The Speakeasy Blog

Let's Not Forget Massachusetts

In our list of drug policy-related ballot issues last Friday, we neglected to mention Massachusetts. Voters in one district there will be voting on whether to instruct their representative to favor marijuana decriminalization, while voters in two other districts will be voting on whether to instruct their representatives to support medical marijuana. These local questions continue a process that began with the 2000 elections and have so far resulted in more than 420,000 Bay State residents voting to support marijuana law reform. Here is the info on the Massachusetts races: Plymouth, Massachusetts: In the 1st and 12th Plymouth Representative Districts, voters will be voting to tell their representatives to support decriminalization: “Shall the state legislator from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would make the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil violation, subject to a fine of no more than $100.00 and not subject to any criminal penalties?” Middlesex and Norfolk, Massachusetts: Voters in the 7th Norfolk Representative District and the 3rd Middlesex Senate District will be voting on whether to tell their representatives to support medical marijuana: “Shall the state legislator from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor’s written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use?”
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Manufacturer Advertises Marinol as "Legal Marijuana"

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Drug warriors such as Andrea Barthwell and David Murray have argued strenuously that cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals such as Marinol and Sativex are completely different from marijuana. They’ve bristled at Rob Kampia’s claims that Sativex is "liquid marijuana" and they’ve long used the availability of Marinol as an excuse to arrest patients who prefer cultivated marijuana instead.

Whether extracted or synthesized, THC-based medicines don’t include anything not present in the plant itself, so it’s ludicrous to argue that one can be medicinal and the other can’t. Yet they’ve done exactly that. Afterall, if this stuff is medicine, it sure as hell isn’t marijuana.

Thus I was rather surprised to come across this Google ad:

The link goes directly to the official Marinol website, sponsored by Solvay Pharmaceuticals. So while Barthwell is saying the stuff ain’t pot, Solvay is marketing their product as "legal marijuana."

Moreover, since Google ads are designed to offer products relevant to the web page on which they appear, Solvay’s ads target anyone interested in marijuana. Structured as such, this ad campaign will reach many recreational users and encourage them to become patients. I’m not saying that’s what they’re trying to do, but it's unusual to see a pharmaceutical company boasting that its product is legal.

Let’s assume Solvay is merely trying to inform the public that one needn’t break the law in order to enjoy the widely recognized medical benefits of marijuana. It’s perfectly understandable, and very smart from a marketing perspective. Afterall, if I had to choose between nausea medications, I’d pick the one that lists "exaggerated happiness" as a possible side effect.

The fun part is that by calling Marinol "legal marijuana", Solvay is basically mocking the very people who helped them get Schedule III approval in the first place. And they’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. Aggressively marketing Marinol at this time makes sense with Sativex on the horizon.

Ultimately, the drug warriors’ goal of distinguishing cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals from the plant itself could prove a lost cause. Marijuana is popular among patients and a large segment of the general population. Claiming that these pharmaceuticals are totally different from marijuana may suit hardcore drug warriors trying to save face, but it’s not smart if you’re trying to win over patients who like marijuana or prospective patients who’ve heard good things about it. You’re better off saying your product is similar but legal and more potent.

So if Solvay Pharmaceuticals refers to its medicine as marijuana, and patients refer to their marijuana as medicine, it seems everyone’s on the same page except Barthwell and Murray.

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Coming Down to the Wire in Nevada and Colorado

We're getting down to the final days of this election season, and we're waiting with bated breath for that first marijuana legalization victory in Colorado and/or Nevada. I'll be doing a feature story on these two races on Friday for the Chronicle. I have calls in to both campaigns, but for some reason, these folks appear to be pretty busy right now. Although I was hoping to have something to report today direct from SAFER Colorado and/or theCommittee to Regulate and Control Marijuana in Nevada, neither has gotten back to me yet. Both campaigns have been very active, but the folks in Colorado have really been extraordinary. They have organized event after event, often in a highly imaginative manner, they have hammered away at the alcohol vs. marijuana comparison, they have ambushed their opposition—especially at a news conference last Friday where the drug warriors were met by an unexpected 100 or so protestors. The Nevada campaign, meanwhile, continues to hammer away with media buys and an innovative "new media" strategy that is getting its message out over the Internet. Still, it appears both campaigns are facing an uphill battle. In Colorado, a Denver Post poll a few days ago had the initiative losing by a margin of 57% to 34%. SAFER Colorado protests that the poll is biased an inaccurate, but that is a rather large gap. A Denver Post poll last month was much closer, with 29% in favor, 36% against, and a whopping 35% undecided. Has the opposition really gained 20+ points in a month? I guess we'll find out on Tuesday. It looks a little tighter in Nevada, where a Reno Gazette-Journal poll last week showed the measure losing by a margin of 41% to 52%. Those numbers are up from an earlier Gazette-Journal poll that showed only 37% supported regulating marijuana. The most recent Gazette-Journal poll tracks closely with a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll reporting 42% in favor, 51% opposed. But an poll conducted in late September by independent pollsters for the initiative organizers showed it leading by a margin of 49% to 43%. Again, I guess we'll find out Tuesday. For those who cannot wait until Friday to hear more about what is going on in these two campaigns, I suggest you visit their web sites, which are fairly comprehensive and quite up to date.
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What do They Know?

