Monday, June 18, 2007

The Catch-22 of Drug Law Reform

Those who are working for reform of our nation's drug laws are out-moneyed, out-gunned, and out-numbered by those waging it. Clearly, the citizens have no prayer of ever out-gunning the government, and the vast majority of drug reformers are actually un-paid volunteers. Interest in putting an end to the drug war is nowhere near as widespread as it needs to be, thus the money that is available is quite limited, and in no case will ever be likely to number in the tens of billions of dollars spent annually by our government to continue waging the war itself. If enough people cared, then certainly more money could be available. Clearly, then, we need to get more people to care about the drug war and then become pissed off enough to help do something about it.

The time honored way to do that, of course, is to get a poster child or two from the group on whose behalf assistance is sought, and to get those very people to work en masse on their own behalf. Since the drug war is being waged primarily against marijuana users, you'd think that marijuana users would be fully engaged in seeking their own emancipation. Sadly, you'd be wrong. This cause is one that just doesn't get much attention or sympathy from the general public, and those who do step forward risk losing everything they have in life as their reward for doing so at the moment. Of course, by not stepping forward and allowing the situation to deteriorate at an ever accelerating rate, it is increasingly likely that every marijuana user will one day be caught and cast aside as a societal reject. Damned if you do -- fucked if you don't. Catch-22.

People can't stand up because it's too dangerous, but not standing up is allowing it to get even worse even faster. So, we slowly die, hoping somebody will figure out what to do. We have to make it "safe" to say out loud that you have used marijuana and/or still do. The absolute most effective way to counter the stereotypes and claims of "damages" due to using marijuana is for those who do use it to stand up and say two simple things: "Yep, I do (did) it, so what?" and "When is all that bad stuff supposed to happen to me?" There is no one in a better position to counter claims about every angle used by the prohibitionists than the millions upon millions of pot-using Americans silently letting their liberty bleed into history.

So, given that it is so dangerous to stand up, yet also so dangerous to not do so, what is the answer? There are two large drug reform organizations alleged to be working toward making America safer for marijuana users: the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). What are they doing to make America safer for marijuana users? MPP spends a lot of time throwing parties at the Playboy mansion, including a past one celebrating their 10th anniversary. In every one of those 10 years (and counting), another new record number of marijuana arrests was achieved. Meanwhile these folks are crowing about trying to pass medical marijuana laws in states where the entire population is lower than the number of annual marijuana arrests. Nice work, folks!

And why does MPP even exist? NORML was set up to specifically address making marijuana legal -- back in the early 1970's! Sad to say that in NORML's 30+ years of existence there is a 30+ year history of yet another new record number of marijuana arrests. To paraphrase Hudson in the movie "Aliens" just after first contact: maybe you haven't been paying attention for the past three decades, but we keep getting our asses kicked!

More arrests, more lives ruined. More drug testing, more lives ruined. More student drug testing, more dangerous drugs used instead. Marijuana users remain pariahs and will continue to be seen that way until a core of "average pot smokers" can rise to challenge the stereotypes. Theoretically, that's what NORML was founded to do -- and at the state and local levels they're doing a pretty decent job here and there. However, at the federal level, NORML is essentially ineffective and meaningless. In terms of making life easier and "safer" for America's pot smokers, we have to face the facts: you're failing.

You'd think that when some celebrity gets caught with marijuana that it would help open the door to "normalizing" the behavior -- and indeed, NORML does make an occasional attempt to get that sort of person to help. There are a few problems with that though: first, the people who get caught tend to value their careers more than they have the desire to be a spokesperson for marijuana use (what with "the children" out there and all); and second, most of the ones who get caught really don't make very good spokespersons in the first place. So where do we turn? How do we get the marijuana user to be looked on as a "normal" person if there are no normal people rising up and saying that they use marijuana?

