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.
In another positive sign of the times for cannabis law reform, please find below a new video from the Washington Post’s The Fold looking at a couple of different situations where parents faced the legal-moral dilemma of whether or not to follow a physician’s recommendation for their young child to use cannabis as a therapeutic. Dr. Ben Whalley From Reading University in United Kingdom is interviewed about his recent cannabinoid research into the use of pediatric cannabis medicine for children, for example, suffering from epilepsy. As a twenty plus year reader of the Washington Post, it is very hard for me to imagine prior editors (and publishers) who would have assigned and widely broadcast a piece that looked at the potential health benefits from cannabis (meaning that as the World War II generation, informed by their government-created ‘Reefer Madness’, that largely ran the storied newspaper until recently has had to logically yield and defer to a decidedly more cannabis-informed generation of Baby Boomers and younger).
One of the major public policy and business fronts to end cannabis prohibition in America is to pressure the federal government to allow American farmers the same ability to cultivate industrial hemp like farmers in the United Kingdom, France, Russia and even Canada do under current so-called anti-drug international treaties. Ninety percent of hemp used in the United States is cultivated and imported from Canada.
What sane reason can be employed by the federal government to ban industrial hemp cultivation when Canadian farmers can prosper from cultivating it?
Numerous states–just like with decriminalization, medicalization and legalization–have passed industrial hemp reform laws that run afoul of the federal government’s anti-cannabis policies. This has created upward political pressure on Congress to introduce needed hemp law reform.
Check out this recent Washington Post article profiling lobbying efforts to get hemp legalized.
You can help out by signing the White House petition to bring the matter of industrial hemp law reform before the Obama Administration for a public reply.
See the dozen or so state hemp laws here.
To learn more about hemp and law reform efforts in states and Congress check out VoteHemp.
In the wake of the historic votes for marijuana law reform on November 6th, there has been a renewed focus on the topic and a shift in tone amongst the mainstream media. While previously, many outlets have either covered our efforts with a wink and a nod (or didn’t cover them at all), now that two states have called for the end of marijuana prohibition, reporters are rushing to cover the story. Along the way it seems they are also getting a crash course education in the concepts of civil liberties, federalism, and the disasters of our country’s prohibition on cannabis. Many are beginning to wake up to the reality that we have long identified: cannabis prohibition is a failed policy that has destructive effects on our society and these effects can be remedied by legalization and regulation.
Look no further for a sign of the changing times than editorials featured this weekend by two of the United States’ largest newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both papers featured columns from their staff opining in favor of marijuana law reform. It seems the days of traditionally conservative editorial boards writing against cannabis law reforms may be coming to an end.
There is a seismic shift happening in the national consciousness on marijuana policy in response to the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington, we are winning new converts by the day and those previously afraid to speak out are now doing so with passion and vigor. This recent influx of mainstream media outlets jumping on board with reform is just the beginning of the avalanche of change that is to come.
The New York Times by Timothy Egan, NYT Opinion Writer:
Give Pot a Chance
For what stands between ending this absurd front in the dead-ender war on drugs and the status quo is the federal government. It could intervene, citing the supremacy of federal law that still classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug.
But it shouldn’t. Social revolutions in a democracy, especially ones that begin with voters, should not be lightly dismissed. Forget all the lame jokes about Cheetos and Cheech and Chong. In the two-and-a-half weeks since a pair of progressive Western states sent a message that arresting 853,000 people a year for marijuana offenses is an insult to a country built on individual freedom, a whiff of positive, even monumental change is in the air.
…there remains the big question of how President Obama will handle the cannabis spring. So far, he and Attorney General Eric Holder have been silent. I take that as a good sign, and certainly a departure from the hard-line position they took when California voters were considering legalization a few years ago.