Tensions over Amendment 44 in Colorado have reached a fever pitch as self-appointed marijuana experts continue to emerge with absurb predictions.


A rally at the state Capitol on Friday morning turned into a shouting match between the groups for and against a proposed amendment that would legalize small amounts of marijuana in Colorado.

Gov. Bill Owens and the state's top law enforcement officers planned a press event on the west steps of the Capitol to urge voters to turn down Amendment 44, which would legalize adult possession of one ounce of marijuana.

Supporters of pot legalization tried to shout them down.

If Governor Owens is gonna say stuff like this, I can’t say I blame them:

"In addition to human costs, legalizing marijuana is sure to have an economic impact on every Colorado citizen. These costs include increased costs for substance abuse treatment and other social programs as well as lost revenue due to decreased worker productivity.”

Once again, legalizing marijuana won’t increase treatment costs. It will reduce them dramatically. Most people in marijuana treatment are enrolled against their will following an arrest, which won’t happen anymore if Amendment 44 passes.

As for decreased worker productivity, show me some data and we’ll talk. If the government had the guts to actually study this, they’d find that marijuana users who haven’t been hung out to dry by the criminal justice system are just as productive and successful as non-users; probably far more so than heavy drinkers. The data would then be buried and brought up only by us.

Next they gave the microphone to Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener:

Wegener, who is the president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said, "We are also concerned that legalizing marijuana will cause a spike in impaired driving fatalities and injuries caused by more motorists driving impaired on marijuana. The reality also exists that it is more difficult for law enforcement to detect impairment caused by marijuana and other drugs as compared to alcohol."

Clearly something’s got to be done about these mischievous stoners who are too sober to fail a sobriety test.

This is getting ridiculous. Is it so crazy that we want to try something different? We’re asking to step back from a policy that’s done nothing but piss people off for 70 years and these guys start giving prophesies of a great plague. What do they know?

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Have You Warned Your Kids About Schwag?

Next time you get "amped out" on "sextasy" and wind up in a "k-hole" don't tell your mom. has published a new drug-slang quiz for parents that totally lets the "cat" out of the "bag".

If you're a parent, you might want to brush up on your drug slang to stay alert to possible drug use by your children, suggest addiction experts at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.

Slang terms for drugs constantly change and evolve, the researchers said. For example, while marijuana is still called weed or pot by some, it's also referred to by newer terms such as chronic or schwagg.

Are they serious? Dr. Dre’s marijuana-themed album "The Chronic" came out in 1992. And "schwag" of course is a derogatory term for really bad marijuana that’s been in use forever as far as I know.

More highlights:

2. The painkiller Oxycontin is also called: a) oxies; b) cotton.

They say only (b) is a correct answer. So if your child asks to borrow money so he can get some "oxies" go ahead and help out.

6. Combining the prescription drug Viagra with Ecstasy is called: a) 24-7 heaven; b) sextasy.

Answer: (b) Parents who’ve let their daughter go to "sextacy" parties will be shocked to learn the truth. But no, I don’t think we have to worry about Congress banning Viagra anytime soon.

8. Working Man's Cocaine is: a) crack cocaine; b) methamphetamine.

Answer: (b). Meth users have jobs? I heard all they did was rob gas stations and pluck out their eyebrows.

10. "Juice" is the slang term for: a) steroids; b) PCP.

Answer: both. So if you overhear your kid using the word "juice" they're either on steroids or PCP. The hard part is figuring out which.

This is the sort of useless information one can expect from "addiction experts" who regularly turn out to know less about drugs than everybody else.

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The Cartels Are Coming, the Cartels Are Coming! (Or A New Meme Emerges)

