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Chronicle Book Review: Reefer Movie Madness

Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide, by Steven Bloom and Shirley Halperin (2010, Abrams Image Press, 336 pp., $18.95 PB)

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Even the wonkiest of drug policy reformers can't spend all their time reading policy proposals, research results, and desert-dry academic treatises, but Reefer Movie Madness is much more than a mere guilty pleasure. Penned by former High Times editor and Celebstoner.com proprietor Steve Bloom and former High Times intern turned entertainment writer Shirley Halperin, Reefer Movie Madness is not only a most excellent guide to stoner filmdom, it also maps the cultural acceptance of marijuana in America through film history.

A follow-up to the pair's well-done, comprehensive compendium of all things cannabinical, Pot Culture, Reefer Movie Madness profiles more than 700 films that are about marijuana, feature marijuana in key scenes, feature other drugs, or just plain a gas to watch stoned. The films are ranked via a five-star rating system, and the authors demonstrate exquisite taste and filmic knowledge in their rankings (meaning that their tastes agreed with mine).

They begin at the beginning, going back even before 1936's anti-pot propaganda classic Reefer Madness to note such obscure films as 1924's High on the Range, in which Cowboy Dave smokes a reefer, and 1933's International House, in which jazz legend Cab Calloway performs "Reefer Man."

But in the late 1930s, as Harry Anslinger crusaded against the demon weed, so did Hollywood. In addition to Reefer Madness, the movie industry cranked out propaganda like Marijuana: The Weed with Roots in Hell (1936), Assassin of Youth (1937), and just a handful of years later, Devil's Harvest (1942). While such films helped shape American attitudes at the time, and for decades to come, they are now the stuff of nonstop laugh fests.

While marijuana and other drug use was portrayed intermittently, and occasionally, even with some sympathy for drug users, it wasn't until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, bringing us classic stoner films like Wild in the Streets (1968) and Easy Rider (1969), that pot-smoking began to be widely portrayed as anything but deviant. And it wasn't until the late 1970s that Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke gave birth to the now ubiquitous stoner comedy genre (although Bloom and Halperin give the classic Animal House, with its single hilarious pot-smoking scene partial credit for establishing the genre, too).

By now, stoner movies and depictions of pot-smoking are everywhere, most notably, but not only, in the stoner comedy genre. Films like Half-Baked, How High, Friday, and Strange Wilderness are now being produced by mainstream production companies, and the Judd Apatow franchise alone has been responsible for numerous box office hit stoner flicks, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Pineapple Express. This year's Get Him to Greek, featuring the inimitable and charismatic Russell Brand and Apatow regular Jonah Hill, was released too late for inclusion, but will certainly make the next edition.

The book is divided into sections by genre: comedy, drama, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, action, sports, music, documentaries and offers spot-on capsule reviews of more than 700 films, complete with plot summaries, star rankings, and choice quotes. Reefer Movie Madness also includes themed lists (Best Buds: Ten stony duos that take friendship to a higher level; Stoner Inventions and Innovations), celebrity Q&As, and lists of favorite stoner movies from well-known actors, directors, and musicians, including Cheech & Chong, the Trailer Park Boys, Snoop Dog, and Melissa Etheridge, among many more.

Reefer Movie Madness is a bookshelf must for pot movie fans, whether they be culture mavens or fully-baked couch potatoes. Even for veteran stoner film watchers, it contains some delicious movies you've never seen before and helps you remember long-forgotten gems. It has already vastly increased the length of my Netflix queue, and once you pick it up, the same thing is going to happen to you.

But beyond that, Reefer Movie Madness is a valuable and important contribution to charting and understanding the pop cultural role of marijuana in the past few decades. And it's a gas to read, stoned or not.

Summer Reading Assignment for Congress

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Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network is in Washington today to give copies of his book, "To End the War on Drugs," to every member of the House and Senate. There is a press conference at 10:00am this morning in room 340 of the Cannon House Office Building, with Dean, members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, sponsored by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX).

Phil reviewed Dean's book last night.

I was also on Dean's radio show last week talking about my two new papers; check out the audio or transcript of the interview, which also featured Judge James P. Gray.

New York Times: End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition.

