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Is Bill O'Reilly Helping Us Legalize Drugs?

A couple readers objected to my suggestion last week that Bill O'Reilly's anti-drug scare tactics are actually helping our cause more than they hurt it. Here's what they said:

"I'm very displeased with most of these TV interviews. Between Mr. O'Reilly's constant use of voodoo pharmacology and emotional appeals, Mr. Nadelmann never really got a chance to articulate the finer points of legalization. Until we get longer fairer interviews, I'm not convinced that these TV spots do any good."

"I have to disagree with Scott's post. Dogmatic idiots like O'Reilly and his 'chronic' (pun intended) listeners can't be schooled. Not by reasoned argument, anyway. That's the big problem re. all the societal problems we face: there's so many dogmatic idiots, and way too many of them, like O'Reilly, have public megaphones via corporate sponsored mass media. Imo, it's better to just accept that quite a few people are unreachable, and instead, try to reach those who still have a modicum of intelligent open-mindedness."

I understand how one could conclude that our efforts are undermined when a prominent voice like O'Reilly speaks out against us before a massive television audience, nor would I argue that there's no such thing as bad publicity for the cause of drug policy reform. But Bill O'Reilly's brand of dubious DEA-derived data and authoritarian posturing is unlikely to come as a major revelation to anyone in his audience. His tactics are nothing more than classic prohibitionist nonsense; the same stuff that's failed quite consistently to turn back our momentum.

Over and over again, O'Reilly's attacks have come from a defensive stance, as he reacts to our efforts by condemning the latest drug reform book or campaign. In the process, he inadvertently presents and legitimizes our argument before an audience that we'd otherwise struggle to reach. He props up reform leaders with primetime television exposure and further establishes the now-undeniable rise of drug policy reform into the realm of mainstream political debate. In the meantime, support for drug policy reform among conservatives surges like never before and national support for marijuana legalization has never been higher than it is today.

So if I had a choice between O'Reilly attacking us every day of the week, or ignoring us entirely, I'd choose the former without hesitation. If you don't think it's possible to advance a political agenda by quarreling with Bill O'Reilly, consider the fact that Al Franken is now a U.S. Senator.

O'Reilly Attacks Sting Over Legalization Comments

This new DPA video featuring Sting was more than enough to drive Bill O'Reilly over the edge yet again:


As usual, every single "fact" presented here by O'Reilly is completely made up, as demonstrated in this fact-check from Jacob Sullum. But if Bill O'Reilly wants to spend his time on TV lying and complaining about drug policy reform in front of millions of people, I'm totally ok with it. Every stupid word he says about the drug war serves only to further legitimize the debate. People like O'Reilly are the reason we're winning, so the last thing we want from them is silence.

This Week's Dumbest Drug War Quote

Kurt Schlichter at Big Hollywood is overcome with fury at this DPA video, featuring Sting. His entire pro-drug-war rant is an impressive exhibit in mindless prohibitionist arrogance, but if anything stands out, it's this:

Of course, there’s also the perennial "America imprisons more people than anywhere else in the world!" meme.  In fact, the only drug incarceration problem in America is that too few drug dealers are incarcerated.

Listen dude, I don't think you understand how this works. Putting drug dealers in prison doesn't change the number of drug dealers on the street. It never has, and never will. If you want to put more of them in jail out of spite, that's one thing, but I hope you don't seriously still believe we can arrest our way out the drug problem. Even the drug czar is beginning to doubt that.

It's one thing to daydream in smug self-righteousness of that magical day when every single drug offender is locked away forever. But even the idiots who say these sorts of things would be miserable if it actually happened. Why? Because the cost of doing that comes out of all our pockets, including Kurt Schlichter's. Unless you'd like to spend half your earnings every year keeping some guy in a cage and paying for all his food and clothing, then do us a favor and keep your mass incarceration fantasies to yourself.

Pete Guither and Tony Newman have more.

