Skip to Content

Blog Feeds

Virginia Election Could Have Big Impact on Marijuana Policy

MPP Blog - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 13:01

Virginia will elect its next governor tomorrow, November 7. Please take a minute to examine each candidate’s position on marijuana policy before you head to the polls. While every candidate favors some form of reduced penalty for simple possession, they have significant differences in opinion regarding marijuana penalties in the commonwealth.

  • Democrat Ralph Northam supports decriminalization of marijuana and legalizing the medical use of marijuana.
  • Republican Ed Gillespie opposes decriminalizing marijuana but favors a three-strikes approach for simple possession. The first two violations would not carry criminal charges, but a third would. He is open to “appropriate, limited, tightly regulated use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
  • Libertarian Cliff Hyra supports decriminalization, the establishment of a medical marijuana program, and allowing responsible adults ages 21 and older to consume marijuana.

This election is important, as the governor holds considerable sway over the direction of Virginia’s policies. Please visit your local polling station between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. tomorrow, November 7, if you are a Virginia resident. If you don’t know where your polling station is, click here to find out. Check your voter registration here, and be sure to bring a photo ID with you when you head to the polling station. Make your voice heard tomorrow!

The post Virginia Election Could Have Big Impact on Marijuana Policy appeared first on MPP Blog.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Legalization Alone is Not Enough, How We Create A New Market Matters

NORML Blog - Sun, 11/05/2017 - 08:20

In March of this year, Oakland City Council implemented the Equity Permit Program for aspiring marijuana entrepreneurs in the new green economy. This program is designed to address the past disparities in the cannabis industry by giving priority to the victims of the war on drugs and minimizing barriers to entry into the industry; ultimately trying to level the playing field within the medical cannabis arena. The Oakland City Council found that the Black community has been dramatically overrepresented in cannabis-related arrests in the past 20 years, accounting for 90% of these arrests at times.

The city is including an incentive for non-equity applicants by fast-tracking permits from property owners who offer free rent to equity applicants as a way to assist the entrepreneurs who have had little access to capital. Additionally, tax revenue collected from this new licensing process will be used to establish an assistance program for equity applicants, offering no-interest startup loans, exemption from the permit application fee, and technical assistance.

To qualify as an applicant and receive this assistance, the individual must be an Oakland resident with an annual income that’s less than 80 percent of the Oakland Average Medium Income and either has a past marijuana conviction in Oakland or has lived for ten of the last twenty years in police beats that experienced a disproportionately higher amount of law enforcement.

Although the program may not perfect, Oakland is setting an example of how to begin to address marijuana-related oppression that has impacted historically marginalized groups. Other states that have legalized marijuana, or are in the process of doing so, should look to the Oakland model because legalization alone will not address the historic injustices perpetrated by law enforcement under prohibition.

However, as states both decriminalize and legalize the recreational use of marijuana, researchers still find enormous racial disparities within arrest rates. From a 2013 ACLU report, researchers found that although marijuana use rates are almost equal among Black and White individuals, Black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to their White neighbors. Even with decriminalization, most states still have outrageous fines in lieu of jail time—$5 worth of marijuana can result in a $150 fine in Ohio. For most people, that is a large portion of their paycheck that would otherwise go towards rent, food, and other basic necessities. And, most importantly, the same racial disparities within arrest rates of marijuana possession are likely replicated in civil offenses for marijuana possession. Even with decriminalization, police are still going to be targeting Black people at the same rate. In Washington, DC last year, arrests for public use of marijuana nearly tripled just one year after marijuana use (but not marijuana sales) became legal in the city. Many of these arrests directly impact poor people and minorities, especially because it’s only legal to consume marijuana on privately owned property. Individuals who rent or are in public housing cannot enjoy private consumption.

So, even when more states begin to legalize marijuana, Black individuals are still going to be less likely to be able to thrive in the regulated marijuana market because of the copious amount of fines, prison time, and harassment from law enforcement. Not to mention, even when fines are replaced for minor marijuana possession instead of jail time, those that are unable to pay the fine may be arrested or forced to appear in court–raking in additional fines to pay. However, not even programs similar to Oakland’s are enough to resolve these discrepancies. A number of states have laws that don’t allow those with past convictions to apply to open a marijuana business, which disproportionately discriminates against minorities that have been targeted for marijuana possession offenses prior to legalization. To rid of this disparity, states with legalization laws should be issuing automatic expungements of prior marijuana-related arrests.

