Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thank You, Mary Beth Buchanan

Back in September of last year I wrote about Tommy Chong’s run-in with the feds and his subsequent incarceration. It hasn’t been that long, and yet a lot has happened since Mr. Chong’s imprisonment. After giving that unfortunate incident and some more recent events some serious thought, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and make a prediction. At some point in the future, when prohibition has ended, we will look back and mark the bust of Tommy Chong as a major turning point in the war on the war on drugs. I believe that the national publicity that surrounded the unreasonable treatment of Mr. Chong at the hands of our federal government finally brought the situation (i.e., the horrors of prohibition) to the attention of the American public. And that is a significant accomplishment.

So what exactly has happened since then that makes me want to go a-predictin’? Well, for starters we got ourselves a new president. I won’t go so far as to attribute any credit for that to what happened to Mr. Chong. But it didn’t hurt that this new president came into office when the media’s interest in the prohibition issue is at an all-time high. It’s getting so you can’t hardly turn on the TV or read a blog without seeing a news report or editorial about some aspect of prohibition. Mostly against. Then shortly after taking office, our new president appointed a new attorney general, as new presidents are wont to do. Although nothing is official yet, that new AG has stated publicly that the federal government is not interested in raiding law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries. (A few have been raided since then, but that’s another story.) And let’s not forget our new Drug Czar, who said he doesn’t like the term “war on drugs,” and thinks we should probably call it something else. Again, nothing earth shattering (or even real), but at least people in the executive branch are talking about the issue. That’s something that hasn’t happened since the 70s.

As for actual legislative activity, just a few weeks ago Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) along with 9 co-sponsors introduced legislation that would protect medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution. Then a week later, Frank and others introduced a bill that would remove federal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This isn’t the first time such bills were introduced only to die, but clearly some momentum is shifting.

At the local level, the number of states that allow medical marijuana now stands at 14—two of which were added to the roster along with the election of that new president of ours, and one, NH, was added just this week. Three of those states now permit the operation of dispensaries, and together they are home to over one third of our population. And at this very moment 12 more states have medical marijuana legislation pending. It’s looking like within the next couple of years well over half of the people in this country will have access to medical marijuana. No matter how you look at it, these are some significant, unprecedented developments.

And just a few of days ago the United Nations, in an abrupt 180 to their long-standing policy, made a statement in favor of drug decriminalization (sort of). That’s especially surprising seeing as how not that long ago the UN’s position was that prohibition could end all drug use in the world within 10 years. Seems kind of sudden to give up now, seeing as how they were so close. Who knows, another 10 years and their prohibitionist polices might have worked.

But what does all this have to do with Tommy Chong’s imprisonment. As I said, it’s all about the media. Not to mention the effect a martyr can have on a movement. And what better martyr could the cause have? Mr. Chong is well known, beloved by young and now old alike, viewed as mostly harmless, and (here’s the biggie) was clearly singled out and treated more harshly because of who he is and what he stands for. An ambitious young U.S. Attorney who wanted to make a name for herself ended up making a martyr of a beloved American icon. Which also, incidentally, did wonders for his career. And of course, most importantly, gave the anti-prohibition movement some much-needed attention. People, including politicians, are now talking openly about the issue, where not too long ago an elected official wouldn’t dream of using the “D” word, let alone the “L” word, in public. Even the anti-drug, conservative governor of California recently stated that it’s time for an open debate. Decriminalization and even legalization are now in a lot more people’s vocabularies. Unfortunately, they are not yet in our Drug Czar’s.

So a hearty thank you to Mary Beth Buchanan, the prosecutor who I predict will go down in history as the one responsible for getting the anti-prohibition movement off the ground. Keep up the good work! And if I might make a suggestion to all ambitious prosecutors throughout the land: Find a few more harmless, beloved, elderly American icons and bust them for something marijuana related. Single them out and make examples of them. I’m thinking perhaps someone like Walter Cronkite or Doris Day. Or how about Oprah? She’s not elderly, but quite beloved nonetheless. A few more of these high-profile busts, and we’ll be buying weed right alongside alcohol and tobacco at our local convenience stores before you know it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Who Is Tony Aroma?

A while back I wrote a piece about where my pseudonym came from (Tony Who?), but I think it’s time I tell you a little bit more about the person behind the pen name. Like why do I even use a fake name in the first place? Why not just be myself? Who is the real Tony?