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No, not the Colombian cartels and not the Mexican cartels. Last week, law enforcement officials in two different federal drug cases on different ends of the country used the word "cartel" to describe local drug trafficking organizations. I'm not aware of previous usages of the word to describe such domestic groups, and I have to wonder if we're not seeing the orchestrated emergence of new meme from the drug warriors. In the context of the drug war, "cartel" certainly is a scary word, calling up images of Colombian "narcoguerrillas" (another term of propaganda) and Mexican mobsters, not to mention the subliminal image of swarthy Arabs stinking of petroleum. It is also an incorrect word. If you look up "cartel" in the dictionary, you get a definition along the lines of "a combination of independent business organizations formed to regulate production, pricing, and marketing of goods by the members." That is an apt description of OPEC, the organization of oil-exporting countries, whose members meet to set production quotas in an open bid to keep prices where they want them. It may also be an apt description of the big oil companies, although they would naturally swear there is no collusion among them. In American history, we have had experience with "cartels," but we called them "trusts" and we went after them as "trust-busters" back in the days when our government wasn't owned by corporate interests. But calling the Mexican drug trafficking organizations "cartels" is simply wrong. The "Gulf Cartel" does not cooperate with the "Juarez Cartel;" instead, the competing organizations are locked in a bloody war for domination of the illicit drug trade. Similarly, the "Medillin Cartel" and the "Cali Cartel," former Colombian drug trafficking organizations did not seek to limit cocaine production, nor did they act in collusion with other producers and traffickers except within their own organizations. If it is arguably incorrect to refer to major Latin American trafficking organizations as "cartels," it is just silly to use the term to refer to relatively small-time, local drug trafficking organizations. But that's what officials did in Colorado and Pennsylvania last week. In Denver, DEA special agent in charge Jeffrey Sweetin gets the credit for using the term to describe a methamphetamine trafficking ring bringing speed to the Front Range. All Headline News ran a story on the bust titled "Feds Bust Major Colorado Cartel" with this lead sentence: "A 13-month-long investigation has dismantled what Jeffrey D. Sweetin, special agent in with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) Rocky Mountain division says, is a major drug cartel, headquartered in Greeley." This "cartel" consisted of 21 people, 12 of whom the story noted were "illegal." But despite the rhetorical effort, the story explains that the group was trying to corner the market, not collude with its competitors. The Pennsylvania "cartel" is even less compelling. A federal grand jury there indicted eight people—mostly members of one family—for trafficking crack and heroin into Johnstown. One media outlet, WJAC-TV, led its report thusly: "Eight members of a drug cartel called the 'Philly Mob' have been indicted by a federal grand jury on drug charges.'. The culprit in this case appears to be former Johnstown District Attorney David Tulowitz, who was quoted in a Johnstown Tribune-Democrat story as saying the Philly Mob was "the most violent group operating in the city since the Jamaican cartel was broken up in the early 1990s." When I first saw this pair of stories with "cartel" pop up, I suspected a Justice Department cabal might be behind it, but I have yet to see any evidence of that. Federal prosecutors' press releases didn’t use the word. Still, it seems odd that widely-separated law enforcement officials would misuse the term in the same deliberate fashion within a few days of each other. Let's keep an eye out for further abuses of the English language when it comes to describing drug trafficking organizations. The scarier the better, eh?
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You Can’t Spell ‘Potential’ Without Pot

They said marijuana causes cancer, but now we’ve learned that THC may prevent it.

They said marijuana makes you forgetful, but it turns out that it might prevent Alzheimer’s too.

They said marijuana makes you sterile, but today I learned that it can increase fertility.

From Medical News Today:

This study involved eight volunteers - they were all heavy [tobacco] smokers. Four of them had normal sperm function, while the other four had reduced sperm function. Some of their sperm was washed in a regular medium and some was washed in a low-concentration cannabinoid solution.

They found that the sperm of the smokers who had reduced sperm function improved significantly after being washed in the low-concentration cannabinoid solution, while the sperm of the smokers with normal function did not.

Every time they study it, marijuana accomplishes something new and amazing. That’s probably where they got the idea to wash sperm with it. Right now I bet scientists are putting cannabinoid solution on all sorts of things to see what happens.

But the question remains: if you wash your sperm in cannabinoids will your baby be born a hippy?

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Survivor of the Arkansas bi-partisan corruption cesspool running for governor

Sam Smith's Progressive Review summarizes the beguiling story of Barry Seal, a major cocaine smuggler who operated undisturbed in Mena, Arkansas while Asa Hutchinson was the Republican United States Attorney and Bill "Vacuum Cleaner Nose" Clinton was Governor. Today Asa Hutchinson is running for Governor of Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe (D) is ahead by 13 points 51 - 38, in a poll conducted by the University of Arkansas published today. Hutchinson is running on his record as a Member of Congress -- helping to impeach Bill Clinton, Administrator of the DEA, and Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security of the Department of Homeland Security. The New York Times had a great story about how once Hutchinson went to Homeland Security, his brother, a former U.S. Senator was now looking for contracts from DHS for his law firm's clients. Look hard for much substance in that record. Hutchinson never seemed to understand the mission of DEA. He wrote a major defense of the drug war for the Washington Post arguing that the proof of DEA's success was that the number of drug users has gone down. Naturally he had to draw a comparison to 1979, for drug use had grown dramatically since George Bush the first was president -- from about 12 million to 16 million users -- now the total is almost 20 million current users. Stop the Drug War readers will enjoy Sam Smith's review of the numerous botched investigational steps by Hutchinson when one of the biggest cocaine smugglers in the nation's history was operating under his nose.
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13,000 Joints