The Washington Post by Washington Post Editorial Board:
Marijuana’s Foot in the Door
…Or the Justice Department could keep its hands off, perhaps continuing the approach the feds have largely taken for some time — focusing scarce resources on major violators, such as big growers that might serve multi-state markets, cultivators using public lands or dispensaries near schools. The last option is clearly best.
But it’s unrealistic and unwise to expect federal officials to pick up the slack left by state law- enforcement officers who used to enforce marijuana prohibitions against pot users and small-time growers. Unrealistic, because it would require lots more resources. Unwise, because filling prisons with users, each given a criminal stain on his or her record, has long been irrational. For the latter reason, we favor decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot, assessing civil fines instead of locking people up.
Also, for that reason and others, the Justice Department should hold its fire on a lawsuit challenging Colorado and Washington’s decision to behave more leniently. And state officials involved in good-faith efforts to regulate marijuana production and distribution according to state laws should be explicitly excused from federal targeting.
I’ve followed with more than a passing interest the entire arch of Rahm Emanuel’s substantive and influential career in American politics.
In fact, found in NORML’s extensive forty-two year archives are the hand-typed notes of an author who was working on a major profile of the history of America’s ‘drug war’ and what the then Clinton Administration was implementing as their drug ‘control’ policies.
The author was former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Baum and the book he produced is called ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. Any serious student or activist of drug and cannabis policy must include this book on their short ‘must read’ bibliographic list.
Baum interviewed Emanuel in 1994 in his White House office and, according to Baum’s notes, Emanuel was a tidal wave of expletives against cannabis, and most notably cannabis consumers, calling them ‘leftover hippies’ and medical patients as ‘stoners just looking for an excuse to get high’.
How far has Mayor Emanual come on the issue of cannabis law reform?
The significance of Rahm Emanuel’s progression on cannabis law reform can’t be understated as 1) he was the chief domestic policy advisor during the Clinton era that very actively opposed any medical cannabis reforms or decriminalization efforts at the state/federal level, 2) when he was first elected to Congress he voted against Hinchey Rohrabacher spending amendment bills which sought to limit medical cannabis law enforcement by the feds at the state level, 3) in his last years in Congress he changed positions and voted for the HR amendment, 4) during the last two years in Cook County and in other cities in IL, ‘decriminalization’ measures have either gone into effect or have been proposed without Mr. Emanuel saying “boo” and 5) now the political acknowledgement from Prague no less (talk about a city that can inspire decriminalization and personal freedom!) that he is keen on decriminalization.
Many political pontificators believe Emanual, one of the country’s most aspiring and capable political figures, has his eyes affixed on the presidency in 2016 or 2020, and like his potential rival New York Governor and fellow democrat Andrew Cuomo who recently moved to decriminalize cannabis in NY, might rightly see that being in favor of cannabis law reform is now a political asset, not a liability.
Update: Another clear demonstration that American society is moving towards embracing cannabis law reforms can be found in one of the least likely places on earth: The editorial board of the traditionally (almost reflexively) anti-cannabis Washington Post, who, finally, also now embraces decriminalization.
Hmmm….the pot prohibition plot thickens!
Emanuel backs decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana
BY FRAN SPIELMAN and FRANK MAIN
Last Modified: Jun 15, 2012 05:59AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is throwing his formidable support behind a plan to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
If the City Council goes along, Chicago cops will be free to issue a ticket with a fine ranging from $100 to $500. The tickets would apply to people caught with 15 grams of pot or less.
Last fall, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) proposed a ticket carrying a $200 fine and a 10-gram trigger.
Currently, those caught with small amounts of pot face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.
In a press release, the mayor said writing pot tickets “allows us to observe the law while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana — ultimately freeing up police officers for the street.”
Emanuel chose to wade in on the hot-button issue while in Prague for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. That allows him to avoid questions about whether marijuana tickets would send the wrong message to kids about a drug that some consider a “gateway” to more dangerous substances.
In 2011, Chicago Police officers made 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. Read the rest of this Chicago Sun Times article here.