we practice harm reduction in our politics.


Marijuana use by teenagers is not a sign of enlightenment. Yes, there are certainly bright, curious kids who smoke marijuana, but their adolescent marijuana use is not a cause for celebration! Some marijuana using kids are more likely to use other drugs than kids who have never used marijuana. That's what the data shows, and it makes sense, even though the overwhelming majority of teenage marijuana users never use another illegal drug. Statistically, marijuana is more frequently a “terminus” drug than a “gateway” drug.

The fact that marijuana experimenting teenagers are more likely to experiment with other illegal drugs than a kid who never tried marijuana is not the bogus pharmacological "stepping stone" theory that a "marijuana addict eventually needs a stronger drug to get high." Rather, it is both a psychological truth and a legal and cultural phenomenon. Psychologically, a willingness to take risks cuts across a variety of behaviors. A risk taker might try out for a role in the school play, the varsity football team, or the debate team. A risk taker might ask someone for a date. A risk taker might take a toke when a joint is passed to him or her. Appropriate risk taking is healthy.

What we call “risky” behavior is different. “Risky” behavior is not wearing a seat belt, not wearing a condom during sex, running a yellow traffic light, shooting the rapids without a life jacket, kayaking or climbing without a helmet, etc.

Risk is to be encouraged, risky is to be discouraged.

In addition to the personal behavior and psychology, there are the cultural features of the pot smoking world. The gestalt values new experiences and adventures. It includes a music scene which is embedded with drug use. It has an ethos that mixes almost boundless individual liberty with voluntary (never compulsory) social responsibility. One of the accepted values is getting high. Experimentation with drugs is commonplace and tolerated -- particularly with LSD, nitrous oxide, MDMA (Ecstasy), peyote (mescaline), psilocybin mushrooms, tobacco, and alcohol. Many pot smokers don't use other drugs or if they do, for most, their experimentation is short-lived. But many pot smokers do try other drugs, and pot, after underage and illegal alcohol and tobacco experimentation and use, was another illegal drug – the first culturally illegal drug – they tried.

Increasing rates of teenage pot use is not a good thing. It would be a political cynicism and stupidity of the most odious sort to see expanding the cohort of teenage pot smokers as an enlargement of a political base.

Certainly it cannot be heresy in the harm reduction movement to observe that it is statistically likely that more kids will be hurt by hard drugs if the number of teenage pot smokers continues to rise. Many of these new pot smoking kids are not college kids, they are not even senior high school kids -- they are usually junior high or middle school kids and sometimes younger.

It is important to ask why teenage pot use went up a decade ago. It would be simply glib to say that it is the fault of prohibition, or the flawed design and execution of D.A.R.E. programs. Like most social phenomena, it is almost certainly due to a number of factors. As public health oriented advocates, we must ask if hemp rallies have anything to do with that increase? If so, we must examine what happens at hemp rallies.


I'd like to describe the hemp rallies I attended from the perspectives of the rally organizers, the speakers, the participants, and the different groups in the viewing public.

Rally organizers
-- like most of us, much of the time -- often have mixed motives. On one hand they want to hold a political rally. They want a forum for making political statements about marijuana and hemp. For the old Cannabis Action Network, for example, that was the principal motive. Rally organizers want the press to cover the event, and they need to draw a crowd. They may also want to cover their costs and raise money.

For the organizers of the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition's Smoke-In at the White House, the motive was primarily politics. As a concert, the stage and sound system were practically non-existent -- indeed, there is a companion concert later that afternoon. But they almost never have political literature around the marijuana issues.

For organizers of other events the primary motive seems to be to have a big party, e.g., the "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor, the "Windy City Weed Fest" in Chicago, and the "Great Atlanta Pot Festival." "Let's get some great bands together and kick back in the sunshine. If we all get together and get high, won't that be great."

