States To Feds On Weed Policy: Cash Me Outside How Bow Dah?

‘Tis true, Jeff Sessions is a serious downer, a buzz killer for the ages. As long feared, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is revoking an Obama-era directive–the so-called ‘Cole memo’–that restrained enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized it. But things are not going to be so easy for this dastardly ve-haf-ways-to-make-you-stop-smoking Sessions brigade; the proverbial genie has escaped the bottle. The national bowl has been packed and too many people–rich and white–are toking on it it. Morals and laws and principles and a great deal else often gives way in the face of lucre of the filthy kind. For a long time, the War on Drugs was prosecuted with as much zeal as it was because it was fueled by both racism and by the financial gains that flowed directly to law enforcement agencies’ budgets and operations. The tide turned on that front–thanks to a combination of fatigue, common sense, increased public awareness of the War on Drugs’ racist components, and finally, the plain, simple, uncontrovertible financial common sense of declaring a ceasefire and going over to a domain of decriminalization and legalization and subsequent tax revenue collection instead.

Several years on from Colorado’s landmark decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use, that financial common sense has been confirmed:

Marijuana Business Daily, an industry trade publication, estimated last year that legal marijuana employed between 165,000 and 230,000 workers, or between two and three times as many people as the coal mining industry. Last year a market research firm for the marijuana industry, Arcview Research, estimated that it generated $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016, and projected sales to climb to $21 billion by 2021. Those sales are generating significant tax revenue in states with legal recreational pot. In Colorado, for instance, marijuana sales between 2014 and 2017 brought in roughly $500 million in taxes, roughly half of which has gone to the state’s public school system. Washington state collected about $280 million in marijuana taxes in fiscal year 2017, with half of that money going to fund health-care services for people without insurance coverage.

Unsurprisingly, such numbers are backed up by popular opinion–close to sixty percent of Americans support legalization in some shape or form for marijuana, whether recreational or medical. But balance sheets speak far louder than opinion surveys, and this time around, the War on Drugs will be the War on Legal and Extremely Financially Lucrative Pot Business Run By Largely White Folk. Those whose interests will be affected by this new declaration of hostilities are considerably more financially and politically empowered than the ones targeted in the last legal crackdown on marijuana; those folks were darker, they lived in housing projects, and were easily made the target of a penal crackdown. This time around, the support is fueled by dollars and Democrats and the donor class alike. The official Twitter account of the Colorado State Senate Democratic Caucus should have the last word on this–and I suspect it will:

We’ll give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting to look at hands.

Cancer, Medical Marijuana, And A Personal Account

This page at the website of the National Cancer Institute, which describes some of the medicinal effects of cannabis and cannabinoids in cancer treatment regimes serves two salutary purposes for me today.

First, it confirms for me, yet again, that opposition to the War on Drugs and advocacy for the legalization of marijuana are A Good Thing[tm]. Indeed, knowing what we know about the War on Drugs and its implication in the mass incarceration monstrosity that stalks American life, opposition to the legalization of marijuana marks you as a, how you say, racist tool.

Second, in a kinder and gentler dimension, it reminds me of a great interaction with my mother three weeks before she passed away from a metastasized breast cancer (she had been in remission for four years before it returned.) On hearing from my brother that matters were not looking good for her as far as her treatment was concerned and that the ‘terminal stage’ was possibly around the corner, I had flown back from the US to the Indian Air Force station in Pune, India, where she was receiving treatment. (More precisely, she was being treated at the nearby Military  Hospital while staying with my brother on the air force base.) One day,  at home, between treatments, I was lying next to her on the bed she was resting on and chatting about sundry topics. At one point, as my mother described some of the pain and nausea that were now her lot, both before and after her chemotherapy treatments, I said to her, “You know mom, marijuana is supposed to be really helpful with that sort of thing. It reduces pain and helps combat nausea too.” My mother looked at me and said, “Have you tried it?” I replied, “Yeah mom, I’ve smoked it a few times.” She then leaned over, poked me in the ribs, and said, with a bit of a twinkle in her eyes, “Hey, we should go to that Osho Ashram [the central ‘offices’ of the organization affiliated with the Indian mystic and teacher Osho, which were located in Pune] and pick up some of that charas [hashish] they are always smoking.” We both collapsed in a fit of giggles. Honestly, if I had had the time, I would have scored some for her. In edible form, baked into fritters and consumed with tea, she would probably have been able to enjoy a great snack, and get some relief from her suffering too.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana has become legal in New York state, but unfortunately, it has been introduced with so many restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles that a) many sufferers from uncovered ailments will continue to not find relief and b) the state government will enable its own self-fulfilling prophecy that there is not enough demand for it. The folks in the New York state administration who have dreamed up this scheme stand indicted of the same charge I made above against those who oppose the legalization of marijuana with the additional knock of being indifferent to the sufferings of the sick.