Well, there are two main reasons for the made-up name. First, I would be a bit embarrassed if my family or friends knew what kind of stuff I am writing. Aside from a few close friends, no one even knows I have any interest at all in the devil’s weed. If they found out what I was writing, most would probably decide (if they hadn’t already) that I was stupid, silly, crazy, pathetic, obsessed, drug-crazed, or all of the above and then some. Granted, I may be any or all of those things, but that doesn’t mean I have to flaunt it. So no one, not a single living soul, knows that I write this blog.

Second, although I have never admitted to committing any crimes in my writings, nor have I encouraged others to do so, I do nevertheless criticize my government. That alone may not be a crime at this particular point in time, but it sure has gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble. And with all the fear of terrorists and other threats to our national security these days, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if our government were keeping an eye on anyone who is critical of their policies. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Not that anyone can really be totally anonymous on the internet. But I do what I can to remain unknown and hope it works.

So, what can I say about myself without compromising my anonymity? I think it’s safe to say that most people that know me would be surprised, shocked even, to know what I’ve been writing about. I can say that I am not a youngster, nor would I be referred to as elderly or spry. I guess that makes me middle-aged. I’m pretty well educated and have what would probably be considered a white-collar or professional job. I don’t consider myself a conservative, but then again I don’t like a lot of liberal polices. If I had to pick a political label, I’d have to say I’m a libertarian. I believe in the Constitution and the limited federal government it describes.

I was pretty rebellious when I was young(er). Some might even have labeled me a “hippy.” But I’m not old enough to have been a real hippy, so I don’t think that label really applies. But now I’m just your typical member of “the establishment.” Although I like to think I’m not all that typical. And for the record, I am not (overly) lazy or a slacker, I don’t lack ambition, I am reasonably successful, I am a generally well-adjusted and happy person, and I rarely ever say things like “man” or “dude” in a conversation. And I hope you’ve determined from reading my work that I am reasonably intelligent and have a pretty good grasp of the English language. So much for the stereotypes.

But I think the best way to describe me is the last person in the world you would expect to write such a blog. Picture in your mind the type of person that you might imagine writes about this sort of thing, and then picture the exact opposite. That’s me. Picture the “person next door” in suburbia U.S.A. Really, like I said in my blurb, I’m pretty much your average Joe. I could be somebody you know. I could be that neighbor that you see every once in a while and say hi to or maybe exchange some small talk with. I could be that person in the next cubicle that you talk to on breaks and have the occasional lunch with. I could be that old friend that you grew up with and wonder what ever happened to. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Then again, this could all be a product of my overactive imagination and not be an even remotely accurate description of me. I hope this answers all those burning questions that you’ve been too afraid to ask.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Smiley Face — Friend or Foe?

I saw Smiley Face (the movie) a while back and never got around to writing about it. But I’ve seen it several times since and decided it was about time I got around to doing a review.

First, let me just say that I loved this movie. And I love Anna Faris. Not in any kind of weird, stalker-ish, John Wayne Hinckley kind of way. She may not be a great actor (then again, maybe she is), but she is cute and funny, and thus far in her career has chosen roles that make the most of her comedic acting talents. The part of Jane in this film is no exception.

Smiley Face is a modern take on the classic stoner movie. Ms. Faris plays Jane, a “pothead” who accidently eats a plate full of marijuana-laced cupcakes, and then goes about her day in a less-than-optimal state of mind. She only really has to do two things that day: pay her electric bill and show up at an audition (she’s an aspiring actress). And even that turns out to be a little too much for Jane on this particular day. Driving—forget it. Not spending her roommate’s electric bill money on more pot—not likely. Impressing the casting agent with her acting skills—not exactly. Getting the money to pay both her dealer and her electric bill—ain’t gonna happen. As you might expect, hilarity ensues.

And, like all good movies, it’s the details that make this one really stand out. There are lots of little things that make it apparent that the writer, director, and actors really know their subject matter. Anyone who’s ever smoked pot (about half the adult population of the U.S.) will instantly relate. Like when her dealer comes over and she drifts off while he’s talking and forgets he’s there. And while waiting for “Mrs. C” (Marion Ross, whom I will always think of as the mom on Happy Days), a photo of corn sets her off on this hilarious stream of consciousness rambling. Or when she thinks she is giving this eloquent, moving speech, but in reality never completes a sentence. Or the boredom, the paranoia, the daydreams, the craving for Doritos and orange juice. These are some people that know what it’s like to be stoned.

Also in the cast are Danny Masterson (Hyde from That 70s Show) as her nerdy/scary roommate, John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) as the ultra-nerd who has a crush on Jane, and John Cho (Harold from Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) as the driver of a truck she stows away in. All in all, a great cast, great writing, great directing, and great comedic acting. As a screwball/adventure comedy, Smiley Face is top notch.