That's what a South Dakota sheriff just told me you could get from one marijuana plant. Hmmm, if a joint is somewhere between one-half gram and one gram, that comes to somewhere between 6,500 and 13,000 grams, or 15 to 30 pounds. I would like to meet the grower who can produce such copious quantities. The indoor growers I know estimate they can get maybe one gram of usable marijuana per watt of light in a growing cycle. That means a person growing plants under a 1000 watt light will produce perhaps two pounds of smokable bud, but that typically comes from numerous plants under the light--and if the grower knows what he's doing and everything goes just right. I'm not sure where they're getting a 15 or 30 pounds from one plant. Maybe the sheriff know of some monster mutant strain indigenous to the Dakotas, but somehow I doubt it You can read more about this tomorrow in the story I'm preparing on the South Dakota medical marijuana initiative.
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Bush: Stay the Course in Colombia

President Bush never tires of spending our tax dollars losing not winning various wars. Now he wants to give Colombia another $600 million International Herald Tribune reports.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns calls it a strategy adjustment:

"In any counterterrorism or counter-narcotics campaign you sometimes have to adjust strategy to be effective as conditions change," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Bogota, announcing the White House was seeking to maintain current levels of support for its caretaker in the war on drugs through 2008. "We'll be open to any suggestions the Colombian government makes."

I think what he meant to say was that we refuse to adjust our strategy and we’re not open to suggestions. And what does he mean "as conditions change"? Nothing's changed since Plan Colombia began eight years ago . That’s the problem.

Meanwhile the police we trained with the last $600 million are getting killed systematically. Sound familiar?

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More Bad News: Shaq is a Cop

Radley Balko reports that Shaq has been going on SWAT missions. They let him carry a gun, and he’s already had his first wrong address raid and his first misconduct complaint.

Shaq was cleared of any wrong-doing after being accused of excessive force by a drug suspect. Bear in mind of course that getting cleared of misconduct following a SWAT raid is incredibly easy. So one lucky suspect may very well have gotten his ass kicked by Shaq. That’s awesome, but it could also be a sign of terrible things to come.

The madness of it all left Radley Balko "speechless". Had it not, he would likely point out that this is yet another unintended admission by police that they actually feel quite safe during these raids. After all, if executing a warrant is so dangerous, why would you bring along a man whose body is worth millions? Seriously. He’s easier to shoot than just about anybody.

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Third-Party Candidacies vs. Voting for the Lesser Evil

Last week's < a href="" target=_blank_>feature article on the Zeese and Thornton campaigns (Zeese is running for US Senate in a tight race in Maryland and Thornton is running for governor of Connecticut—links in the article) included a discussion between Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on the possible benefits and liabilities of third-party campaigns. That discussion provoked a lengthier (and continuing) exchange on a nomination-only list for leading drug policy reformers, and I think it should be a topic of serious discussion here among the unwashed masses as well. Both Thornton, running as a Green, and Zeese, running a "unity" campaign as the Green-Libertarian-Populist nominee, have clearly rejected the clarion call of the two-party system. From a pragmatic perspective, the fundamental question is whether working outside the two major parties will bring success on drug policy reform faster than attempting to bring either of the two major parties (most likely the Democrats, given the Republicans' social conservative base and penchant for the "war on" metaphor) around to a palatable position on the issue. For some reformers, defeating the Republicans is everything. What if Zeese pulls enough votes from the Democrat to throw the Maryland senate race to the Republicans and—nightmare scenario—the Republicans keep the Senate by one seat? There will be much howling and gnashing of teeth among Democratic loyalists, just as there was after the 2000 presidential elections, when much of the party faithful blamed Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the White House. Zeese and Thornton and their supporters will undoubtedly—and fairly—respond that they are not beholden to the Democratic Party and are as entitled to seek peoples' votes as either the donkeys or the elephants. Besides, again echoing the post-2000 discussion, they will say, there's not that much difference between the two major parties. I guess that's a matter of perspective. If you look at the broad contours of drug policy, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus on the status quo. From that viewpoint, Democrats are no better than Republicans on drug policy. A particularly progressive congressional Democrat might work toward a kinder, gentler drug war, perhaps sponsoring a bill that reduces the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, for instance, but none are saying we need to do away with the peculiar institution of drug prohibition in its entirety. But coming in for a closer look, there are significant differences between the two parties when it comes to nibbling away at the edges of the drug war. The congressional votes on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, and the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision both show Democrats much more likely to favor such reform at the margins. Is that difference enough to make independent or third-party campaigns that may weaken the Democrats a mistake? I'm not going to try to answer that question right now. Instead, I invite our readers to weigh in, and I hope that will include some of the people who have been discussing this already. Is Zeese a menace or a messiah? Is Thornton dashing after windmills or leading the way to a new politics? You tell us. (This blog post was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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Canada Grows Medical Marijuana for Its Citizens

In case anyone forgot. CBC News now reports that demand for government marijuana is increasing. Since this particular marijuana isn’t supposed to be very good, my guess is that Canadian patients simply prefer the convenience of not having to buy their medicine from criminals on the street.