"The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

The Times's Editorial Board pondered whether to maintain federal prohibition while allowing the states to experiment with legalization, but decided that was not the best option.

"We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these," the Times said. "But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law."

The social consequences of marijuana prohibition are "vast" and its result is "racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals," the Times said.

Meanwhile, "the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the 'Reefer Madness' images of murder, rape and suicide."

Coming up with systems to regulate marijuana sales, production, and distribution is a "complex" task, "but those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime," the Times said.

Bottom line? "We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition."

New York, NY
United States

Media and Politicians Call Out Obama Over Marijuana Rescheduling

In his now famous interview with Jake Tapper last week, President Obama, while expressing sympathy for some marijuana reforms, told Tapper that the White House can't move marijuana to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to allow medical use, only Congress could:

OBAMA:[W]hat is and isn't a Schedule One narcotic is a job for Congress. It's not...
 

TAPPER: I think it's the DEA that decides...

OBAMA: It's - it's not - it's not something by ourselves that we start changing. No, there are laws under - undergirding those determinations...

As Tapper remarked, the president in fact can reschedule marijuana administratively, without an action of Congress. The DEA chief administrators for decades have declined to do so -- after DEA's own administrative law judges ruled that they should, the first one back in the '80s -- but Attorney General Holder could overrule them, and so could President Obama. On State of the Union with Candy Crowley last Sunday, CNN pushed back on the claim again, with Crowley pointing out the president's error after playing a clip from the interview.

Now members of Congress have joined in. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) says that Obama could reschedule marijuana for medical use in a "a matter of days," according to US News & World Report:

"I don't dispute that Congress could and should make the change, but it's also something the administration could do in a matter of days and I hope they will consider it," says Blumenauer, who is currently circulating a letter among colleagues asking Obama to do so. Eight members of Congress have signed the letter so far.
 

Has Obama heard this? By now I'd imagine so.

HUGE: Sanjay Gupta Apologizes for Anti-Marijuana Stance, Slams DEA

In a commentary on cnn.com this morning, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta endorsed medical marijuana -- and apologized for not doing so sooner:

Reading... papers [about medical marijuana] five years ago, it was hard to make a case for [it]... I... wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot."
 
... I didn't look hard enough.. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis...

I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof... Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works...

We have been terribly and systematically misled [about marijuana] for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.
 

Gupta's documentary "WEED" will run on CNN this Sunday at 8:00pm EST.

 

 

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Documentary: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

A new documentary from Tribeca Films has hit the wires. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was produced by Adrian Grenier ("Entourage") and Bert Marcus, and directed by Matthew Cooke. It features interviews with celebrities Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon, David Simon (creator of "The Wire"), and Arianna Huffington. Some of my colleagues also figure in the movie, including Neill Franklin, Eric Sterling and Howard Wooldridge, among others.

It is opening in select theaters in some cities (see the web site for info), and is available through iTunes and OnDemand. There's also an iPhone app, Tug of War on Drugs.

Perspectives on the Denver "420" Disruption

Denver 420 rally, while it lasted (facebook.com/pages/420-Rally/104447806260934)
Yesterday's historic "420" rally in Denver, the first since Colorado voted to legalize marijuana last fall, was marred and cut short by violence. Two unidentified gunmen shot and wounded three people -- two attendees were shot in the leg and were rushed to a nearby hospital with "non-life-threatening-injuries," and a teen was grazed by a bullet and walked there, according to the Denver Post. Attendees fled the scene, and the remainder of the event as well a smaller one planned for today were canceled.

It was not the kind of day those three people or their friends had planned, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind. It was also not the kind of day that thousands attending including many who traveled from afar had planned either. It's lucky there were no trampling injuries, at least no serious ones, apparently.

Without forgetting what's most important -- the people most directly affected -- it's also worth noting that this is obviously not the kind of headline that legalization advocates wanted. The story had the top spot on Google News for a time last night, and continues to hold front page placement as I write this. That's an unfortunate accomplishment, particularly after the grim and violent week we just lived through. But does it hurt the cause?

