Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The DEA Has Their Say

A while back I wrote a piece about a letter representative John Conyers (D-MI) sent to the DEA about the raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Well the DEA has responded (see their response here and here). To save you a little time, below is my brief summary of the original letter and the DEA’s response, in plain-English.

First, the original letter sent by Conyers on April 29, 2008:
Dear DEA,

I see you’ve been spending a lot of the taxpayers’ money out in California, what with all those raids on the medical marijuana dispensaries and all. What’s up with that? I want to see some receipts. I’d also like to know why you’re putting so much effort into going after all those sick people and their caregivers when there are all those really bad drug cartel guys south of the border. I think maybe your priorities are little screwed up. I want some answers, and I want them no later than July 1. Or else.

Yours truly,

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
And here’s the DEA’s response, dated July 25:
Dear Liberal Troublemaker,

How many times do we have to say it—we don’t make the laws, we just enforce them. But since you brought it up, they certainly are some mighty fine laws. Contrary to what all those hippie potheads out in California want you to believe. Heck, some of the more sensible ones out there have even been asking for our help in ridding their communities of these illegal drug distribution centers. So there. Oh, and you’re not the boss of us. So shut the f*ck up, stop rocking the boat, and let us get on with fighting the drug menace.

Cordially yours,

Anyone surprised by the DEA’s response? Anyone think anything will change as a result of this little correspondence?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Dangerous New Drug Menace

I recently watched this documentary on TV about a dangerous new drug menace that is sweeping our nation. Although the show focused on a small town in Colorado, it would appear that kids across the country have found a new way to get “hopped up.” In case you weren’t aware, and I know I wasn’t, it seems that you can experience a hallucinogenic experience by snorting or sniffing cat urine. Not just any cat urine, mind you, but only the urine from a male cat marking his territory. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but I saw it on TV so it must be true. The kids refer to this ingesting of cat urine as “cheesing.” (Why? Because its “Fon to Due”.)

So how exactly do the kids go about getting cheesed? Well, it’s not as easy as you might think. It requires the male cat to be secured in a special harness, the so-called cheesing paraphernalia, and then a second male cat is introduced. This causes the harnessed cat to get all territorial and “spray.” These poor misguided kids then stick their face near the cat’s rear end and let the spray wash over their faces. The result is a psychedelic experience that approximates watching the movie Heavy Metal. Now I don’t know if it affects everyone the same, but the hallucinations seem to involve visions that include a lot of well-endowed women’s breasts. Just so you’re not too alarmed, it seems that the breasts are never completely exposed to the “cheeser.” Thank goodness for small favors.

Fortunately, our ever-vigilant government appears to be on top of the situation. The town that was the focus of the documentary quickly addressed the problem by making cats illegal. The DEA was even shown coming into the town and rounding up all the cats. As is to be expected, some people hid their cats away and a black market sprang up. But it appeared that the feds had the problem under control by the end of the show. I’m not sure exactly why all cats were outlawed, male and female alike, but I’m sure the government had its reasons. Better safe than sorry.

I wasn’t going to mention it, to avoid embarrassing the people involved, but in case you’re interested, the town that was the focus of this documentary was South Park, CO. Now that I think about it, that name sounds awfully familiar. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. And you know, I seem to recall that the documentary was done as an animated feature. You know, a cartoon. And a very crudely drawn one at that. Oh well, whatever it takes to get the message across to today’s MTV generation. My hat’s off to the makers of this documentary. They must really understand the kids to be able to speak to them in their own lingo. And now that this menace has been exposed, let’s just hope that the newly-instituted cat prohibition does what it’s supposed to do and puts an end to cheesing once and for all. After all, prohibition is the only proven way to stop people from doing what the government believes they should not be doing. I’m sure the innocent, non-cheesing cat owners who can no longer enjoy their favorite pet will understand. It’s for their own good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Analyze This

I recently ran across the following “Statement By The White House Drug Czar Regarding Food and Drug Administration Dismissal of Smoked Marijuana As Medicine.” What follows is that statement, presented sentence by sentence, with my commentary in italics following each sentence.

(Washington, D.C.)—John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and President Bush's “Drug Czar,” today issued the following statement regarding the Food and Drug Administration statement regarding smoking marijuana as medicine.
This is the only sentence in this statement about which I have nothing to say.
Director Walters said, “Our Nation has the highest standards and most sophisticated institutions in the world for determining the safety and effectiveness of medication.
The fact that FDA-approved medicines are released to the public all the time that end up killing people is irrelevant.
Our national medical system relies on proven scientific research, not popular opinion.
Except when it comes to marijuana, where it relies on misinformation and the opinions of people who stand to profit most from the war on drugs.
To date, science and research have not determined that smoking a crude plant is safe or effective.
Safe compared to what? Aspirin? Celebrex? Vioxx? Phenylpropanolamine? And there is plenty of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that marijuana can be an effective treatment for a variety of disorders.
We have a responsibility as a civilized society to ensure that the medicine Americans receive from their doctors is effective, safe, and free from the pro-drug politics that are being promoted in America under the guise of medicine.
And to prevent those same Americans from administering home remedies if those remedies might take money out of the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies. The only politics that should be involved, in a civilized society that is, are the anti-drug variety.
Too many of our citizens suffer from pain and chronic illnesses.
Smoking illegal drugs may make some people “feel better.”
And making sick people “feel better” is bad how?
However, civilized societies and modern day medical practices differentiate between inebriation and the safe, supervised delivery of proven medicine by legitimate doctors.
One is bad and the other isn’t. One is a moral issue, the other isn’t. I’m starting to think that “civilized society” might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a review of the available scientific evidence in an effort to assess the potential health benefits of marijuana and its constituent cannabinoids.
So have many other reputable institutions, most of which don’t have a vested interest in their results.
The review concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for any long-term medical use, and a subsequent IOM report declared, “marijuana is not a modern medicine.”
The IOM is among a very small minority in their conclusion. See for example this NIH review of the medicinal applications of cannabinoids. Funny how the government seems to be unaware of the studies that disagree with their official position on marijuana.
For years, pro-drug groups seeking the legalization of marijuana and other drugs have preyed on the compassion of Americans to promote their political agenda and bypass F.D.A.'s rigorous standards which have safeguarded our medical supply for over 100 years.
There’s no place for compassion when it comes to caring for sick people. The most important thing is making sure the pharmaceutical companies make as much money as possible.
Marinol—the synthetic form of THC and the psychoactive ingredient contained in marijuana—is already legally available for prescription by physicians whose patients suffer from pain and chronic illness.”
THC is only one of several active compounds in marijuana. Pure THC has been shown to be much less effective than the natural substance. It has also been shown that taking pure THC can have some unpleasant side effects.
There you have it. That was a lot easier than I thought it would be. There isn’t a single unbiased statement of fact in the whole… uh… statement. Our government is nothing if not consistent.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

22 Years for Selling Weed!!!!

Now I’m as patriotic as the next fellow, but there are times when I am embarrassed by the American criminal justice system. The reason for my embarrassment can be found in an article I just read about a couple of Modesto, CA men who were recently sentenced for a federal marijuana-related conviction. One received a sentence of 21 years, 10 months and the other 20 years in a federal prison. Keep in mind that the average sentences in federal court for the crimes of murder, sexual abuse, and kidnapping are around 7 years.

Now I’m not claiming that these guys were in the right, or even that they were abiding by California state law. It would appear that they were not. It would appear that they were taking advantage of the system in order to make a lot of money. In fact, one of them even made a rap video practically daring the DEA to come after him. And of course the DEA did go after him. It’s one thing to keep a low profile and quietly go about your business. But once you become a public figure, you can rest assured that the DEA will do whatever it takes to make an example of you. Just ask Tommy Chong.

OK, so maybe these guys were not the altruistic caregivers they claimed to be. Maybe they were. Who really knows? That’s not the point. The point is that all they were doing was growing and selling marijuana. They were not accused nor convicted of any violent crime. And as far as I can tell, they had no prior criminal history. They were the victims of a “mandatory minimum sentence.” In case you haven’t heard that phrase before, it means that if you are convicted the judge has no flexibility in the sentence he passes. In this case, 20 years was the mandatory minimum sentence.

