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Digg and Reddit Users Want to Legalize Marijuana

The rise of news aggregator websites like Digg and Reddit has become a surprisingly helpful asset to online activism for drug policy reform. These sites allow participants to submit links with their own description, at which point other users vote to determine which stories make it to the coveted main page. Digg, for example, directs so much traffic from its front page that users have coined the term "digg effect" to describe the inevitable server crash that occurs when Digg links a site with insufficient bandwidth. first experienced "the digg effect" in August with the "Marijuana Dealers Offer Schwarzenegger One Billion Dollars" story. Once linked at Digg, the blog post and accompanying press release generated over 100,000 hits, crashing our server repeatedly for over 12 straight hours. It was a bittersweet triumph since few visitors were actually able to view the content due to website malfunctions (and we couldn't receive donations!). Nonetheless, the message about marijuana policy reform was clearly resonating with a massive new audience.

Between Digg and Reddit, we've now had several stories take off, pulling in unusually high traffic and pushing the drug policy debate beyond the self-selected audience of seasoned reform activists. The rising tide has lifted other boats as well, generating massive attention to Pete Guither's "Why is Marijuana Illegal?" and SSDP's "End the Drug War Draft!" Just last week, a front page Digg hit left Mitt Romney's presidential campaign reeling when video of his rude treatment of a medical marijuana patient went viral.

Perhaps it's not so surprising that the new era of user-generated content and internet video would favor ideas that have for too long been relegated to the fringe by the mainstream press. We're witnessing the burial of the antiquated notion that only anti-drug scare stories will sell, and it's long overdue to say the least. The stigma of the "legalization" label, along with the brute force of the law itself, has silenced so many would-be drug war critics, yet the anonymous and democratized realm of online political debate now rages without regard to the philosophical prejudices of the past.

Of course, winning the vote in an artificial internet democracy isn't going to end the war on drugs. But it certainly proves the demand for balance in the drug war debate. As the mainstream media continues to struggle with even the most basic realities about drugs and the terrible war on their users, the truth has to find a home somewhere.

Update: To my great surprise, this post has made it to the front page of Digg. Imagine that. You can vote for it here. What fun.

Update II: There's 300+ comments on this post over at Digg. I haven't finished reading them, but here's my favorite so far:

Look, from someone who has never smoked anything in their life, I'm fine with legalization, but please don't act like assholes with it like everyone in my damn school does. All they do is brag about it, and its funny because I tell my friends I'd do it if it was legal and they say they would stop doing it if it was.

The "stoner" stereotype is a complete product of the drug's illegality, it's true. If we're sick of rebellious potheads, let us take the wind out of their sails by changing the one law they have the nerve to break, thereby turning them into law-abiding dorks.

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Mike Gravel Talks Drug Legalization on "The Young Turks"

Presidential candidate and former US Senator from Alaska Mike Gravel has continued his calls for legalization of drugs, last week on the Air America Radio and Internet web cast program The Young Turks, which published the story under the title Democratic Presidential Candidate Calls for Legalizing Cocaine. Read the full transcript here, and watch the YouTube video version here below. P.S. If anyone reading this isn't already aware of where we stand on the issue, we think Gravel is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. P.P.S. Ron Paul supporters, I know I'm going to hear from you, so I'll just say right now, let us know when your guy talks about this stuff and we'll post that too.
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FOX News Discusses Drug Legalization

Those liberal hippies at FOX News are at it again. This segment featuring DPA's Ethan Nadelmann confronts drug prohibition head on.

It's a great clip with solid soundbites from Ethan and a neutral, almost vaguely sympathetic-sounding tone from the FOX correspondents (surely baked after a lunchbreak at the CNN offices). Bonus points go to ONDCP's David Murray for calling Ethan Nadelmann a "good friend," even though Murray keeps a collage of Nadelmann photos by his bedside with the words "Die Hippie" smeared across it in pig's blood.

August has been a strong month for the legalization argument. Cliff Shaffer's "Marijuana Dealers Offer Schwarzenegger One Billion Dollars" story took over the web, crashing our servers and generating national headlines. Misha Glenny's "The Lost War" from The Washington Post excited bloggers and even prompted an incredulous response from former ONDCP mouthpiece Robert Weiner. Now Ethan Nadelmann's cover story in Foreign Policy magazine is keeping the conversation going.

Earlier this week, Pete Guither and I lamented the difficulty of taking the reform argument to a mainstream audience. It's a challenge we'll continue to face, but the longer this brutal war continues without results, the better our chances get of being called on if we keep raising our hand. Our opposition is forever stuck claiming that drugs are the most destructive thing in the world, while also arguing that their brilliant drug control strategies are highly effective. It sounds sillier every time, and David Murray's recent decision to start calling himself a "scientist" is just one example of his office's deteriorating credibility. Discussion of drug legalization on FOX News is another.