The enforcement of marijuana prohibition has gone out of its way to marginalize the Black community, so it’s only right that each state work just as hard to remedy this problem. A great place to start is with a program that allocates a certain amount of funds, resources, and applications for minorities who want to start a marijuana business, in states that have legalization laws. Without these programs and without recognizing these injustices, racial disparities will continue and Black people will not be given a fair opportunity to thrive in a regulated marijuana market.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Maine Governor Vetoes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Advocates Urging Legislative Override

MPP Blog - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:53

On Friday, Maine Gov. Paul LePage followed through on threats to veto legislation that would have started the process of implementing a regulated marijuana market that Maine voters called for when they approved Question 1 in 2016. The bill, which was supported overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, would have created rules for cultivation, processing, and retail establishments, as well as set tax rates for adult-use marijuana and delay marijuana social consumption lounges until summer 2019.

LD 1650 was the product of nearly seven months of transparent deliberations in the legislature that included input from a variety of stakeholders and concerned residents. Gov. LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) attempted to circumvent this legislation by introducing a bill to officially delay marijuana retail sales until 2019, but it was defeated in late October.

MPP’s David Boyer released the following statement:

Gov. LePage has made a mistake by vetoing this legislation. Instead of a regulated and controlled system of marijuana cultivation and sales, Maine will continue to support the unregulated market. In 2014, the governor said he would implement a legalization law if approved by voters, but he has failed to uphold that commitment.

We call on the legislature to override this ill-advised veto. The bipartisan compromise bill proposed by the legislature will allow Maine to establish the regulations necessary to implement the will of the people as expressed last November. 

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker campaigned against the marijuana legalization initiative last year. However, he respected the outcome and moved forward with implementation of the law. It is unfortunate that Gov. LePage has not done the same. Seven other states have passed legalization initiatives over the past five years, and none have seen this type of obstructionism from their governors.

MPP will continue working with our allies and the legislature to make sure Maine voters gets the legal and regulated marijuana program they called for last year.

UPDATE: Legislative attempts to override the veto failed. MPP is urging lawmakers to address the issue immediately at the beginning of the next session.

The post Maine Governor Vetoes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Advocates Urging Legislative Override appeared first on MPP Blog.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Maine Governor Vetoes Retail Legalization Implementation

NORML Blog - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 10:22

Gov LePage (R-Maine)

Republican Gov. Paul LePage today vetoed legislation that sought to regulate the production and sales of cannabis to adults. Members of the House and Senate approved the legislation late last month during a one-day special session, but did so without a veto-proof majority. (Members of the Senate voted 22-9 in favor of the bill. Members of the House voted 81-50 in favor of the bill.)

[11/6/17 UPDATE: Members of the House of Representatives voted to let Gov. LePage’s veto stand. Some House lawmakers are further calling for legislators to extend the existing moratorium on retail sales beyond February 1, 2018.]

LePage said, “Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine.”

The Governor’s veto reverses a campaign pledge where he indicated that he would support the enactment of adult use regulation if it was approved by a voter referendum.

A majority of Maine voters decided last November in favor of a statewide initiative legalizing the adult use, retail production, and licensed sale of marijuana. Governor LePage lobbied against the measure and in January lawmakers passed emergency legislation delaying the enactment of many of its provisions until February 2018. Since that time, the Governor has refused to work with lawmakers with regard to how to regulate marijuana sales and other provisions of the law. The Governor did endorse legislation that sought to delay any further implementation of the law until 2019, but lawmakers defeated that measure.

The Governor’s veto, if not overridden by lawmakers, will further delay the ability of legislators to regulate the commercial cannabis market in a manner that comports with the voters’ mandate.

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal called the Governor’s actions “disappointing but hardly surprising.”

He said: “A majority of Maine voters decided in favor of regulating adult marijuana use and strong majorities of both the House and Senate approved legislation to implement this mandate. It is unwise for the Governor to stand in the way of this progress.”

He added: “It makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for Gov. LePage to try to put this genie back in the bottle. It is time that he look to the future rather than to the past, and take appropriate actions to comport Maine’s marijuana laws and regulations with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri went further: “Governor LePage’s veto is just the latest in a line of anti-democratic attacks coming from his office and his stonewalling will only ensure the prolonged existence of a criminal black market in Maine and deny the state coffers of needed tax revenue. Maine should be looking at ways to expeditiously implement a robust legalization program that represents what state voters approved at the ballot box.”

Presently, adults may legally possess, consume, and cultivate personal use quantities of cannabis, but no regulations exist governing its retail production or sale.