It just so happens that mandatory minimum sentences have become quite popular in recent years. Coincidentally their popularity, much like the so-called “three strikes” laws, has risen along with the increase in private prisons. And why not? If you’ve got a growing for-profit prison industry, you need to have prisoners. It would be pointless to be spending all those billions of dollars each year building new prisons if there weren’t any people to lock up in them. And our government is always willing to do what it can to help out private industry. Especially when that industry has lobbyists and donates millions of dollars to political candidates. It’s just one hand washing the other. That’s the American way.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that two people will be spending the next 20 years behind bars for selling marijuana!!!! In what universe is that not cruel and unusual punishment? Even if they were taking advantage of the system and using it for their own profit, the sentence in no way fits the crime. I know this excuse may be overused, but in this case I have to say that society’s to blame. If marijuana were legal, these guys would just be a couple of unknown wannabe rappers. Our society created a situation in which these two could get rich without putting in too much effort. Then when they took advantage of that situation, that very same society punished them. Severely.

The main problem with these two was that they weren’t quite smart enough to figure out the system. If they wanted some quick and easy money, they should have just gone out and robbed or killed somebody. That way, even if they got caught at least they wouldn’t have ended up spending the next 20 years behind bars. So let that be a lesson to anybody who thinks they can make easy some money selling weed. It’s just not worth the risk. Go out and get yourself a gun. All you have to do is point it at people and demand they give you their money. You’ll be happy you didn’t try to sell weed. And so will society.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why Didn’t I Think Of That?

I read this article recently that really put the war on drugs into perspective for me. The article is about a new tactic being employed by our valiant drug warriors. It’s an approach to stopping people from smoking marijuana that is so simple and so obvious, it’s almost unbelievable that no one ever thought of it before. It’s pure genius. Are you ready for this? It’s scary clever:

The people of Prince George County, MD recently decided to ban the sale of single cigars. See what I mean? It’s kind of like the paper clip. After it was invented it seemed the obvious solution; but the day before its invention, the world was full of people wishing they had something to temporarily hold pieces of paper together with.

So what, you might ask, do cigars (or paper clips) have to do with smoking marijuana? Well, as I understand it, “the kids” these days use cigar wrappers to roll their “reefer” in. Sometimes, I hear tell, they even leave some tobacco in their so-called “blunt.” Those crazy kids! They’re always coming up with some new way to take their grass. But the people of Prince George County are onto their little shenanigans. No cigars means no more blunt smoking. Drug problem solved.

Unless, that is, those crazy kids go ahead and buy a five-pack of cigars. Because the new law doesn’t apply to cigars sold in packages of five or more as long as each individual cigar costs at least $5. But those kids that don’t have a lot of money or don’t smoke a lot will definitely be thwarted. They’ll have to go out and buy rolling papers (which they probably sell in the same place they sell cigars). Or use a pipe. Or a bong. Or a hookah. Or a soda can, or a pen, or a plastic bottle, or an apple, or a piece of aluminum foil. In any event, a few people might be somewhat barely-perceptibly inconvenienced. And since the kids won’t have the tobacco handy from emptying out the cigar wrappers, maybe some will forgo their tobacco smoking entirely. It’s like two benefits in a single ban. See what I mean about this idea being scary clever?

I don’t know about you, but I’m cautiously optimistic. I think that the drug warriors have finally hit on a tactic that will work. Although I have to say it’s not really all that original of an idea. Selling drug-smoking “paraphernalia” has, after all, been illegal in this country for quite a while now. The federal government had the right idea with that ban, they just missed the mark. They didn’t realize that kids now smoke their pot in blunts, so the ban on bongs was too little too late. That and the fact that you can still buy drug paraphernalia just about anywhere. But that’s besides the point. No sir, it’s cigar wrappers that are the key. Though some may be skeptical about the effectiveness of the cigar ban—it’s true, there are some doubters—I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that marijuana smoking will be totally abolished in Prince George County in short order. Remember, you heard it here first.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Profiting From Crime

I read a lot and I’ve written a bit on the economics of the war on drugs. But there’s something I just learned that surprised me, which is pretty hard to do. Did you know that there are privately-owned and operated prisons in the U.S.? Not just a few, but lots of them? I guess I had heard about private prisons before, but never realized how widespread they really are. In case you don’t know, a private prison is a for-profit business. Just like many other “services” provided to the government by private industry, companies bid on and receive contracts to build and operate prisons. And make money doing it.

Maybe it’s just me, but that seems a little not quite right. I have no problem with the government contracting with private companies for other kinds of services, like building fighter planes or running the Senate cafeteria. But isn’t the criminal justice system supposed to be, you know, part of the government? I thought that, at the very least, profiting from crime was frowned upon. Criminals certainly are not allowed this privilege. For example, a convicted murderer isn’t allowed to write a book about his crimes. Why is it that big business is allowed to make big bucks on the incarcerated?

So how about some cold, hard facts on prisons in the U.S. of A.? On any given day there are over 1.5 million Americans in prison, one of the few things we still lead the world in. Not that we didn’t have to put in a little effort to achieve that honor. Why back in 1980, before we had administrations that were so “tough on crime,” we had fewer than 400,000 people in prison. But with a little hard work we managed to more than triple that number in less than 30 years. Pretty impressive.

It makes you think that crime must be running rampant in this country. Well, that’s not exactly the case. For example between 1975 and 1985 the serious crime rate actually decreased slightly while the number of people in prison during that same period nearly doubled. So how does that work exactly, when crime rates go down and prison populations go up? I guess that’s what being tough on crime is all about.

Although I have to admit, there is one type of crime that has been on the rise. Can you guess which type? That’s right, drug-related violations. Over a 25-year period starting in 1980, state and local arrests for drug violations rose from around 600,000 annually to almost 2 million per year. Of course over that same period actual drug use stayed about the same. Again, that’s just more evidence that being tough on crime is actually accomplishing something.

But what about private prisons? After all, that’s what this is all about. Thirty U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC have a total of over 150 private prisons. Those private prisons house 7.4 percent of the nation’s prisoners which, if you do the math, works out to about 116,000 people. At an average cost of around $25,000 per year to house a prisoner, that’s just under $3 billion going to private prisons each year. And I’m sure they’re getting a lot more than that.

Right now we are spending an estimated $6 billion per year on construction alone just to keep up with the rapidly-growing prison population. No wonder these private companies want a piece of that pie. In fact, they want it so bad that during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles they gave $3.3 million to candidates and state political parties across 44 states. And experts estimate that prison populations in 10 states will increase by 25 percent between 2006 and 2011. So there’s lots more money to be made.

And it doesn’t hurt when someone like the soon-to-be former Vice President owns stock in one of the largest private prison companies. There’s no one tougher on crime than Mr. Cheney. Coincidence? Maybe. Conflict of interest? Definitely. Seems only fair that Mr. Cheney was recently indicted in a private prison case. Makes you wonder how many other tough-on-crime politicians also make money in one way or another from the private prison industry.

With all this money being made in the business of incarceration, and even more to be made in the future, how can we ever expect things to change? There’s absolutely no incentive to reduce our prison population. And the best incentive of them all, money, to keep that population growing. You know what they say about money talking.

I guess we’ll just have to look on the bright side. At least we still have something left that we can lead the world in. No one builds more prisons or puts more people in them than the good ol’ U.S. of A. Suck on that Japan, Finland, and Canada. They think they’re so great just because they’re so far ahead of us in student math and science test scores. Let’s see them even try to compete with us when it comes to locking people up behind bars. Then we’ll see who has the last laugh.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

U.S. Government Admits to Supporting Terrorism

You know how “they” say that telling the truth is easier than telling a lie? Well, they do say it. When you tell the truth you never have to worry about your story being the same every time you tell it. And when you tell the truth, you will never contradict yourself; your story will always be internally consistent. Unfortunately, it looks like our government never learned this valuable life lesson. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

In their never-ending struggle to keep marijuana out of the hands of the American people, the U.S. government has told a few lies. OK, more than a few. Not surprising. But you’d think that after all this time they’d be better at it. I mean, they’ve had plenty of practice. Yet they’ve consistently failed to get their story straight. This is either out of ignorance, or more likely a belief that no one will check out their story too carefully. If you do, you can come up with some very confusing conclusions regarding the government’s war on drugs. What follows are two facts I’ve discovered, and I didn’t have to look too hard or resort to making stuff up or taking anything out of context. I’ve even included references so you can verify the “facts” for yourself. The conclusion that follows from those facts should be obvious to anyone (outside the DEA).

Fact 1: Illegal drug money supports terrorists

The first part of the story involves the government’s assertion that drug money supports terrorism. A few years back the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy even ran a series of public service announcements, one during the Super Bowl, that claim that if you buy illicit drugs, you are supporting terrorists. Here’s an example of one of those ads. And a little time spent with Google will easily demonstrate to you that this “drugs support terrorism” message has been spread by the government for some time now. It’s not just a few isolated ads. It’s a big part of their “drugs are bad” platform.