So what could possibly be wrong with such a fun movie? Well, I hear tell that some in the anti-prohibition community feel that this film, and films like it, portray pot smokers in a negative light. And I guess that’s true. And “they” feel that such portrayals hurt their cause. Maybe, maybe not. It’s true that pretty much all the characters in this film are blatant stereotypes—the stoner, the nerd, the various authority figures. So I can certainly understand how some people might not like having these stereotypes perpetuated. It might make some people think that everyone that smokes pot is like Jane. And they’re probably right–that some people might think that. There are certainly some people out there who really believe all pot smokers are like Jane (or Cheech and Chong). Some of those people are running this country.

But not enjoying this delightful comedy for those reasons is like being a vegetarian because you don’t want animals to be killed. I’d guess that virtually all of those people that think every pot smoker is a dazed and confused danger to themselves and society would think so regardless. So screw them. Let those of us who enjoy this sort of thing do so, and let those others wallow in their own delusions.

And just for the record, every pot smoker is not like Jane. Or Cheech and Chong. Or James Franco’s character in Pineapple Express. Any more than every one who consumes alcoholic beverages is like Otis Campbell (the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show) or Jim Lahey (the drunk trailer park supervisor on Trailer Park Boys). It’s comedy, people. That’s where you take some little thing, some little trait or quirk or behavior, and you exaggerate it. The characters in comedies often say and do things that no human being in real life would ever conceivably even think of saying or doing. That’s what makes it funny. You can’t take them seriously, as if that needs to be said. So enjoy Smiley Face and films like it for what they are—mindless entertainment. Not social or political statements. If it makes you laugh, that’s a good thing. And this film made me laugh, a lot.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Killer Marijuana!!!!!

OK, I’m exaggerating to get your attention. Much like they’ve been doing in England recently with their stories of the new, super-potent “skunk” weed that is sweeping their nation. And although they haven’t actually said this skunk is killing people (as far as I know), there have been reports like this one that claim it is causing schizophrenia and violent behavior. That’s some scary weed. Indeed.

Could this reefer-madness-esque sort of thing really be true? I don’t know about modern marijuana causing murderous rampages and such but, according to the U.S. government, marijuana potency has been rising for the past 30 years and is now at an all time high (pun intended). Surely this statistic, at the very least, must be true. Surely our government wouldn’t lie to us. Not about marijuana, anyway. But, just for the sake of argument, let me play devil’s advocate here. As I am wont to do.

First, let’s think about the history of marijuana. We know people have been growing and ingesting marijuana for its psychoactive properties for at least 2700 years. And, although there is no hard evidence, I’d bet people have been using marijuana for a lot longer than that. It’s probably one of the oldest domesticated, non-food crops known to mankind. So, why is it that all of a sudden about 30 years ago marijuana suddenly started getting more potent? Is there something we discovered at that time that growers and breeders had missed for the past several thousand years? Granted, modern marijuana breeders know how genetics works. But farmers have known about selective breeding for a long, long time. You don’t need to know about genes and DNA to be able to select the best specimens to use for breeding.

Just a minute there buckeroo, the government might say, you’re forgetting about modern technologies, like hydroponics. Sounds reasonable. After all, so-called “hydro” weed is much sought after. And there are certainly some advantages to growing under perfectly-controlled conditions. Plants do grow quicker and produce higher yields. But, contrary to the hype surrounding hydroponically-grown marijuana, the potency of marijuana is determined almost entirely by its genetics. And where did these modern-day genetics come from? Did some new species of cannabis suddenly appear around 30 years ago? Hardly. Did somebody use some high-tech gene-splicing technique to create a super race of cannabis? Guess again. The genetics that people are growing today are the same genetics that have been developed and improved upon for thousands of years. Granted, there are a lot more varieties around today, but they can all trace their ancestry back to a relatively few strains that have been around for a long time.

So what could explain the finding that the potency of marijuana has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years? As is often the case, our government likes to play fast and loose with statistics. You see, this report refers to the average potency of marijuana that the government has confiscated and tested. And it is true that with more people than ever growing marijuana, and more high-quality genetics more widely available, there is a lot more good weed around. At least in places like California which, coincidentally, is where the federal government conducts a lot of its raids. So, overall, the average potency may have indeed gone up. But, and this is the crux of the biscuit, the highest potency has not really changed. True, there is marijuana today that tops 20% THC (that’s a lot). But there has always been marijuana that topped 20% THC. The Sadhu of Nepal have been smoking this high-potency stuff for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And today, there is also marijuana that is much less potent, just like there always has been. It’s just that at this point in time, there is a greater proportion of good, compared to bad. Hence a higher average. (The government has also started including hash in their statistics, which raises the average, but that's another story.)

