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Drug Czar

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 18, 2013

    Adolescent consumption of alcohol and tobacco fell to historic lows while self-reported annual use of cannabis held steady, according to survey data released today by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor — which has been sampling teens consumption of various licit and illicit substances since the mid-1970s.

    But you wouldn’t know these facts if you read today’s mainstream media headlines.

    For example, the accompanying headline of McClatchy’s wire story inaccurately claims that marijuana consumption among young people rose between 2011 and 2012, stating “Feds decry rising marijuana use among kids”, despite the fact that the title of the study’s own press release affirms “The rise in teen marijuana use stalls.”

    Other news outlets, such as PBS News Hour (in which I am quoted here) predictably highlight the federal government’s talking point that adolescents’ perception of pot’s risk potential is dipping (e.g., ’60 percent of 12th grade students do not view marijuana as harmful’). Unreported is the fact that this trend is is not new, but is rather an ongoing one. According to the University’s year-by-year data, teens’ perceptions regarding marijuana’s risks first began declining in the early 1990s — a time that predates the passage of statewide medical cannabis laws or more recent statewide depenalization/legalization laws. (Looking for an explanation for this trend? Try this: More and more teens are wising up to the fact that cannabis is not as equally dangerous as heroin, despite the federal government’s claims to the contrary.)

    Overlooked in the mainstream media’s reporting is that the use of both alcohol and tobacco among all grades surveyed has fallen consistently since the mid-1990s and now stands at all-time lows. (In fact, more teens now acknowledge using marijuana than cigarettes, the study found.) Teens are also finding alcohol to be less availabile and are far less likely to engage in binge drinking now than ever before.

    By contrast, teens self-reported annual use of cannabis has largely held steady since the late 1990s but remains elevated compared to the historic lows reported in the earlier that decade. (Present use levels, however, still remain well below the highs reported in the late 1970s.) Approximately 8 out of 10 12th graders surveyed said that marijuana was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain, a percentage that has remained largely unchanged since 2009, but is well below previously reported highs circa the late 1990s.

    Nevertheless, federal officials are utilizing the latest University of Michigan data to once again sound the alarm about cannabis, stating that the cannabis ‘problem’ is even “worse” than the data suggests while the Drug Czar once again tries to misleadingly link long-term trends to the passage of recent changes in law.

    And what no public officials wish to acknowledge is the obvious elephant in the room. The reality that an increasing number of teens are steadily turning away from the legally regulated intoxicants alcohol and tobacco — a factoid that once again affirms that the most effective way to keep substances out of teens’ hands isn’t through criminal prohibition; it is through legalization, regulation, and public education. So why does the federal government (as well as the mainstream media) acknowledge the effectiveness of this strategy when it comes to booze and cigarettes, but continue to turn its back on these common sense principles when it comes to pot?

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director August 7, 2013

    Washington, DC: I jumped into a cab Monday afternoon at the airport at the top of the hour, when the all-news radio station led with an almost hysterical-in-tone news flash of the Washington Post being sold to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. While most of established Washington and media circles rightly buzz about this cataclysmic change in ownership…my mind has raced for nearly 48 hours thinking back to the PROFOUND influence the Washington Post has had in in maintaining cannabis prohibition—acting at times barely more than a government organ; a ‘rip-n-read’ anti-pot propaganda machine.

    Call it professional pique, intellectual disgust or adopted hometown embarrassment after twenty-three years of reading Washington, DC’s ‘paper of record’ and the nation’s “premiere” political digests in regards to most everything having to do with cannabis:

    Activism (one time the Washington Post compared 10,000 cannabis activists gathered in DC to protest prohibition laws to UFO enthusiasts…instead of listening to concerned citizens about a failed government policy like cannabis prohibition, the ‘activists’ The Post has largely focused on are faux activists that work for government agencies or their chosen grant recipients; CADCA, CASA, PDFA, PRIDE (which is now NFIA) and DARE*)

    Science (The Post has almost exclusively relied upon federal anti-drug agencies like NIDA, SAMHSA and IOM for its cannabis-related information, who’re as bias against cannabis as NORML is for the herb)

    Culture (movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, musical and comedic acts who dabbled in cannabis-related theming were generally panned and mocked as being culturally irrelevant)

    Politics (pre-Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s editor from 2008-2012, the paper’s coverage of local, state, federal and international was decidedly statist and prohibitionist)

    Economics (despite near ubiquity of opinion within economic circles that cannabis prohibition is an economic failure, The Post historically cast economists who identify such obvious failings as ‘libertarian’, as if this were a pejorative)

    Race (skewed through the prism of upper-middle class African American editors and columnists from early 1980s until more recent years with their retirements, many of whom reached national prominence [Carl Rowan, Bill Raspberry and Colby King immediately come to mind], The Post cast cannabis as the precursor to most all things bad in the DC black community from heroin use in the 1970s, to cocaine in the 80s, to crack in the early 90s, to ecstasy in the late 90s….to gun violence, gang banging, teen pregnancy, underperforming schools, rap music, high rates of arrest and incarceration and broken families. So wanton to cast this narrative, The Post first won and then had to give back a Pulitzer prize for a writer making up a drug-addicted young boy in a totally fabricated narrative)