Fact 2: The U.S. government supports illegal drug dealers.

The second part of the story involves the U.S. government’s use of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as part of its justification of prohibition. Even when the use of a particular substance in no way involves interstate commerce, such as medical marijuana use within a given state, the effects of that use are national in scope. When you grow your own marijuana or buy it inexpensively from legal dispensaries, you are taking business away from the illegal importers, distributors, and dealers. And so the government is acting to protect those dealers with the Controlled Substances Act. Don’t believe me? Here it is from the horse’s own mouth, the case of Gonzales v. Raich. Just to be clear, here is a quote from the Court’s decision: “the regulation [of marijuana] is squarely within Congress’ commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity.” (The “national market,” in this case, refers to the black market.)

Conclusion: The U.S. Government supports terrorists.

Now I’m no rocket scientist. But it doesn’t take one to connect the dots, especially when there are only two of them and they can be connected with a straight line. The government admits to supporting and protecting illegal drug dealers. The government claims that money from the sales of illegal drugs supports terrorism. Therefore simple logic tells us that the U.S. government is supporting terrorism. If we were doing math, that would be called the transitive property. But since we’re not, let’s just call it painfully obvious. I’ve heard it said that the war on drugs is really a war on the American people. It looks like that is very true, in more ways than one. So I say, let’s get our government out of the business of supporting those that hate America and our way of life. And let’s get our government out of the business of standing between sick people and their medicine.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The NIH On Cannabis

In an earlier article I discussed the official government position on marijuana (i.e., it’s not medicine). According to the DEA, their position is in part based on studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since the NIH studies that I’ve been able to find don’t really support the government’s position, I thought I’d review one of those recent, major NIH studies on medical marijuana myself and see what they really have to say on the subject. This study, The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy, was published in Pharmacological Reviews in 2006 and summarizes recent findings on the medical uses of the various compounds found in marijuana. For fun, let’s compare and contrast the findings of this NIH study with the research cited by the DEA.

First, the official position of the DEA, as discussed in one of my previous pieces, is about as straight forward as you can get: the best available science tells them that marijuana has no medicinal value.

Now let’s take a look at what was actually found in numerous recent studies, as reviewed in the article cited above. The main conclusion of this review is likewise very unambiguous: the family of chemical compounds found in marijuana can be used to treat a wide variety of diseases and pathological conditions. Curious how the DEA fails to acknowledge the hundreds of studies reviewed in the NIH article, isn’t it? Could it be because much of that research was conducted outside the U.S.A.? Possibly. Of course that sort of research is frowned upon here, but that's beside the point. Could it be that it contradicts the official position of the government? Probably. But I think another reason they neglect to mention this overwhelming evidence is simply the fact that it exists. When you’re trying to scare people, the existence of facts can tend to confuse the issue. Any facts, pro or con, make it more difficult to maintain a mindless, irrational fear. Kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Once you know what’s behind the curtain, the wizard isn’t nearly as scary. Just knowing there’s something behind the curtain is enough to tell you that things probably aren’t what they seem. Your government would prefer you didn’t even know about the curtain.

And just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating, below is a summary of some of the medical uses of marijuana-based compounds discussed in the NIH article. You know, the ones the DEA says don't exist. There’s a lot more in the article, but I think this will give you a pretty good idea of what medical marijuana researchers really think.

Physiological Effect

Treatment Applications

control of appetite and energy metabolism

cancer and AIDS patients, as well as anorexia

relief of pain and inflammation

a wide variety of conditions

protection from neurotoxicity and neurotrauma

traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few

control of mental disorders

schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression

regulation of sleep


regulation of addictive disorders

alcohol, cocaine, or opiate addiction

cardiovascular and respiratory effect

hypertension, atherosclerosis, and asthma

visual system effects

eye disorders such as glaucoma and retinopathy

inhibition of malignant tumor growth

several different types of cancer

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Day After Election Day

I don’t have any insightful commentary or witty observations about yesterday’s election. Nor do I have anything to say about our country’s choice for a new president. If you want that sort of thing, check out the CNN web site (or Fox News, if you’re of that persuasion).

I just wanted to say congratulations to the people of Michigan! Their state has just become the 13th in the U.S. to have an active medical marijuana program. The measure passed with an overwhelming two-thirds majority. That means that nearly 25 percent of the American people now have safe access to their required medication. (Unless of course the DEA decides to go after them like they have in California and elsewhere.) It’s getting harder and harder for the federal government to claim that marijuana has no accepted medical use in the U.S. At least with a straight face.

I’d also like to acknowledge the state of Massachusetts, where the people just voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts (1 ounce or less) of marijuana. It will save the state millions of dollars, not to mention all those otherwise law-abiding citizens who will no longer have their lives ruined by a criminal record. Way to go Massachusetts!

These are small steps, but definitely in the right direction. Who knows, maybe with a new president things will change for the better all over this country. I’m skeptical, but not as pessimistic as I once was. I mean I never, ever would have expected to see a black president in my lifetime. Ever. But here we are. So I guess anything is possible.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Mother Of All Conspiracies

I recently read a story about Steve Tucker, the so-called “forgotten man.” In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Tucker’s story, and there’s no reason you should be, it is very tragic, to say the least, and more than a little scary. You see, Mr. Tucker was recently released after serving a 10-year prison sentence. Yes, that’s right, 10 years! This Steve Tucker must have been one dangerous criminal to be held in a federal prison for so long, right? I mean the average time a convicted murderer spends in federal prison is only 7 years. So what could Mr. Tucker have possibly have done to deserve such a severe punishment? Simple—he was convicted of selling electric lights. Yes, you heard me right. But just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding, I’ll say it again. Mr. Tucker was sentenced to 10 years, without possibility of parole, in federal prison for selling electric lights.

Technically, the federal crime he was convicted of was “conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.” So, you might be thinking, marijuana was involved after all; that’s a different story. But wait. There was no actual marijuana directly involved in the crime Mr. Tucker was convicted of. He was not accused of, nor convicted for, buying, selling, growing, transporting, smoking, or even possessing marijuana. After a multi-million dollar, 18-month-long investigation, the DEA was not able to connect Mr. Tucker with even a single joint. But that’s where the conspiracy charge comes in so handy. You don’t have to commit a crime, or if you do, you don’t need to even be aware you did. When a prosecutor throws the word “conspiracy” in front of a charge, it’s just a matter of waiting for the fat lady to sing. It’s all over but the sentencing.

So what exactly did Mr. Tucker do to land himself in jail for 10 long years? He operated a hydroponics store in Atlanta. In case you don’t know, that means his business sold electric lights, fertilizers, and other gardening supplies. It was a legitimate business and Mr. Tucker was a law-abiding, tax-paying business owner, living the American dream. Or so he thought. As it turns out though, some of Mr. Tucker’s customers were using products purchased at his store to grow marijuana. Now Mr. Tucker didn’t promote the use of his hydroponics equipment for growing marijuana. He didn’t advertise products specifically made for growing marijuana, and in fact if anyone asked him about growing marijuana they were asked to leave his store. But beyond that, Mr. Tucker didn’t question his customers or try to insure they were only using his products for legal purposes. And that was his fatal mistake. Even though he was running a legal business, selling legal products, he was still responsible for what those products were used for after they left his store. And so he had to pay for his life of “crime.” Let that be a lesson to others committing crimes that they have no idea they are committing.

But I don’t think the DEA went far enough. I’ve been doing a little research and have discovered that marijuana growers don’t purchase all of their growing supplies at hydroponics stores. It’s true. The same lights sold at these specialty stores are also sold at home improvement stores, often at lower prices (very important when you’re in a for-profit business, like growing marijuana commercially). Not to mention plumbing and other gardening products. So why stop at shutting down a few mom-and-pop hydroponics stores when much bigger fish are just asking to be caught? National chains like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Central Hardware, Ace Hardware, to name a few, should also be investigated. I’d be willing to bet that they don’t routinely question people who purchase high-pressure sodium lights as to their intended use. And when it comes to gardening supplies like soil, fertilizer, and pots, there’s no better place to get them at a guaranteed low price than Wal-Mart. Or K-Mart. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve purchased potting soil at Wal-Mart and was not asked a single question about it. They were practically encouraging me to use that soil to grow marijuana. And, as I understand it, growing with hydroponics requires things like water pumps and air pumps. As someone who keeps tropical fish, I know that these items can easily be purchased at any pet shop. And I also know that pet shop owners could care less what you do with a pump after it leaves their store. How irresponsible can they be? They might as well have a big sign in their store that reads, “Our pumps work great in hydroponics marijuana-growing operations.”