Categories: Blog Feeds

American Legion: One in Five Veterans Use Marijuana To Alleviate A Medical Or Physical Condition

NORML Blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:46

In a new poll of US service veterans conducted by The American Legion and presented today on Capitol Hill, one in five veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

Flanked by lawmakers including Reps Tim Walz, Mark Takano, Julia Brownley, and Matt Gaetz, veterans presented their own personal stories of the efficacy of marijuana as a therapeutic treatment for a litany of conditions.

Other notable data points revealed by the survey:

  •  81% of veterans support federally-legal treatment
  • 60% of respondents do not live in states where medical cannabis is legal
  • 40% of respondents live in states where medical cannabis is legal
  • And the partisan divide is nearly non-existent:
    • 88% of self-identified conservative respondents support federally legalized medical
      cannabis
    • 90% of self-identified liberal respondents support federally legalized medical
      cannabis
    • 70% of self-identified non-partisan respondents support federally legalized medical
      cannabis

My favorite data point from their poll: 100% of respondents aged 18-30 support federally legalized medical cannabis.

You can support the same legislation that the American Legion supports, the Veterans Equal Access Act, which would allow those who have served our country to discuss and be recommended medical marijuana in the states that have implemented programs by CLICKING HERE. 

DYK: 83 percent of #veterans households surveyed support legalizing #MedicalCannabis use. #Vets4MMJResearch #PTSD #Cannabis #TBI pic.twitter.com/GhJxv4MgyC

— The American Legion (@AmericanLegion) November 2, 2017

Categories: Blog Feeds

American Legion Backs Medical Marijuana; Poll Shows Overwhelming Veteran Support

MPP Blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 08:36

A poll commissioned by the American Legion in October showed record support among veterans for medical marijuana.

The Cannabist reports:

With polling showing Americans’ support for marijuana legalization has hit new highs, a new survey by the American Legion shows strong support within the military veteran community for medical marijuana research and legalization.

The “robo-call” survey commissioned by America’s largest veterans service organization polled vets and their non-professional caregivers in early October. It found that 81 percent of veterans and 83 percent of caregivers support the federal legalization of cannabis to treat a physical or mental condition.

“We already know that greater than 80% of the American public supports research into the efficacy of medical cannabis,” Joe Plenzler, spokesman for the American Legion, said in a statement to The Cannabist. “What this survey shows is that America’s veterans feel even more strongly about the need to study cannabis and its potential in treating, PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments veterans face every day.”

You can find a full video of the American Legion press conference releasing the poll results below, and read about some veterans’ stories here.

The post American Legion Backs Medical Marijuana; Poll Shows Overwhelming Veteran Support appeared first on MPP Blog.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Trump’s Commission Denies Evidence That Cannabis Can Mitigate Opioid Abuse

NORML Blog - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:37

Despite the growing body of scientific evidence showing that cannabis access is associated with reductions in opioid use and mortality, the Chairman of the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis today called upon the President to reject any efforts to acknowledge marijuana’s promising role in mitigating opioid abuse and dependency.

In a letter sent today to President Donald Trump by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Chairman of the Committee, he writes:

“The Commission acknowledges that there is an active movement to promote the use of
marijuana as an alternative medication for chronic pain and as a treatment for opioid addiction. … There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana. This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current
epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction. The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic.”

President Trump established the Commission in May via an executive order. Members of the Commission issued their policy recommendations today.

In recent months, dozens of peer-reviewed studies have concluded that legal cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use, spending, abuse, hospitalization, and mortality. Summaries and links to these studies are available here.

Despite over 10,000 advocates communicating this information to the Commission, members of the committee have chosen to disregard it. Moreover, Gov. Christie opines in today’s letter that cannabis exposure increases the likelihood that one will become opioid dependent — an allegation that was recently rejected by the National Academy of Sciences, which, in a January 2017 review of some 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, failed to identify even one “good or fair-quality systematic review that reported on the association between cannabis use and the initiation of use of opioids.”

NORML thanks the thousands of you who took the time to try to inform and educate this Commission and regrets that its members continue to place political ideology above the health and safety of American lives.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Domestic Hemp Production More Than Doubles In Past Year

NORML Blog - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 12:40

Domestic hemp production increased dramatically from 2016 to 2017, according to data compiled by the advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

The group calculates that US farmers cultivated over 23,000 acres of hemp in 2017, up from fewer than 10,000 acres in 2016.

