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.

The FBI, Online Brokerages, And The Hiring Of ‘Potheads’

This almost-two-years-old story about the FBI’s claim that it could not find hackers–AKA ‘cybersecurity experts’–to hire because they smoke marijuana (and thus would fail their pre-employment drug tests) reminds me of a story from the days of the Internet gold rush, as demand for programmers, system administrators, and the like meant the instant hiring and satisfaction of salary requests with little regard for the background of the applicant other than their technical credentials.

The background to this story, as described in a previous post, is as follows:

As the summer of 1997 ended, I found myself, within the confines of New York City, a nomad. A break-up with my girlfriend meant I had to find new accommodations, and it had resulted in my moving thrice in three months. Finally I settled on the Lower East Side, renting a room in an apartment still under construction. I was broke; the moving had cost me; I had lost apartment deposits and spent too much money eating out, drinking beer, whiling away my time in bars playing pool. My meager summer employment hadn’t kept pace with my reckless expenditures and I found myself skimping, saving, borrowing money from friends, just to get by and pay rent. Even more problematically, my doctoral oral examinations awaited; I had an ambitious reading list–in philosophy of language, logic, and science–to get through.

As the fall semester began, I found myself caught, willy-nilly, in a form of monastic discipline. I had wasted enough time over the summer; I had to buckle down now. I had two section of Introductory Philosophy to teach, a long list of journal articles to get through, and very little money to spend. So I did what all abstainers do: I enforced a routine. I tried to wake up at the same time everyday, avoided my old haunts, and kept my nose to the wheel.

Well, it worked. I passed my oral exams (I was told I had earned ‘a distinction.’) But I was still broke. I needed work, and would have to take a semester–the coming spring of 1998–off from graduate school. So, I typed up a CV, detailed my previous experience as a C programmer and a UNIX system administrator, and faxed it to a dozen or so head-hunters in New York City. By the end of the day, I had received several call-backs. The next morning, I spoke to one of the agencies, and was directed to an interview with an online brokerage for the position of a UNIX system administrator (to take care of their battery of SUN servers that powered their website.) I interviewed, made my salary demands known, and waited for a call. It soon came, informing me I was hired. But I had to take a drug test first.

I had smoked pot several times over the past summer, but from September onward, I had abstained. You see, folks who smoke marijuana can make reasoned decisions about whether they think indulgence in it may interfere with personal and professional projects of importance. I wanted to concentrate on my teaching and exam preparation; simple abstinence seemed like a good way to facilitate that process.  And now, it seemed my abstinence would also help me pass the drug test my employer wanted me to undertake.

There was one problem though: the drug test was not the usual ‘piss-in-a-bottle’ test; instead it tested hair samples. I found this out on the day I went for the test. Surprised at not being handed a bottle, I dutifully raised my arms for clippings to be taken from my armpits. This did not bode well, for I had learned that traces of marijuana can be found in hair samples for months longer than in urine samples.  A day later, I received a phone call from the Human Resources Department. The conversation went as follows:

Administrative Lady: Mr. Chopra, we want to let you know that you tested positive for marijuana in your drug test.

Me: Oh, really?

Administrative Lady: We would like you to know that at XXX, we have a drug-free workplace.

Me: Uh-huh

Administrative Lady: Can you please come in as soon as possible to fill out your remaining forms?

Me: Sure.

And that was it. I had failed the drug test, but I was still hired. I was a UNIX system administrator; I ‘knew’ Solaris; I was in a possession of a ‘rare’ skill. What were they going to do? Go find another system administrator, back into the madness of trying to find someone qualified, in competition with other brokerages and Wall Street employers? Fat chance. I was in.

Six months later, I quit. I had saved enough money to float my graduate school boat for a while. And I continued to abstain from pot till the day I defended my doctoral thesis, on January 6, 2000. Then, I celebrated.

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.

Lohocla, The Killer Drug

An  extended discussion on Twitter this morning reminded me of a post I once wrote on the Usenet newsgroup alt.drugs. Back in 1990. It’s pretty weak stuff, but I was just having fun then. Here you go:

US Government officials are gearing up for might be this country’s worst drug epidemic, rivaling the devastation caused by crack in its inner cities. Officials at the Federal Drug Administration announced today that a new drug ‘LOHOCLA’ is gaining widespread popularity across the nation and that emergency measures are currently being evaluated.

Lohocla is a clear liquid with a distinct aroma to it. It is consumed either in its concentrate form or is mixed in with slightly more pleasant tasting beverages so as to diminish the bitterness of its taste. Its immediate effects are to introduce a lessening of inhibitions in the user, slight loss in motor skills and a gradual dizziness often referred to in street terms as being a “buzz”. when consumed in large quantities it brings about varying reactions. Some users report feelings of hostility, others a greater sense of content and some users have reported a tendency to become embarrassingly verbose. Whatever its effect on human behavior, there is no disputing the damage caused to human physiology. Cirrhosis of the liver, increased ALT levels, exacerbation of viral hepatitis are some of the damaging effects reported by the National Institute of Health. When consumed in excess quantities, it has caused vomiting, blindness, nausea, blackouts and death.