So I think the DEA’s mission is clear. Any store anywhere any time that sells anything that could conceivably be used to grow marijuana needs to be shut down. Not only that, but their merchandise should be seized by the DEA. Isn’t that what the forfeiture laws are for? And their owners need to be held responsible for their actions—they need to be prosecuted and their assets seized. And here’s the really neat part about this: Most of these national chains are publicly traded companies. That’s right, they have thousands of owners—their stockholders. Each and every one of them must be held responsible. By owning even a small part of a business that sells to people who use their products to grow marijuana, they are all involved in a conspiracy as much as Mr. Tucker was. The mother of all conspiracies. And there’s no excuse for that. This is the U.S. of A. after all.

As if that wasn’t enough to make our government cream their jeans, it gets even better. Just think of all that “loot,” aka proceeds of crime, seized by the federal government. I bet when all is said and done, it would be the total assets of over half the population. Maybe three-quarters. That’d be enough to pay off the national debt, and then some. Of course a lot more prisons would need to be built. But since those are private businesses nowadays, it would be a great boost to our economy. It might be a little tricky to handle, what with more people being in prison than out, but since when has our government backed down from a challenge? And if that’s what it takes to finally, once and for all, rid our country of the scourge of marijuana, then so be it. If our government did anything less, what kind of message would it send to our children?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Drug Commercials Scare Me

If you watch any TV at all, you’ve undoubtedly seen one or more commercials for drugs, the medicinal kind that is. If you’re like me, you probably either ignore these commercials or start flipping channels. Well, the other night I actually watched one from beginning to end. And I paid attention. If you’ve done the same yourself, you know that a typical pharmaceutical company’s drug commercial spends about 5-10 percent of its time telling you what the drug is good for and the rest telling you about its contraindications (i.e., when you shouldn’t take it) and/or its side effects.

A great example is a commercial I saw the other night for Humira. It can be used to treat certain types of arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis. An interesting combination, and a very short list, of uses. But what about the contraindications? Don’t take Humira if you have any kind of infection, including tuberculosis or hepatitis, or are around anyone with such infections, or even if you tend to get a lot of infections. You should also tell your doctor if you have any numbness or tingling, or have a disease that affects your nervous system such as multiple sclerosis or Guillian-BarrĂ© syndrome, have heart failure or other heart conditions, are scheduled for major surgery, are pregnant, become pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. You should also be careful if you’ve recently received any vaccines or are planning to get a vaccination.

OK, so let’s say you are infection free, don’t have any of the listed conditions, and are not with child. What can you expect in the way of undesirable side effects? Let’s start with serious infections, including tuberculosis, and infections caused by viruses, fungi, and bacteria. You might also increase your risk for getting certain types of cancer such as lymphoma or skin cancer. (Don’t worry though, the kind of skin cancer caused by Humira is not life threatening if treated, or so they say.) Then there are the possible allergic reactions, which may cause rashes, swelling, and trouble breathing. From there we move on to the nervous system problems that may include numbness or tingling, problems with your vision, weakness in your arms or legs, and dizziness. And the blood problems with symptoms that include a fever that does not go away, bruising or bleeding very easily, or looking very pale. And let’s not forget heart failure and immune reactions, including a lupus-like syndrome. Symptoms you might expect include chest discomfort or pain that does not go away, shortness of breath, joint pain, or a rash on your cheeks or arms that gets worse in the sun.

So I think you can see what I’m talking about regarding the amount of time spent extolling the virtues of a drug versus the grave warnings about its dangers. Makes me wonder why anybody would willingly, or knowingly, take such a drug. As a contrast, I’d like to see a commercial for medicinal marijuana.

First of all, the effects of medical marijuana and the conditions it can be used to treat: the control of appetite and energy metabolism (useful in the treatment of cancer and AIDS patients, as well as anorexia), the relief of pain and inflammation (useful in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions), protection from neurotoxicity and neurotrauma (useful in the treatment of traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few), control of mental disorders (such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression), regulation of sleep (useful in the treatment of insomnia), the regulation of addictive disorders (such as the alcohol, cocaine, or opiate addiction), cardiovascular and respiratory effects (useful in the treatment of hypertension, atherosclerosis, and asthma), eye disorders such as glaucoma and retinopathy, and finally as an agent that can directly inhibit cancer growth. And this is only a partial list.

So we’ve already got a pretty long commercial. What about the dangers of cannabis and its side effects? Well, there is one possible side effect (singular): You may experience a sudden increase in appetite or a craving for a particular food (which is only a side effect if it is not being used as an appetite stimulant). If this condition persists for more than 4 minutes, have a snack, relax, maybe listen to some music. I’d suggest some Hendrix, The Doors, or maybe some Bob Marley. But don’t worry, you’re not going to find out 6 months or a year down the line that cannabis was suddenly pulled off the market because of fatalities or serious health problems caused by its use. Rest assured that cannabis has been in use therapeutically since the dawn of time, and in the approximately 20,000 – 30,000 years of its use no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. How many other “medicines” can make that claim?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Federal Government’s Medical Marijuana Program

According to the U.S. government, marijuana currently has no accepted medical use in the U.S. If you visit the DEA’s web site, you will find numerous references to that effect. And if you read what the DEA tells you (and don’t check out their references too carefully), it would appear to be true. Obviously, they fail to mention the dozen states that currently accept the medical use of marijuana. After all, this is the federal government, and what the states do is not relevant. When they say “no,” as in “no accepted medical use,” they mean it in a federal, legal, legislative sort of way, clearly not in the way that you or I would mean it. But one little fact that never seems to get mentioned with respect to accepted medical use of marijuana is that the U.S. government currently has a medical marijuana program of its very own.

What, you didn’t know that the U.S. government has a medical marijuana program? It’s true. And notice I said “has,” not “had.” The Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) Study program began in 1978 in response to a lawsuit brought against the FDA, DEA, and other federal agencies. The case, Randall v. U.S., sought to prevent the government from denying a patient legal medical marijuana that had been found by a federal judge in a previous case (U.S. v. Randall) to be a medical necessity. The program was originally intended to provide patients with legal marijuana and other non-FDA-approved drugs. Eventually AIDS was added to the list of marijuana-responsive ailments, and the program expanded in the 1980s. At that point, the number of patients trying to join the program got a little too large for the government’s comfort, and so the Bush administration closed it down in 1991. There were never more than 30 active patients in the program. When it was shut down, the current, active patients were grandfathered in and continued to receive their medicine legally. Today there are still seven surviving members who receive marijuana from the federal government under the IND program. The other thousands of medical marijuana users in the U.S. are subject to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment.

So I guess that begs the question, what exactly does the phrase “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” mean? And it is a very important phrase indeed, since it is one of the three criteria used to classify a drug as a Schedule I substance. To me, being a native English speaker and not a lawyer, “no” means “no.” And I would consider the 12 states that accept marijuana as a medical treatment to be “in the United States.” It therefore is quite obvious, to me anyway, that marijuana does have accepted medical uses, both at the federal and state level. So perhaps someone could explain to me how marijuana continues to be a Schedule I substance. Some might point out that the federal government ended its program 17 years ago because they discovered that marijuana should not be used medicinally after all. OK. But then why let those seven people continue to receive their medicine? If it has no medicinal value and in reality is causing those people grave harm, then why not cut them off when the program ended? After all, isn’t the war on drugs all about protecting people from themselves? You can’t have it both ways (unless of course you are the U.S. government).

But there’s another issue that the federal government’s medical marijuana program raises that may be of even greater importance in the long run. We have a population of federally-sanctioned medical marijuana users that have been taking their medication for 17 years or more. Talk about a great research opportunity. Why aren’t these people being studied? (Although they are willing, none have been involved in any medical marijuana research studies.) Although the sample is small, it is a rare population of patients that could have been participating in a longitudinal study that might have provided valuable information about the true potential for medical marijuana. But I think you know the answer to this question as well as I do. The war on drugs is in no way based on facts. Actual scientific knowledge of the medical value of marijuana would only confuse the issue. And that brings us back to the heart of the matter—what kind of message would legalizing a substance that could potentially help thousands, if not millions, of sick people send to our children?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

I happened to run across some information that I found quite interesting. And pretty frightening. What I’m referring to is a table of sentences imposed on cases that were decided in U.S. District Courts. By crime, they list the percentage of convictions that were sentenced to incarceration (i.e., jail time) versus probation and/or fines. They also list the average length of the sentences. So I thought it would be interesting to see how drug offenses compare to other crimes with respect to sentencing. I figure that should give us an idea of how serious the criminal justice system thinks drug offenses are, relatively speaking. Because in a fair and just system, the punishment should fit the crime. Shouldn’t it?