Medical Treatment or Conspiracy? The Physician's Dilemma in Treating

Medical Treatment or Conspiracy? The Physician's Dilemma in Treating Celebrities Description From 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 42 West 44th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves.). This symposium will cover the criminal and civil liability and ethical dilemmas facing doctors when treating the affluent, influential or famous patient. With a case loosely based upon recent celebrity deaths due to overdose, a panel of medical & legal experts will engage in a town hall type discussion about how and why doctors find themselves in trouble with the law, and what their best defense might be. Moderator: MARGARET MAYO, Gaffin & Mayo, P.C. Speakers: ANNE PRUNTY, Assistant District Attorney, New York County; ROY NEMERSON, Deputy Counsel, New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct; MICHAEL KELTON, Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Greenberg, Formato & Einiger, LLP; ALFREDO MENDEZ, Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Greenberg, Formato & Einiger, LLP; WILLIAM HUNTER, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Woodhull Medical Center of New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation; Russell K. Portenoy, M.D., Chairman, Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York; Kenneth Prager, M.D., Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, Director, Clinical Ethics, Chairman, Medical Ethics Committee, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center Sponsored by: Committee on Drugs & the Law, Susan J. Guercio, Chair; Committee on Bioethical Issues, Beverly J. Jones, Chair Please register online here: https://www.nycbar.org/EventsCalendar/register/?event=1398&price=1081
Date: 
Wed, 05/26/2010 - 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Location: 
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY
United States

Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part II

Last Saturday saw the second phase of the Global Marijuana March. While the May Day marijuana marches two weeks ago appeared to be concentrated in North America, last Saturday it was the turn of the Europeans and Latin Americans to take center stage.

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Buenos Aires (Mike Bifari in front row, wearing green)
Known variously as the Global Marijuana March, the Million Marijuana March, the World Marijuana March, or, more informally, International Weed Day, the actions in cities around the globe are designed to advance the cause of marijuana legalization and celebrate the global cannabis culture.

From nerve centers at Cures Not Wars in New York City, Cannabis Culture magazine in Vancouver, and the European NGO Coalition for Safe and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) in Brussels, activists in more than 320 cities across the planet took the local initiative in the own communities. In some places, particularly Canada and New Zealand on May 1 and Rome and Latin America last Saturday, marchers came out in the thousands, while in others, including small communities and college campuses across the US, the number was in the dozens or possibly the hundreds.

During the first phase of the Global Marijuana March, the largest turnout was in Toronto, where an estimated 20,000 people rallied for legalization and to free "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. (See related story here.) That turnout was exceeded this week in Rome, where an estimated 30,000 people marched and, quite possibly, in Mexico City, where no crowd estimates were made, but where video of the march shows a multitude of marchers filling the street for block after block. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, was the scene of another large turnout, with organizers there estimating the crowd at 8,000.

The march in Rome, while the largest world-wide this year, was smaller than usual, said Alberto Sciolari of the group Mefisto, which organized the event. "This year, we didn't allow techno sound systems on trucks, just some reggae, to enhance specifically cannabis awareness among participants and to avoid problems with young people possibly using chemical drugs and not caring about cannabis," he said. "So the march was smaller, but we were happier."

While Sciolari reported no problems with police at the march, there have been lots of problems with police for Italian pot smokers recently, and the march addressed that issue. "It was dedicated to the victims of prohibition, of which we've had so many in recent times," he said. "We also had a press conference with relatives of some of the victims Saturday morning."

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New York (courtesy Andrew Seidenfeld)
By contrast, turnouts were smaller in Northern Europe this year, reported ENCOD's Joep Oomen. "There were about 150 people in Brussels, 500 in Paris, and 1,000 in Amsterdam," he said, laying the blame on cold, chilly weather.

In Buenos Aires, an Argentine cannabis community energized by last year's court rulings invalidating the law against marijuana possession (Congress has yet to draft a new one), left its traditional rallying spot at Parque Planetario and took to the streets, marching first to the Plaza de Mayo, home of the presidential palace, then down Avenida de Mayo to Congress.