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Joe Califano -- He's Still Around, With a New Book...

... and NPR's Diane Rehm thinks he's great. Julian Sanchez makes the case that Rehm's interview was "maddeningly uncritical, borderline fawning," and tears apart Califano too. Phil is going to review Califano's book for Drug War Chronicle soon, by the way.
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Coordinated Drug War Raids as Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

Peter Guither at the Drug WarRant blog has pointed out what he calls a "blatant and pathetic effort" by the State of Kentucky to secure drug war funding from Congress:
State police, local law enforcement, sheriff's offices, HIDTA and multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the nation collectively conducted undercover investigations, search warrants, consent searches, marijuana eradication efforts, drug interdiction and arrest warrants for a period of one week. This collective effort, Operation Byrne Drugs II, was conducted from April 23-29 to highlight the need and effectiveness of the Byrne grant funding and the impact cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement.
Actually it is the media efforts that seem to be coordinated, in addition to the drug enforcement. I noticed a suspiciously similar press release distributed by the California Dept. of Justice last July about a suspiciously similar incident:
BNE task forces, comprised of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, throughout the state served 16 search warrants, seized three firearms, confiscated 53 pounds of methamphetamine, 91 pounds of marijuana, and 37,747 marijuana plants. State drug enforcement agencies across the U.S. on July 27, 2006 participated in a "national day of drug enforcement." Organized by the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, "Operation Byrne Drugs" promoted the continued funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program that supports local and statewide drug enforcement. The federally funded program has suffered deep cuts over the last few years, directly affecting BNE. In fiscal year 2001-02, BNE received more than $11.5 million for personnel and operating costs. In fiscal year 2006-07, BNE received less than $6 million, nearly a 50% decline over five years.
your tax dollars at work to get more of your tax dollars Now I run an advocacy group, and I can tell you with confidence that this is exactly what groups who want to achieve a legislative objective will do -- organize media-worthy events in order to get the attention of the policymakers you need to influence, in this case Congress. The main differences between what we do and what the narcs are doing are that: 1) They are using taxpayer funds to carry out their media/lobbying campaign to secure taxpayer funds; and 2) They are using the authority the government has given them to wield state power including guns in order to arrest and incarcerate people, as a component of their media-lobbying campaign. We will generally just hold a press conference or a rally, or issue a report. I suspect that in strict legal terms they have not violated the law. But make no mistake -- this is lobbying of Congress by state agencies to get our money, and they are destroying numerous lives in order to do it. I don't agree with drug enforcement at all (as readers know), but even for those who do, clearly enforcement decisions about when and whom to raid should be based on law enforcement/public safety needs, NOT politics. Unfortunately, it is not only drug money that corrupts our law enforcement; it is drug war money too.
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Open Letter: You Screwed Up the "Snitch" Story, Anderson Cooper

Dear Mr. Cooper:
David Borden
As a CNN viewer who generally appreciates your work, I was stunned by how badly your report on the "Stop Snitching" movement missed the mark. It's easy to find someone willing to make an extreme statement, as hip-hop artist Cameron Giles did when he said he wouldn't report a serial murderer. But do you really think the most extreme voice on the airwaves is the one that merits such a large portion of the face time in your report?

My issue is not with the criticisms leveled at people like Giles or the Stop Snitching movement. My concern is over that which was not said. For example, the most interesting moment in the piece was David Kennedy's comment about police tactics in the war on drugs. However, you did not offer even a second sentence about that on the screen (at least in the CNN version) for Prof. Kennedy to elaborate on what those tactics might be or why they might have such an effect. Do you really consider those three seconds to constitute an adequate fulfillment of your professional responsibility to provide balanced and informative reporting?

A real examination of the "snitching" issue was provided in Ofra Bikel's 1999 documentary for Frontline, "Snitch." One of the prisoners Bikel interviewed, Clarence Aaron, received three life sentences while in college at age 23 because of a minor role in a drug transaction -- "conspiracy," as the government calls it. All the other participants got less time, even though their responsibility level in the deal had been greater. Aaron's cousin James, in fact, was sentenced to mere probation -- in exchange for testifying against Aaron -- and walked out of the courtroom a free man.

According to Aaron, his cousin told him that he "had to do what [he] had to do" and that that included lying to the jury. One of the objectives of prosecutor Deborah Griffin, apparently, was to cause a mistrial and force Aaron to switch to a less skilled attorney than the one he had, and she was able to use James to manipulate the situation to bring that about. If James didn't cooperate, he told Aaron, she threatened to "put [him] in prison for the rest of [his] life."

Of course, Aaron is still in prison today. You can read a little more about him in a column by the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders here. She writes about him every year, at Christmas pardon time, so far to no avail.