First, let’s look at the number of people sentenced to incarceration: They classify drug offenses in two categories, trafficking and possession/other. Unfortunately, they do not separate these offenses by the controlled substance involved. And I can only assume that these are non-violent crimes, since the various violent crimes have their own categories. Of the offenders convicted of trafficking, 92% received jail time, and of the offenders convicted of possession/other, 90% received jail time. This statistic alone surprised me. But in comparison to other crimes, it is downright shocking. The only other crime that even comes close is sexual abuse, for which 90% of convicted offenders went to jail. After that, we have murder—89%, burglary—88%, arson—86%, kidnapping—79%, racketeering and extortion, 78%, assault—76%, perjury—66%, counterfeiting—61%, and tax fraud—56%. At the other extreme, only 17% of those convicted of misdemeanors and petty offenses went to jail.

Based on the proportion of convicted offenders that go to jail, it would appear that drug offenses are right up there with murder and sexual abuse. And of course it is clearly a more serious crime than burglary, arson, kidnapping, and even counterfeiting. I don’t know about you, but this is a bit hard for me to even comprehend. You’re as likely to go to jail for a victimless, non-violent crime as you are for murder! And more likely to go to jail for a drug offense than most other crimes of violence and theft.

Next, let’s look at the length of sentences: Of the offenders convicted of trafficking, the average jail sentence was 74 months, and of the offenders convicted of possession/other, the average sentence was 79 months. Not a big difference, and probably not statistically significant, but even so it would appear that possession is at least as serious as trafficking in the eyes of the criminal justice system. At least with this statistic, there are crimes which receive longer sentences. Those convicted of sexual abuse or kidnapping receive average sentences of 88 months. The average sentence for murder was 85 months, and for racketeering and extortion, 74 months. After that we have the sentences shorter than for drug offenses: assault—38 months, perjury—34 months, tax fraud—22 months, counterfeiting— 21 months, and embezzlement—16 months. Misdemeanors and petty offenses resulted in an average sentence of 10 months.

Based on this statistic, it would also appear that drug offenses are serious indeed. Drug offense sentences are less severe only than those of the most serious violent crimes. Again it must be concluded that you will spend more time in jail for a victimless, non-violent crime than you would for all but the most violent of offenses.

I’d like to believe that the severity of the punishments for drug offenses relative to other offenses that I, and I think most people, would consider much more serious is just a coincidence. I’d like to, but I can’t. These statistics strongly imply that our government views using drugs as the most serious of crimes. Its seriousness is equaled and/or exceeded only by murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault.

And I really hate to ask, but what kind of message is this sending to our children? I have a few ideas. For one, it’s telling them that their government really doesn’t want them to use drugs. And it’s telling them that if they are caught, they are viewed by their government as some of the worst, most violent, sociopathic criminals in our society. It also tells them that if they are going to commit a crime and get caught, they’d be better off if that crime involved cheating, stealing, or beating somebody up. Finally, it’s telling them that to the government, it is more important to protect people from themselves than it is to protect them from others. Don’t you just love our criminal justice system?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Applying the Government’s Logic

Our government has its own sort of “logic” that it applies to the war on drugs. I’ve been analyzing it and trying to make sense of it in previous pieces. In case you haven’t read any of my earlier work, I’ll sum up my conclusion simply: It’s twisted.

So I started wondering, what if the government started applying that logic to other aspects of our lives? How insane would that be? OK, probably not as insane as the war on drugs. But still.

The other day I listened to a podcast featuring David Murray, senior policy analyst at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Dr. Murray made what I thought was a good analogy between medical marijuana and aspirin. Aspirin contains a synthesized version of a chemical found in willow bark. Since the stone age, people have been taking willow-bark potions to relieve pain. However we recently discovered the active chemical in willow bark and have been able to synthesize it. It’s a wonder of modern science that allows us to take this age-old remedy in pure form in controlled doses. Dr. Murray indicated that the only way the FDA would approve any cannabis-derived drugs would be if they too were isolated and synthesized like aspirin. (And that sounded like a big “if” to me.) OK, fair enough. If that’s possible, I’m sure patients would be happy to take their medicine in some form other than smoking it.

But it may not be that simple. Unlike willow bark, there are many active substances in cannabis that have a wide variety of beneficial effects. Isolating one or a few of these chemicals might not have the same effect as consuming the natural plant. In fact, this will probably turn out to be true, as some synthetic cannabis derivatives already in use are being shown to be much less effective than the real thing. To me, this is not surprising. Can you get the same benefits by taking your vitamins in pill form that you get by eating fruits and vegetables? Hardly. There are still a few things that mother nature does that humans still can’t really reproduce. (Ever hear of a thing called “artificial intelligence”?) Some may prefer taking pills, but many prefer to eat natural foods. Happily, at this point in time, we have that choice.

But I’m not a physician. And besides, what worries me more are the implications of this kind of logic. That’s right, you’re way ahead of me on this one. I’m anticipating that any day now willow trees will be added to the list of controlled substances. I mean, what if people started making their own willow bark tea whenever they had a headache. Even worse, what if willow bark proved to be more effective, and people stopped buying aspirin? It makes no difference that people have been using this remedy since the beginning of time. Today, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., people can’t be permitted to administer natural, home-made remedies to themselves. It would be chaos. Dogs and cats living together. And what kind of message would it send the kids?

The only reasonable and logical thing to do is to make it illegal to possess any part of a willow tree. If you are found with a willow tree on your property or some willow bark on your person, you need to be sent to jail as soon as possible for as long as it takes to teach you a good lesson. Of course if you’re found with a whole grove of willow trees (or whatever you call a group of them), that would probably take the rest of your life. Just think how much safer John Q. Public will feel knowing that people who think they have the unalienable right to use home remedies and harm no one by doing so are safely behind bars. I know I’ll sleep a lot better. Especially after I finish cutting down all my willow trees. And make myself a nice cup of tea.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Looking Out for the Drug Dealers

Somebody has to, right? It’s not like they have a union, or unemployment insurance, or health benefits. So why not the federal government? Just because illegal drug dealers are often violent and dangerous criminals doesn’t mean they don’t deserve protection from economic hardship, does it? And who better to protect them than Uncle Sam?

In case you didn’t know it, the U.S. government, under the guise of enforcing the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, is lending a helping hand to some of our society’s worst scum. And they are openly admitting it. The government uses the Commerce Clause as justification for the Controlled Substances Act and the war on drugs.

Article I, Section 8 (the Commerce Clause):
The Congress shall have power . . . To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

I’ve often wondered how regulating interstate commerce could, by any stretch of the imagination, have anything whatsoever to do with individuals who grow marijuana for their own personal consumption or for medical use within a state. How could interstate commerce possibly be involved in such circumstances?

Well, I’ve finally discovered the answer and, let me tell you, it has to be one of the most insane “loopholes” the government has ever come up with to justify their unconscionable behavior. Here’s the way their pretzel logic works: Even if you grow marijuana only for yourself with no other human being or exchange of money involved, you are still affecting “commerce” because when you grow and consume marijuana yourself, it’s that much less that you are buying from illegal drug dealers. The same applies to medical marijuana, because its price undercuts what the illegal dealers are charging and cuts into their profits. Why buy from a dealer when you can get it from a clean, safe, and relatively inexpensive dispensary? So what the government is saying is that you’re going to put illegal drug dealers out of business if you’re allowed to grow your own or buy it from a legal dispensary. And that, in a nutshell, is how regulation of interstate commerce fits into the picture. It doesn’t matter that the commerce being regulated is illegal, or that the government technically doesn’t want that commerce to even exist. If the government wants to do something, and a Constitutional amendment is too much trouble, they will always find a loophole in the Constitution. (For more information on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that justifies this position, check out Raich v. Ashcroft, which uses as a precedent Wickard v. Filburn.)

OK. In a twisted, perverted sort of way the government’s logic is, at least in this case, internally consistent. But it is definitely not consistently applied. A good example of the inconsistency would be the situation with homegrown versus mass-produced vegetables. I grow my own tomatoes and, as a result, rarely purchase supermarket or farm stand tomatoes. By the logic applied to marijuana, I should not be allowed to do this because none of my money goes to the commercial tomato industry. Yet the Commerce Clause is not applied to the tomato situation. Could it be that our government cares more about criminal drug dealers than the domestic tomato industry? Or could it be that homegrown tomatoes will soon be illegal? Either way, I wouldn’t be too surprised.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On The Job For Your Protection

The DEA’s press release web page is kind of like a “brag book.” They get to show the world how their diligence, perseverance, and good old fashioned hard work is paying off (if high-profile arrests are any indicator). But more importantly, how all of their devotion is entirely in the name of protecting us from ourselves. Well, huzzah for them! I feel so much safer knowing they are getting this scourge, this assassin of youth, off our streets. Especially since I know (as the DEA informed me) that “more young people today are in drug treatment programs for marijuana dependency than any other drug.” So let’s just take a look at some of the things our DEA, defenders of truth and of those incapable of looking after themselves (i.e., everyone), have been up to.