"This last march was historic, nothing will be the same after this incredible demonstration," said a jazzed Mike Bifari, one of the organizers and speakers at the rally. "We were tired of just sitting there and doing nothing; we wanted our voices to be heard. And this march was so big and energetic, like never before, because there were so many groups organizing the rally and people were coming from all over the province of Buenos Aires, as well as from the popular neighborhoods in the city itself."

Speakers honored the dead, including Edith "La Negra," a famous Argentine pot smoker and Jack Herer, said Bifari. "It was like his spirit was there telling us all the benefits of our lovely plant," he said.

The theme in Buenos Aires was "stop the raids against our brothers, stop the police from arresting people for marijuana, and release our brothers in prison," Bifari said. While Congress dawdles in writing a new pot law, "We suffered a few raids these last few months, mainly in the interior of the country," he said.

"One thing that everybody agrees on is that the law must catch up with us because it can't stop our growing healthy cannabis movement, especially now that we know how to gain the streets when we need to."

In Mexico City, where the annual march celebrated its 10th anniversary, thousands packed the Zocalo before marching between the towers of downtown. Organized by AMECA (the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies) and nearly a dozen other groups and collectives, marchers called for legalization of the weed, not the pseudo-decriminalization passed by the government last year.

"We are at a conjunctural moment," said AMECA's Leopoldo Rivera Rivera, citing the prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico even as the US -- the largest market by far for illicit Mexican drugs -- appears headed toward relaxing its drug laws.

In Rio de Janeiro, about 1,500 marched for marijuana legalization on May Day, reported Luiz Guanabara of Psicotropicus. Marches took place in other Brazilian cities last Saturday, except for Fortaleza, where a judge blocked the march as an "apology for crime."

And so, another year's worth of Global Marijuana Marches have come and gone. Will next year be the year people take to the streets to celebrate landmark advances in marijuana legalization in the US? Stay tuned.

Feature: Reed College in the Crosshairs of Prosecutorial Drug Crackdown

While Oregon sees hundreds of drug overdose deaths a year -- from both illegal and prescription drugs -- a pair of publicity-seeking state and federal prosecutors have made a small Portland liberal arts college where two students have died of heroin overdoses in the past two years the public focus of their attack on the drug trade. Last week, Reed College President Colin Diver was summoned to the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, where he was warned that the school could face a cutoff of federal funds, including student loans, if it is not found to be taking "adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity," starting with this weekend's annual school year-end bash, Renn Fayre, which the prosecutors vowed will be filled with undercover police determined to quash drug use and sales.

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Renn Fayre (sarako on flickr.com)
According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, 119 people died from heroin overdoses in 2008 and 127 in 2009. Including prescription drug overdoses, 492 Oregonians died of ODs in 2008, 270 from prescription opiates. For some reason, the State Medical Examiner did not include prescription drug deaths in the 2009 figures.

In Multnomah County alone, where Reed is located, 63 people died of heroin overdoses in 2008 and 71 in 2009. That's more than one a week for both years. But no other single overdose or pair of overdose deaths has excited the reaction displayed by state and federal prosecutors who went after Reed last week.

Reed makes an excellent target for drug warriors. For decades, the academically rigorous school has had a reputation as a counterculture haven where drug use is accepted. While that reputation is overblown and outdated, students say, it makes the college a handy lightning rod for those engaged in the culture wars.

Enter US Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton and Multnomah County (Portland) District Attorney Michael Schrunk. In an email to Divers that they asked be forwarded to the Reed community, the prosecutorial pair used the deaths of the two students as a battle cry for a crackdown.

After lamenting the loss of the students, they wrote: "But while now may be a time for reflection and grief, it is also a time for action. It is now time for the Reed community to abandon the myth that drug use is a safe and acceptable form of exploration. It is time for Renn Fayre and Reed to adopt a zero tolerance policy prohibiting illegal drugs flat-out."

It isn't beatnik days anymore, prosecutors wrote, in a bid to appeal to Reed's countercultural heritage: "The illegal drug trade has changed radically since the days when giants like Alan (sic) Ginsberg and Gary Snyder '51 roamed campus here. The fact is that the drug trade is now fueled by one of the most potent forces in the West: greed."