For some hemp rallies, the motives are clearly mixed. For NORML's Fourth of July rock'n'roll party near the Lincoln Memorial, for example, politics is the motive, but fun and music is the lure. As a political event, this has repeatedly been an utter failure. No one takes it seriously as a protest. New York's "Fifth Avenue Pot Parade" has a serious political hue -- until it gets to Washington Square Park when the real business of the day begins -- the party!

For the Boston Freedom Rally, the organizers have an explicit political objective, but the bands are critically important, and the vendors and fund raising is important too.

For Hempfest in Seattle, it appears that the political objective is mixed and inseparable from hosting a cultural celebration.

At one level, the hemp rally is like the $500 per person gala benefit organized by "high society" socialites to benefit the opera guild, the Childrens' Hospital, or cancer research -- "The public may think we're wealthy, social parasites -- but we're actually doing good work for the community." Yes, we are raising money for an important charity. But at heart, we also like hobnobbing with the local wealthy elites. This is the hempy alternative: we're not stoners, we're political activists!

On campus, hemp rally organizers recognize the value of associating their "spring fling" with positive political and social messages -- individual freedom, equal justice for all, criminal justice reform, medicine for the sick, save the planet!

Rally organizers look for the best bands and the best speakers they can to get the biggest crowds. They target the rally publicity to the youth media. The organizers know that what really draws crowds is the promise of a good time.

The speakers come with a range of motives. Some of us look forward to getting our message out to an audience more appreciative than a right-wing talk radio show. A few of us think we present seriously developed analyses of various drug policy issues and that this is a forum for education about the issues. We bring copies of our reports, white papers and book chapters.

For other "speakers" at a hemp rally, this is a party -- this is like cheerleading at an athletic event. I've seen speakers dressed up in costume. One earnest speaker used to make a living selling bumper stickers, "Thank you for pot smoking" -- that imitated the American Cancer Society's slogan "Thank you for not smoking." At some rallies, there are "doobie tosses" -- the throwing of marijuana cigarettes into the crowd. Functionally, at most events the speakers are on the program to fill the time as the bands who have drawn the audience move their equipment off and on stage. This is down time, perfect for rolling a joint and filling a bowl before the next set begins.

Speakers generally express outrage that the crowd shares. The ever-present shadow of arrest genuinely interferes with the peace of mind of America's 15 or 20 million pot-smokers. Prohibition enforcement is an enormous psychic burden upon adult marijuana users -- a genuine denial of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But this is a very narrow political message.

That the Federal government denies sick people legal access to marijuana which is a medicine that would help them, and interferes with state efforts to permit such legal access, is another legitimate source of outrage. But that outrage is not what draws most of the participants.

A hemp rally is rarely a call to specific political action. It is a festival of marijuana use. It is an entertainment with excitement -- being an outlaw and hoping to get away with it. The job of the speakers is to entertain the crowd. Inevitably, speakers extol the pleasure of pot smoking. We hear from the stage "Let's get high!" "Let's party!" We rarely hear calls to “Register to vote here. Join a political campaign here.” No one is here for a reasoned analysis or education. The repetition of cliches is always dependable.

The musicians sing about the subject matter -- the pleasures of getting high, the evil persecution of the drug law, the ugliness of police practices, and adoration of the hemp plant. To get a sense of this, listen to NORML's "Hempilation" album. And of course this can be an opportunity to get exposure, get fans to sign up on email lists for club invites, and sell CDs.

Who are the participants? At the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, for example, many of the participants are committed, heavy consumption pot-smokers. The participants are there for the excitement, the crowd, the entertainment and the music. Many are there for the self-identification: I am a pot smoker. They are there for a good time and for camaraderie. The curious are there because this is "a happening." This is completely unlike the usual weekend of chores, homework, shopping, movies, TV, etc. This is "the place to be."

For some participants the rally is an opportunity to get their feelings of persecution off their chest and tell society, "I'm stoned -- Get over it." "I'm gonna get high and there's nothing anybody's going to do about it." At its core, the rally is essentially an affirmation of pot smoking.

But as politics, this is most definitely not about contemplating the serious work of lobbying or coalition building, or stuffing envelopes for a mailing. No one's attention is focused enough to comprehend a target of the protest.

