Prohibition, Research, Tax and Regulate

We’re Number One!

July 1st, 2008 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Guess what?

A report just published in the journal of the Public Library of Science says more Americans have tried marijuana – as well as cocaine – than people in any of the other 16 countries studied.

That includes the Netherlands – where 20% of the population have tried marijuana, compared with 42% of Americans – despite the drug’s quasi-legal status there. And while U.S. officials regularly badmouth the Dutch system, in which adults can purchase marijuana from regulated businesses, here’s another startling statistic: American kids were nearly three times as likely to try marijuana by age 15 as their Dutch counterparts.

Given these discrepancies, the study authors concluded that drug use rates might not even be related to drug policy at all.

Strange. Then why go to all the trouble and expense to arrest marijuana users? Why insist on handing this lucrative market to organized criminals rather than impose commonsense regulations as we do with alcohol and tobacco?

Rather than defend his office’s obsession with arresting users as a necessary means to fighting drugs, drug czar spokesman Tom Riley practically concedes the point:

“The U.S. has high crime rates but we spend a lot on law enforcement and prison. Should we spend less? We’re just a different kind of country. We have higher drug use rates, a higher crime rate, many things that go with a highly free and mobile society.”

That’s right: Our drug use rates are higher than just about anyone else’s because – unlike the Dutch, who may choose to use marijuana without the threat of arrest – we’re just so gosh darned free.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Growers May a Get Raise, Courtesy of the Feds

June 27th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Hank Sims of the North Coast Journal in Humbolt County, Calif., makes a good point about the true likely consequences of the gaudy, high profile federal raids on marijuana grows in Southern Humboldt County this week:

“We’ll know soon whether the operation has any connection to actual, bad crimes — violent crimes. Perhaps it does; more likely it does not. In which case, what will it accomplish? Well, the price of dope has fallen steadily over the last few years, and the regular Mom ‘n’ Pop marijuana farmers populating the hills around Humboldt County have had to plant more and more to keep their income up. The reason? Oversupply. Everyone and their uncle is a dope grower, at least in Arcata. As always, the net effect of prohibition-style federal operations will be to reestablish a decent, inflated price for the product. Growers who don’t end up in jail might end up sitting pretty this time next year.”

The idea that we can simply “eradicate” all the marijuana growing in our parks, forests, backyards, attics, and bedrooms and wipe it off the face of the earth forever is pure fantasy. This is America’s largest cash crop after all. In California alone, we’re talking about more than $12 billion that’s up for grabs to anyone willing to assume the risk.

Still, it obviously comforts some to have a small army running around town brandishing uprooted plants as though they were war trophies. Despite the fact that the feds are only just packing out of town today, and no arrests have even been made yet, the Eureka Reporter editorial board has already declared the operation a “success,” gushing about how “impressive” the whole spectacle was.

Less impressive, but far more effective, would be to stop playing cops and robbers and bring the whole marijuana industry out of the shadows and into the legitimate market. Until we do, count on more law enforcement-induced windfalls for drug dealers.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Will Our Next Vice President Be a Marijuana Reform Advocate?

June 27th, 2008 12 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Short answer: Don’t hold your breath!

It could certainly be interesting though if Senator Obama offered the slot to Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), who says the following in his new book: “The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana. It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities.”

Other then Webb, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico stands out for his yeoman’s work on getting his state to become the 12th to allow medical marijuana access.

On the Republican side, the pickings are pretty slim although most people would probably be interested to know that although former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is no reformer on this issue, he has a very interesting history with medical marijuana and his own personal use in the 1970’s when he admitted, “Smoking marijuana was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.”

Of the above listed, the safe bet says Senator Webb is probably the only one even being seriously considered for the gig. We will see.


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Terminology Matters

June 27th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Below is a letter I just sent to the producers of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, as well as to NPR’s ombudsman. I think we all need to start insisting that news organizations use accurate terminology, rather than the language used by drug warriors to deliberately cloud the picture.


Listening to Morning Edition today, I was surprised to hear a story about violence related to ongoing battles between law enforcement and Mexican drug trafficking organizations refer to this as “drug violence.” The reference was clearly inaccurate and misleading.

What is occurring is not “drug violence” — that is, violence related to the actions or effects of drugs. Rather, it is violence caused by drug prohibition, the criminalization of popular products that relegates their production and distribution to an unregulated underground that exists in a constant state of battle with the police. That some of this violence is connected to the marijuana market is the clearest evidence that it is in fact prohibition violence, not drug violence.

Marijuana, after all, reduces violent or aggressive tendencies in users. Only breathtakingly stupid public policies can take a product that suppresses violence and turn its production and sale into a source of violence. 

Even alcohol — a drug that irrefutably is a cause of violence and aggression — is generally produced and sold without significant violence or disorder. The only time that changed was the 1920s, during America’s disastrous experiment with Prohibition.

