Monday, January 30, 2012

Obama again ducks questions on marijuana from American Internet public

Once again the President invites the public to submit questions to him and vote on the most urgent or important ones for him to answer in a live YouTube interview. Once again questions regarding marijuana legalization, the costs of marijuana prisoners, the use of marijuana in medicine, hemp, marijuana and taxes, marijuana and the economy, etc. received far more votes than any other topic. This question from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition was the second highest vote getter.
And once again the President's handlers make sure that the questions are not asked! Indeed, the White House deleted a question from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Open White House? Pathetic!

John McWorter at the New York Daily News blasts Google and YouTube for not asking about marijuana, noting that New York City Police are making over 50,000 marijuana arrests per year -- even though marijuana possession was decriminalized as a violation with a maximum $100 fine in 1977.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Rhode Island legislator arrested for DUI and possession of marijuana

Robert A. Watson, a former Republican minority leader in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of marijuana in South Kingston, RI over the weekend. It is reported that he has entered in-patient substance abuse treatment. He is awaiting trial for similar charges in East Haven, CT from last year.

On some listserves there has been mirthful commentary about his arrest, particularly about the report that he was released from custody at 4:20 a.m. Sunday.

This case is sad. It is likely that Representative Watson has an alcohol problem and may have a marijuana addiction. I don't believe it is appropriate to make fun of people who have illnesses, disabilities or addictions -- even if they are politicians.

There are more than 10,000 state legislators in this country. Almost certainly hundreds have alcohol abuse problems. It would be statistically amazing if many legislators did not have other chemical addictions.

Legislators are at high risk for alcoholism. During legislative sessions they work very long hours, away from the structural support of home and family, and are constantly being invited to receptions and meals at which free alcohol is offered and being consumed. The job is stressful and full of conflict. The decisions and votes are frequently not easy, and are always subject to intense public scrutiny and criticism. Let's remember that legislators come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We should not be surprised that many use marijuana and other controlled substances illegally.

Some drug policy reformers might look at a Republican marijuana-using legislator and assume quite naturally (relying on the statistical evidence of Republican opposition to marijuana law reform) the he opposed marijuana law reform and is thus a hypocrite. Perhaps so.

But we should not be shocked that many legislators who use marijuana might oppose marijuana law reforms that might appear to be contrary to their direct personal interest. An adult marijuana smoker might believe that decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana may encourage teenagers to use marijuana, and feel that potential result outweighs the benefits to adults. Drug policy reformers may be convinced that this is the wrong conclusion to draw, but the belief is not irrational.

In fact, we should expect that legislators make legislative decisions for public policy and political considerations.

Consider an analogous situation. Assume there is a vote on other legislation that would personally benefit a legislator as much as a bill to legalize their marijuana use might. Would we desire that legislators vote for legislation that benefits them personally, let's say financially, even if the legislator felt the bill was not in the public interest? Of course we would not!

It is easy for reformers to gloat and smirk when a Republican legislator is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. But it is not especially mature or thoughtful. I expect joking from professional comedians who are always hungry to make a joke at the expense of some public official. But I don't see that gloating about such sad circumstances is either politically sophisticated or beneficial to the drug policy reform movement.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dana Beal profiled in The New York Times

The New York Times of Jan. 21, 2012, has a very nice profile of Dana Beal in the New York section.

Dana may be best known to the contemporary drug policy reform movement as the irrepressibly persistent promoter of ibogaine for treating addiction. At the conferences of NORML, the Drug Policy Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance over the past 25 years, he has invariably sought the microphone to inform all present about ibogaine's remarkable therapeutic potential.

At Dana's persistence, one of my first efforts to influence federal policy after I left the House Judiciary Committee staff was to bring Dana and Howard Lotsoff to meet with key officials of the Food and Drug Administration to try to initiate support for ibogaine research and clinical trials.

Dana has been a promoter of legal marijuana for even longer. He and his colleagues have organized countless meetings, conferences, protests and marches, such as the Million Marijuana March.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Crack hyperbole about tragedy in Brazil in Wall Street Journal

"Hundreds of zombie-like [crack] addicts who by night wander a downtown no man's land known as Cracolandia." That's the second sentence of the breathless, hyperbolic Wall Street Journal page one story, "Brazil's Emerging Market: Crack." Not until the end of the 19th paragraph, out of 22, do we learn why the crack addicts wander: "The simple reason is they have nowhere to go: Most treatment centers are full."

Practically leading with "zombies," a reader may suspect the story is likely to be the common stew of cliches and fright mongering. You won't be disappointed --

* The fiendishly clever drug traffickers "seek the path of least resistance" because the risk of prosecution in Brazil is less than in the U.S. No mention that 100s of thousands of American and other drug traffickers have ignored long U.S. penalties for 25 years.

* Bad countries (with governments not to the liking of the U.S. or the publisher, in this case, Rupert Murdoch) are complicit. In this story the villains are Bolivia and Peru "where populist leaders have less interest in combating [cocaine production]." But conveniently, no mention of the fact that for some time Bolivia, Brazil and the U.S. have been negotiating an anti-cocaine cooperation agreement -- which was signed yesterday, the BBC reports.

