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Peter Bensinger

  • 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 Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director February 27, 2012

    You can’t make this stuff up!

    I often say to staff, supporters and the media that: We’re blessed by our opponents to cannabis law reform!”

    A few weeks ago the New York Times featured a straight forward story during these recessionary times about local and state governments with legal protections for medical cannabis patients struggling to cobble together taxation and other revenue streams derived from medical cannabis in the face of federal recalcitrance and outright law enforcement opposition.

    The national affairs story is almost a no-brainer that wrote itself regarding this clear conflict between state and federal governments over the country’s festering 74-year old and increasingly unpopular Cannabis Prohibition.

    While not clear if whether or not an indication of the dearth of letters received by the NYT on the subject matter (i.e., meaning the subject matter was not controversial), or, the letters’ editors casting needed public light on the kind of remaining, almost teetering and naked public opposition that solidly supports another eight decades of the failed and expensive public policy of Cannabis Prohibition, the publishing of only these two letters, from such clearly bias sources, is potentially revealing.

    The first letter is from a drug rehabilitation center CEO in NYC (back in the late 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s, one of the most frequently published commentators and letter writers in the New York Times against virtually any pro-cannabis law reforms was Mitchell Rosenthal of Phoenix House, another drug rehabilitation provider like competitor Odyssey House. Not too surprisingly the current CEO of Odyssey House used to be employed at Phoenix House….).

    The second letter is from a decidedly unsurprising duo of longtime anti-cannabis propagandists and prohibition profiteers, former National Institute of Drug Abuse head Robert DuPont, M.D. (who, as director of NIDA, at one time publicly supported major cannabis law reforms, including decriminalization) and former Drug Enforcement Administration honcho Peter Bensinger.

    Both the former G-men and current pee testers, like rehabbers Rosenthal and Odyssey House CEO Peter Provet, are now some of the very few and clearly committed individuals remaining in a country with an estimated population in excess of 300 million to consistently write and publish letters to the editors of major newspapers and magazines condemning all things cannabis and favor not only the status quo, but a doubling-down by government passing even more stringent and invasive anti-cannabis laws and enforcement.

    While the NYT correctly identifies these two prohibitionists’ former executive roles in federal government anti-drug bureaucracies going back 30 years ago, what the NYT failed to inform readers is that DuPont and Bensinger are the longtime and current principles of a lucrative drug testing (their company has been chosen by members of Congress to perform individual drug tests) and anti-drug counseling business to Fortune 1000 companies and small businesses.

    As previously stated, currently in America, almost all of the public opposition against cannabis law reform historically comes from government agencies, industries and companies who most financially benefit from the current and failed status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:

    –>Law Enforcement Agencies: Employees from local police to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to sheriffs, prosecutors, probation officers and prison guards, in modern times are usually the first in line, loudest and most strident against ending Cannabis Prohibition in America.

    –>Government Bureaucracies Born of Cannabis Prohibition: DEA, ONDCP, FBI, NIDA, SAMHSA, DARE, PDFA, etc…

    –>Industries and Companies That Will Compete With Legal Cannabis: Tobacco, Alcohol, Pharmaceutical, Wood and Fuel

    –>Industries and Companies That Currently Benefit From Cannabis Prohibition Laws: Private Prisons, Drug Testing, Drug Rehab, Drug Detection Device Makers, Mercenary Private Military Companies That Perform Duties and Actions Once Reserved for the Civilian Military

    The below letters published by the NYT demonstrate how limited, parochial and self-interested today’s anti-cannabis activists are becoming in a country where 50% of the public no longer supports Cannabis Prohibition.

     Letters

    Taxing Medical Marijuana

    Published: February 23, 2012

    To the Editor:

    Struggling Cities Turn to a Crop for Cash” (news article, Feb. 12) doesn’t mention a major issue of concern that has to be considered before claims of attractive financial benefits from taxing medical marijuana can be made.

    In the states mentioned — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — 3.2 million people are not receiving the treatment services they need for drug abuse and dependence. California alone accounts for 2.3 million people with untreated substance abuse disorders.

    Before hard-pressed municipalities, in these and other states around the country, look at medical marijuana as a new source of tax revenue to finance essential services, taxpayers should be given the opportunity to consider allocating some of this money to under-supported treatment and prevention programs.

    This will not mitigate the effects of untreated substance abuse, but it will help send a clear message to young people that marijuana, prescribed or not, has addictive potential that too often requires intensive treatment.

    PETER PROVET
    President and Chief Executive
    Odyssey House
    New York, Feb. 13, 2012

     

    ______________________________

     

    To the Editor:

    California cities’ meager tax payments are a tiny fraction of the costs of their misguided “medical marijuana” initiatives.

    The taxes imposed on medical marijuana place it in a category with alcohol and tobacco, two legal drugs that demonstrate the same appalling disparity between tax revenues and societal costs. The state and federal alcohol revenue of $14 billion and the $25 billion collected in tobacco taxes in the United States are overshadowed by the $235 billion and $200 billion in social costs they produce, respectively.

    Among all Americans 12 and older who abuse or are dependent on an illegal drug, 60 percent abuse or are dependent on marijuana. Nationally, admissions for primary marijuana use to state-financed treatment have increased by 31 percent from 1998 to 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available).

    California and other states that have legalized medical marijuana face the disturbing reality of the drug’s true costs in long-term health care, increased treatment admissions, loss of productivity at work and at school, and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.