Drug Czar William Bennett was quoted as saying today:” Lohocla users need to be shown that their usage of this extremely dangerous drug will not be tolerated in a society like ours. We are currently evaluating measures to punish those users caught in the possession of more than 16 oz of any lohocla derivative, since it is obvious that larger quantities can only be intended for distribution” Officials at the FDA say that they might have underestimated the dangers of Lohocla when its availability first became apparent.

Russ Hill’s case is a graphic reminder of the dangers created by lohocla. A 23 year old computer science major at Cordobia University, Russ started using lohocla more than 6 years ago when still in high school. When senior year pressure coupled with unsympathetic stepfather got to be too much, Russ turned to lohocla as a means of forgetting about his problems. ‘It was great, I used to come home and have about four or five hits of akdov (a derivative of lohocla) mixed with orange juice and forget all about my hassles in life.’ Soon, Russ was consuming upto ten hits a day of reeb, the most popular derivative of lohocla. This coupled with his consumption of akdov in the evenings led to a steadily worsening of his health. On March 23rd, Russ stepped out on the street in front of his house, intoxicated on akdov and stepped right into the path of a car going by. He was taken to the local hospital where doctors amputated his right leg. To this day, Russ cannot remember the events of that evening: ‘It’s like a blackout, nothing comes back to me now.’

As this frightening menace sweeps across American cities, parents, educators and health administration officials have combined in an effort to encourage the government to take harsher measures against lohocla dealers and users. As a lone voice, The National Organization for the Reform of Lohocla Laws (NORLL) has called upon the government to legalize the possession and use of lohocla, saying that its continuing illegality is unlikely to reduce consumption in any manner and could only lead to steady deterioration in the current law and order situation. William Bennett calls their approach ‘ridiculous’ saying that,  ‘Its only too clear to me that they have no idea of the dangers associated with the drug. We have cases daily of people dying from this drug and they want to legalize it?’

The 1944 Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana Report

Today’s post continues a theme initiated yesterday: sensible views on drugs, expressed many, many years ago. Yesterday’s post referenced the New York Academy of Medicine’s 1955 report on opiate addiction. Today’s post goes back even further, to 1944. Then, as reefer madness swept the nation (WWII notwithstanding), New York City became the focus of a study on marihuana and its alleged effects. I’ll let Robert DeRopp take up the story in this excerpt from his Drugs and the Mind:

The cries of alarm continued nonetheless, particularly in the region of New York City, and so strident did the clamor become that some action seemed necessary. This action was taken by one of New York’s best-loved and most colorful mayors, Fiorello La Guardia, who sensibly concluded that his first duty was to discover the facts concerning the use of marihuana in the city, and on the basis of those facts, to take whatever steps seemed necessary. He accordingly requested assistance from the New York Academy of Medicine, which appointed a committee to obtain those facts of which the mayor was in need.

The report of the Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana, which was published in 1944, is a mine of valuable information, sociological, psychological, and pharmacological, concerning marihuana and its effects. The results are worthy of careful study because they place the whole phenomenon of marihuana smoking in the correct perspective and reveal the so-called “marihuana problem” as a minor nuisance rather than a major menace. In his foreword to the report, Mayor La Guardia himself remarked, “I am glad that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated as far as New York City is concerned,” but observed that he would continue to enforce the laws prohibiting the use of marihuana “until and if complete findings may justify an amendment to existing laws.”

DeRopp describes these findings in some detail: the patterns of usage, the price of marihuana, the debunking of claims pertaining to its pernicious effects on crime, public morality, addiction and juvenile delinquency being the most prominent, and notes that the report concludes with the following words:

The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City are unfounded.

Unfortunately, as DeRopp goes on to note:

Needless to say, this calm report was not at all welcome to sensation-hungry journalists who saw themselves deprived of a valuable source of material for headlines. So after the publication of the mayor’s report there was much stormy correspondence, some of which invaded the pages of the medical press. Even the austere Journal of the American Medical Association abandoned its customary restraint and voiced its editorial wrath in scolding tones. So fierce was the editorial that one might suppose the learned members of the mayor’s committee–appointed, incidentally, by the New York Academy of Medicine–had formed some unhallowed league with the ‘tea-pad’ proprietors to undermine the city’s health by deliberately misrepresenting the facts about marihuana. 

This sounds extremely familiar. And there matters have stood for some seventy years now, even as the war on drugs continues in its idiotic, racist, misguided ways.

Note: The citation for the Mayor’s Committee report is: Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana. The Marihuana Problem in New York City. Jacques Cattell Press, Philadelphia, 1944