Unfortunately, Aaron's case is unusual mainly for how much attention it's gotten. The exchange of leniency -- or even money -- for testimony that will help the prosecution is an absolutely routine tactic in the drug war. The DEA, in fact, continued to use a "super-snitch" named Andrew Chambers for numerous prosecutions after a court had determined him to be a repeat perjurer. Common sense tells us that testimony acquired in this way is not always reliable. It is a disgusting commentary on the state of our justice system that prosecutors would use a tactic like that so often. The fact that the mandatory minimum laws that garnered Aaron his life sentences were passed by Congress with neither hearings nor expert advice in other forms (according to my colleague Eric Sterling who appeared in Bikel's report), is equally troubling. The use of these laws to imprison minor offenders for long periods of time is also very common, but the term "mandatory minimum" did not appear in your report even once. Nor did you mention it was an anonymous informant's incorrect tip that led to the killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston by police officers in a no-knock raid in CNN's own hometown of Atlanta last year.

Research by the Sentencing Project has found that literally one in three young black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day. Here in Washington the numbers are even higher. How difficult must it be for all of these people with convictions on their records to go on to find legitimate jobs? What kind of impact does such a massive and ongoing operation have on the bonds of family, friendship, or community? How many of these people go to jail or prison, what kinds of things do they learn there, how many of them catch serious diseases there and bring them back out? How often do they receive harsh mandatory minimum sentences like Clarence Aaron? At a conference I attended recently, a professor from Morehouse College, lamenting the situation, delivered a talk entitled "Where are the Men?" What should we be doing differently, or for that matter what should we stop doing, in order to address this? What does all of this do to change people, mostly in ways that we don't want, to cause more crime? I simply do not believe that one in three black men in this age group are criminals in any meaningful sense of the word.

I respectfully suggest it is the overuse and misuse of the criminal justice system -- not the words of some rappers -- that are the primary reasons anti-police sentiment in some of our communities runs so deep. I urge you to do a follow-up report to take a deeper look at these issues. After all, just because Lou Dobbs thinks we can stop drugs at the border doesn't make it so -- and if we could people would just use more of the drugs that can be grown or manufactured here. We therefore need to change the way we deal with drugs in a fundamental sense. Ending the disgraceful practice of purchasing or coercing testimony from "snitches" to send people away for years or decades would be a start.

Don't be a part of the problem, Mr. Cooper, be a part of the solution -- talk about this.