Others are simply curious. They heard the ads on the radio or got the Facebook post. The teenage students are forming impressions. Is this what Woodstock was like? Is this what the 60s were like? Is this like the civil rights movement, or the anti-Vietnam War "peace" movement?

At the Fourth of July White House smoke-in, there is the thrill of smoking pot in defiance of the law, the frisson of deviance when “straight” people are crowding the mall for a patriotic concert and fireworks.

But while the bands play and the speakers speak, the participants are standing around, sitting around, or walking around, smoking pot and getting stoned.

Of greatest social and political significance, however, is that for the youngest participants this may be the first time they have been so publicly encouraged to smoke pot. It is one thing to be covertly offered a joint by another kid from school or the team down in the woods, or hear a pot joke on TV. But here, everybody seems to be doing it. Look, someone on the stage is saying how great it is to get high. Look, up on the stage, someone is smoking a pipe or a joint, and everybody is cheering. Hey, someone is offering me a 6-foot bong! If I smoke a joint, won’t I be worthy of being cheered right now? Gee, everyone seems to be having such a good time, isn't this a good place to try pot, if I haven’t before? In this sense, hemp rallies are a social menace and political disaster.

For conscientious reporters, there is significant challenge in reporting this event. In Madison, Wisconsin they actually reported the speeches. But that was atypical. Is the content the “news?” Do they report the gestalt, the “flavor” of the event, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer does with photographs and no news story? The sideshow character of the event is often much more interesting than what the speakers said (for no matter how loud they were, the messages were pretty lame). Some reporters wonder how to report the event without condoning drug use? If they actually quote a speaker, for balance, should they interview some of the stoned kids, and some critics of the event? Standing back and looking at the event overall, isn’t this event, first, about getting stoned, and second, celebrating getting stoned? It must be conceded that some reporters cover the politics but do not report on the event itself.

For many of the police the rally engenders anger and disgust. For officers who have seen car crashes resulting from irresponsible drug and alcohol use, this is outrageous. For those who teach in D.A.R.E. programs, to see stoned kids at this "pro-pot" rally is maddening. For those who bust drug dealers -- at some personal danger to themselves -- this is infuriating. "Not in a million years would we take the policy proposals of the organizers of this event seriously -- we don't even take their phone calls!"

True, the kids are not rioting like drunken college students after a championship ball game -- which has plagued Ann Arbor during March Madness. But the drunks at the ball game riot are celebrating the values of “winning,” of "sportsmanship," of "the competition that makes America great," etc. And drinking is legal, something that cops certainly do a lot of, and they understand drunks. At the hemp rally, so much that “ordinary” Americans ostensibly value -- family values, respect for the flag, patriotism, rule of law, cleanliness, modesty, chastity, heterosexuality etc. -- is being flouted wantonly and indiscriminately.

For teachers and parents who are concerned about drug abuse among their children, this rally is a sickening sight. No matter what caveats about the problems of drug use that might be uttered by a few “serious” speakers, and despite the political literature being distributed (too often crudely produced drivel), a legitimate overall impression is that this is a "do drugs" rally. They accurately hear speakers praising pot and getting high. They see an audience filled with young people using pot. They see kids who are more interested in finding drugs than in finding the literature. They see kids more interested in smoking a joint than in listening to the speakers.


About sixteen or seventeen years ago, I was a featured speaker at some hemp rallies. I even had my name silk-screened on a rally T-shirt. I've made my share of passionate hemp rally speeches, and – woo-hoo – a handful of people have later asked for my autograph. I found the "rock star" treatment of being a hemp rally headliner very seductive!

But I have been a serious advocate of drug policy reform for a much longer time. As part of a comprehensive policy reform, for example, I think marijuana ought to be legally sold to adults under the explicit condition that it be used carefully, with controls in place to minimize misuse, with restrictions on juvenile access, with appropriate taxation, and with appropriate penalties for dangerous conduct while under the influence.