Accurate terminology matters. Please refer to prohibition-related violence by its proper name. Thanks for listening.


Bruce Mirken

Director of Communications

Marijuana Policy Project

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ONDCP Admits Alcohol is “Gateway Drug”

June 26th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

In a refreshing, though no doubt unintended, bit of honesty, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to be acknowledging that alcohol is the true “gateway drug.” In a June 26 post on ONDCP’s blog, the federal drug warriors proclaim, “More than 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are over 7 times more likely to use any illicit drug, are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.”

ONDCP regularly uses similar correlations between marijuana and use of other drugs to argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that must be kept illegal for adults, but they make no such argument for banning booze. The truth — which the folks at ONDCP know  but will never say — is that neither alcohol nor marijuana causes people to try other drugs. People inclined to try mood-altering substances simply start with what’s most easily available.

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Prohibition Claims Another Victim

June 25th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Can cops be victims in the war on marijuana users?

Consider the story of Det. Jarrod Shivers, a Chesapeake, Va., police officer who was allegedly shot and killed by Ryan Frederick – a young man with no history of violence or any real criminal tendencies save a fondness for marijuana.

Radley Balko of Reason magazine has done an excellent job investigating the story – which is predictably complicated and full of conflicting accounts and sordid details – so I’ll just give a quick recap:

Ryan allegedly shot Det. Shivers through the front door of his house, apparently mistaking him for a burglar, as the cops tried to break it down during a raid.

His home had been broken into just days before – according to Balko’s reporting, it seems likely it was done by the same informants who tipped the police off to Ryan in the first place, possibly at the request of the cops themselves. I told you this was sordid.

Ryan was no drug kingpin. The officers found nothing but a very small amount of marijuana and a modest grow setup in his house.

We may never know the full story, but the facts assembled by Balko suggest a situation fraught with human error: sketchy informants, a sloppy and unnecessary raid, a likely attempt at a cover-up: This particular tragedy was certainly avoidable had cooler heads prevailed at any point.

Incidents like these are inevitable, however, as long as we treat marijuana as a criminal matter and chase adult marijuana users around with assault rifles.

Det. Shivers should never have been at Ryan’s house that day; his death was a needless waste.

But that’s just what happens under marijuana prohibition.

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Prohibition, Research

Marijuana Lounges in Airports?

June 25th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

In the wake of repeated reports of alcohol-fueled cases of “air rage,” the Denver-based Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) has a novel solution: Allow marijuana use in airport smoking lounges.

It may seem like a silly idea, but SAFER is making a serious point. Alcohol is a proven cause of reckless and violent behavior, while marijuana tends to have the precise opposite effect. If air travelers substituted marijuana for booze, it’s entirely plausible that air rage incidents would decrease. As a review in the December 2003 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors noted, “Alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication–violence relationship,” while those under the influence of marijuana generally become less aggressive.

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Reliable Sources?

June 23rd, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

The other day I had a lengthy discussion with two producers at a national TV network. It was an unnerving lesson in what we’re up against as we try to educate the mainstream media.

The network had just broadcast a completely uncritical story on a report from a private think tank that serves as a drug war cheerleader. It had reported completely preposterous claims about supposed dangers of increased marijuana potency causing lung cancer or sending thousands to emergency rooms as if they were undisputed fact. I’d called to complain, and to their credit the producers called back.

Also to their credit, they asked tough questions about the points I was making. I want reporters to do that, as I never make statements to journalists that I can’t back up with published scientific evidence. And I do think the discussion made some progress (which is why I’m not naming names). But it also became clear that they never applied the same level of skepticism to claims made by prohibitionists. 

As we discussed the evidence that marijuana smokers don’t have higher lung cancer rates and that THC and other cannabinoids have documented anti-cancer activity, I mentioned that the 1999 Institute of Medicine report stated that marijuana has not been proven to cause any type of cancer. “But that was 1999,” one of the producers said. “With the increased potency now, it’s a whole different drug!” 

She had no idea she’d just repeated a completely fictional White House talking point as if it were revealed truth. 

I patiently explained that the notion that the claimed doubling of THC levels makes today’s marijuana “a whole different drug” makes no more sense than to claim that wine is a different drug than beer because it contains about three times the alcohol — a notion no one would take seriously. I also noted that higher potency would decrease any lung cancer risk, because users would get more THC (which fights cancer) with less smoke, and it’s the smoke that contains any potentially carcinogenic compounds. 

The producers believed they had done due diligence in researching the think tank’s claims: “We checked them with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.” The idea that a government agency that has long been an integral part of the drug war might not be a completely impartial source regarding marijuana had not occurred to them.

They listened to me. I think they heard. I hope they understood.


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