David Borden, Executive Director
Stop the Drug War
Washington, DC

More Reefer Madness in the UK Press

The current anti-cannabis crusade in the UK press is going hot and heavy. I imagine we're all used to the "cannabis boy in drugs shame" tabloid headlines from over there, and, as I blogged a couple of days ago, we now see respectable newspapers like the Independent on Sunday flip-flopping on marijuana (now it's bad). But sometimes, it's just too ridiculous. Here are the opening paragraphs of a story about potent weed from the Liverpool Echo:
Police issue warning about super strength Cannabis Mar 20 2007 by Ben Rossington, Liverpool Echo SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs. Cannabis resin, usually smuggled in from Morocco, has been replaced by home-grown super skunk as the drug of choice for sale by criminal gangs on Merseyside. Experts warn this new strain of cannabis is so incredibly strong it can bring on the early signs of schizophrenia from a single puff. Today Merseyside’s police chief has warned that organised gangs are moving into the production of the drug as a quick way of making cash.
Wow, that stuff must have a 150% THC content. The article also repeats the claim that this super-skunk is 25 times more potent than what Brits are used to. But here's what the most recent peer-reviewed scientific evaluation of THC levels in Europe had to say:
EDITORIAL Cannabis potency in Europe There has been much recent interest in the possibility that the concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active principle in cannabis, is now greater than it was. If pronouncements in the popular media are to be believed, the THC content (potency) is 10 or 20 times the levels of only a generation ago, giving apparent cause for concern about increased problems. The more cynical might comment that this is also a convenient rallying cry for those against an increasingly permissive attitude to cannabis use. But to what extent do the available data justify this fear? If one begins to explore the issue in more detail, it becomes evident that concerns about high potency cannabis are by no means new, and the reality appears both less alarming and more complex. THE FACTS AS FAR AS THEY ARE KNOWN A recent study [1] found that data overall were weak, but the evidence available suggested that the potencies of resin and herbal cannabis that have been imported into Europe have shown little or no change, at least over the past 10 years or so. This is hardly surprising, as these products have been made by traditional methods that have probably remained the same for generations. In Europe, average potencies of imported resin and herbal cannabis are typically between 2% and 8%. Cannabis (hash) oil is uncommon in Europe, but its THC content has also shown no clear trend over many years. What has changed throughout Europe and elsewhere is the appearance, from the early 1990s, of herbal cannabis grown from selected seeds by intensive indoor methods. This material, best described as domestically produced 'sinsemilla' (from the Spanish sin semilla—without seeds), is also known as 'skunk', 'buds' or 'nederwiet'. Its hydroponic cultivation, with artificial control of 'daylight' length, propagation of female cuttings and prevention of fertilization certainly does produce cannabis with a higher potency; on average it may be twice as high as imported herbal cannabis, although the two potency distributions overlap and some samples of imported cannabis are, and have always been, of high potency [2]. The increased THC content of herbal cannabis produced by indoor methods is a consequence of both genetic and environmental factors as well as freshness (i.e. production sites are close to the consumer and storage degradation of THC is thus avoided). There is some evidence that the potency of domestically produced sinsemilla is gradually increasing, perhaps as a result of continual improvements in technique. This product is distributed through the same networks as other cannabis products but, as indicated by the presence of home-grow shops in some European countries, consumers are also producing the drug at home. However, a note of caution is needed when assessing this information. Data on potency trends over 5 years or more were available only from five countries in Europe; in some of these the test sample sizes were low or unknown. Questions exist in terms of how representative the seizures are of the overall illicit market and in terms of the subsampling and selection of material from individual seizures for forensic testing. In addition, for a number of methodological reasons, both the reliability and comparability of data from different forensic laboratories were questionable. By far, the greatest number of THC analyses was carried out in Germany, with over 7000 measurements annually, but no distinction was made between imported and home-grown herbal cannabis. There has also been a rise in overall potency in North America, but in Australia and New Zealand the picture is less clear. THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH If the strength of some forms of cannabis has increased, then is this a cause for concern? The first matter to address is whether the availability of a more 'concentrated' form of a drug is in itself an issue. A parallel might be drawn here with the consumption of alcohol. Public health consequences of alcohol consumption are not a simple function of the strength of the beverage consumed, be it beer, wine or spirits. Rather, at population level, research suggests that it is the total quantity of alcohol consumed that is important rather than the concentrations in which it is sold. How far this parallel holds for cannabis is unknown, but it does raise the question of whether the availability of high potency cannabis impacts on total consumption levels of THC. It is still unknown whether those who smoke higher potency cannabis have higher blood levels of THC or whether they titrate the dose according to the subjective and relatively immediate pharmacological effects. It should be noted that even if we consider only the smoking of cannabis cigarettes/joints, all the following factors will influence an individual smoker's dose exposure: the amount used per cigarette/joint, sharing with others, the number of cigarettes/joints consumed per session, the number of sessions in any given time period, and individual smoking technique. As Hall et al. [3] note, age of onset of use and frequency of use are likely to be more influential than changes in potency in determining consumption levels. It is also important to note that, as far as we can tell, for most countries the market share of sinsemilla appears to be currently quite low. For example, in the United Kingdom it is estimated that resin comprises 70% of consumption. Of the remainder, about half comprises 'traditional' herbal cannabis and half sinsemilla. In other words, if the effective potency (the weighted average) had been 5%, then the appearance of sinsemilla can be estimated to have increased this to no more than 6%.
There is more from this academic review at the link above. This week, I'll be talking to people in Britain about all this for a feature article out Friday.
United Kingdom

Op-Ed: The federal anti-drug ad campaign yields only disappointing results

United States
The News-Sentinel (IN)

Dobbs Losing CNN Marijuana Legalization Poll Big-Time

I haven't yet watched the Lou Dobbs piece on the marijuana legalization movement, but it is has already been made available for viewing on YouTube, here. I am very interested to read comments -- hopefully posted here to the blog -- from those of you who have seen it. There is an online poll running on CNN from the Lou Dobbs Tonight home page. If it's still going when you read this blog post, please go there and vote. At latest count Dobbs was losing big-time -- 79-21%! So there. Read my takeoff on Dobbs' drug war editorial if you haven't already, in this week's Chronicle or here.
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More Lou Dobbs to Come...

So my takeoff on a Lou Dobbs drug war editorial has apparently been making the rounds on the web site, and has already gotten 2,700 reads even though it only went up yesterday. Thank you to whoever it was who got that action started. Apparently Dobbs is continuing his drug war reporting -- if you can call it "reporting" -- Monday night at 6:00pm with a look at the "deep-pocketed lobby that wants to legalize pot in this country." Of course Dobbs goes on to talk about "marijuana's backers" -- as if there is some equivalence between people who believe in drug policy reform (e.g. legalization, or freedom as it can also be called) and those who promote or might profit from the personal choices of people who might use the plant. Earth to to Lou Dobbs: it's not the same to be pro-legalization or pro-reform as it is to be pro-marijuana or pro-drug. Never having used illegal drugs and never having recommended them to anyone I feel offended by that. We will post some observations about the show on Monday, along with contact information for writing in with your opinions. Keep your typing fingers warmed up!
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