So don’t be misled by more of the same from your government. Marijuana today is not some completely different substance than it was 30 years ago. Or 50 years ago. Or even 1000 years ago. It’s the same pot that your parents smoked. And their parents. And so on. It’s just that where your parents might have gotten lucky and scored some really good smoke every once in a while, the good stuff is a lot more readily available today. At least in some places. And just so you don’t go off half-cocked worrying about your kids getting ahold of too much of a good thing, it’s not that bad. Research has shown that the more potent marijuana is, the less of it people tend to smoke. And achieving the same effect with less smoke entering your lungs can only be a good thing. So in reality, if the government’s claims of more potent marijuana are really true, it should make them very happy. Since its citizens’ health is the main reason for prohibition, the government should be celebrating. In spite of everything they’ve done, people will be smoking less of the new, super-potent weed. When you think about it, there’s really no downside.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Oldest Profession

It occurred to me one day that smoking marijuana is in many ways a lot like prostitution. Before I go on, I want to put those jokes that immediately spring to mind behind us. Here’s one to get you started: They both involve putting something in your mouth and sucking on it. OK? Satisfied? Got it out of your system? Now we can move on.

First of all, people have smoked marijuana and engaged in prostitution, in one way or another, as long as there have been people. If you want to get all scientific about it, agriculture is probably the oldest profession, but I’d guess prostitution comes in a close second. And we know that people have been using marijuana both recreationally and medically at least since the beginning of recorded history. The oldest known medical manuscript mentions the medicinal properties of cannabis, and a 2700-year-old tomb was recently uncovered in China that contained, among other things, almost two pounds of marijuana that had clearly been cultivated for its psychoactive properties.

Both have been legal throughout much of human history, but recently have been outlawed. Why? No particular reason, other than on moral grounds. Some people believe you shouldn’t do these things, and that making them illegal is the most effective way to make people stop doing them. Apparently, in a civilized society, we all need to follow the same moral code, even in private.

They are both, in most cases, victimless “crimes.” Unlike most crimes that involve one person doing harm to another, no one is really harmed by engaging in these activities. Granted, that’s not always the case. But I think it’s safe to say that reasonable, intelligent adults can commit these acts without doing anyone, other than possibly themselves, any harm. Most of the problems associated with these activities are the result of them being against the law, rather than the activities themselves.

And in both cases, if the activity were legal and regulated, much of the danger would be eliminated. As we know, in the case of prostitution, a legal industry is much safer for all involved. Consumers do not have to deal with criminals. The spread of disease is drastically reduced. And people do not have to worry about a criminal record for doing something that is really nobody’s business but theirs. Similar things could be said about legalized and regulated marijuana (except for the part about spreading disease).

Making these activities illegal also brings the government into the privacy of one’s home, which is supposed to be protected by our Constitution. Somewhere along the line, our government got the idea that it was within their power to tell consenting adults what they can and cannot do in private. I guess I missed the part in the Constitution that gives the government the power to tell its citizens what kind of sex they are allowed to have. Or what kind of home remedies they can use. When you get right down to it, people really should be able to do whatever they want in private, as long as all parties involved are agreeable and the activity doesn’t harm or otherwise affect other people.

It’s also the case that arresting and imprisoning people for these activities has no demonstrable effect on the number of people engaging in them. Will outlawing prostitution make it go away? Will prohibition make people stop smoking marijuana? It hasn’t so far. Of course, who knows? Maybe in another 10,000 years the laws will finally start to have an effect, and we just need to be patient. But I tend to doubt it.

Which brings me to my last point. Paying for sex and ingesting psychoactive compounds is what people do. They always have done it, and always will. It’s human nature. As I’ve said before, legislation that goes against human nature will always fail. Threatening people with punishment will not make them stop being people. It’s like passing a law that forbids dogs from relieving themselves on fire hydrants. Ain’t gonna happen. So what’s the point? Don’t we have enough criminals already? Why do we need to make up laws that make even more people into criminals. Why can’t the government stay out of people’s personal lives? More importantly, why does the government insist on legislating morality? Why does it bother some people so much when others do something they don’t approve of? Why can’t we just live and let live? Anybody? Bueller? I’m waiting for some answers. I haven’t got all day.