A New York anti-drug activist has edited together a few comments made by a trio of drug reformers more than ten years ago and trumpeted the resulting minutes-long video as putting to rest once and for all "the lie" that marijuana has medicinal value. But while the video has caused a minor flurry among true-believing drug fighters and provided an opportunity for ultra-conservative foes of financier George Soros to bash him over drug policy, it delivers neither the promised damning evidence of perfidy nor a smoking gun (or joint, for that matter).
"If there was ever any doubt about the lie that has been perpetuated on the American people about 'medical marijuana,' this video clip should put the matter to rest," wrote Steven Steiner, the founder of both Dads and Mad Moms Against Drug Dealers and the anti-Soros attack site Soros Monitor where the video is available.
What the clip actually shows is a few seconds of former National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Richard Cowan explaining to an early 1990s crowd that "the key to it [legalization] is medical access because once you have hundreds of thousands of people using marijuana medically under medical supervision the whole scam is going to be blown... Once there's medical access and if we continue to do what we have to do -- and we will -- then we'll get full legalization."
Viewers are supposed to infer that Cowan's use of the word "scam" refers to marijuana. But last week, Cowan told one reporter that the scam he was referring to was marijuana prohibition.
Further damning evidence of the medical marijuana "hoax" comes when cannabis cultivation guru Ed Rosenthal jokingly remarked that he had a "latent case" of glaucoma, but it had never been diagnosed because he was already treating himself for it. Besides, said Rosenthal, "I like to get high."
But more than half the video consists of footage of Drug Policy Alliance drug education expert Marsha Rosenbaum, or "the infamous Marsha Rosenbaum," as Steiner referred to her, in a talk having nothing to do whatsoever with medical marijuana. Instead, Rosenbaum discussed the notion of exposing young people not just to worst case examples of drug users but also to people who successfully functioned as drug users.
Picked up by a handful of conservative news agencies, such as the Christian News Association, the video and Steiner's press release made their way into the blogosphere, proving quite popular with arch-conservative sites like Free Republic and News With Views. They also caught the attention of Accuracy in Media, a self-described media watchdog group with a decidedly conservative bent, whose editor, Cliff Kincaid, took Steiner's press release and ran with it in a June 30 column. Saying the video could deal "a major blow" to the medical marijuana movement, "largely funded by billionaire George Soros," because it "gives the lie to the claim that we often see in the media that smoking marijuana is a legitimate medical treatment for people with diseases," Kincaid concludes that "the video proves that 'medical marijuana' is a joke to those on the inside of the pro-pot movement who realize that getting the public and the media to accept the notion that smoking marijuana alleviates health problems is a major step down the road to complete legalization of dope."
Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, wasn't buying that. "The reality is that medical marijuana is not going to lead to marijuana legalization,” he told DRCNet. "Legislators are not going to be somehow hornswoggled into voting to legalize marijuana because they voted for medical marijuana."
Nevertheless, for Kincaid, "the Steiner video is just the latest evidence that 'medical marijuana' is just a front for the illegal drug movement and that it exploits sick people." The mass media is part of the problem, Kincaid implies, asking, "But will the major media report on the shocking and explosive comments on the tape?"
Well, no. Unlike Accuracy in Media and the hyperventilating blogosphere, the mass media failed to notice anything shocking or explosive in off-handed comments from a decade ago which prove little except that Ed Rosenthal has a sense of humor.
"In some sense, I think this is a testament to the success of the medical marijuana movement that folks like Steiner have to reach into the past in such a trivial way to attack the issue," said Sterling, who saw little possibility of the video having any impact at all. "I don't think we have to worry a lot about 11-year-old videos."
Steiner, the founder of DAMMADD and apparent source of the video, has used his son's 2001 Oxycontin overdose death as the raison d'etre for the anti-drug crusade he began shortly thereafter and shows photos of his dead body on his web site. Bizarrely enough, Steiner takes money from the company which manufactured the drug that killed his son and uses it to attack medical marijuana, which has never killed anyone. According to his web site, his largest donor is none other than Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, who have kicked in at least $50,000 dollars in blood money.
While Steiner says the purpose of DAMMADD is two-fold, to operate a snitch program (he claims 68 arrests and 35 convictions so far) and to "raise drug awareness," he has become increasingly obsessed with George Soros. Along with creating the Soros Monitor, a curious amalgamation of drug war hysteria and conservative ire derived from Soros' efforts to see President Bush defeated last November, Steiner rushed the stage at a Soros speech at the National Press Club in October, waving a photo of his dead son and yelling until he was none-too-gently removed from the scene.
But the video and its use as a vehicle to attack not only medical marijuana but also George Soros was notable, Sterling told DRCNet. "Even before Soros jumped into the 2004 election with some very big feet, he was a target of a segment of the conservative movement, and this is part of that. Some of them think his involvement in drug policy reform or medical marijuana is mud that can be slung at his Democratic political activities, and in that sense, it's very much red-baiting and mud-slinging. It's possible that one of the goals of the Steiner types is to try to embarrass him around drug policy reform and hope he would back away, but I would be extremely surprised if that happened."
Marsha Rosenbaum, who was not only featured in the video but was also attacked in Kincaid's column, felt bushwhacked. While she said that her thinking had evolved and that she no longer thought it practicable to expose youths to controlled drug users -- they should instead be exposed to the research tools that can help them make their own decisions -- she said the episode left her feeling unfairly attacked. "It doesn't feel very good to have your message and your statements taken out of context by people who mean to hurt you," she told DRCNet. "Say what we are actually saying, but this whole digging up of snippets from years in the past is a cheap shot."
In the light of the video, Rosenbaum had one word of advice for people speaking in public. "Always assume the other side is in the audience -- with the cameras rolling," she advised.
Where will DAMMADD mad dad Steve Steiner strike next? Stay tuned.
Disclosure: DRCNet is indirectly a recipient of Soros funding.