Under a 2014 federal law, states may license hemp cultivation as part of a university sponsored pilot program. Thirty-two universities in nineteen states – including Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Tennessee – have participated in hemp cultivation projects this year.

“The majority of states have implemented hemp farming laws, in clear support of this crop and its role in diversifying and making more sustainable our agricultural economy,” Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra said in a prepared statement. “It’s imperative that we pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in Congress, so that we can grant farmers full federally legal rights to commercially cultivate hemp to supply the growing global market for hemp products.”

House Bill 3530: The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 excludes cannabis strains under 0.3 percent THC from the federal definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill is assigned before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Virginia State Crime Commission Holds Hearing On Decriminalization

NORML Blog - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 09:55

On Monday, October 30th, I took a short trip down to Richmond, Virginia to testify alongside Virginia NORML regarding proposals to decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana, in order for those who are stopped by law enforcement to no longer face jail time or a criminal charge.

Among the policy proposals are options that are line with those of numerous other states, including Nebraska and Mississippi. Such a change will save taxpayers money and allow police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes.

Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it.

Watch the testimony of Jenn Michelle Pedini, Executive Director of Virginia NORML below. You can support their work by clicking here. 

Categories: Blog Feeds

More Evidence of Tragic Pot Ignorance

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 16:41
A long article in last Friday's New York Times detailed a remarkable saga of the monumental greed, stupidity, and ineptitude that characterize both sides of the illegal drug markets Richard Nixon created in 1970 with his spiteful Controlled Substances Act.

It recounts the improbable rise and fall of a huge multinational cannabis business that was created by a French-Canadian entrepreneur named Jimmy Cournoyer. Jimmy started with marijuana grown in western Canada and arranged to have it ferried east by Hells Angels, then across the Saint Lawrence by Mohawk Indians from Upstate Hew York, using either speed boats or snowmobiles depending on the weather.

From there it was trucked down to the lucrative urban markets that have long existed in New York City's environs. Cournoyer, whose greed is apparently without limits and whose organizational skills are considerable, somehow managed to cobble together a veritable UN of criminal helpers:"a company of criminals that came to include Native American smugglers, Hells Angels, Mexican money launderers, and a clothier turned cocaine dealer" plus others almost too numerous to mention.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Debunking the false "Drugs abd Alcohol" mantra

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 17:16
Mark Kleiman is a Professor of Public Policy at UCLA; he has long specialized in drug policy and has achieved a position of considerable prominence by claiming to be a moderate, while really taking a position that fully supports our lunatic drug war. Ironically, he came to my attention early in my own career as an activist opposing it. As I've mentioned before, it was an Op-ed on meth that Kleiman– then at Harvard– co-authored with psychiatrist Sally Satel in 1995 that brought him to my attention. While I've yet to meet Dr. Klieman, I've kept track of his maddeningly disingenuous position on American drug policy over the years and have marveled at how uninformed it is– particularly on the subject of marijuana. In a nutshell, he takes Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act seriously and thus considers use of marijuana and alcohol to be synergistic, while– in fact they are antagonistic, a common error stressed ad nauseam by "antidrug" ads on TV that inevitably link "drugs and alcohol"

In fact, chronic pot smokers do not drink much. The late Dr. Tod Mikuriya published about a "substitution" effect; what my more recent interrogation of users uncovered was the mechanism by which that happens. It's first necessary to reject another false assumption: the "age of consent" at which youngsters are allowed to drink (21) or use tobacco (18) legally are observed by most. To the contrary, the more emotionally troubled pubescent teens are, the more they feel impelled to experiment with drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are usually the first two because they are both "legal' and thus more available, but cannabis has been a close third since the Sixties.

Although exact figures are hard to come by, it's no secret that most youngsters start experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol at age twelve, or even younger. What my data show, however, is that the most common consequence of becoming a repetitive pot user is that interest in alcohol is quickly reduced and those who were already smoking cigarettes begin trying to quit. Rather than a "gateway" into drug use, cannabis is a gateway out of problematic use.

The reason has to do with the most obvious therapeutic effect of inhaled cannabis on those who respond to it: it's a feeling of "relaxation," that comes from feeling more comfortable in one's own skin.

As it turns out, the same provocative factors that operate in childhood to impel prepubescent youngsters to try drugs lead them to try the most available first: cigarettes and alcohol since 1900 and before, and cannabis since the early Sixties.