As luck would have it, Americans tend to take things into their own hands when they aren't seeing progress, and there are literally hundreds of organizations and individuals that have started making their own attempts at getting attention drawn to the plight of marijuana users. Some of them started because they got caught, while others simply got fed-up enough for whatever reasons that they decided to try to make a difference personally. Why did these people strike out on their own if there are already two organizations supposedly working on their behalf? [Three, actually, but I'm going to do a separate piece on the Drug Policy "Alliance."] I suggest it is a vote of "no confidence" -- a vote with which I must agree, and one of the reasons why I started doing the work I've done.

Neither MPP nor NORML is accomplishing anything truly useful for the plight of the marijuana user. The witch hunt continues with increasing ferocity year after year, in large part because there are no examples on the national level with which to counter the allegations of the drug czar and his war machine with regard to marijuana, its effects and its users. There is only the same sickeningly stupid merry-go-round of claim and counter-claim. Oops, and another new record number of marijuana arrests every year.

If we're going to get anywhere, we need credible people to rise to the challenge and directly counter all of the mythology and bullshit. Fortunately, a small number of people have come forward to act as examples of "normal" people who just happen to use marijuana, and two great places to find them are Dr Lester Grinspoon's "Marijuana Uses" -- featuring commentaries about marijuana use from those who have actually used it; and Mikki Norris's "Cannabis Consumers Campaign" -- where a growing number of people have "outed" themselves as good, honest, hard-working people who just happen to enjoy using marijuana. But what is still missing is an effective way to gain positive attention from the media -- especially on a large scale.

The only consistent attention that traditional media have paid to the marijuana users occurs in the form of derisive smirking, and the usual "stupid stoner" jokes. If you really believe that running for election under the banner of the "Marijuana Party" is ever going to be looked at as anything other than a joke, I really don't know what to tell you. There is very little good to be achieved by such acts.

We need positive media attention, and we need millions of people to get involved. The "leaders" are currently failing at both. Something tells me that doing the same crap over and over is a bad idea -- it is. I suggest that rather than literally pissing away what little resources are available on "some day we'll get there" bullshit -- like crowing about five more votes on the Hinchey-Rohrbacher bill, or the latest "medical marijuana" initiative in another sparsely populated state -- it's time to get seriously proactive. There is no reason in the world that we should be fucking with people who inhale plant smoke -- or do anything else to themselves, for that matter. Period. It really is that simple. If the plant smokers would pull together, they'd win this game easily. But they can't -- because it's too dangerous, and the "leaders" aren't doing anything to inspire courageous acts among them.

Will we continue to twist in the wind, setting record arrest numbers while the parties rage on at the Playboy Mansion? Will the current director of NORML retire 30 years from now, as did the first one -- meaning the war still raged on? Will the "leaders" rise to the occasion and start exhibiting the courage that is required of "leaders?" Can they give the pot smokers something to believe in -- so that they actually would rise to the challenge before us?

More drug testing. More drug arrests. More lives ruined. More families destroyed. More drug laws. More children turning in their parents. On and on for decade after goddam decade. Gentlemen, enough is enough! You need to up your game (at least I hope you aren't actually showing us your A-game right now). Get your acts together and seize the moment: that's what "leaders" do.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Proposed Controlled Substances Act of 2007

The major piece of US legislation dealing with drugs and drug use is called the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which among other things, established five distinct "Schedule" levels and the criteria for determining into which Schedule any given substance should be classed. For each level in the Schedule, the criteria are focused on three distinct aspects: potential for abuse, established medical efficacy, and likelihood of creating dependence.

Surely, one of the most blatant examples of the lunacy of the criteria for "Scheduling" substances involves marijuana. The main psychoactive compound in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. In its natural state in the marijuana plant, THC is a "Schedule I" substance with a "high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision." Obviously, if something has no "accepted medical use" then it will not likely have an established level of safety in medical use -- it's a Catch-22, isn't it?

More importantly, man-made THC is on Schedule III and thus has been judged to have a potential for abuse "less than those included in Schedules I and II," a "currently accepted medical use," and that "abuse" of the drug may lead to only "moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence." Somehow, man-made THC has been declared to have less potential for abuse than marijuana which contains natural THC. Frankly, I am incapable of comprehending how that can possibly be so.