The pair then explained at length how "drug cartels" are "targeting middle class and wealthier kids," then went on to say they made no distinction between non-lethal drug like marijuana and drugs like heroin. "Don't get sucked in by this bogus Siren call. The fact is that if the Reed community insists that this is 'not our problem' and tries to draw distinctions between 'hard' and other drugs, you will send the message that drug use can be safe... It is time for the Reed community to embrace the notion that drug use is not safe and it will not be tolerated -- without fine print, without provisos, and without conditions."

They then issued a blunt warning: "As the top federal prosecutor in Oregon and the Multnomah County District attorney, we have a responsibility to this community -- including you and your families. We cannot, and we will not stand by if drug use is tolerated on your campus. We cannot, and we will not stand by if Renn Fayre is a repeat of years past -- where even in the wake of Alejandro Lluch's death drug use and distribution were allegedly rampant."

Finally, the prosecutorial pair gallantly offered their assistance: "We stand ready to help in any way we can. If need be, we will use all the tools available to us in federal and state law enforcement. We owe that to the people of our community, including you."

A suitably cowed President Diver responded with his own email to the Reed community: "My message regarding drug use at Renn Fayre 2010 is very simple: Do not use illegal drugs. That means no marijuana, hallucinogens, designer drugs, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, or other illegal substances."

Diver said he got a forceful and direct message from the prosecutors: "Shut down illegal drug use and distribution at Reed College, starting with Renn Fayre. Based on ongoing criminal investigations, including conversations with current and former students and other sources, these officials have heard numerous allegations about drug use at Reed, and particularly at Renn Fayre."

Diver also mentioned the threats he received: "In the course of the conversation, the US Attorney pointedly referred to a federal statute that makes it a criminal and civil offense for anyone knowingly to operate any facility for the purpose of using illegal drugs. We were also reminded of federal legislation that allows all federal funding -- including student loans -- to be withdrawn from any college or university that fails to take adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity."

On Wednesday, Diver was forced to clarify. According to Inside Higher Education News, the US Attorney only cited the federal crack house statute, under which Reed could face large fines, not the Drug-Free Schools Act, which is the statute that could impact student loans, Diver said. While the US Attorney "referred to federal legislation that could be applied to the college if it failed to crack down more forcefully," he never cited the Drug-Free Schools Act, Diver conceded.

In his email to the Reed community, Diver also delivered a more immediate warning: "We have been told that, during next weekend's Renn Fayre celebration, undercover Portland police officers will be circulating on campus, uniformed Portland police officers will be on alert to respond immediately to calls, and prosecutors stand ready to process criminal charges."

The prosecutorial shakedown has stirred controversy both on campus and in the broader Portland community, with many defending Reed's students, while others say the "druggies" need to be brought under control. In any case, Reed's reputation has complicated its relations with law enforcement.

"There's always a market here for a 'Reed is strange and weird' story," Bear Wilner-Nugent, a Reed alumnus, one-time director of Renn Fayre, and Portland criminal lawyer told USA Today this week. "I think it's going to scare students using drugs to be more underground. I think it's going to discourage students from seeking help for drug problems. It's a waste of resources on what is a tiny fingernail clipping in the drug problem," he said. "It's showboating."

Wilner-Nugent will be attending Renn Fayre again this year, and he said it compares favorably with end-of-semester parties at other schools. "There's a less macho attitude to it, there is less drinking and so you don't see the sexual harassment compared to other institutions," he said. "They are busting one of the saner and healthier college parties in the nation."

"This is the first time any college president has been threatened with the loss of federal funding because of campus drug use, so that's pretty interesting," said Jon Perri, West Coast coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "We need to be criticizing those prosecutors, as well as law enforcement, for sending in undercover agents and spreading misinformation about drug dealers coming in to target rich white kids. And we need to keep after Reed President Divers, who after his sit-down with prosecutors, basically said don't do illegal drugs, then mentioned a long list of drugs that doesn't include alcohol, which does more harm," Perri pointed out.