Here’s a victory for public safety: California Marijuana Dispensary Owner Convicted. This is a fairly well-known, recent case that the DEA seems especially proud of. And why not? They put in lots of undercover hours and spent tons of money to prove that a medical marijuana dispensary open to the public and licensed by the state of California to distribute marijuana, was in fact distributing marijuana. Now that’s some police work they should all be darn proud of. Not to mention keeping all that evil weed from improving the quality of life for thousands of sick people.

Here’s a scary one: Marijuana Dispensaries Linked to Fatal Car Crash. Yes, it’s true. An individual who had recently purchased marijuana from a legal (under California law) dispensary admitted to “being under the influence of marijuana” at the time of a fatal accident. This is even worse than killing someone while driving under the influence of alcohol because… Well, just because. And just like when a person under the influence of alcohol kills someone, the owners of the dispensary that sold him the intoxicating substance were also indicted. Oh, wait a second. They don’t prosecute the liquor store owner when a drunk driver kills someone. But this is different. How is that again? Oh yeah, because the medical dispensaries involved were “enterprises designed to generate profits for those who chose to ignore federal law and flout state law.” (Is “flout” even a word?) Ignoring and flouting will absolutely not be tolerated by the DEA.

And it’s not just the dispensaries that need to be taught a lesson about flouting laws: California Doctor-Lawyer Couple Get Five Years For Growing and Selling Marijuana. Even physicians need to be reminded that how they practice medicine is under the control of the DEA. And who better, since they have so much medical experience, not to mention all that experience with protecting people from themselves? And you know what really seemed to have pissed the DEA off? That the defendants made money from the sale of their medicine. I mean, who do they think they are? A big pharmaceutical company? But the DEA is, as always, not being judgmental. After all the good doctor’s “judgment got clouded” by his “passion for the drug.” Or maybe it was his passion for helping to ease people’s suffering. Either way, it just can’t be allowed.

But to be fair, not all of the DEA’s big busts are medical dispensaries licensed by the state and operating in the open. For example, Three California Marijuana Distribution Centers Shut Down. This 9 month investigation shut down three major marijuana “distribution centers” in San Mateo, California. They wanted to send a message that “illegal operations within San Mateo will be shut down and the property owners held accountable and liable.” See, these were some really bad people. And it really did take a lot of work to bust these distribution centers, since it would appear that they were clandestine operations. But wait a minute. An article from another source about these very same raids says that they were in fact medical dispensaries. And the DEA made no indication that these dispensaries violated any state law. I wonder why the DEA neglected to mention the medical connection in this article. I guess they felt it wasn’t relevant, just like that information was not relevant in the federal court these people were tried in.

And just one more to give you a fair sample of the kinds of things the DEA has been up to: Oakland Landlord Sentenced for Allowing Marijuana to be Grown on Multiple Commercial Properties. See, the clever DEA is using every trick in the book. Why limit yourself to doctors and dispensaries when you can go after the dispensary’s landlord. Make an example of a few landlords and pretty soon those law-flouting dispensaries will have no place to operate out of. That’ll hit ‘em where it hurts. And what an example. This 62-year-old man lost almost $400,000 in assets and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Why pretty soon it will get so all the DEA has to do is give a landlord a threatening call to put a dispensary out of business.

I think you get the idea. But I encourage you to check out the DEA’s press releases for yourself. You’re sure to be impressed by their investigative expertise. That and their heroic and highly successful efforts to rid our country of the scourge we call marijuana. And you’ll certainly feel more secure in your homes knowing all those sick people will no longer be receiving a medicine that the DEA says they should not be using. Unless of course these patients end up going to one of the few thousand other legal dispensaries still operating. Or buy their medicine illegally from one of countless black market dealers. Either way, they’ll be really inconvenienced. Sort of like when someone illegally parks in a handicapped parking space.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

a/k/a Tommy Chong

This is not exactly a movie review, but more about the significance of this film with respect to the war on drugs. In case you haven’t seen a/k/a Tommy Chong, it is a documentary that tells the story of the federal government’s investigation, arrest, prosecution, and subsequent imprisonment of Tommy Chong for selling glass pipes.

You see, there is a federal law that makes sales of “drug paraphernalia” a criminal offense in the U.S. There are also a few states that have similar laws. However until recently, that federal law had not been enforced. So a number of retailers, including Mr. Chong, had been selling a variety of so-called paraphernalia for many years with no legal repercussions. Unfortunately, what these pipe vendors didn’t anticipate was an ambitious young U.S. Attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, who wanted to make a name for herself. Of course if the government really wanted to shut down these vendors, they could have simply sent them “cease and desist” letters letting them know that the federal law was going to be enforced once again (as is pointed out in the film). But that’s not how you make headlines. And when one of those vendors is a famous pro-marijuana celebrity, the headlines make you look even more impressive.

As part of the investigation (which cost taxpayers $12 million), undercover agents repeatedly called Mr. Chong’s company trying to get them to ship their products to Pennsylvania, one of the few states in which selling glass pipes is illegal. After being refused over and over again, the agents eventually came up with a way to “encourage” shipment, and that, as they say, was that. Several heavily-armed federal agents raided Mr. Chong’s home and place of business. For some strange reason though, only Tommy Chong was charged with a crime, and that was some time later. After a brief trial and some plea bargaining, Mr. Chong ended up serving 9 months in a federal prison, for his first criminal offense. Approximately 50 other retailers were targeted as part of this operation, but they served little or no prison time.

Interestingly enough, a conviction for a first-time DUI offense in California, which is a crime that endangers lives, will only get your license suspended for four months. Even three DUI convictions will not land you in jail. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if Mr. Chong’s punishment fit his crime.

So, what was the point of “Operation Pipe Dreams” (cleverly, the government chose a name that sounds a lot like the title of a Cheech & Chong movie, which coincidentally was also the name of Mr. Chong’s business), other than advancing some careers? I think it’s safe to say that the government was trying to send a message. As the government is wont to do, they believed that the use of threats, intimidation, prosecution, and imprisonment would show people that they mean business. Surely after such a large-scale operation, no one would dare sell these items in the U.S. ever again. And by going after Mr. Chong in particular, they would show that no one, not even a stoner celebrity, is above the law. In fact, the prosecutors and judge made no secret of the fact that Mr. Chong was targeted because his career has been based on pro-marijuana entertainment.

So what were the results of this massive operation? Well, for one thing, drug paraphernalia is just as easy to buy in this country as it always has been. But the government doesn’t really care about that. The war on drugs has never been about showing results. A more significant result, also not intended by the government, is that Mr. Chong’s career has been revitalized. And that, more than anything, seems to have pissed them off. Won’t they ever learn that when you try to make an example of someone, especially someone who really isn’t a bad person, that you only end up making them a martyr? (Maybe those religious right-wingers should have spent some time reading their New Testament.) This 70-year-old hippie, who hasn’t been doing much lately other than selling glassware, is now a hero to a whole new generation of stoners. The film (from which Mr. Chong makes no money) has won awards at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, and of course, the High Times Stony Award, to name just a few. He’s back on the road again doing stand-up comedy and has even reunited with Cheech Marin, his old partner, for a tour. In fact, getting busted is the best thing to happen to Tommy Chong’s career in many years.

And that’s most certainly not a result the government was anticipating. I’d say they are completely mystified by this turn of events. How could Operation Pipe Dreams, which was motivated purely by the egotistical self-importance and career aspirations of a few government officials, have gone so wrong? Just because they targeted someone who exercised his constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech to disagree with the government, surely no one would hold that against them. The government does that sort of thing all the time. No big deal. And surely no one could fault them for targeting an entertainer beloved by the last few generations of stoners. More importantly, since things did turn out this way, how can the government let Mr. Chong get away with profiting from their misguided ignorance and incompetence? Well, they can confiscate 10,000 of his DVDs for starters. I’m not sure why, since Mr. Chong is only the subject of the documentary and makes no profit from it. But I’m sure it makes somebody feel better that they are at least doing something to show that they are not taking the repercussions of their actions lying down. No one should be allowed to profit from the government’s stupidity and vindictiveness.