After looking through news reports, I don't think so. The only criticism of the idea of the rally was from a Colorado anti-marijuana group, appearing well toward the end of the article. Most of it was sympathetic reporting about the victims, about organizers cooperating with police, police looking for information on the suspects, who the musical acts were, how police even before Amendment 64 passed had focused on crowd safety rather than marijuana enforcement during Denver's 420 events. I have not yet seen any quotes suggesting that marijuana use had any connection to the violence, though I've not done an exhaustive search.

Of course there's an opportunity cost from this unfortunate story replacing the story we'd hoped for of legal marijuana becoming a mainstream, accepted reality. And it's hard to know whether the coverage reflects maturation on the part of the media's treatment of the marijuana issue, vs. the violence forcing things into perspective. But I lean toward the former, and there's some comfort from seeing marijuana reformers and public safety personnel so clearly on the same side. At least that's how it looks from a distance. Our movement is part of larger society, and we are vulnerable to all the same dangers.

Let's hope the victims' injuries are no worse than reported, and for their swift recovery.

HuffPost Live on Mexican Drug War and Security, 11:30am EST TODAY

I am participating on a HuffPost Live panel starting at 11:30am EST this morning: Is Mexico's Security Policy Failing?

Update: The archive is already online, embedded below. The link from the live broadcast is also the permalink.

The panel was hosted by commentator Alicia Menendez, and I shared the panel with Alejandro Hope of the Instituto Mexicano para la CompetividadProf. John Ackerman of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and former ONDCP official Paul Chabot.

Video: Daily Show Ribs Media Over Marijuana Jokes

John Stewart just took the media to task for all the marijuana jokes. Marijuana prohibition is a serious matter. Of course the show was funny nonetheless.  :)

Update: Video is available now, in two parts:

 

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Post-Democalyptic World - Potted Up
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And the Fast Talking Has Started...

I posited yesterday that federal fast talking about the Colorado and Washington initiatives would start soon. It turns out that federal fast talking hasn't even needed feds to get started, a "Network Media Fail" analysis by Peter Guither demonstrates:

Some of the network media have been trying to cover the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and clearly are in catch-up mode, not really knowing how to talk about it. And they're completely thrown by the fact that the DOJ, for the most part, isn't coming right out and commenting. So they're all forced to turn to… Kevin Sabet.
 

Kevin is a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer -- Phil faced off with him in The Fix on Tuesday. He had a respectable level position at the agency, from what I understand, but he was not the drug czar or near it, and he doesn't work at ONDCP now. Pete questions why media would think he knows what's going on behind the scenes or why we should think he does.

I'll just comment on two things from the ABC article by Christina Ng that Pete highlighted:

"When you have the governors of both states [opposing it] as well as the president and Congress, who has already determined that marijuana is illegal, this is not going to be a walk in the park for marijuana enthusiasts," Sabet said. [...]
 

That is an inaccurate characterization by Kevin of the positions of the governors. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the initiative, and according to the Denver Post is speaking with federal officials to assess their intentions -- Eric Holder, head of all DOJ, not ONDCP. But Hickenlooper also told the Post that "[y]ou can't argue with the will of the voters" and they plan to move forward with it. Washington governor-elect Jay Inslee has also said that he'll respect the will of the voters.

The second is a paragraph that was not presented as a quote, so I don't know precisely what Kevin told Ms. Ng, but here it is:

In 2005, the Supreme Court by an 8-0 margin struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.
 

Raich v. Gonzales was actually 6-3, but more importantly, the court did not strike down California's medical marijuana law! What the court did was decline to limit the reach of federal law. There's a difference.

As I discussed yesterday, state and federal law can be different, but that doesn't mean they're in conflict. And not every type of conflict is legally impermissible. California's medical marijuana law is very much in effect -- the trouble there is to providers, not directly to patients, and it's from federal raids and other actions, and local zoning restrictions. Tellingly, no federal prosecutor in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws has ever tried to undo one of them in court.

Perhaps they'll try now with one of the legalization initiatives, but their prospects for success on that route are unclear. What seems most unlikely is that states would be forced to reverse not only their licensing provisions, but their elimination of penalties for users and some sellers; much less that federal agents, more limited in number than state and local police, would conduct the massive numbers of possession busts (or in Colorado home growing busts) needed to keep prohibition going at that level. That's why the medical marijuana laws work.

In the meanwhile, police and prosecutors in Washington have more or less confirmed the walk in the park beginning December 6th.

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