Overall, the many hemp rallies I've attended have been political duds, and I'm ashamed that I didn't speak out against them sooner or more forcefully. I distributed an outline of a system for regulating marijuana for adults only, along the lines of a state hunting license, but the audience simply did not care. I regret that my exuberant participation at hemp rallies more than 15 years ago may have been seen as legitimizing teenage drug use by some in the audience.

I fear that overall, hemp rallies are bad for the kids who attend, bad for the country, and very bad for our movement. I gave too much weight to my hope that I was recruiting idealistic college students to a fulfilling political activism. I didn't pay close enough attention to the event as experienced by the audience.

As constructive political activity, these rallies are not simply a failure, they are a catastrophe. What is the number one obstacle to drug policy reform? The public's fear that kids will use drugs. Hemp rallies fully legitimize those fears.


Let's face it, hemp rallies are not only a fraud as serious political events go, they are worse -- they are advertisements of irresponsible drug use. Prohibitionists are on the mark when they describe hemp rallies as "pro-drug" events. We do not know that they contribute to the increase in juvenile drug use, but we do not know that they don't.. Do those of us in drug policy reform who are committed to public health perhaps have a responsibility to change the character of these events, or to boycott and help end them?

In America today, there are no other political protests like a hemp rally. Does any other political cause have such superficial preparation and indifference to the message and to organization? Hemp rallies are the antithesis of serious political protest. Would any serious political figure outside of the drug policy reform movement, who knows anything about a hemp rally, consider participating?


The drug policy reform movement claims that it has a better solution to the drug problem than prohibition. We say to those genuinely concerned about the tragedy of drug use, join us for we have a better solution. How do we demonstrate our sincerity in trying to curb drug abuse and its related social disorder?

We condemn the prohibitionists as obtuse who can't see the fallacy in their arguments. Have we been equally obtuse in not seeing that our movement's most common "political" events contradict our standards and our analysis? I argue that there is such a thing as responsible drug use -- but I regret that I have spoken at pot rallies where there has been uncontrolled drug use, drug use by kids, and the extolling of drug use. That was obtuse -- I certainly didn't model responsible political behavior. I apologize for having undermined the work of so many in this movement by having participated in these events.

I call upon serious drug policy reformers to reform hemp rallies or end them. To associate our movement with hemp rallies makes our movement repellent to the most important constituencies we claim we are trying to reach.

The drug policy reform movement must expand beyond those who are energized by concerts and festivals of pot smoking, and by their own sense of personal persecution. We must get beyond the abstract discussions of policy and into detailed proposals. We must reach those who are deeply concerned about the drug problem among our youth. We must be in a real coalition with parents and teachers to resist teen drug use. We can’t effectively be in such coalitions if we are participating in hemp rallies, hash bashes and doobie tosses.


We pay a terrible price for allowing our political face to be hemp rallies. Ultimately we teach our politically inspired students the wrong lesson, that public politics is a casual, almost trivial affair. We teach that a political action should be an occasion for feeling good, partying, talking to the converted, cheering, hanging out, uttering banalities, and then going home. This "politics" is as empty as the self-esteem voodoo that passes for preventing teenage drug use.

It doesn't matter how articulate or compelling the speakers have been about writing well-written letters to the legislators -- almost no one is sending those letters. It doesn't matter that participants are encouraged to sign petitions -- few sign, and fewer are delivered. It doesn't matter that we circulate sign-up lists -- few follow up to organize the signers. This is not politics, this is a party -- that is the medium, and that is the message.

We squander the energy of our activists by arranging pot rallies and encouraging them to drive hundreds of miles to engage in pointless events.

Compare our events to the newsreel footage of political rallies of the 1930s and 40s. When serious political organizations staged an event, the male participants came in neckties; women wore dresses. People came to listen and to make a point with their presence. Drinking was unthinkable. The events were organized. People trained to be political organizers -- not wannabe show business producers.

During the civil rights era, it was inconceivable that people would drink at a march or at a rally. The Civil Rights Marches were undertaken with sober reflection -- they were led by preachers and were undertaken prayerfully. Look at the photographs of the 1963 great civil rights march on Washington.