So Canada spends tax dollars to provide medical marijuana to sick people, while here in America, we spend tax dollars trying to prevent sick people from getting medical marijuana.

If that doesn’t boggle your mind, consider that Canada provides marijuana even though Sativex is already available up there. Meanwhile our drug warriors want sick people here to wait indefinitely while the FDA figures out how to approve Sativex without admitting that marijuana plants are literally soaked in medicine.

And while Canadian patients are choosing between spliffs and sublingual sprays, Americans patients are choosing between suffering and breaking the law.

Even drug-fearing Americans generally agree that this doesn’t make much sense. But if our drug warriors are correct that marijuana can’t heal the sick without hurting kids, then we’ll be thanking them next year when all Canadian children become crack-addicted sex-workers.

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Is Willie Nelson mature enough to smoke marijuana?

(Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, joins us as a regular blogger in the Speakeasy.) “It's a good thing I had a bag of marijuana instead of a bag of spinach or I'd be dead by now,” Willie Nelson said recently. I almost fell out of my rocking chair, laughing. No sooner did the government report that the fastest growing population of drug users are aged 50 to 59 years, but 73-year old Willie Nelson was criminally charged with possessing marijuana, as well as four other men, aged 50 to 75 years old. Those are pretty mature ages. In January 2004 and again August 2005, Art Garfunkel, now 63 years old, was charged with marijuana possession in New York. Good grief. Look, we all agree that we have to keep drugs away from kids. That’s why drugs are illegal, of course, to keep kids from getting their hands on drugs. Seriously. Kids are just too immature to let have drugs, we all agree on that. But as I got my rocking rhythm back again, I wondered, “Can you ever be mature enough to use marijuana?” What kinds of things have minimum maturity requirements? A teenager can enlist in the United States military at age 17, with a parent’s consent (10 U.S.C. sec. 510). The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution recognizes that you have sufficient maturity to vote for federal offices at age 18 (ratified in 1971). We know that Congress has told the states to make it a law that a person has to be at least 21 years old to purchase alcohol. And in family values loving America – where building strong families is one of our highest values, and being responsible for the care and nurture of little children – you can get married in most states if you are 16 years old if you have your parents consent. In freedom loving Mississippi, a girl can be 15 years old and get married without her parents consent. A girl age 12 can get married in Kansas or Massachusetts with parental consent. It seems that as a society, we recognize a high degree of maturity by the time you turn 21. But we recognize circumstances that require super-maturity – which highly risky circumstances apply. Our “Founding Fathers,” the framers of the Constitution, gave some thought to the maturity they believed was necessary in those to whom we would entrust the governing of America. What might require the highest degree of maturity? Deciding to declare war – that’s pretty darn dangerous. Or serving as Commander in Chief. A person cannot serve in the House of Representatives until he or she is 25 years old, and must be at least 30 years old to serve in the U.S. Senate (Article I of the Constitution, sections 2 and 3). So to vote to declare war (Article I, section 8, clause 11), you must be at least 25 years old. To be President of the United States (which includes being Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy and Militia), with all the power that risks everyone’s health and safety, you must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen, and have resided in the U.S. for 14 years (Article II, section 1, clause 5). Those are the only qualifications in the Constitution. Think about it. The framers of the Constitution recognized that once you have turned 35, you can be entrusted with the most serious and responsible job in the nation. You are mature enough! So now let’s think of folks fifteen years older than that. They aren’t impressionable youth. They know what mortality is. Many of them have raised families. They have seen and struggled with the immaturity of their children. Most of them have close friends and family who have died recently. They now attend funerals about as frequently as weddings. Heck, many of them now regularly read the obituary pages. Certainly most people who are 50 years old can be considered mature enough to smoke marijuana and do it responsibly. We can still punish the handful of oddballs who drive while impaired or use marijuana it in the surgical suite or airplane cockpit. Of course many prohibitionists will argue that if we legalize marijuana for 50 year olds youngsters – probably in their 40's – will get it illegally. Well that would be pretty serious, wouldn’t it? But surely, would any one over 50 in their right mind would share pot with immature “kids” under 35? No way. For gosh sakes, isn’t 73-year old Willie Nelson mature enough to smoke pot and to not have to worry about the police? When do you finally get to be recognized as a grown up in America?
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People are Getting Beheaded in Mexico

It’s horrible. But there’s nothing very surprising about it. The drug war promises endless violence and always delivers. Pablo Escobar killed three presidential candidates in the same election and blew up an entire passenger plane to kill two snitches.

This year beheadings are popular. I wonder what people would say if things like this were happening on American soil:

In the most horrendous instance, drug lord gangs busted into a nightclub, toting rifles, and rolled five heads across the dance floor, terrifying onlookers.

People were surprised, but I’m sure everyone knew what it was all about. This kind of thing has been commonplace ever since the drug war began.

Various anti-immigration bloggers are now citing these incidents as evidence that our borders must be secured, for fear that Mexicans will come to America and start cutting peoples’ heads off.