Unfortunately smoking is the quickest way for any psychoactive agent to reach the brain and watching youngsters smoke is an almost universal turn-off for adults. For that reason, even after cannabis is "legalized," a more acceptable delivery system will have to be found for it to become as accessible as will be needed.

Categories: Blog Feeds

The Long Term Efects of a Police Shooting

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:30
My voluntary editing of an online newsletter devoted to America’s “Drug War,” for the four years between 1997 and 2001 provided me with an intense education in the injustice that had become so intrinsic to American policy shortly after passage of Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970. While the policy had never been an intelligent response to the problems posed by addiction, Nixon’s contribution literally turned what had been disaster into a global catastrophe so progressive that it ranks high on the list of imminent dangers now threatening our feckless species; many of which may have seemed like good ideas at the time.

My antipathy toward police had its beginning with the shooting of a 22 year old African immigrant named Amodou Diallo in the Bronx by four NYC policemen on February 4, 1999, when they riddled him with 19 shots– simply because he ran from them to seek refuge in the vestibule of his apartment. Diallo had reason to run; he was black; an illegal immigrant from Guinea who was making a precarious living as a street vendor. He was also unarmed. The cops were all white and in civilian clothes. They were members of an elite Street Crime Unit that had been created by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and was subsequently disbanded because of multiple charges of excessive force). At the time, the story of Diallo’s slaying enraged so many citizens that all four shooters were arrested and charged with murder. After a motion for change of venue was granted, the trial was moved to Albany and all four were acquitted. Only one– Kenneth Boss– remained on the force but was forbidden to carry a gun. That restriction proved so intolerable that he sued the City three times to have it rescinded.

Finally, in 2012 his persistence was rewarded and his right to carry a gun was restored by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Of considerable interest to me was the reference to Ms Diallou's friend, Ms Bah, whose mentally disturbed 28 year-old son had been shot by NYC police in a setting that was eerily similar to their killing of Amadu Diallo in 1999.

Is there a pattern to these fatal shootings? What a stupid question. The only ones who doubt it are red state Republicans, police officials, and overbearing meat heads like Sean Hannity.

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

A Suspicious New Claim

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 10:41
This morning, a new claim was made on behalf of Officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that has provoked a degree of unrest and interest that is almost unprecedented. In brief, it's the unsubstantiated claim that Officer Darren Wilson, the policeman named as Brown's killer, sustained an orbital blow-out fracture just before he shot Brown. If so, it would be powerful mitigation of the claim that the shooting was either unprovoked or motivated merely by the theft of a box of cigars.

Blow out fractures are well known; they are produced by direct trauma to the eyeball and its surrounding bony orbit. They are often complicated by troublesome double vision (diplopia) from the herniation of a small fat pad that supports the eyeball and which usually requires surgical correction. Such an injury would constitute such a powerful rebuttal of the claim that Wilson's killing of Brown was either unprovoked or motivated merely by the theft of a box of cigars that its delayed release is- at the very least– highly suspicious.

A blowout fracture would also be expected to produce a black eye, noticeable misalignment of the eyeballs and x-ay evidence of a fracture, all of which are objective and, by themselves, would have at least mitigated the growing unrest.

Given the abundant evidence that similar shootings of young males by US police have become remarkably common, further developments in this case should continue to be of great interest. To see a list of this month's shootings, simply clicking on "August" in the drop-down menu for 2014 will reveal the known details on the 46 such events (including Michael Brown's) that have been listed so far this month. Most of the HTML links to media sources are live.

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

Nixon's Impact on the Modern World 1

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 08:30
It may come as a surprise to many, but the modern American President who has had the biggest impact on the contemporary world is almost certainly Richard M. Nixon, the least respected and the only one ever forced by his own dishonesty to resign.

Nixon did accomplish a lot in his six years in the White House, most of it was through ad-hoc measures that were not carefully thought out, but are still affecting us adversely. A good example was his unilateral decision to take the US off the gold standard, thus changing a multinational policy that had been adopted at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire in the immediate aftermath of World War Two and had been working reasonably well.

The consensus is that Nixon's move encouraged OPEC to raise oil prices and brought about the first "oil shock" in 1973. A second "oil shock" followed in 1978.

In 1971, Nixon tried to force North Vietnam to make concessions in Geneva by ordering the secret bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a campaign that not only failed to discourage its use to transport supplies and reinforcements to South Vietnam, but left behind a plethora of unexploded anti-personnel weapons that continued to kill and maim children decades after America was forced to withdraw its forces in an ill-advised war.