    In addition to the disproportion of small tax revenue compared with large societal costs, medical marijuana sharply increases marijuana use and dependency. With 60 percent more cancer-causing chemicals than cigarettes and four times more tar, making marijuana more available is bad economic policy and bad health care policy.

    PETER B. BENSINGER
    ROBERT L. DuPONT
    Chicago, Feb. 14, 2012

    The writers are, respectively, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, 1976-81; and a psychiatrist and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1973-78.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director October 8, 2010

    The longtime government supporters of Cannabis Prohibition are very nervous about the upcoming binding ballot initiative in California which appears on track to be approved by millions of state voters. There is much evidence for this assertion:

    A few weeks ago the Los Angeles Times published a so-called unprecedented ‘jointly’ signed letter by all of the former drug czars (aka, Directors of the Office of Drug Control Policy) crowing against cannabis and the voter initiative in California that is likely going to pass this November 2nd. Ironically, or not, when readers go to the Los Angeles Times’ webpage to read the former czars rant-n-rave, they’re pitched cannabis-related Google ads.

    It is hard to imagine Cannabis Prohibition surviving too much longer when pro-cannabis ads ring government propaganda!

    This week the Wall Street Journal regrettably compromised its usual rhetorical commitment to ‘less government’, more ‘free markets’ and ‘personal responsibility’ by publishing an absurdly argued op-ed from every previous administrator from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) calling on the Obama administration to actively oppose the democratic will of the voters in America’s most important state politically and economically if they choose, as it appears likely they will based on recent polling, to legalize cannabis for responsible adult use, sales and taxation.

    Why the ‘we don’t like big government’ and free market-oriented editorial page editors of the Wall Street Journal decided to  shill for a federal government agency, who, according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget is little more than a bureaucratic sacred cow, has one of the worse performance records in the history of otherwise bloated inside-the-beltway bureaucracies that the Journal editors usually relish skewing is beyond me.

    Firstly, the rant from these former ‘head narcs’ against the Democratic Obama administration comes mainly from partisan Republicans.

    Second, as has been noted in NORML’s submitted letter-to-the-editor at the Wall Street Journal (which we understand will be published on Monday, October 11) and at Reason, these former DEA heads make a flaccid and intellectually dishonest assertion that a state must be saddled with a failed federal public policy like Cannabis Prohibition in contradiction to the popular will of it’s voters. Really? Is this true? Then why do states like California, Colorado, New Mexico, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maine have systems in place to authorize the retail sale of medical cannabis and to tax the product as well?

    Is the sole focus on ‘legalization’ by these former anti-drug technocrats a left-handed acknowledgement that medical cannabis use and sales are in fact lawful and taxed commerce at the state level now, while at the same time trying advance the unpersuasive argument that states sanctioning and taxing non-medical cannabis is now going over some kind of impermissible line of state autonomy? Or worse, a violation of international treaties?

    One can understand on the level of myth-making, propagandizing, brain-washing, indoctrinating, embracing pseudo science and possessing the most tin ears politically why these men (and a woman) who’ve represented the ‘big lie’ to the American public and Congress for so long are reticent to  1) acknowledge that they were at all wrong in opposing cannabis legalization (even notably medical access and industrial hemp), 2) that they’re logically afraid of rightly being branded as ‘liars’ and 3) having to cop to the hundreds of billions of tax dollars that have been both wasted and left uncollected for decades…to say nothing of the 21 million arrests and millions of incarcerations since 1937.

    One can almost feel bad for these individuals for a nanosecond when considering how badly pop culture is currently treating them, and how I personally believe history will likely cast dark shadows over their championing of Cannabis Prohibition.

    What do I mean by ‘casting dark shadows’?

    Here’s two prime examples from the list of former DEA heads:

    After making a reputation at the DEA for opposing NORML’s administrative law victory in challenging the DEA’s mis-scheduling of cannabis in Schedule I, Jack Lawn went on to fame and fortune as the CEO of the Century Council–the main non-profit organization funded by the hard booze lobby to promote ‘alcohol awareness and to deter youth access and drunk driving’.

    Peter Bensinger, who has a business partnership with former drug czar Robert DuPont providing anti-drug advice to fortune 500 companies and drug testing services (including to members of Congress), also has a daughter who used to be a spokesmodel for Miller Beer.

    Yep…you can’t make this stuff up!

    These lame and too-late-to-the-game monologues by all of these former government agency heads who made careers (and small fortunes) lying about cannabis and demonizing cannabis consumers and patients in the Los Angeles Times (shame on you!) and the Wall Street Journal (doubly shame on you!) are likely going to be as successful as the last and great ‘unprecedented’ attempt by Cannabis Prohibition’s A-Team to thwart the direct will of the citizens regarding setting a new path to end prohibition, when, every living US president (Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1.0 and Clinton) signed a 1996 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (so much shame for this paper’s historical support for Cannabis Prohibition!) against a then supposedly radical and society-threatening Prop. 215–which the voters approved in California at a higher rate than they did for returning President Clinton back to office.

    As has been predicted recently by a number of polling firms and political scientists in California, the state’s voters may well endorse in greater numbers for legalizing cannabis in three weeks then they will in supporting any major political candidates for elective office. One would think that these mainstream, duopoly political candidates would finally say ‘Uncle!’ and end their stubborn and unfounded opposition to a long-sought end to cannabis prohibition in California if only out of the pure embarrassment of how wrong they’ve been in bucking public sentiment and the free market.

    Something tells me I probably shouldn’t hold my breath.