It’s a bit silly, because the worst drug traffickers have no reason to leave Mexico. They’ve got the run of the place. The people crossing the border are poor folks who come here for economic opportunities, less-overt corruption, and white picket fences that don’t have severed heads impaled on them.

If you’re concerned about immigration, note that our drug war incentivizes traffickers to dig tunnels and cut holes in the fence.

If you don’t want your tax-dollars spent educating foreigners, note that you’re footing the bill to train counter-narcotics police in Colombia that just get massacred ten at a time.

And if you’re troubled by all the beheadings near our border, note that our current policy ensures their continuation for the remainder of human history.

Stopping the drug war is our only chance to defund drug terrorists and bring a close to this global catastrophe.

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The Deputy Drug Czar Comes to South Dakota

Scott Burns, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota's largest city, on Friday. The only apparent reason for his presence was to try to defeat the medical marijuana initiative on the November 7 ballot. Burns showed up for a press conference with state and local law enforcement officials opposing the initiative.
"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Burns. "Do not fall for the con." "The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, who opposes the measure. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."
Burns went on to argue that marijuana was not a medicine, that legalizing medical marijuana would lead to an increase in teen drug use, and that it's just not a good idea, darn it! The press conference got play in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and on the main Sioux Falls TV station, KELOland, but both media outlets made sure to include opposing voices. There hasn't been a lot of other coverage of the initiative, a mere handful of stories. The Argus-Leader editiorialized briefly and feebly—sorry, the link seems to have vanished—against the initiative, with its four-sentence editorial complaining that marijuana didn't come in pill form and that passing the initiative would pose problems for police. Both reasons given are lame. Yes, raw marijuana is plant material. It is not processed, standardized, subject to FDA scrutiny (for what that's worth). But that certainly does not stop patients from rapidly learning to titrate their dosage and to figure out which strains work for them. The law enforcement excuse is even sillier. The South Dakota initiative provides for a state registry of patients and caregivers. If a county sheriff believes he may have evidence of a marijuana grow, the only thing he would have to do is pick up the phone and call the Health Department. If the person is not on the registry, let the evidence be gathered and the search warrant be issued. Two weeks until election day. Will South Dakota voters be as compassionate as those in other states? We will soon see.
Sioux Falls, SD
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If Use Doesn't Rise, We Must Legalize

Talkleft reports that the UK is experiencing a drop in marijuana use after reducing penalties for possession.

From The Observer:

The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.

It’s tempting to argue that reduced penalties have led to reduced consumption, but I wouldn’t go that far. The truth, as experts such as Peter Cohen have been saying for quite some time, is that drug policy just doesn’t have much effect on usage rates.

My guess is that a reduction in marijuana use in England would have happened with or without the change in policy. Of course, that being the case, it makes a lot more sense not to arrest people.

The real lesson here is that easing up on marijuana users doesn’t cause a spike in usage. It just doesn’t. This simple and increasingly obvious fact simultaneously refutes every argument against legalization.

So it’s no wonder our drug warriors are vigorously opposing any attempt to experiment with reduced marijuana penalties. If they actually believed that legalization in Colorado or Nevada would be a disaster, their best move would be to step aside and let us learn our lesson.

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Maybe They Just Like the Way it Smells

People are getting wasted on cocaine again. Science Blog reports on data from the University of Florida that may suggest a coming epidemic:

Like some drug déjà vu, cocaine use is once again on the rise among students and the rich and famous, a trend University of Florida researchers say likely signals a recurring epidemic of abuse.

"Our data is closest to real time to any data available in the United States," [Dr. Mark] Gold said. "With death reports, there is no fudge factor. The other states will show the same thing: That we are in the early stages of a new cocaine epidemic that is being led by the rich and famous and students with large amounts of disposable income and that is responsible for more emergency room visits and more cocaine-related deaths than we have seen at any time since the last cocaine epidemic."

Oh man, that sounds bad. But Congress will probably think of something. Maybe we’re not being tough enough on cocaine dealers.

And we should warn kids about the dangers of marijuana, which could be causing the cocaine abuse.

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Ok, Now I'm Pissed

This is outrageous:

The Chicago Crime Commission will hold its Stars of Distinction, 2006 Awards Dinner to recognize outstanding individual and organizational contributions in fighting crime. DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy will accept the Education Award along with Museum for Science and Industry partners responsible for bringing “Target America: Opening Eyes to the Danger Drugs Cause” to Chicago.

The Chicago Crime Commission, whose motto is "combating crime since 1919" ought to know a thing or two about prohibition. It’s Chicago for crying out loud. That they would give an award to the head of the DEA for putting together an exhibit blaming drug users for 9/11 demonstrates a dramatic misunderstanding of every issue the commission works on.

What kind of non-profit gives awards to Washington bureaucrats for excellence in the field of smarmy government propaganda?

The whole thing reeks of string pulling. I’m convinced that this epic travesty is a convenient PR move in response to Pete Guither’s terrific campaign against the exhibit.