Beyonce And The Singularity

A couple of decades ago, I strolled through Washington Square Park on a warm summer night, idly observing the usual hustle and bustle of students, tourists, drunks, buskers,  hustlers, stand-up comedians, and sadly, folks selling oregano instead of good-to-honest weed. As I did so, I noticed a young man, holding up flyers and yelling, ‘Legalize Marijuana! Impeach George Bush! [Sr., not Jr., though either would have done just fine.].”  I walked over, and asked for a flyer. Was a new political party being floated with these worthy objectives as central platform  issues? Was there a political movement afoot, one worthy of my support? Was a meeting being called?

The flyers were for a punk rock band’s live performance the following night–at a club, a block or so away. Clickbait, you see, is as old as the hills.

Clickbait works. From the standard ‘You won’t believe what this twelve-year old did to get his divorced parents back together’ to ‘Ten signs your daughter is going to date a loser in high school’, to ‘Nine ways you are wasting money everyday’ – they all work. You are intrigued; you click; the hit-count goes up; little counters spin; perhaps some unpaid writer gets paid as a threshold is crossed; an advertiser forks out money to the site posting the link. Or something like that. It’s all about the hits; they keep the internet engine running; increasing their number justifies any means.

Many a writer finds out that the headlines for their posts changed to something deemed more likely to bring in readers. They often do not agree with these changes–especially when irate readers complain about their misleading nature. This becomes especially pernicious when trash talking about a piece of writing spreads–based not on its content, but on its headline, one not written by the author, but dreamed up by a website staffer instructed to do anything–anything!–to increase the day’s hit-count.

A notable personal instance of this phenomenon occurred with an essay I wrote for The Nation a little while ago. My original title for the essay was: was Programs, Not Just People, Can Violate Your Privacy. I argued that smart programs could violate privacy just like humans could, and that the standard defense used by their deployers–“Don’t worry, no humans are reading your email”–was deliberately and dangerously misleading. I then went to suggest granting a limited form of legal agency to these programs–so that their deployers could be understood as their legal principals and hence, attributed their knowledge and made liable for their actions. I acknowledged the grant of personhood as a legal move that would also solve this problem, but that was not the main thrust of my argument–the grant of legal agency to invoke agency law would be enough.

My essay went online as Programs Are People, Too. It was a catchy title, but it was clickbait. And it created predictable misunderstanding: many readers–and non-readers–simply assumed I was arguing for greater ‘legal rights’ for programs, and immediately put me down as some kind of technophilic anti-humanist. Ironically, someone arguing for the protection of user rights online was pegged as arguing against them. The title was enough to convince them of it. I had thought my original title was more accurate and certainly seemed catchy enough to me. Not so apparently for the folks who ran The Nation‘s site. C’est la vie.

As for Beyonce, I have no idea what she thinks about the singularity.

Maureen Dowd Lays Her Mile-High Bum Trip On Us

It might have been predicted, with probability one, that in the wake of Colorado legalizing marijuana, we would be inundated with tall tales of reefer madness sweeping the state, scouring the slopes and plains of that mountainous land like one of those snowy avalanches that sometimes afflict its more outdoorsy folk.

That moment is now upon us. And leading this undignified panicky charge is a long-time resident of that wasteland of privileged, pompous fatuity, the New York Times Op-Ed page:  Maureen Dowd.

Ms. Dowd, it seems, ate a marijuana-infused candy bar in Denver, and then had a bad time. Or rather, Ms. Dowd consumed an edible item without making the slightest attempt to determine what was in it, a strange move to make given marijuana’s known properties. Perhaps a query at the counter might have been helpful? You know, along the lines of, “Hey, how much pot is in this thing?”, or, perhaps, “How much of this should I eat at one time?”

Imagine traveling to an imaginary land, which has recently legalized an intoxicating substance–let’s call it Shmisky for the time being–and made it available for sale in bottled form. You know, as a grown mature adult, that this substance, if consumed in excess, can cause vomiting, loss of motor and sensory control, and perhaps even death. Yet, consumed in reasonable quantities, it leads to a loosening of inhibition and a pleasant sensation of well-being; many societies, just for that reason, have used it to enliven many forms of social gatherings.