"Our chapter there is actively participating in the planning for Renn Fayre, and they will be waging a Good Samaritan policy campaign, while the feds are coming in and trying to do the same old stuff," Perri. "Reed SSDP is trying to pitch it as instead of trying to increase penalties, try something that will save lives."

Perri said he worked with students at Reed to reactivate the Good Samaritan campaign after the second student death. Good Samaritan policies allow drug overdose victims or their friends to seek help without fear of arrest, or, in the case of colleges, academic discipline. "I encouraged them to get it back up and running," he said. "They were wary of starting a campaign because they didn't want to be seen as politicizing those kids' deaths, but that's what the prosecutors have now done."

While by all accounts there has been drug use at Renn Fayre in past years, it is a much milder, less raucous event than many end-of-year campus parties, with a penchant for hallucinogens -- not heroin -- and an abundance of weed. Renn Fayre also features full-body human chess, softball tournaments, a great feast, and lots of music. And alcohol for those over 21.

"Everyone here fears that come Saturday there could be mass arrests for marijuana possession and underage drinking," said Reed SSDP chapter head McKenzie Warren. "It some senses, it's not totally surprising because there has been a lot of local press aimed at Reed, but there is a lot of worry," she reported. "ODs happen all the time, but the homeless population isn't going to get the same focus as a well-known private liberal arts college," said Warren. "Over the years, Reed earned a reputation as a crazy drug-taking school. Maybe it once was, way back in the 1970s, but these days the reputation outstrips the reality."

Reed SSDP is working with other campus groups to protect students from the tender ministrations of law enforcement, Warren said. "We have a number of groups working on harm reduction this weekend, we've had a Reed alumni who is a lawyer come and give talks on how to deal with the police, especially with respect to dorm rooms, and we printed up 1,500 ACLU know your rights cards. We've also been putting up flyers and posters."

And it will push for a full-fledged Good Samaritan policy. "We have only half a Good Samaritan policy," said Warren. "The school just adopted a new implementation plan for our drug policy, and it differentiates pot and alcohol from harder drugs. There is a Good Samaritan policy for alcohol and marijuana, but not for harder drugs. The administration is trying to crack down."

A Good Samaritan policy for alcohol makes sense; for marijuana, the need for it is much less. But a Good Samaritan policy that excludes the drugs that are most likely to kill people doesn't make much sense. There is work to be done at Reed, and the Good Samaritan battle looks like a good way to counter the weight of the prosecutorial offensive.

Jack Herer Has Died

Jack Herer, author of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," died this morning in Eugene, Oregon. He had been in ill health since suffering a heart attack at the Portland Hempstock Festival last Fall. Here's the report from the Salem News:
The Hemperor, Jack Herer has Died (SALEM, Ore.) - The sad news has been confirmed. Jack Herer, author of Emperor Wears No Clothes and renowned around the world for hemp activism, has died at 11:17 a.m. today, in Eugene, Oregon. Jack Herer suffered a heart attack last September just after speaking on stage at the Portland HempStalk festival. The last seven months have proven to be a huge challenge to the man, with several health issues making his recovery complicated. Jack Herer's health has been poor lately, this last week there have been reports of the severity, and an outpouring of prayers on his behalf. "It's shocking news, even after these last seven, trying months," said Paul Stanford, THCF Executive Director. "Jack Herer has been a good friend and associate of mine for over 30 years. I was there when he had the heart attack at our Hempstalk festival and I know he wouldn’t appreciate the quality of life he's endured these last months. Still he will be greatly missed. I honor his memory." "No other single person has done more to educate people all across the world about industrial hemp and marijuana as Jack Herer. His book is translated into a dozen different languages, it's a bestseller in Germany," added Stanford. "The Hempstalk stage will forever be the Jack Herer Memorial stage. And, a Memorial is planned to be built where he fell that day," Stanford said. "His legacy will continue to inspire and encourage for generations to come."

Dr. Drew Endorses Planting Evidence on Drug Users to Get Them Locked Up

Celebrity addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky is someone I used to respect as a teenager. Too bad he sold-out and became a dangerous quack who'll say anything to make headlines:

While Lindsay Lohan continues to party until the wee hours of the morning, and her family and friends grow increasingly concerned for her, Dr. Drew Pinsky, who is not treating Lohan, has some candid advice for the people closest to her.

