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Richard Cowan

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former 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, Former NORML Executive Director October 17, 2010

    Last week the Heritage Foundation embarrassed itself again with an online essay from Cully Stimson, where Mr. Stimson abandons his and the Foundation’s supposed conservatism and free market principles in favor of maintaining the untenable bureaucratic ‘sacred cow’ of the federal government’s expensive, Constitution-twisting and self-evidently failed eight-decade-old Cannabis Prohibition.

    Stimson’s “proof” that medical cannabis is a scam…an Andrew Breitbart-like edited videotape taken by rabid prohibitionists in the early 1990s which sought to ‘expose’ the supposed great medical cannabis hoax.

    Stimson’s and the Heritage Foundation’s pathetic attempt to propagandize against the ending of Cannabis Prohibition (gee, do you think the pending passage of Prop. 19 has the Reefer Madness-types nervous?) will likely be as successful as the ‘medical marijuana is a hoax’ videotape was at stopping over a dozen states from adopting medical cannabis laws, imprisoning medical cannabis patients (the Drug-Free America Foundation actually sent a copy of the videotape to federal judge Charles Breyer just before he was going to sentence cannabis cultivation expert and activist Ed Rosenthal…to one day served) and deterring a future President from supporting medical access to cannabis, which is to say, not at all.

    Take a moment to read Stimson’s rant and watch the video here, then, read the strongly-worded rebuttal below of Stimson’s ironic target for his pro-federal government and anti-free market propaganda: co-founder of Young Americans For Freedom, Yale graduate, Texas oilman, capitalist, William F. Buckley confidant and former NORML director Richard Cowan.

    To the Heritage Foundation:

    Richard Cowan responds to “The High Priest of Medical Marijuana” by Charles “Cully” D. Stimson.

    October 12, 2010

    I am the Richard Cowan cited in this absurd posting. And yes, I am very proud to say that I was once the National Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

    However, there are two more facts about me that I would like Heritage readers to know before addressing the substance of the issue.

    First, I am also a founding member of Young Americans for Freedom, and like most of the founders, I was – and still am – a libertarian. I do not now nor have I ever thought that freedom is a “scam”, nor do I believe that lying is either necessary or acceptable in the struggle against the omnipotent state.

    Second, I am also the author of an article, “THE TIME HAS COME: ABOLISH THE POT LAWS”, published in the December 6, 1972 issue of National Review. Bill Buckley said, “”I flatly agree with him.” In fact, Bill wrote very frequently in support of legalization over the years.

    Something else he said makes a point that Heritage completely misses:
    “One of the problems that the marijuana-reform movement consistently faces is that everyone wants to talk about what marijuana does, but no one ever wants to look at what marijuana prohibition does. Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.”

    Was Buckley a part of this “scam”? And what about George Shultz? Or Milton Friedman? Or most of the current editors of National Review, and many other prominent conservatives? Or Ron Paul?

    Or do you prefer the company of Diane Feinstein and Barack Obama?

    Now for the substance of the charge that in 1993 I said that medical marijuana or legalization or whatever is a “scam”:

    What would it prove, if I really had said that? It would seem to me that it would prove nothing more than that I was – perhaps still am – both evil enough to tell a dumb lie and stupid enough to announce it as such in public.

    In short, the video proves nothing whatsoever about either medical marijuana or legalization, but I think it does prove something about the profound intellectual dishonesty of anyone who would try to use it for that purpose.

    History:
    At a conference on medical marijuana and LSD (about which I had no comment) I was asked whether NORML, which was founded with the stated goal of ending marijuana prohibition, had abandoned that objective and was only working for medical marijuana.

    My answer was intended to reassure everyone that our goal had not changed, and to explain how I thought that proving the value of medical marijuana would help us. As I said, having marijuana used by a large number of people under clinical supervision would refute the “reefer madness” prohibitionist propaganda that supported the massive state violence inherent in the “Drug War.” Of course, I had clearly under estimated the intellectual dishonesty of people like Mr. Stimson.

    These conferences are always open to the public, so apparently someone from a prohibitionist group, probably Mel Sembler’s Drug Free America Foundation was there with a camera. (I assume that is where you got the video. Google: ‘Mel Sembler’ + ‘Straight Incorporated’, and then re-reread what Buckley said.)

    Shortly after the conference the statist propaganda mills began to claim that I had said that medical marijuana is a “scam.” Oddly, even the heavily edited version of the video does not support that interpretation. If one listens closely, I said that the “whole scam will be blown.”

    ?

    Would I really dumb enough to say that our position is a “scam” and then say it will be “blown”? And then we are supposed to clever enough to pull off the scam???

    Of course, thanks to the editing you cannot hear me saying in the next sentence, “I mean what we know is that marijuana prohibition is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people…”

    If that seems hyperbolic, consider that 17 years later a prominent think tank that claims to be “based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense” is still pushing third rate collectivist propaganda based on dishonest editing and absurd arguments in support of a disastrous scam that undermines individual freedom, blocks scientific research, destroys the political stability of a vital neighbor, circumvents property rights and due process, funds terrorists, and subverts the rule of law.

    And you call yourselves “Conservatives”?

    -Richard Cowan

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director June 8, 2009

    Analysis by Richard Cowan

    Even though California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined the calls for a debate on marijuana prohibition itself, there is still a lot of confusion about the legal status of the supposedly less controversial topic of “medical marijuana”. 

    On April 2nd the Associated Press reported that Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton “called on the City Council to speed up the drafting of stricter regulations on medical marijuana clinics, calling current state law ‘Looney Tunes’.” (Oddly, the story was reported on the San Jose Mercury-News website, but the LA Times only covered it in a blog.)

    Bratton was right, but for the wrong reasons. He claimed, “They pass a law, then they have no regulations as to how to enforce the darn thing and, as a result, we have hundreds of these locations selling drugs to every Tom, Dick and Harry.”

    First, if the dispensaries are selling any “drug” other than cannabis, the police do not need any action by the LA City Counsel to raid them. Find any of them selling hard drugs, and the medical cannabis community will support closing down the offenders.

    That is not a rhetorical point. It is important to note that one justification for the dispensary system is that it keeps medical cannabis users from having to go to “street dealers” in order to get their medicine. However, in the broader context of cannabis prohibition in general, the California medical marijuana dispensary system does the same thing that the Dutch cannabis “coffee shop” system has been doing for decades. The Dutch call it the “separation of the markets for soft and hard drugs.” One consequence of this “separation of the markets” is that the Dutch have a much lower use of hard drugs, especially heroin, among young people than does the US.

    Inasmuch as marijuana has always been much more readily available to young people than to sick and dying older people, would Chief Bratton really prefer that young people get their marijuana from “street dealers” – who may also sell hard drugs? See T’was Another Great Victory. Teen Marijuana Use Down; Oxy Use Up. Teen Cigarette Use Went Down More Than Teen Marijuana Use.

    Second, the dispensaries are not selling to just anyone. They require a special form of identification that establishes the fact that a doctor has approved of the patient’s use of cannabis. (That is all that is required by state law, and – critically – all that is allowed by Federal law.)

    “Street dealers” do not require any identification, and most teens say it is easier to get marijuana (on the street) than it is to get alcohol from licensed stores. (more…)