On your first day in town, you walk into a shmaloon–places where shmisky is sold to the paying public–push open its batwing doors, park yourself at the counter, and say, “Garçon, hit me up with your finest shmisky.” Your friendly server pushes over an unlabeled bottle containing a dark liquid, suggesting you might like one of shmisky’s variants, blended with a sweet soft drink; some folks like drinking it in this form to change its taste. You begin consuming glass after glass, tossing them down, digging the sweetness of the additive, not bothering to ask your newly made friend what the potency of the drink is.

Hours later, you awake in the street. Your jaw aches, your wallet is missing, and a foul odor suggests you have thrown up all over yourself. You dimly remember a game of pool, and saying to a a large man with tattoos, “I’ll whip your ass all the way from here to kingdom come.”

You realize you were an idiot. You walk back to your hotel, take a shower, call the police and tell them about your missing wallet. When the police press for details, you shamefacedly admit you consumed an intoxicating substance without bothering to check the quantity you were consuming.  The police snicker, but keeping a straight face, continue to politely and solicitously take down your report.

When you return home, still chastened, you write an article on a national soapbox, telling your readers to not be a colossal idiot like you were.

You’re probably not Maureen Dowd.

Note: On a related note, read my post on Lohocla, the killer drug.

Keep Marijuana Illegal; It Might Be Used to Aid Sick Children

This is how morally depraved the anti-marijuana legalization debate has become.

The New York Times reports:

For the fifth time in seven years, the State Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana, backing a measure that would far surpass a program Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced this year.

But with less than four weeks left in the legislative session, the prospects for passage in the State Senate remained uncertain.

The bill allows the possession and use of up to two and a half ounces of marijuana by seriously ill patients whom doctors, physician assistants or nurse practitioners have certified.

“There are tens of thousands of New Yorkers with serious, debilitating, life-threatening conditions whose lives could be made more tolerable and longer by enacting this legislation,” said Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Democrat from Manhattan who heads the Health Committee and sponsored the bill.

But enacting any bill on medical marijuana may be difficult. The Assembly, where Democrats are a majority, has passed such bills as far back as 2007, but Republicans in the Senate have been chilly to the concept.

Why?

In the Assembly on Tuesday, the debate was less about the bill’s fate and more about potential ramifications.

Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, a Republican from the Buffalo area, suggested hypothetically that a drug kingpin, if certified as a caregiver, might be allowed to give marijuana to his sick child.

Mr. Gottfried, seemingly bewildered, offered a grudging yes and said, “I would hope that we would not prevent that child from having his or her life saved because of the sins of the child’s father.”

So there you have it. We should prevent the passage of a bill that would facilitate the use of a palliative, a pain-killer, which would help the residents of this state who suffer from “serious, debilitating, life-threatening conditions” because doing so might help a drug dealer provide comfort to his “sick child.”

We should, in short, keep this drug illegal because otherwise sick children might benefit from it.

David Brooks Smoked Weed So You Didn’t Have To

David Brooks put down his bong a long time ago:

For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships. But then we all sort of moved away from it….

This was not a decision made lightly:

We didn’t give it up for the obvious health reasons….I think we gave it up, first, because we each had had a few embarrassing incidents. Stoned people do stupid things….most of us developed higher pleasures….I think we had a vague sense that smoking weed was not exactly something you were proud of yourself for. It’s not something people admire…. So, like the vast majority of people who try drugs, we aged out. We left marijuana behind.

Well, that’s not too bad. You did some weed, as did your friends; you went on to ‘higher pleasures’ (no pun intended, right? Right?). No one seemed to have been harmed; heck, some of you became columnists for The New York Times. There’s no stories of stoned assaults on significant others, overdoses, or even bouts of violent retching or hangovers induced by marijuana. The narrative arc of this little bildungsroman that Brooks has deigned to share with us is disappointingly slight and bland: young men indulge in lower pleasures, then move on to higher ones–some opera, some good food, some ballet, perhaps?–the salaried life  and a comfortable middle-class existence. (Some might have been fortunate enough to become one-percenters.) It’s not a particularly enlightening  one, and one might be mystified by why a highly-paid writer for the nation’s most prominent newspaper thought this was a story worth sharing with his readers.