In retrospect, I’d have to say that things turned out pretty good for Tommy Chong and the American people in general. Mr. Chong’s career has been given new life. A whole new audience is now aware of his work. And the American people have had a chance to see what really motivates their government in the ongoing war on drugs. Ironically, the government is their own worst enemy when it comes to defending their war. A few more high-profile busts of harmless, beloved celebrities will do more to end this senseless war than all the protests and petitions of pro-pot groups combined. So my hat’s off to Ms. Buchanan and her crew. Don’t stop showing the people what the war on drugs is really all about. Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hey Kids, Let’s Learn The Truth About Smoking Weed

Imagine, if you will, a web site that’s a cross between the movie Reefer Madness and the children’s magazine Highlights. That should give you a pretty good idea of what the DEA’s web site for kids is like. That’s right, those hep cats at the DEA are down with the drug scene. Much like The Fonz, they are cool in a far out, happening sort of way. Such a groovy web site surely must be chock full of accurate and totally truthful information in a format the kids will say is really rad. Nome sayin’? How could it not be? Isn’t it the DEA’s mission to inform and warn people about the dangers of (certain) recreational drugs? (That, and arresting them when they don’t heed the warnings.) In keeping with that objective, this site debunks the common myth that marijuana is relatively harmless (maybe that should be an episode on Mythbusters). And it does so in a kid-friendly way. Come on kids, how could you not trust kindly old Uncle DEA?

So let’s take a little look-see at what marijuana myths your friendly neighborhood DEA is debunking. First of all, some headlines: it’s just a plant—how could it be bad 4 me. Using a “4” like that makes it easier for the kids to relate to—it’s modern and edgy. And the use of all lower-case letters makes it very informal and downright friendly to kids of all ages. And then there’s totally lame (and dangerous and illegal) things to do on pot and the frightening extreme grades: from A to D in six months. Using words like “totally” and “extreme” will surely catch the kids attention because it’s speaking their “lingo.” I don’t know about you, but with titles like those I just can’t wait to hear the facts and have those nasty old myths debunked. And if I have anything to say about it, they will be good and rebunked before I’m through.

Did you know that the AMA (that’s the American Medical Association to you and me) has rejected marijuana as medicine? The always-helpful DEA even provides a link to the AMA web site that further explains their position on medical marijuana. But I guess you’re not really supposed to click that link, because if you do you’ll see that the DEA ever-so-slightly misinterpreted the AMA’s position on medical marijuana. What the AMA actually says is that more research is needed, and they go on to recommend how that research should be carried out. They further state that “The AMA believes that effective patient care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions.” Oops! Sounds like the DEA didn’t read the article they used as a reference. But who can blame them? After all, arresting medical marijuana users and their caregivers does occupy a fair amount of their time.

And I’ll bet you didn’t know that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the legalization of marijuana. If you follow the link provided you will see that this is indeed true. But if you read a little bit further you’ll find that, “The American Academy of Pediatrics supports rigorous scientific research regarding the use of cannabinoids for the relief of symptoms not currently ameliorated by existing legal drug formulations.” Golly, it seems that they too think medical marijuana research is important. Is mentioning that little detail something else that was overlooked by the DEA? Surely this oversight was not intentional.

Then there’s the U.S. Supreme Court, who the DEA tells us “rejected medical marijuana.” This too is true, although the court has not been very consistent in its decisions. Even so, I guess I didn’t realize that the Supreme Court was qualified to make medical recommendations. What’s that you say? They’re not? Could it be that they were just interpreting the current federal law and not really making a statement about the medicinal value of marijuana? Perhaps the DEA could explain that a little better. When they get the time.

And my personal favorite—Smoking marijuana not only makes you a criminal, but makes you violent as well. This is according to statistics provided by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health report from January, 2004. And their data do indeed show that the more marijuana kids in their survey smoked, the more likely they were to commit a variety of nonviolent and violent crimes. One possible conclusion that someone (i.e., someone who doesn’t understand statistics or who wants to intentionally misinterpret their meaning) might come to based on these statistics might indeed be that marijuana causes crime. But as we all know, a correlation between two variables does not imply a cause and effect relation. Either of the variables could be the cause or the effect, or neither of them could be either. The correlation statistic can’t tell you which is true. Based on my personal experience, I’d guess that it’s the other way around, that being a criminal is what makes you more likely to smoke, rather than smoking makes you more likely to be a criminal. And that perhaps people with violent tendencies may smoke to mellow themselves out a bit. Equally valid conclusions based on these statistics. And I’d further guess that you’d find the same correlation between crime and smoking cigarettes. (Or between crime and being a member of a minority.) But I don’t think anyone would suggest that smoking cigarettes makes you a criminal. But they could, which is what makes playing with statistics so much fun. See kids, we’re having fun! And learning that a good science and math education is important because it helps prevent people from playing those hilarious statistics tricks on you.

There you have it boys and girls, some myths badly in need of debunking finally having the bunk kicked out of them once and for all. And in a fun, far out, and solid kind of way. See, the truth doesn’t always hurt.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Unique and Solitary Crime

If you ask someone to define the concept of crime, they might give you a definition involving a behavior that violates a law. Technically, that is correct. But what is it that makes our legislators decide one type of behavior is criminal while another isn’t? What is it that all criminal behavior has in common and distinguishes it from non-criminal behavior?

I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of crimes involve one person doing harm or causing injury to another. Most actions that you can think of that involve one person intentionally harming another are illegal. And for most crimes, that harm involves either violence or theft. For the violent crimes—murder, rape, assault—the harm is physical. Someone is injured or killed. For the crimes of theft—robbery, burglary, embezzlement, fraud—the harm involves property. Someone’s property is damaged or destroyed or taken away from them.

But what about the so-called “victimless” crimes? For the most part, they don’t result in anyone being harmed. Does that make them an exception to my definition of crime? Indeed it does. Which means I need a new, broader definition. While most crimes involve one person harming another, virtually all crimes require the involvement of two or more people. Regardless of whether those people are perpetrator and victim or willing participants, it is nearly impossible to commit a crime alone. You can’t gamble or engage in prostitution alone in your home any more than you can commit a murder. As they say, it takes two to tango.

In fact, some behaviors are criminal solely because they involve others. Drinking alcohol is perfectly legal, but driving under the influence isn’t because it endangers others. Speeding is another crime you can commit alone, but it potentially endangers other as well. Whether the harm is actual or potential makes no difference.

It therefore seems to me that it is virtually impossible to commit a crime without involving someone else. I say “virtually” because there is one crime I can think of that you can commit entirely on your own. Can you guess what that crime is? It’s not all that hard to figure out, given the nature of this blog. Possession of marijuana is the only crime that does not require the involvement of another individual. (I consider growing for personal use essentially the same thing, even though the government doesn’t. The same would apply to other “natural” drugs that you can grow and consume yourself without involving others.) If you think about it for a second, you’ll see that it’s true. You could be all alone, in the privacy of your remote mountain cabin, miles from civilization, causing no actual or potential harm to a single other living thing, yet still be committing a crime. Is that crazy or what? (Don’t bother answering, as that was a rhetorical question.)

For the sake of completeness, there is one other “crime” you can commit that could potentially endanger just you and no one else. That would be driving without wearing a seatbelt. Of course you’re not going to go to federal prison for that violation, nor lose your job or be denied a variety of government services. At least not yet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Uncle Sam on Pot—Part 3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, there are still more reasons for us to fear marijuana. I promise this is the last of them. At least until the DEA makes up some new ones. Below are a few more statements from the DEA web site followed by my analyses of them.

Consider also that drug use, including marijuana, contributes to crime. A large percentage of those arrested for crimes test positive for marijuana. Nationwide, 40 percent of adult males tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest.

Really? I know a lot of people that smoke pot, but I don’t know any that are criminals (besides the fact that they smoke pot, that is). Granted, that’s just an anecdotal observation based on a small sample. But still. If it was that likely to turn people into criminals, I’d surely know at least one person that it happened to. And besides, marijuana shows up in a test for up to 2 weeks. Just because someone tests positive, doesn’t mean they had smoked recently. And I’d be interested to know what percentage of people test positive for alcohol at the time of their arrest.

Or maybe they’re referring to people arrested for possession. In that case, I guess maybe they have a point. If it is a crime to possess marijuana, then I wouldn’t be surprised that a fairly high percentage of people arrested for possession would test positive for marijuana. Although I think it might be a little more accurate to say that it’s the drug laws, as much if not more than the drugs, that are contributing to crime.