But my intent here is not to focus on "medical" marijuana -- I want to focus on the real reason the vast majority of people smoke pot: for recreational intoxication. It is a subtle but essential point to state that the CSA has nothing to do with recreational intoxicants. Indeed, the specification in the Scheduling criteria that a substance has to be evaluated in terms of its medical efficacy is its Achilles' Heel. Why should a substance intended for recreational intoxication be assessed for medical utility? If I want to get high, I honestly don't care whether or not my intoxicant can double as a "medicine" of some sort.

Worse yet, given the absolute inadequacy of the CSA to address recreational intoxication, if we need to buy allergy pills or cold medicine we now have to show photo ID, and have our purchases of such items recorded and restricted. Never mind that the drug in question (pseudoephedrine) was already approved through the various "Schedules" and was proven a "safe and effective" non-threatening "medicine" that made it all the way to over-the-counter sales (in 1976!). Never mind that 99.4 percent of Americans are not past year meth users. The intentions behind the CSA were to ensure that intoxicants other than alcohol would never be "legal" to manufacture, use or sell in the United States. Period.

To help put an end to the nonsensical requirements of the current CSA and create a more sane approach to the issues of intoxicant use, I therefore propose a new modified CSA. The new act only needs to have three defined "Schedules" as follows:

Schedule I - Medicines: Medicines are those substances primarily designed and intended to treat or cure diseases.

Schedule II - Drugs: Drugs are those substances primarily designed and intended to provide relief of physical symptoms and discomforts.

Schedule III - Recreational Intoxicants: Recreational intoxicants are those substances primarily designed and intended to create a state of altered awareness.

License the manufacture and sale, establish quality controls and labeling requirements, and sell the intoxicants only to adults.

Prescriptions should only be used as a form of recommendation from a physician to a patient -- not as a "permission" slip as is the case in the current system.

This stuff is nowhere near as complicated as it has been made out to be.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Face It: You're a "Legalizer"

If you have ever expressed any doubt about the War on Drugs, no matter how small, you are a “legalizer.” Whether we like it or not, that’s where the bar has been set by the opposition – thus, even though we are failing to recognize it, the true measure of our argument (and thus also our probability of success) is entirely dependent upon clearing that bar. While the drug reform “movement” remains disjointed and broken into a thousand little threads, there will be no mass involvement among the general public in altering the status quo. Thus, to truly benefit from (and more intelligently utilize) the efforts of those engaging in the attempt, my appeal to all of you is simply this: let’s clear the bar.

There is absolutely no defensible reason to continue prohibition. If you have one, bring it on – I will convince you of the error of your ways. Or, failing at the task, consign you to the “do not resuscitate” pile. There is indeed some number of our fellow citizens who can only be described as “fanatical” people who will never be swayed from their position. The good news, though, is that they tally up to a rather small (though loud and certainly insufferable) portion of the populace. Interestingly, the “standard curve” applies, and it is likely that this minority of extremists is probably in balanced proportion to those they wish to bully – that is, the number of problem drug using people is likely quite similar to the number of vehement prohibitionists. It’s just a hunch. But, if it is anywhere close to true, it is certainly something that works to our advantage. Just as drug abuse is the exception, so is utter intolerance. The American people as a whole tend toward being quite a bit more tolerant than would be required for achieving a “zero tolerance, drug-free” America. The problem we face is not convincing them that we are correct – it is getting them to pay attention in the first place. And then there’s that little knee jerk: “You’re just trying to make it legal to use drugs.” That is ultimately their last line of defense … and their first.

Trying to change marijuana laws may be the “easiest” thing politically, but I’m sorry, there are two HUGE reasons why that one is going nowhere: 1) pot smokers are afraid to speak up for themselves and 2) passing a pot law in one state leaves the pot smokers in the other 49 screwed. Let’s say the MPP was “successful” (in the true sense of the word, not in their self-aggrandizing definition of the word) in passing the recreational marijuana use law proposed in Nevada this past fall – what would that really mean? If you lived in Arizona and went to Vegas for a weekend of boozing, gambling, whoring and pot smoking, when you returned to work Monday morning, your piss test would still put you out of a job. Some "success" that would be.