How do we expect the allies we must have to take our "movement" seriously when we don't take our own political events seriously? Do we take seriously as “supporters” and “members” upon whom we can rely, the majority of the youth who attend hemp rallies?

What kind of politics is it that takes the rock concert as its paradigm of political protest?

How can anyone take seriously a rally that purports to be for medical marijuana when 99.9% of the marijuana smoked is done so recreationally, and with indifference to use by children?

How can anyone take seriously a rally promoting hemp to protect the environment when 99% of the hemp present is there to be smoked or ingested to get someone high?

How can we make a serious claim to be advocates of harm reduction and of legitimate alternative forms of drug control if we participate in hemp rallies in which drug use, particularly by the young, is flagrantly uncontrolled?


Can we develop standards or best practices of what our movement considers an appropriate and effective marijuana reform rally or event? Can we set criteria regarding the kinds of events we will participate in? Or do we simply speak wherever there is a crowd? Should we denounce irresponsible drug use, especially when it is undertaken in the name of drug policy reform? Can we organize true protest rallies?

Isn’t it a reasonable rule of our politics that there be no pot smoking, no drug use and no drinking at public drug policy events, unless it is Gandhian nonviolent civil disobedience? If we want to build our movement, shouldn’t the days of pot rallies and casual smoke-ins be declared over?

If there is to be marijuana use at a political event, it can only be in the context of a carefully planned civil disobedience action with the intention of generating arrests as a moral witness against the evils of the drug war.

Those who organize fundraising concerts and parties to support drug policy reform (and those who attend) will need guidance about responsible drug use behavior. I commend MPP and DPA for leaving behind the rock concert model as the paradigm for drug policy reform fundraisers.

Don’t we have an obligation to show by example what responsible drug use in a post-prohibition world might look like. Don’t we have an obligation to reduce the number of future victims of the drug war by doing our political work well? Doesn’t this obligate our movement to "clean up our act."

The drug policy reform movement is not a "pro-drug" movement, it is a drug control movement. It is pro-control. Can it ever succeed as long as it can be fairly charged that it is a "pro-drug" movement? Isn’t it time that the leaders of the movement act in concert to end the association with a "politics" that is "pro-drug?"

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

NPR -- Pot dispensaries in CA are medical fraud

NPR's report this morning on the growth of medical marijuana dispensaries in California implies that medical marijuana is a fraud. Angel Raich, the courageously ill woman from Oakland who sued Attorney General Ashcroft to enjoin the Justice Department from threatening her with a prosecution for using marijuana that has halted the growth of her tumors and restored her to mobility and function from near total disability, was interviewed. In NPR's listeners' comments, Louise Vera, a commentator, says Angel is crazy.

Oh how judgmental we all are!

I have known about the genuine medical value of cannabis since 1976 when I was in law school and met Robert Randall, the young man who stopped his blinding glaucoma by using cannabis, and sued the Federal government to start the compassionate IND. I stuffed envelopes in Robert's apartment to send to prospects to join the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics in 1981 or so. The Congressman I worked for for 8 years cosponsored legislation to make marijuana legal for medical purposes back in 1981. I was reading the affidavits and briefs that were filed with DEA that were used by DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young to issue findings of fact and a proposed rule to reschedule cannabis for medical purposes in 1988.

I have accompanied a majority of the living legal Federal medical cannabis patients in meetings with Members of Congress -- Elvy Musikka, Irv Rosenfeld, George McMahon, and Barb Douglass.

There is no question that cannabis -- smoked and otherwise -- has medical value for some extraordinarily hard to treat conditions. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean that no other medicines have value. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean cannabis is useful for every medical condition. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean that smoking cannabis cannot irritate the throat and lungs, etc.

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It is tragic that marijuana, as a medicine, has a stigma that discourages some people who are in pain, who are suffering from multiple sclerosis, from cancer, from HIV and AIDS, from Parkinson's Disease, from experimenting with cannabis as a potential form of relief.