Neverteless, Nixon's greatest crime against humanity should eventually be seen as the "War on Drugs" he committed us to with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a transparently dishonest piece of legislation that– unaccountably– continues to be enforced as both US and UN policy despite its universal record of failure and generally disastrous consequences.

Categories: Blog Feeds

Progressive American Embarrassment

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 17:10
America is being progressively embarrassed in the eyes of the world; does our establishment even get it? Probably not. As I’ve been trying to point out for the past several days there’s a site on Wikipedia documenting that the callousness and stupidity now being exhibited by police in Ferguson MO is nothing new. To a shocking degree, it’s been standard police operating procedure for years when the “bad guys” are people of color, especially young males.

The demonstrations in Ferguson now seem to be taking on a mind of their own. I don't think they will stop until a majority of America's black citizens feel that they are being taken seriously and respected as citizens by their oppressors in America's police establishment. In my view, that will also require serious modification of our inane and destructive drug policy and the grossly unfair way it is enforced. I will soon have some suggestions in that regard with respect to realizing the marvelous potential of cannabis and turning it into an asset.

These are areas where Obama cannot remain the passive defender of the status quo he has been for five years. It's his moment to rise above the painful mediocrity with which he has governed thus far. He has the brains and the rhetorical skills; it's time he found some better advisers and used the "Bully Pulpit" of the Presidency with insight and conviction.

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

A Long-Overdue Protest in Ferguson

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Sat, 08/16/2014 - 09:33
On July 19th, I referred to a phenomenon that has long been a consequence of our destructive drug war: the militarization of American police agencies. In the last sentence, I included a link to a database that lists the shooting victims of American law enforcement. I'm still not sure how, or by whom that database was started, but it seems to have been well maintained since 2009, at least. It contains both the identities of the victims and the circumstances under which they were shot; usually with links to press or TV accounts. Just browsing it is a revelation: the great majority of victims were young males of color who were shot early during an encounter with their local police. There are often links to media accounts of the shootings that include protests from friends or family disagreeing with the "official" interpretation– often stridently. A substantial number of the incidents were formally investigated and the police use of deadly force was almost always found to be justified.

In fact, the current ruckus over the killing of Michael Brown by police in the Saint Louis suburb of Ferguson is rather typical of the group; except that it's generating far more media coverage than any similar event within recent memory.

One has to go back the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police which was caught on amateur video and became an oversight sensation when released to the media.

In the aftermath of the King verdict, in which the cops were all acquitted, prompting three days of rioting that produced over fifty deaths, and in which the LAPD did not distinguish itself by either its intelligence or its courage. There were additional costs: Rodney King was a chronic alcoholic who eventually died suspiciously after being enriched by a large settlement for the beating administered by the LAPD.

Some accurate and careful analyses have been written since Michael Brown's death, such as the one by Jewelle Taylor Gibbs that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. My only disagreement with her is relatively minor: I hold Richard Nixon far more culpable than Ronald Reagan; it was Nixon who (literally) dreamed up the Controlled Substances Act. All Ronnie did was to follow Tricky Dick's script (with appropriate coaching from Nancy).
Categories: Blog Feeds

A Brand New Concern

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:59
For some time, I've been frustrated by the fact that my country is the source of a failing global policy of drug prohibition; also that the species I'm a member of had been endorsing that policy for decades, despite its obvious record of failure.

Today I'd planned to post more analysis of the nuclear threat we humans had somehow avoided during the 50 year Cold War we'd been engaged in with the now-defunct Soviet Union. However, a more pressing existential threat has just come up: an outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa that has already claimed about 2000 lives and been disseminated to both Europe and the US in the form of sick patents being transported for treatment.

Whatever risk was implicit in breaking the quarantine of Ebola within Africa had thus been taken by the humanitarian decision to fly two Americans to Atlanta and a Spanish priest to Spain for treatment. It's unlikely that any quarantine would have held, in any event

That's not to say that "Marijuana" prohibition is any less ridiculous today than it was yesterday; only that the threat of globalized Ebola is much more immediate and deserves precedence.

As it happened, I'd read Richard Preston's gripping description of Ebola about ten years ago. It convinced me we'd be hearing about the Ebola virus again. The strain Preston wrote about was eventually found to infect only monkeys; not humans– but the collateral information he supplied in his detailed analysis left little doubt that Ebola, like Anthrax and Smallpox, would not disappear spontaneously.