So I wasn't surprised to discover that Peter Bensinger, former head of DEA, is on the Chicago Crime Commission’s board of directors.

Coincidence? Hell no.

Afterthought: It’s super annoying that this ridiculous exhibit is now an award-winning ridiculous exhibit. But the Bensinger connection proves this is political, which in turn proves that Pete Guither’s efforts genuinely rattled these guys. Nice job, Pete!

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No Winners in Chicago Open Air Drug Market Bust

An article by Michelle Keller in the Chicago Tribune today very factually reported on a police raid and shutdown of an open-air drug market. Fourteen suspects described as gang members were charged with conspiracy and delivery of a controlled substance, according to the article. Things got a little dicey just before the arrests were finally made:
One undercover officer was held at gunpoint while attempting to buy $500 worth of cocaine during the operation, dubbed "Heat Wave" for the high temperatures recorded when the operation was started in July. "I was very scared," said the officer, who had previously arranged to buy 10 "jabs" of crack cocaine. The dealers knew he would have several hundred dollars on him, said the officer.
Police then stepped in to make the arrests. The market -- reportedly operated by a gang known as "The Conservative Vice Lords" -- operated near a pre-K-8 school, Keller reported. Sgt. Carlos Mostek told her, "Had any gunfire erupted, the children who were attending school would have been in harm's way." That's a valid concern. I hope the bust was not done during school hours or anywhere near school hours, because gunfire could certainly have broken out as part of that. I also hope the undercover officer attempted his buy during non-school hours -- his activity also nearly prompted gunfire. This is a losing situation from beginning to end. Because of prohibition we have this open air markets, staffed by gang members who are willing to shoot at each other -- risking the lives of bystanders in the process -- in order to protect their turf or to capture turf from others and thereby increase their market share. A police raid, while shutting the market down, in the process increased the overall danger in the vicinity, at least for as long as the sting and bust were in process. Will the corner calm down? Perhaps, but the activity may restart even there, and if not it will certainly move to somewhere else. Sometimes these busts lead to more internecine violence as rival operators fight each other for the opportunity to be the new guys on the block. Sometimes the instability even draws in new drugs to the neighborhood that weren't common there before. Legalization, not raids and arrests, is what will clean the mess of the illegal drug trade off the streets. Click here to send a letter to the editor. Note: According to, the Conservative Vice Lords started as a gang but transformed themselves into a community empowerment organization. I don't know enough about this topic to offer an evaluation; I just got the name of the reported gang from the article. If anyone is able to clarify this issue, please post your knowledge here for us. Thanks in advance.
Chicago, IL
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Another Reason to Get High With Grandma

Posted in:
The New York Times reports that the value of traditional Alzheimer’s medications has been dramatically overstated:

More and more often, it seems, drugs that were widely thought to be effective against serious illnesses turn out to show little or no value when tested in large, impartial clinical trials insulated from drug company influence.

These discouraging results speak mostly to the desperate need for effective new treatments for Alzheimer’s.
Desperate need for effective new treatment, huh? Look no further. In fact, marijuana may eliminate the need for Alzheimer’s treatments altogether, since it seems to actually prevent the onset of the disease.

I have enough experience with Alzheimer’s to know that families confronted with it will usually try anything. It’s ironic to think that the family values fanatics who arbitrarily oppose medical marijuana may soon find themselves shoving a bong in grandma’s mouth.

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Doing "Ant Work" on the Drug War With Mainstream Press Reporters