    Opinion-making (from about 1977-2008 the Washington Post’s editorial board and the widely read ‘commentary’ section was mainstream media central’s feeding trough for some of the most institutionalized Reefer Madness imaginable. A steady diet of mindless, fact-challenged and intellectually dishonest op-eds could be counted on bi-weekly from wild-eyed anti-cannabis professionals like Joseph Califano, William Bennett, John Walters, Peter Bensinger, Robert DuPont and whoever the ‘drug czar’ du jour. Conversely, one of the most prolific and syndicated columnists of the last forty years, William F. Buckley, The Post rarely ran any one of the dozens of pro-cannabis law reform columns he penned, often critical of the men mentioned above for their words and deeds vis-à-vis their continued support for cannabis prohibition, but for no sane, logical reasons or well reasoned reasons. In the early 1990s NORML director Richard Cowan contacted then managing editor Robert Kaiser, a classmate of his from Yale, imploring the two men to meet and discuss The Post’s news and editorial coverage of cannabis. Mr. Kaiser, while responsive to the letters, was not at all inclined to meet with a group like NORML and didn’t think anything wrong with The Post’s coverage and choice of ‘experts’ to broadcast to the reading audience…)

    *Conduit of government (…to Mr. Kaiser’s insistence to Mr. Cowan that The Post was objective re cannabis, it was not long after that I came to understand how bias The Post, under the Graham family, was to cannabis when they employed a respected essayist who leans libertarian in his writings named James Bovard to write a profile in 1994 on what was then the controversial DARE program, and more specifically on children who were encouraged and even taught by visiting DARE officers on how to turn their parents in for cannabis and other drug use. Many of these DARE cases were first vetted through NORML and forwarded to national and state media outlets, so Mr. Bovard had plenty of material fodder to cull through for his Post piece.

    Apparently troubled by the tone and light cast on the DARE program in Mr. Bovard’s well written and compelling guest column, Post editors and lawyers intervened three days before publication without informing Bovard, sent the story to DARE lawyers to review, the column was then substantively edited and items added by Post editors that were not from Bovard’s original reportage, amazingly, some of the information was libelous in the minds of a family in Georgia mentioned, who filed a lawsuit against The Post.

    I called the Washington Post and spoke to the legal counsel about the Post’s actions, and she informed me when I inquired with her whether or not from that point forward as a daily Washington Post reader should I believe that the words written by a columnist/guest writer are in fact their own, her reply was, in effect, ‘they might write them, but we print them, so, the answer to your question is “no”’. Believing her, from that point forward, I have never read The Post fully confident at all that I’m reading the writers’ work more than the viewpoints of the editors and owners.

    Indeed, on the rare occasion, probably to lend to the appearance of being balanced, The Post would publish a pro-reform essay from Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann, Harvard’s Lester Grinspoon or ACLU’s Ira Glasser; or their less read ‘Foreign’ section would occasionally publish a field report from a Post reporter about what they were witnessing in Amsterdam, for example.)

    The big question:Does having an all-controlling family who largely hire statist editors and lawyers, with a former District of Columbia police officer in the ownership ranks, running the national capital’s major newspaper ceding the sale of the property to an apparently libertarian-leaning west coast, high tech billionaire located in a pro-cannabis city, in a state where the citizens have propelled the state to the vanguard of ending cannabis prohibition by voting last year to legalize the possession and sale of cannabis for adults have a MAJOR impact on the future and rapidity of cannabis law reforms in America—but maybe most importantly on Washington, D.C. and the federal government that created cannabis prohibition in 1937, has maintained it viciously and without remorse, ultimately the entity that can best end this nearly seventy-five year public policy, free market debacle?

    The big answer: I dunno.

    But, wow, I sure hope so.

    Really, think about it. Amazon is the most innovative and largest retailer in the world. When cannabis prohibition ends, and technology securely and safely delivers adult commerce directly to the consumer, what other company (and their much smaller product providers) better stands to benefit from the billions of dollars annually from cannabis moving from being illegal to legal commerce? Who? Costco?? Starbucks? Hmmm…they’re also Washington State-based companies.

    Of the many hundreds of thousands of items in NORML’s large archives about the history of cannabis prohibition, the day the Washington Post was sold from the Graham family to Jeffrey Bezos may indicate major epoch change in America’s intellectual and business society from one of enthusiastically embracing cannabis prohibition to possibly challenging its continued existence to profiting from the needed change in policy.

    Talk about doing well at the same time as good! Something tells me that one day I’ll look forward to morning read of my Bezos-owned Washington Post–questioning failed government policies rather than being a lapdog for them–and probably enjoying some home-delivered Amazon cannabis too.

     

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 26, 2013

    The federal government’s anti-drug efforts are inefficient and ineffective, according to a just released report issued by the Congressional watchdog agency, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

    As if we didn’t know.

    The GAO report assessed whether the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategies, as articulated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP aka the Drug Czar’s office) in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy report, have yet to achieve its stated goals.

    The answer? They haven’t.