The timing for the emergence of human Ebola couldn't be worse. Not only is our overheated, overpopulated home planet trying to cope with the mystery of two missing airliners; we have an existential viral threat as well.

Beyond that, the decision to treat three known human cases outside Africa violated the most basic rules of quarantine for a disease we know relatively little about. However, that risk had already been taken; not just in the US, but in Europe and is believed by experts to have been minor.

The good news is that we should begin to have some answers in the next 8-31 days, which seems to be the incubation period for Ebola in humans.

The bad news is that West Africa was the same place where another unknown virus HIV/Aids emerged less than 40 years ago.

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

Annals of Creeping Sanity

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 09:50
Last week, the New York Times published a surprising editorial recommending that "Marijuana" be legalized. When I attempted to simply read what the "Paper of Record" had written on a subject of great interest to me, I was greeted with a notice that I'd already exceeded my quota of free NYT articles for the month accompanied by a none-too-subtle ad for subscriptions, which I effectively trumped by visiting the old news Website I'd once edited.

While there, I noticed a few items that re-kindled a spark of optimism that our species may not be as close to auto-extinction as I'd feared: the first was an item about the popularity of "pot shops" in Colorado, but the (inevitable) downer was an item in a travel letter explaining how the Colorado rules, all of which are left over from Nixon's reefer madness, are interfering with the growth of its booming Marijuana industry.

That led me to understand that any one expecting the feds (or our species, for that matter) to get over their Nixon-imposed reefer madness in a hurry just because Colorado and Washington State had voted to "legalize" recreational use may be in for a long wait. On the other hand, progress is progress and it's always better to be going forward than backward.

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

The Bomb and the Boom: Part One

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 17:40
We are now in the midst of an important anniversary, the first-ever use of atomic energy as a weapon of war in August 1945. So much has happened in the intervening 69 years that relatively little attention has been focused on the critical events that transpired between August 6th and 9th 1945 to bring about the sudden end of the Second World War– but at the cost of releasing the nuclear genie from its bottle. That nuclear energy would have been discovered sooner or later is almost certain but the important point is that the decisions to develop and use it were motivated by World War Two and were among the more critical ever made by our species.

Thus it may be worthwhile to review them in some detail. It's clear that the humans who made them were acting under duress, a situation that hasn't changed significantly despite the rapid technological progress and population growth of the past seven decades.

Aside from the 2nd World War itself, perhaps no demographic phenomenon did so much to shape our modern world as the Baby Boom that began abruptly in 1946. If one takes live births as a critical measure of national fertility and realizes that children have not only to be conceived, but also desired by their parents, one can readily understand that for families suddenly thrown on hard times by the Great Depression, the prospect of another mouth to feed would have been most unwelcome. Although abortion was then illegal, it was also reasonably safe and much less expensive, over time, than another child in a stagnant economy where living space was already being squeezed to the max and families were making do on fewer calories and a minimum number of low-paying jobs.

We will probably never have reliable statistics on how many abortions were performed in the US during the Thirties but the number of live births in America hit its lowest point in January 1932, the month I was born. They remained depressed until 1946, when there was a sudden sharp jump; 30% over 1945. Births then hit a sustained rise that lasted through 1964, thus producing the "Boom" that is still having consequences that require analysis and understanding.

Clearly, the monetary woes of the Great Depression were banished by World War Two, there was employment for millions in the war effort and the government was printing money as never before, but the war hadn't relieved the ambient anxiety. Quite the opposite: we were suddenly locked into a global, existential struggle for survival with multiple enemies in a war of unprecedented scope and magnitude. The opponents were similar to World War One, except that a Communist Soviet Union had replaced Tsarist Russia and become a difficult ally, while Italy had joined the the Axis under Mussolini. France had fallen, requiring a massive invasion of Western Europe and an extended campaign in North Africa. The US had become the most important of the "Allies" and the only one capable of bearing the burden of a two ocean war. The Nazis had remained formidable opponents until Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945 led to a sudden German collapse.

The remaining Axis combatant was Japan, the nation that had shocked and enraged America with its brilliantly conceived and executed "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Not only were they still fighting, the invasion of their home islands was a foregone conclusion and expected to be even more daunting than the invasion of Europe and North Africa. The geography alone was formidable: Japan is a 1000 mile archipelago featuring four mountainous volcanic islands, then populated by upwards of 73 million people, all purportedly committed to a quasi– religious Bushido Code that preferred death by suicide to the dishonor of surrender.