Well, apparently, the dangers seen on this scenic road to enlightenment were enough for Brooks to want to warn off everyone from ever traveling on it. Whatever the lessons learned on it, one of them didn’t include enough respect for individual self-determination or choices or the consideration of the possibility that others–like Brooks and his cohort–might possess the capacity for arriving at a host of idiosyncratic decisions about how their lives should be lived. Humans are interesting; they just aren’t interesting enough to be left to their own devices.

So:

I don’t have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time, but I guess, on the whole, I think being stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.

How so discouraged? Apparently, by keeping marijuana illegal, and continuing an expensive, racist ‘war on drugs‘, a moral, economic and legal catastrophe whose full cost has still not been reckoned with:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government….subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

Funnily enough, I hadn’t thought that illegality amounted to ‘subtle discouragement.’ And interestingly enough, another lesson that Brooks learned while aging out–a peculiar one given his avowed insistence that laws do not change behavior as much as social norms, expectations and customs do–is that we cannot rely on them to adequately discourage marijuana use. This isn’t the moral I would have derived from Brooks’ little tale of how his youthful indulgence in marijuana waned, where its continued illegality had nothing to do with his decision to stop consuming. Instead, Brooks, along with his other friends, managed to figure out, miraculously enough, that marijuana didn’t fit into the life he wanted.

And so Brooks made his choice. But the freedom to arrive at such decisions on their own is not one he can trust the members of this society with, Perhaps his cohort was a moral and rational singularity in a universe of blindly hedonistic, amoral original sinners who need protection from themselves. Thus, leaving to them the choice of how to live their lives is in fact, inhibiting them from self-realization:

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are….nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Mostly, columnists reveal their internal incoherence of thought in their corpus of writings. It takes a rare talent to so do so as comprehensively as Brooks does in the space of just some seven hundred words.

Marijuana Legalization: States Lead, the Center Follows, and Obama Stops Giggling?

Jacob Sullum at Reason.com looks at the marijuana legalization initiatives under way in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, and notes that there might be parallels with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, where the lead was taken by state initiatives:

By the time the 21st Amendment ended national alcohol prohibition in December 1933, more than a dozen states had already opted out. Maryland never passed its own version of the Volstead Act, while New York repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1923. Eleven other states eliminated their statutes by referendum in November 1932.

We could see the beginning of a similar rebellion against marijuana prohibition this year as voters in three states—Washington, Colorado, and Oregon—decide whether to legalize the drug’s production and sale for recreational use. If any of these ballot initiatives pass, it might be the most consequential election result this fall, forcing both major parties to confront an unjust, irrational policy that Americans increasingly oppose. [link in original]

The figures in Sullum’s article seem to indicate that while Oregon’s voters currently seem disinclined to approve their state’s legalization initiative, those in Colorado and Washington appear far more in favor of finally bringing an end to the catastrophic insanity of the continuing illegality of marijuana.

But if Oregon does not make marijuana legal this year, I suspect its position as a neighboring state to Washington will complicate its position in the years to come.  Perhaps trans-border ‘marijuana tourism’ will pick up, infuriating Oregon’s law-enforcement officers and creating more headaches for them. This could lead to pressure on Washington, from Oregon, to increase the regulation on sales of marijuana (much as coffee-shops in the Netherlands sometimes do, to make sure that Belgian and German kids aren’t jumping on a train heading across the border to pick up a stash.) Conversely, the loss of such revenue to a neighboring state could perhaps aid the drive to legalization in Oregon. (‘Why lose all that cash to Washington?’)

The most significant effect of such state legalization initiatives will be the empirical data they will provide for national designers of drug policy: What are its effects on patterns of drug usage, on the so-called ‘gateway effect’, on crime statistics? Perhaps the presence of such data will indicate to other states that their worst fears about legalization are not being realized in states bold enough to just say ‘no’ to the war on drugs. And perhaps it will induce some seriousness into our president whose ‘leadership’ in drug policy thus far has consisted of a passable imitation of an ostrich. (One that snickers; see below.)

Sullum goes on to note:

As The Seattle Times observed in a recent editorial endorsing Initiative 502, “The question for voters is not whether marijuana is good. It is whether prohibition is good.” The voices rejecting prohibition in Washington and Colorado include city council members, state legislators, former U.S. attorneys, clergymen, retired cops, and two national police organizations—a hard group to dismiss as a bunch of silly potheads, which is President Obama’s usual approach to the issue. [links in original]

Do chase down the link to the video of Obama, and his faithfully acolytic audience, giggling–like a bunch of silly potheads–at the mere raising of the question. I had never imagined that an expensive, racist, deadly policy could be so funny.