When I read the autobiography of 20th Century Salvadoran revolutionary leader Miguel Marmol some years ago, one phrase from the book stuck with me. When Marmol talked about the tedious, day-to-day organizing over the long-term to build a revolutionary movement, he called it "trabajo de hormigas," or "ant work." I thought the term was especially apt and evocative, suggesting the unglamorous, but necessary, laying the groundwork for change. I couldn’t help but think of the phrase again over the weekend as I read a story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mike Lee about marijuana growing in the national forests in California. "Forest Pot Farms A Menace to the Land," was the title of the story, and it is the latest published version of a now familiar trope: Those darned marijuana growers are wrecking our national forests with their weed crops.
“The whole process of these marijuana plantations brutalizes the landscape,” said David Graber, Pacific West regional science chief for the National Park Service. The outdoor growing season for marijuana is coming to a close for the year, but some scars left by clandestine pot farms will take months to heal. Anti-drug agencies must deal with tons of trash, human waste, erosion and other forms of soil disturbance, loss of vegetation and chemical pollution that kills marine life. The illegal plots also increase poaching of wildlife, raise the threat of wildfires started accidentally at campsites and put outdoor enthusiasts in harm's way. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service recently warned deer hunters to avoid two areas in Mendocino and Glenn counties until authorities could evict the marijuana growers. Marijuana production on public lands in the United States has risen as the nation moves to further secure its borders and slow the movement of marijuana from Mexico. Mexican organized crime is behind the surge in such illegal plantings, according to law enforcement agencies. Growers favor public property partly because if their plants are discovered, they can flee without leaving behind traceable evidence. But there are other reasons for the popularity of forests and parks. “The nation's public lands have become a haven for this illegal activity due to the relatively few law enforcement personnel and the vast and often remote tracks of sparsely or uninhabited lands,” said the U.S. Forest Service's 2005 marijuana report.
Lee talked to only National Forest and law enforcement sources, and even included a quote from drug czar John Walters, but failed to note the fundamental fact that is driving marijuana growers into the national forests: Marijuana prohibition. So I wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr. Lee: Interesting report on the damage done by illegal pot farming, although I’ve seen numerous variations of it before. But like most similar reports, your story begs a rather large question: Why are people growing pot in the forests in the first place? You alluded to increased border enforcement and a law enforcement learning curve, but again, that’s begging the question. Could it be because marijuana is ILLEGAL? Asking that questions sort of shifts one’s whole perspective: From the point of view of people who do not support marijuana prohibition—like me and nearly half of Californians, according to national polls—the environmental damage you describe is yet another unfortunate, unintended consequence of marijuana prohibition. When you write this story next year, I would respectfully suggest you include that perspective. I would be happy to provide you with contact information for California-based marijuana reform activists who are very informed and articulate on this issue. Thanks for your time. Phillip Smith Drug War Chronicle
To which Lee replied:
Phil... thanks for your comments... i'd suggest you consider writing a letter to the editor. Regards, mlee
Now, did I sway Mr. Lee? He gave no direct indication of that in his brief reply, but at least I was able to put the whole marijuana prohibition issue before him. He has been informed that at least one reader thinks he is missing part of the story. I guess we'll have to wait until next year, when he writes next year's version of this annual story. But in the meantime, the ants are working.
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Countdown to the November elections

Election day is now three weeks away, and the Chronicle will be focusing on drug policy-related races across the country between now and then. With most people's attention focused on whether the Democrats will regain control of the House and/or Senate, the drug policy-related races and ballot questions are not getting much attention, except at the local and state level, but there are some important drug policy-related questions being decided on election day. Expect to see a lot of articles focused on the elections between now and November 7, and, of course, the Friday following the election. Here is a list of the races and ballot questions we'll be reporting on: Marijuana legalization initiatives—Colorado and Nevada Medical marijuana initiative—South Dakota "Lowest law enforcement priority" initiatives—Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Missoula, MT; Eureka Springs, AR Alabama governor's race—Drug reformer Loretta Nall is in a write-in campaign Connecticut governor's race—Drug reformer Cliff Thornton is running as a Green Maryland senate race—Drug reformer Kevin Zeese is running as a Green/Libertarian unity candidate Are there any I have failed to list? Please let me know.
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"We'll need grinders and large bongs"


Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of marijuana plants 10 feet tall.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defense staff, said Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover.

Awesome! But it gets better:

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those [forests] did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hillier said dryly.

This sounds like a job for my college buddies. If the problem persists, I’d be willing to assemble a tactical unit with experience disposing of surplus cannabis.

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More Silliness from the Drug Czar

When the paranoid family values fanatics at Focus on the Family write news stories based on quotes from John Walters, you know what you’re gonna get:

Colorado ’s initiative would allow adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. That might not seem like much, but, in reality it makes between 30 and 60 joints.

Whatever. An ounce is the same amount regardless of how many joints you intend to roll, and it’s not that much. If you’re rolling 60 joints out of an ounce, try smoking two or three of them. But watch out; large joints are two to three times more dangerous than small ones.

US Drug Czar John Walters says legalization will inundate our drug treatment centers.

No, it won’t. Most marijuana users who enter treatment programs are forced to do so by the criminal justice system. Ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests will dramatically reduce the number of people entering treatment for marijuana. And to the extent that fear of arrest is a primary motivation for some who decide to quit, legalization could reduce voluntary admissions as well.

On the other hand, as my colleague Tom Angell pointed out in conversation, legalized marijuana will carry less stigma and could lead to more voluntary admissions from people who are finally comfortable admitting they’re having problems. If Tom is correct, we’ll end up with more people in treatment for marijuana who want and need it, and less people forced into treatment based on arbitrary criteria such as an arrest. Sounds good to me.

It’s an interesting discussion, but one that John Walters can’t participate in because he’s busy misinterpreting various data:

“We have more teens in treatment nationwide for marijuana dependency and abuse as teens than for all other illegal drugs combined. We have more teens seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcoholism.”

This one’s actually true, but it’s his fault. Thanks to prohibition, marijuana sellers don’t have to check ID, making it the easiest drug to get if you’re underage.

I just keep telling myself that this crap can’t go on forever. Whether we win in Nevada or Colorado next month, or somewhere else down the road, the war on marijuana is an ugly swelling pimple that’s almost ready to pop. Get it over with already. You know you want to.

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