The board certified addiction specialist tells RadarOnline.com, "If she were my daughter, I would pack her car full with illegal substances, send her on her way, call the police, and make sure she was arrested. I would make sure she was not allowed to get out of jail. I would then go to the judge  and make sure she was ordered to a minimum of a three year sobriety program." [Radar]

You see, Dr. Drew is really concerned about her safety:

"I absolutely wish no harm to her, but I just have a feeling that something awful is going to happen to her, like she is going to lose a limb. I hope Lindsay gets help before something terrible happens."

Something terrible? Like getting framed for a carload of drugs by your own family!? Maybe they don't cover this in medical school, Dr. Drew, but you should really make yourself aware of the fact that many people have been accidentally shot by drug cops, sexually assaulted in jail, and otherwise mercilessly screwed over by the criminal justice system in ways that you and your massive ego don't have the luxury of predicting.

Planting drugs on anyone is a serious crime that could go wrong in more ways than you can possibly imagine. Anyone who endorses screwing around like this has no business practicing medicine, parenthood or friendship. You can get people killed with this sort of idiocy, and as much as it would reveal about the stupidity of the war on drugs, "Hollywood Starlet Shot in Face by SWAT Team" is a story no drug policy blogger wants to write.

There is a real drug war going on in America and the men and women who come to save you from your "illness" don't wear white coats; they come in body armor bearing machine guns with the safety off. So when you sell Beverly Hills addiction therapy as pop-culture entertainment media, you forget that those same rules don't apply in Ohio and any parent taking Dr. Drew's reckless advice is putting their family in the drug war's deadly crossfire.

When drug cops start making their own rules, it's time to take away their badge and gun. When celebrity addiction doctors do the same, it's time to take away their license and, more importantly, their microphone.

Has Jay Leno Ever Heard of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries?

Here's Jay Leno and Bill Maher discussing the effort to legalize marijuana in California:


Of course, it's a win just to have these kinds of conversations on The Tonight Show, and you can't look for perfect messaging from entertainers. But seriously, what the hell was Leno talking about with this:

Leno: Well, here's my thing, here's my thing. California, they spend all this money trying to get things on ballots. But federal law trumps state law.

Maher: Oh, Jay you're such a buzzkill.

Leno: Well, it's true. No matter what the state says, the federal government goes "sorry, it's a federal law. You lose."

Really, Jay? I wonder how far you'd have to walk from your studio in Los Angeles to find a dispensary selling marijuana in violation of federal law. Come on, man. We've moved way beyond that nonsense, and you don't have to be constitutional scholar to understand that state-level marijuana policies can be reformed dramatically by popular vote. All you have to do is read the LA Times any day of the week.

If the drug czar doesn’t even know what the hell the feds would do about this, I can't fathom why Jay Leno thinks he's got it figured out.

Since When do Rockstars Know Anything About Drugs?

Sting's call for an end to the war on drugs is getting some good press, and it sounds like the drug warriors aren't too pleased about it:

"Sting should stick to singing and not meddle in matters he doesn't understand. We do not need pop stars coming out and making irresponsible statements like that," said a spokesperson for DARE, which teaches schoolchildren about the dangers of drug use. [Daily News & Analysis]

How classy. I think it's pretty telling that Sting, an A-list international celebrity, was proud to associate himself with this cause, while the DARE spokesperson who chides him for it chose to do so anonymously. It's obvious who is more embarrassed by their viewpoint.

Note to anti-drug zealots: if your argument sounds ridiculous even to you, to such an extent that you don't even want your name attached to it, then just don't talk to the media. I know it sucks to see the political climate changing before your eyes. I know you can’t bear the thought that mainstream entertainers can now come out against the drug war and get nothing but positive press. But your stupid ideas are what got you into this mess in the first place, so opening your mouth right now isn't going help at all.

DARE's only accomplishment here was to erase any doubt about whether Sting's announcement is a big deal.

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