Today the California state Assembly will hold a historic hearing looking at whether marijuana prohibition should be replaced with a system of regulation and taxation. The growing push for change in California – which also includes a handful of ballot initiatives in circulation -- was covered by this morning’s New York Times in an article that perhaps unintentionally reveals the feebleness of opponents’ arguments.
The story quotes John Lovell, lobbyist for several California police groups and the major voice for maintaining prohibition: “We get revenue from alcohol,” he said. “But there’s way more in social costs than we retain in revenues.”
If that’s the best they can do, the debate is over. The main social cost of alcohol comes from its tendency to promote violent and aggressive behavior, something marijuana simply doesn’t do, as explained in this article from the journal Addictive Behaviors. Not long ago, an independent panel of experts rated alcohol as significantly more dangerous than marijuana, in an article published in the prestigious journal The Lancet (unfortunately, the summary of the article you can read online for free doesn’t include the chart ranking various drugs).
If we want to reduce the social costs associated with booze, evidence suggests giving adults a safer, legal alternative makes sense. Mr. Lovell, meet reality.
Sometimes the only appropriate response is to laugh out loud. Forbes.com columnist Rachel Ehrenfeld has discovered that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is presently soliciting proposals from a contractor to grow marijuana for research and other purposes.
Apparently unfamiliar with The Google and other search tools available on the Intertubes, Ehrenfeld actually thinks this is part of "Obamacare," and the fact that NIDA is "venturing into the marijuana cigarettes production and distribution" is the evil brainchild of George Soros, the pet villain of prohibitionists and other reactionaries.
Oh dear. That the federal government has been distributing medical marijuana to a small group of patients for more than three decades seems to have escaped her notice. So has the fact that, under present (thoroughly dysfunctional) rules, scientists doing clinical research on marijuana must obtain the marijuana for testing from NIDA, along with the fact that for most of that time the government has contracted with the University of Mississippi to produce marijuana for this purpose.
A quick item from our Aggressive Stupidity files. Whom would you trust more on medical issues?
The California Narcotics Officers Association, from its official training materials:"Marijuana is not a medicine. ... There is no justification for using marijuana as a medicine." [emphasis in original]
The American College of Physicians, from its position statement on medical marijuana: "Preclinical and clinical research and anecdotal reports suggest numerous potential medical uses for marijuana. ... Given marijuana's proven efficacy at treating certain symptoms and its relatively low toxicity, reclassification [out of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act] would reduce barriers to research and increase availability of cannabinoid drugs to patients who have failed to respond to other treatments."
Thus far, officials aren't revealing the circumstances or the cause of death, but this isn't the first time someone has died serving a short jail sentence for marijuana possession. In September 2004, quadriplegic Jonathan Magbie -- who used marijuana to relieve the chronic pain lingering from the childhood accident that left him paralyzed -- died in the Washington, D.C., jail while serving a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession.
Here's The Washington Post's summary of the incident that occurred last July:
Members of the SWAT team killed [Cheye] Calvo's black Labrador retrievers after deputies broke down his door and raided his home in search of a drug-filled package that had been addressed to Calvo's wife.
Law enforcement officials have since acknowledged that Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, were victims of a smuggling scheme that used a FedEx driver to ship drugs. They said the couple knew nothing about the box. County police, who were leading the drug investigation, have said they were unaware it was the mayor's house.
Some drug investigation. PG County cops failed to even Google Calvo to determine whom they might be dealing with. They also neglected to coordinate with the sheriff in Berwyn Heights, the small D.C. suburb where Calvo served as mayor, who said he could have cleared this up with a simple visit to Calvo's home.
Yet PG County Sheriff Michael Jackson insists his investigation proves "what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities."
Actually, maybe Jackson's right. I've made this point before, but if his deputies did their jobs the best they could, then maybe it's time to change the policies that shape their jobs.
For those who missed it, here's the clip of Rob debating marijuana policy with drug war cheerleader David Evans on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that Bruce mentioned a couple days ago.
By the way, although these things are always subject to last minute changes, it looks like MPP's Bruce Mirken will be on CNBC discussing ending marijuana prohibition this evening sometime after 8:30 p.m. EST.
In what may be some sort of modern record for fact-free grandstanding on drug issues, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican from the suburbs north of Chicago, has introduced a bill to ratchet up penalties for so-called "super pot". Under Kirk's proposal, penalties would be massively increased for those producing or selling marijuana with THC levels 15% or higher -- to the point where a single plant could land someone in jail for 25 years.
Small problem: THC is, for all practical purposes, nontoxic. Higher-THC marijuana is not more dangerous. People simply smoke less, just like they drink less vodka than they do beer. That's not just my opinion. Scientists who have examined the issue have concluded that the evidence simply isn't there to sound alarm bells over so-called "super pot." See, for example, this detailed review from the journal Addiction.
Congressman Kirk, it feels safe to say, has no intention of letting mere facts get in his way.
I've recently been corresponding with a medical marijuana patient and Navy veteran, Eugene Davidovich, who was recently arrested in a particularly slimy undercover sting operation. Eugene, a member of a San Diego medical marijuana collective, was contacted by an undercover cop posing as a registered, licensed medical marijuana patient who asked for his help obtaining his medicine.
You can probably guess the rest, but here's a link to a good comprehensive story on his arrest.
Prosecutors argue that Eugene violated the law in providing medical marijuana to the undercover cop – even though the cop presented him with documentation verifying his status as a licensed medical marijuana patient. They even insinuate that Eugene's motive was profit and not compassion.
It appears that what's really happening is that prosecutors are taking advantage of vagaries in California's medical marijuana law to persecute patients and caregivers who are doing their best to take care of themselves and stay within the law.
Here's how Eugene put it:
Every attempt made to date by collectives and coops to follow the law in San Diego has resulted in prosecutions or collectives having to operate so deeply underground and under such intense daily fear and pressure, that the potential public benefit they could be bringing to the community and to patients is stifled by this environment of fear.
Eugene has a fight on his hands now. Please visit his Web site and help him out if you can.