Fortunately, the Western allies– and the Japanese people– were spared the uncertainty and trauma of invasion by Harry Truman's decision to use two secretly developed "Atomic" bombs on Japanese cities: a uranium device on Hiroshima on August 6th and a plutonium version on Nagasaki three days later. Truman's decision– and its aftermath– have since been the subject of intense debate- much of it woefully uniformed– for the past sixty–odd years. I say "uninformed" because any realistic analysis based of what Truman knew, along with what he learned after the responsibility for leading the Allies had been thrust upon him by Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945 would lead any reasonable person to do almost exactly what Truman did.

First of all, it was by then an American War on the "Allied Side"; we were heavily engaged in both the Atlantic and Pacific and had dominated since North Africa. We'd also been primary everywhere but Russia, (yet still supplied Stalin with critical assistance). Truman was a relatively unknown political figure, thrust by fate into the very center of responsibility at a critical time in US history. The man who had been leading the nation for thirteen years through the Depression and the war had just died suddenly, leaving him in charge. He'd also just been informed that FDR, that same leader, had– in 1942– taken a huge gamble by diverting over two billion dollars to develop a secret weapon no one could be sure would even work.

The success of Roosevelt's gamble was then confirmed on July 15th when when the Trinity test in the New Mexico Desert proved the Plutonium bomb would explode and assuaged the fears of some insiders (Enrico Fermi among them) that it would produce an uncontrolled chain reaction.

Thus how could Truman opt for a costly and bloody invasion of Japan when he'd just learned that we now possessed a new bomb that could end the war in a day or two?

As it would turn out, that's what actually happened– although not through a set of circumstances anyone on the US/Allied side could have predicted: Emperor Hirohito, who at that time, had greater personal power over Japan than anyone in history was the only leader who could have forced their surrender– became persuaded by the Nagasaki bomb to overrule his military advisers for the first time since Japan had embarked on a war of conquest against China following the Marco Polo Bridge incident.

In other words, Hirohito, Japan's supreme ruler, who was (properly) considered by many to have been a war criminal, was Truman's opposite number: the only man in the world with the power to end Japan's participation in the war, and– as a bonus– secure its cooperation during the critical post war occupation. That his views had been radically changed by the Nagasaki bomb is demonstrated by the fact that he overruled his military advisers for the first time since Japan had embarked on its course of conquest and also recorded his famous surrender broadcast.

Finally, to those who claim that Truman had a realistic alternative to use of the bomb, I would offer the carefully reasoned assessment of Karl Compton, a thoughtful contemporary observer who took the trouble to question influential Japanese leaders soon after the event.

Given all that has happened since August 1945, especially the Cold War between the US and Russia and the arms race it engendered, the fact that the Nagasaki bomb was the 2nd and last time a nuclear weapon was used in time of war is almost miraculous.

Unfortunately, posturing in the Ukraine and elsewhere tells us that "Nuclear Chicken" is still very much on the menu for would-be world "leaders."

Will we ever learn that the the most reasonable goal in human life is not "winning," but survival in the hope of improving the lot of our species?

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds

Colossal Canadian Stupidity

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 11:46
We're used to thinking of our neighbors to the North as more conservative and less zany than us Americans, but every so often, as if to show that we can't take then for granted, our Northern cousins do something really bizarre. This time it was a ruling by Health Canada that Liam McKnight, a little boy with Dravet syndrome whose seizures were being well controlled with a cannabis edible, would have to switch to another mode of administration in order to comply with a truly clueless ruling from Health Canada.

In fact, it had been only about a year ago that the first significant mention of the use of marijuana for medical purposes had appeared on a series of CNN broadcasts featuring British host Piers Morgan and American neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta on a case involving a Colorado child named Charlotte Figi who was also a victim of Dravet Syndrome.

Since than, Dravet Syndrome, first described by a neurologist named Charlotte Dravet in 1978, (whom I'd never heard of before) has been popping up frequently in news related to the medical use of cannabis– always with remarkable reductions in the number and frequency of seizures.

In fact, the frequency of that association makes me wonder if there might be a class action case on behalf of young people with seizure disorders who are clearly being impeded by the DEA's single minded quest to reduce use of cannabis on the spurious grounds asserted by Richard Nixon in 1970.

It was just such a case that overturned the disastrous policy of segregation that had effectively re-imposed chattel Slavery on the nation by stealing the victory won by the Civil War.

What the Court can impose, it can also take away. All that's required is the right case, some good will, and a modicum of common sense.

Are we up to it?

Doctor Tom
Categories: Blog Feeds