    States the GAO:

    “The public health, social, and economic consequences of illicit drug use, coupled with the constrained fiscal environment of recent years, highlight the need to ensure that federal programs efficiently and effectively use their resources to address this problem. ONDCP has developed a 5-year Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences, but our analysis shows lack of progress toward achieving four of the Strategy’s five goals for which primary data are available.”

    In particular, the GAO criticized the administration for failing to adequately address rising levels of youth marijuana consumption. The GAO also rebuffed the ONDCP’s allegation that increased rates adolescent marijuana use are a result of the passage of statewide laws decriminalizing the plant or allowing for its therapeutic use.

    “Other factors, including state laws and changing attitudes and social norms regarding drugs, may also affect drug use. We examined studies on three of these other factors, which we refer to as societal factors, which may affect youth marijuana use. … The studies that assessed the effect of medical marijuana laws that met our review criteria found mixed results on effects of the laws on youth marijuana use. … [S]tudies that assessed the effect of marijuana decriminalization that met our review criteria found little to no effect of the laws on youth marijuana use.”

    You can read the full GAO report here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 30, 2012

    America’s top drug cop is clearly not an expert in agriculture. So why is Obama’s Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claiming to be one?

    Drug Czar Reiterates Government’s Opposition To Domestic Hemp Production
    via NORML’s weekly news

    Washington, DC: The federal government continues to oppose allowing licensed farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp for fiber and other agricultural purposes, according to statements posted last week by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske on the whitehouse.gov website.

    Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only minute (typically less than .03 percent) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop.” Farmers in Canada and the European Union grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food.

    Stated Kerlikowske on the White House’s ‘We the People‘ website: “Federal law prohibits human consumption, distribution, and possession of Schedule I controlled substances. … While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, can contain THC, a Schedule I controlled substance. The Administration will continue looking for innovative ways to support farmers across the country while balancing the need to protect public health and safety.”

    A white paper published by the North American Industrial Hemp Council counters: “The THC levels in industrial hemp are so low that no one could get high from smoking it. Moreover, hemp contains a relatively high percentage of another cannabinoid, CBD, that actually blocks the marijuana high. Hemp, it turns out, not only (isn’t) marijuana; it could be called ‘anti-marijuana.'”

    In recent years, lawmakers in several states – including North Dakota, Montana, and Vermont – have enacted legislation seeking to allow state-licensed farmers the opportunity to grow hemp crops. However, according to the CRS, “The US Drug Enforcement Administration has been unwilling to grant licenses for growing small plots of hemp for research purposes,” even when such research is authorized by state law, because the agency believes that doing so would “send the wrong message to the American public concerning the government’s position on drugs.”

    In 2007, 2009, and again in 2011, federal lawmakers have introduced in Congress, “The Industrial Hemp Farming Act,” to exclude low potency varieties of cannabis from federal prohibition. If approved, this measure would grant state legislatures the authority to license and regulate the commercial production of hemp as an industrial and agricultural commodity. The present version of this Act, House Bill 1831, has 33 co-sponsors, but has yet to receive a Congressional hearing. The measure is before the US House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

    During World War II, the US Department of Agriculture actively promoted the domestic cultivation of hemp during a campaign known as ‘Hemp for Victory.’

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 3, 2012

    Ex-Drug Czar and lifelong (selective) prohibitionist William Bennett recently took to the mainstream blogosphere to criticize Pat Robertson’s ‘born again’ public support for marijuana legalization.

    Bennett’s specific criticisms of legalization — that it would simultaneously allow for “open and unrestricted drug use” by all, and that the plant’s perceived social costs would outweigh any economic benefits reaped by regulation — are predictably well worn, but they are nonetheless worth addressing.

    An excerpt of reply to Bennett is included below. You can read the full commentary here.

    Health and Societal Costs of Marijuana vs. Alcohol and Tobacco: Prohibitionists’ Concerns Answered and Refuted
    via Alternet.org

    Bennett’s latter charge — that regulating cannabis would dramatically increase societal costs — deserves more critical analysis. Bennett bases this allegation largely upon the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the social costs associated with these drugs’ use and abuse. True enough and perhaps a persuasive argument if, in fact, one was debating whether to criminally prohibit the use of booze and cigarettes (a public policy option that Bennett, a one-time heavy consumer of both substances, would no doubt oppose, despite the drugs’ heavy social toll). Nevertheless, Bennett’s premise is all but irrelevant to the marijuana legalization debate. Here’s why:

    Cannabis is safer than alcohol.

    Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths in the United States annually from illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers, cancer and heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system — inducing unconsciousness, coma and death — and is strongly associated with increased risks of injury. According to US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol plays a role in about 41,000 fatal accidents a year and in the commission of about one million violent crimes annually. Worldwide, the statistics are even grimmer. Stated a February 2011 World Health Organization report, alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.

    By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, are relatively nontoxic to humans. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. According to a just-published review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores are more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

    Cannabis is far safer than tobacco.

    According to a 2009 white paper by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”
    A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, “On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.” So then why is the federal government so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own homes?

    Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.

    According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset any existing societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.

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