The worst impact of trying the "go slowly" approach is that even full-blown wide open legal availability of marijuana will do absolutely nothing to address the entirely heinous aspects of the drug war. Innocent people will still be killed during SWAT raids on the wrong house, there will still be plenty of "drug-related" crime, plenty of accidental deaths from stuff like "heroin" that is laced with fentanyl, and (worst of all) the "let's pee for freedom" train will be charging full steam ahead training our youth to be obedient little neo-fascists.

Let’s not forget too, how quickly the British and Swiss addiction experiments were (and continue to be) dubbed as “failures” (despite abundant evidence to the contrary). You see, the basic problem with the piecemeal approach is that it actually does nothing to help. It merely allows the existing system to remain largely intact while allowing the emergence of a new chorus of voices protesting things like “drug tourism” and demanding even more stupidity like increasing the use of drug testing. It’s a completely dumbass idea to try to kill the beast by trimming its toenails.

“Legalizing Drugs,” is thus the big scary boogeyman that serves as the foundation of the status quo. I am convinced, however, that the average citizen is quite capable of comprehending why we need to end the War on Drugs – and that by ending the war it will indeed mean that we do have to legalize the sales, possession, and use of the wide variety of available intoxicants. Does that mean we all turn into heroin addicts the day after? HELL NO!!! But the actual goal should not and indeed is not to legalize drugs – it is to end the tyrannous practices that have resulted from our society having adopted intolerance as part of its creed. In essence, we need to gather the courage to play for the fence, and make this a core issue at every level in the next general election.

We must stop splintering the far too limited resources we possess into so many misdirected attempts at eating the poo one swallow at a time. We have nothing, ask for next to nothing, and consistently lose to the trump card of “you’re just trying to make drugs legal.” Enough! If we want to gather the numbers we require to accomplish the task, we first need to focus our attention on the fact that the core reason to end the drug war is simply because it is completely un-American to turn in your neighbor for doing things directly to only himself. Period. We need to demand (and practice) equality for all.

We need to be bold, we need to have courage. We know we are correct, and we know we will prevail -- we just need the balls to actually swing for the fence.

Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by three.

Batter up!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Fatal Distraction(s)

Americans are being constantly reminded that there are fanatical people in the world hell bent on killing them. They are also being reminded that since that fateful day in 2001 there has been no additional successful terror attack on US soil. Thus, the average American goes to sleep every night content that every possible thing is being done to protect them against waking up one day to the “mushroom cloud” thought to be the penultimate goal of the aforementioned bad guys. But what if our government actually isn’t doing every possible thing that it can, and isn’t devoting every possible dollar, computer and brain to preventing such a calamity? Worse yet, what if a large chunk of the required assets already existed, but rather than being devoted to guarding us against terrorism were being used to protect us from pot? What if, in our zeal to find grow ops and “meth labs,” we fail to detect the people next door assembling a weapon of mass destruction? And, really, who would you rather be protected from: a guy with a bong, or a guy with a bomb?

These are some of the issues addressed in the latest book by Arnold S. Trebach, “Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror.” Trebach has argued for more than the past two decades that America’s so-called “war on drugs” is a misguided and ill-conceived public policy that has led to disastrous consequences that exceed by far those actually caused by drug abuse. He is trying to sound the alarm as loudly as possible this time around, given the apparent gravity of the current situation with the “Global War on Terror.” What needs to be done is blindingly obvious to him: we need to end the drug war, legalize all the drugs, and take the vast resources being squandered on the drug war and put them on the job of protecting us from Islamic fanatics. While, at first glance, that may seem like a radical idea, as he puts it: “Intolerable situations demand radical reforms.”