Is marijuana a gateway drug? Yes. Among marijuana's most harmful consequences is its role in leading to the use of other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.

OK, now they’re just flat-out lying. There is not a single shred of evidence to support this claim, and overwhelming evidence to refute it. I don’t think anybody’s seriously believed the “gateway” phenomenon since the LaGuardia Report in 1944, if not long before. Surely the DEA must know by now that nobody believes that marijuana is a gateway drug. Blatant lies are not doing anybody any good, and just serving to further erode the government’s credibility.

In Summary:

  • Marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug that poses significant health threats to its users.
  • Marijuana has no medical value that can't be met more effectively by legal drugs.
  • Marijuana users are far more likely to use other drugs like cocaine and heroin than non-marijuana users.
  • Drug legalizers use “medical marijuana” as red herring in an effort to advocate broader legalization of drug use.

There you have it. The official marijuana doctrine of your federal government. It’s entirely based on twisted facts, gross exaggerations, and outright lies. So what are you going to think when they try to convince you of something else that may sound a little far fetched? Like weapons of mass destruction. Or why warrantless wiretapping is such a good thing. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Keep trying to fool me over and over again with the same old story, and you could only be the shameful U.S. government.

As for me, I think I’m going to go out and commit some random crimes, do a little driving under the influence, maybe stop by the emergency room and mention marijuana, then when I get back home, start using heroin.*

* This is what is known as “sarcasm” (i.e., remarks that mean the opposite of what they seem to say and are intended to mock or deride). I’m not really admitting to nor planning to commit any crimes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Uncle Sam on Pot—Part 2

Did you seriously think the previous piece covered all the reasons the DEA has for keeping marijuana illegal? Well, think again. Below are some more statements from the DEA web site followed by my analyses of them.

Any determination of a drug's valid medical use must be based on the best available science undertaken by medical professionals. The Institute of Medicine conducted a comprehensive study in 1999 to assess the potential health benefits of marijuana and its constituent cannabinoids. The study concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for the treatment of any disease condition. In addition, there are more effective medications currently available. For those reasons, the Institute of Medicine concluded that there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication. [emphasis not added]

I talked about this statement and its source in a previous article, so I just want to say that I wonder what made them pick this particular study to base their position on medical marijuana on. Could it be that it’s the only one they could find that supports their position?

The DEA supports research into the safety and efficacy of THC (the major psychoactive component of marijuana), and such studies are ongoing, supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Not really. It is virtually impossible to get permission to do real medical marijuana research in the U.S. Europe is currently the hot bed of leading-edge medical marijuana research.

Furthermore, the DEA recently approved the University of California San Diego to undertake rigorous scientific studies to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis compounds for treating certain debilitating medical conditions.

As far as I can tell, that study began in 1999 and was not exactly what this statement makes it sound like. It was a study of the neurobiological effects of long-term, chronic cannabis “addiction.” That doesn’t sound too much like medical marijuana research. Perhaps there was another recent major federally-funded project in San Diego that I failed to find anything about. Maybe it didn’t turn out they way they wanted and it got buried. More likely, it never existed.

It's also important to realize that the campaign to allow marijuana to be used as medicine is a tactical maneuver in an overall strategy to completely legalize all drugs.

Maybe. That might be true for marijuana; I don’t know about all drugs. But that doesn’t in any way affect its medicinal value. If people started using aspirin recreationally, that wouldn’t make it any less effective for treating headaches. But that’s beside the point. The government uses even more lame, more transparent excuses to keep marijuana illegal. So what’s wrong with the other side doing the same to try to get it legalized?

Or maybe it’s just a strategy of the pro-marijuana folks to allow the government to change their mind and not look like idiots for the past 70 years. So the government can say, “We let them use it medicinally and it’s not so bad, so let’s mellow out a bit and let them smoke it recreationally. See, we can be reasonable. Your government isn’t all bad.” I wouldn’t put it past those fun-loving legalization people to give their government a chance to keep their dignity and at the same time do the right thing.

Does marijuana harm anyone besides the individual who smokes it? Consider the public safety of others when confronted with intoxicated drug users. Marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving: alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination, and reaction time. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana.

I covered this issue in the previous piece. Nobody’s suggesting that stoned people be allowed to do things that endanger others. That’s just silly. And I sure would like to get a hold of some of that stuff that gets you high for 24 hours.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncle Sam on Pot—Part 1

The DEA has some pretty good reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Unfortunately, those reasons have no connection whatsoever to reality. Below are some of the reasons the U.S. government would like us to believe justify the war on drugs. They are taken directly from the DEA web site, and each is followed by my analysis.

Smoking marijuana weakens the immune system and raises the risk of lung infections. A Columbia University study found that a control group smoking a single marijuana cigarette every other day for a year had a white-blood-cell count that was 39 percent lower than normal, thus damaging the immune system and making the user far more susceptible to infection and sickness.

But what about the federal government’s patent (see the previous article)? It is for compounds in marijuana that act as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. That sounds like something that strengthens not weakens the immune system. Oddly enough, the reference they give for this “Columbia study” is an article in the Washington Times. I couldn’t find any reference anywhere to an actual study done at Columbia that fits with the findings the DEA describes.

But, you might say, maybe it’s the smoking they have a problem with when it comes to medicinal uses, not the drug itself. If that were true, I bet most medical users would not object to ingesting their medicine another way. If they were only given the opportunity.

Marijuana is an addictive drug with significant health consequences to its users and others. Many harmful short-term and long-term problems have been documented with its use.

That’s funny. That’s just the opposite of what every major federally-funded study in the past 70 years has found. I wonder what “documentation” they are referring to. The references they give for this statement are articles in Foreign Affairs Magazine and the Washington Times. Sound like some pretty solid sources to me. I know I base all my medical decisions on what some obscure news magazine says.

The short term effects of marijuana use include: memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate, and anxiety.

Wow! There’s one they got right, at least to a certain extent. I guess that means that you shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery when stoned. Fair enough. But then again, I don’t think anyone is advocating the legalization of driving under the influence.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of emergency room mentions of marijuana use. From 1993-2000, the number of emergency room marijuana mentions more than tripled.

Mentions? What does that mean? Was it mentioned in casual conversation. Like a guy in the waiting room is telling his friend that he smoked marijuana once? Or did somebody specifically ask about it? Perhaps the admitting nurse asked if the patient ever smoked pot and they replied yes. Notice how they carefully avoid saying marijuana was the cause of any ER visits? I’m not sure why they would be so careful to avoid misstating facts in this case when they flat out lie in others. Makes me suspicious.

There are also many long-term health consequences of marijuana use. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.

I have to say I’m a bit skeptical about this one too. Of course when you inhale the smoke from any burning plant you’re bound to inhale some nasty stuff. But there has been no evidence that smoking marijuana increases the probability of getting lung cancer anywhere near what smoking cigarettes does. In fact, recent research has shown that compounds in marijuana can actually reduce the likelihood of getting certain kinds of cancers. (A future piece will look at the findings from a recent NIH study. It’s obviously not the one the DEA is referencing.)

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

U.S. Government Patents Pot

Just so we’re all clear on the U.S. government’s position on medical marijuana, here it is from the horse’s very own mouth. Their position, taken from the DEA web site, is based on a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine*:

Smoking marijuana is not recommended for the treatment of any disease condition. In addition, there are more effective medications currently available. For those reasons… there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication. [emphasis not added]

I’d say that statement is about as clear as it could possibly be. According to the DEA, representing the federal government when it comes to drugs, there is currently no such thing as medical marijuana.

Why then does the federal government hold a patent on medical marijuana? Yes it’s true. It’s US Patent 6630507 - Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. The assignee of that patent is The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services. Just go to the US Patent and Trademark Office web site and do a search on that number if you think I’m making this up. Because it does seem, to me anyway, a bit far fetched, to say the least.

First of all, I didn’t realize the federal government could even hold patents. I thought work funded by tax dollars was in the public domain. Guess I was way off on that one.

But more importantly, I didn’t realize you could hold a patent on something that doesn’t exist. I mean if the government says something doesn’t exist, how can it grant itself a patent on it. Next thing you know, they’ll be patenting weapons of mass destruction. Or unicorns.

I don’t have anything more to say about this patent in particular, or its mythical nature, but I do have a lot more to say regarding the DEA and their position on all things pot. Stay tuned.

* The Institute of Medicine is an advisory group established in 1970 to give advice on medical issues to the government. As far as I can tell, they don’t appear to do much, if any, actual research. They appear to mostly review material and prepare reports.