But the ease with which basically healthy persons are able to acquire marijuana in the guise of being ill is offensive. It is hard to avoid judging what appears to be a scam because the scam threatens to produce a backlash or reaction that may result in denying cannabis medicine to those who suffer and should be able to use it. The scam perception creates a another stigma for those who are seriously ill and use cannabis. Stigma one -- you are breaking the law. Stigma two -- you are a scam artist.

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For healthy persons to obtain cannabis by scam should be unnecessary!

Marijuana should be legal for healthy people to use socially, spiritually, or to alter their mood. About one-fifth of older teenagers are now using it. Their use of it is going to continue -- illegal or legal. Perhaps we can change the culture to reduce the attraction for cannabis, but this cultural change is not going to be led by law enforcement -- we have tried this with gusto since 1970 with some time out in the mid 1970s. Reagan, Bush I (and Drug Czar William Bennett), Bill Clinton (and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey), and Bush II (with Drug Czar John Walters), have all made condemnation of marijuana use a centerpiece of their anti-drug messages and strategies. So sad...

Marijuana should be available for those who can benefit from it. All physicians should be trained in its effects, in the variation among the strains of cannabis, and in dosing. Marijuana should be produced in clean facilities, tested and properly labeled for medical use. In addition, it should be legal to grow it at one's home. Premises should be licensed to permit persons to smoke it or vaporize it or take it as a beverage. Live music venues should have marijuana smoking licenses and sections.

It seems to me that it considering the totality of circumstances it is close to being within the concept of a fundamental Constitutionally protected liberty to be able to use marijuana at a show like a Rolling Stones concert! Surely no adult ought to apologize for smoking pot there!

You can be elected President of the United States when you are 35 years old. Surely you are old enough to smoke marijuana if you are Constitutionally mature enough to serve as President. Maybe even if you are 30 and old enough to be a U.S. Senator or 25 years old and old enough to be a Member of Congress.

Just how old do you have to be? ...maybe old enough to serve in the Armed Forces of the Unites States at age 17, with parental consent. 10 United States Code section 505.

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So the reasonable desire of healthy adults to obtain cannabis for their non-medical use is using an ambiguously regulated system to meet the genuine medical needs of seriously ill persons. Hopefully the reaction is, let's make the production and distribution of cannabis to this larger market legal, regulated, controlled, and subject to reasonable taxation. It would be tragic, truly tragic, if the reasonable indignation that there is a scam going on results in shutting down the availability of medical cannabis to those few million of California's 37 million residents who need it.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mentally ill juveniles shunted to criminal justice system

With state budget cutbacks, juveniles with mental illness are being sent to juvenile correctional facilities, supposedly to get necessary treatment, Solomon Moore reports in The New York Times. This is tragically shortsighted.

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U.S. law enforcement corruption along border with Mexico

Increased corruption of American law enforcement agents along the border with Mexico is the subject of this alarming report from the Associated Press published in The New York Times.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

U.S. Military in Afghanistan puts narcotics traffickers on kill or capture list

The U.S. military in Afghanistan is circulating to its commanders the names of fifty persons who are alleged to be drug traffickers sharing profits with the Taliban or al Qaeda, adding them to a list of those to be killed or captured, The New York Times reports. There are 367 persons reported to be on the list. This is a dramatic expansion of the U.S. military mission to challenge those who fund the Taliban from the production of opium poppies and heroin.

The U.S. is also changing its strategy regarding the cultivation of the poppies. Heretofore, the U.S. has sought to eradicate poppy cultivation. A new policy is being unveiled to provide development aid to encourage farmers to shift to alternative crops.

Such approaches have not had much success in South America. But those efforts were not nations in which the U.S. was fighting a war such as it is fighting in Afghanistan. The stakes for the U.S. are much higher and more direct. The troops in direct combat with U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan are believed to be paid and armed with the proceeds of opium and heroin sales.

Afghani opium and the heroin that is refined from such opium is not believed to be shipped to the U.S.

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