*Fiendish ploys of dealers "to market their wares" -- "confiscated crack rocks in packaging emblazoned with the face of Rondaldinho, one of Brazil's most prominent [soccer] stars," the better to lure innocent soccer loving youth to the deadly drug. Oh, how shamelessly evil. (Is it worth mentioning that tobacco and alcohol are routinely marketed in conjunction with celebrities and sports?)

*Frightening images: "Mobs of skeletal figures ambled in darkened streets. Some draped filthy blankets over their heads in the drizzly chill. They swarmed when a dealer arrived. Flames flared from crack pipes in the darkness."

This style of journalism is at least a century old. In the early 20th century, the Hearst newspapers also ran nearly identical front page stories about dope using exactly the same themes, according to historian Susan L. Speaker (For example, see her article,"The Struggle of Mankind Against its Deadliest Foe": Themes of Countersubversion in Anti-Narcotic Campaigns, 1920-1940. JOURNAL OF SOCIAL HISTORY, 2001, VOL 34; PART 3, pages 591-610.)

This is a sad departure from the usual sober reporting of the Wall Street Journal.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Police pepper-spray public school students in Birmingham

NPR reported just before the holidays about the frequency with which Birmingham, AL students are subjected to pepper spray by local police. The Southern Poverty Law Center had brought suit in Federal court in 2010 against the Birmingham Board of Education, and a hearing on whether to classify the suit as a class action was held in early December 2011. is circulating a petition asking the Birmingham city officials to address the problem in a manner consistent with what the SPLC complaint seeks.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Newt Gingrich's surprising mis-educational moment about hemp

At the Concord, NH Holiday Inn Wednesday morning at about 10:45, I was leaning through a doorway into the absolutely jam-packed Newt Gingrich event. Newt was in full blown professorial form elucidating our liberties from our founding texts. At one point, after noting Jefferson's soaring ode to liberty "that [all Men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," Newt said God gave us the right to bear arms. Really? Was this in the time of Adam, or of Moses, or the Prophets? Was this left out of the New Testament? Perhaps, God only gave us the right after the first firearms were invented -- anticipating the American revolution. Did God give the right to bear arms to all other persons in all other countries? Do the God-given rights mentioned in our Bill of Rights apply to all persons in other countries too? Or did God only give these rights to the American people? How did the Members of Congress and the Senators at the First U.S. Congress get the message?

But I am digressing. Newt Gingrich started taking questions from the New Hampshire public. Typically he stuck to talking points.

But one question, drew a howlingly inaccurate answer from the acclaimed historian and former professor. One of the students from among a dozen Students for Sensible Drug Policy present in New Hampshire for the political activity asked about Washington and Jefferson growing marijuana at Mount Vernon and Monticello, and why it is illegal today. The student, of course, used the current popular term for the hemp plant to avoid potentially mystifying Dr. Gingrich.

According to The Washington Times, Mr. Gingrich replied,

"I think Jefferson or George Washington would have rather strongly discouraged you from growing marijuana, and their techniques of dealing with it would have been more violent,"
which is pretty absurd since we were talking about hemp. (There is no record of Washington or Jefferson growing any varieties of the hemp plant (i.e. marijuana) to get high.)

Here's an excellent 90 second Video of the official guides at Mount Vernon providing a tour of hemp production there under George Washington's expert and profitable management. It made me wonder if Newt Gingrich ever did "the tourist thing" and visited Mount Vernon while he served in Congress.

Sam Stein at Huffington Post provided a more detailed report of the whole exchange.

Should Gingrich have known about Washington and Jefferson's hemp cultivation?
Since Federal law has since 1937 forbade "hemp" cultivation (since it "looks" like marijuana), we could expect that many Americans and Members of Congress would be completely ignorant of the fact that marijuana, then called hemp, was widely cultivated in 18th and 19th century America.

Newt's Ph.D. from Tulane University was in Modern European History, so if his study of history ignored early U.S. history to favor his academic specialty, his ignorance of Jefferson and Washington would be perfectly excusable.

But in his campaign stump speeches he purports to be an expert on the founding fathers: what they believed, how virtuous and industrious they were, how they knew the value of a profit and how to make one, etc. I may be used to an unusually high standard in History professors since I took courses with Roger Lane at Haverford College. But I think it would be unlikely that a well educated historian concerned about the lessons of Revolutionary times would be ignorant that hemp was a widespread major crop in America, one of the "Naval Stores" (cordage, tar, pitch and timber) that were important to build wooden 18th century sailing ships for trade and war.

In 2010 Newt Gingrich wrote two novels about George Washington and the Revolutionary War. Perhaps he is not a particularly curious researcher.

Or perhaps he was just trying to B.S. his clever way around a question that he want to sneer at.

As it happened, seven hours later on Wednesday evening, another SSDP student, Brian Broom-Peltz, caught Governor Romney leaving his rally in Peterborough, NH to ask him about "industrial hemp." Governor Romney said he didn't know what that was. Oh well, perhaps if Brian had said industrial marijuana or cannabis hemp or something.

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