Certainly, there won’t be many people who would argue that terrorism is not a real threat (though perhaps not as grave a threat as is claimed, given that the claims about that threat are being made by the very same government waging the drug war), but there is still a bit of a hard sell involved in getting the public at large to take the “radical” move of ending the drug war. Trebach has been down that particular road before, and as expected does an outstanding job of presenting the academic arguments that readily disprove all of the claims surrounding drug use and its impacts on society. What is most impressive in this effort, however, is how he is able to succinctly weave together an incredible array of the various facets of the drug war into a single, coherent, and easy to read whole. His central focus is to demonstrate how much more damage our drug policies have created than the drug use itself does, while the war on terror aspects are woven into the framework of the book as a bit of a “no-brainer.”

Trebach brings to this effort the academic rigor one would expect from a university professor, and indeed declares that he himself only came to the conclusions he has reached after expending the great deal of effort required to track down and assess all of the available data and information. He didn’t do the work as part of a quest to legalize drugs – he ended at that destination simply because of the overwhelming evidence that doing so was the only logical, practical and proper response to the facts at hand. He posits that what drives the drug war is not factual information and logical decision processes, rather, that the whole mess is the result of clinging to what he terms the “cherished myths” that have caused most citizens (not to mention the government itself) to blindly ignore all the available evidence to the contrary.

Those myths have fueled what has been termed “the drugs exception to the Constitution,” and as can be expected from a legal scholar, Trebach devotes a part of the book to exposing and decrying some of the more heinous aspects of allowing fear of drugs and drug users to form the foundation of public policy. Mandatory prison sentences for even low-level first time offenders, asset forfeitures in which a person is never even charged with a crime, and most horrifying, the practice of sending young people to military-style camps to “protect” them from drug use are just a few of the abuses taking place in the name of “fighting drugs.” Each of those abuses considered separately should be enough to increase public outcry, and when combined they would seem an absolutely impregnable indictment of the “war.” However, the most significant (and most fatal) aspect of how much impact Trebach’s book will make or not make is entirely dependent on an ironic twist in his title: distraction.

The real problem involved in drug law reform remains getting people’s attention. The reality is that, especially in America, people do not care to invest the time and attention required to actually become sufficiently indignant about the current state of affairs. The issue is compounded greatly by the (to me inexplicable) hesitancy of those involved in drug law reform to reach the conclusion that Trebach so elegantly builds the case for: complete elimination of the entire scheme. This is not an issue that we can slowly dig our way out of – not the least due to the fact that those involved in drug law reform are too cautious (I would say frightened) to say the words out loud: “legalize the drugs.”

Trebach devotes a good bit of the text calling to task the pitiful “leadership” of the self-proclaimed deacons of drug war deconstruction for failing to exhibit the necessary levels of courage and comprehension that are the clear way forward out of the morass. One notable exception is the recently formed organization LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), which is composed of the very people who were once charged with waging the war. Rather than dissembling about how “the American public isn’t ready for legalizing drugs,” or that “we can’t bite the whole thing at once, so we should try to get something like medical marijuana legal first, then we can work on recreational use,” Trebach calls a spade a spade: the bit by bit approach not only won’t lead us to where we need to go, but as he puts it – “It is the equivalent of the Abolitionist movement of the 1800s having worked not to free the slaves but to provide better housing and health care for them.”

After several decades of drug war, the time has certainly arrived for “radical” change. Perhaps the most radical of which is simply getting all of the various organizations and individuals involved in drug law reform to start working together on common goals. Bringing about the radical change of ending prohibition, however, will require gaining the attention of, and successfully motivating millions of American citizens. But the drug war isn’t exactly something that most Americans think about on a day-to-day basis. They simply have too many other things to worry about in life – which, ironically enough, is the most fatal of the many distractions keeping people from learning about, and working to destroy the nightmare we call the “War on Drugs.” Trebach has done the heavy lifting, and put it all together in an entirely readable volume. This book should enrage American citizens and propel them to demand the “radical” reforms required – but first, they’ll have to care enough to actually read it.