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.

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.

David Simon is a Little Too Proprietary About The Wire

David Simon has made some waves recently in a series of interviews regarding the Wire (here; here; and here), viewer’s relationships to it (and its characters). I’m not going to repeat or reproduce Simon’s remarks here; please do chase down the links. But in a nutshell: Simon (was) is unhappy about the ‘pop’ understanding of the Wire that seems to have made its way into our broader culture, a function, he thinks of its late uptake by a whole viewer demographic that wasn’t around when the show was struggling with ratings, an understanding that is obsessed about characters rather than the overarching theme or narrative, and that ‘misunderstands’ the show.

Simon’s remarks are peculiar for several reasons. For one, there is something rather quaint and old-fashioned in the suggestion that viewers are getting it wrong, that they misconceived the show, that there is, so to speak, some sort of gap between their understanding and take on the show and the meaning that Simon intended, and that this is a crucial lacunae. I hate to break the news to Simon, but once the show was made and released, any kind of control that he might have exerted over its meaning was gone. The show doesn’t exist in some autonomous region of meaning that Simon controls access to; it is in a place where its meaning is constructed actively by its spectators and in many ways by the larger world that it is embedded in.

What if, during the fourth season,  a fierce Diane RavitchMichelle Rhee-type debate had been  dominating airwaves elsewhere? Wouldn’t viewers of the Wire have had a very different interpretation of the show’s characters and action in that period? Is this something Simon could control or even cater for in his writing and direction? What if California and Washington had legalized marijuana during the third season? Would that not have affected viewers’ understandings of that season’s themes? This co-construction of meaning is a well-established trope in our understanding of how artworks acquire and establish traction. Simon might have had a vision and meaning for the show but having decided to give it to  viewers he must realize the work isn’t his anymore in any meaningful sense of the word.

The other peculiar point in Simon’s interview is his insistence that the Wire is a long-form story, that it is a coherent whole, and that it be understood as such and that the episodic reaction to it so typical of the long-running series relationship with its fans, gets it wrong. But Simon chose to work in a particular medium that afforded him freedom for lengthy development of character and plot.  The periodic release of the episodes meant–just as above–that their meaning was always going to be constructed over a period of time, subject always to those sort of short-term reactions typical of the television show. Why would Simon be surprised or upset by this? The Wire was the best television show ever and a great story. But those that watched also made it.

Side note: Much as I liked the Wire, I think Simon needs a reality check if he thinks his work was nothing but gritty realism (not that he ever makes any such claim in those interviews above but there is a kind of insistence on his having provided a social documentary). McNulty is a cliché in some ways; Omar, no matter how fascinating a character, is an implausible one; the drug markets in season three were ridiculous; the fifth season’s McNulty-creation of the serial killer was by far some of the most contrived story-telling I’ve ever seen. Simon might think he had transcended every single genre in making the Wire but he didn’t.

Pat Robertson Thinks its High Time Marijuana was Legalized

Cliches about broken clocks being right twice a day might need to be dragged out for this one. Pat Robertson wants pot to be made legal. He is on the straight-and-420 for this one. Robertson isn’t indulging in just idle, pass-the-bong, give-me-a-hit, don’t-bogart-that-joint talk. This is a serious policy recommendation, which gives off the aroma of prime bud, and which, if taken seriously, could unclog the legislative pipe, cleanse the bong water of our nation’s ludicrous, drunk-on-bad-beer, whiskey-addled, gin-soaked policy on marijuana, and perhaps, hopefully, cure the nation of its reefer madness.

(Even if it includes the usual disclaimer about not having tried marijuana and not intending to. Really Pat? Not even once? Such a long life, so many interesting experiences, and never a toke? Come on, it’s a sacrament. You should include it in your services. Perhaps everyone would mellow out and you would stop with all that crazy talk you’ve subjected us to over the years. I won’t forgive you just yet for all of it, but with this set of statements you might just have started filling out an application for forgiveness. My un-Christian heart could still be turned around.)

From the New York Times report linked above:

I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol…[T]his war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded….[the US] has gone overboard on this concept of being tough on crime…It’s completely out of control…Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties, the maximums, some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all.

And,

Mr. Robertson has now apparently fully embraced the idea of legalizing marijuana, arguing that it is a way to bring down soaring rates of incarceration and reduce the social and financial costs….Mr. Robertson said that he “absolutely” supported the ballot measures, [in Colorado and Washington, intended to roll back marijuana penalties and prohibitions]

Can you dig it? Legalizing marijuana makes so much sense that even Pat Robertson thinks its the right thing to do. Come on legislators. Put away your wine glasses, cancel your meetings with tobacco lobbyists, don’t fill this month’s painkiller prescription, and get to work on drafting drug policy bills that don’t read like they were written by some pothead. Sorry, I meant vodka-martini-head.

Perhaps, years from now, when marijuana is finally legalized, it will be because the sheer hypocrisy of keeping it illegal, punishing its casual users, and virulently opposing any attempt at rationalizing its regulation, while alcohol is glorified, turned into an indispensable companion for dinners, weddings, sports events, White House banquets, St. Patrick Day’s festivities, into a marker of manhood, an indication of sophistication, will finally become too much for the collective psyche of those engaged in maintaining that status. Perhaps.

If not, then at least those in charge of marijuana policy and enforcement can congratulate themselves that when they talk about the pernicious effects of marijuana they are correct in one sense: Pot can drive you insane and make you do really stupid things. Like not legalizing it.