Archive for March, 2010

27
Mar
10

The “Surf City” Strategy

Kym enticed me into reading her latest article on legalization for The North Coast Journal by citing one of my previous comments.  Yeah, I’m that vain.  It’s a great article.  I hope everyone in Humboldt and Mendocino and Trinity reads it.  That’s not enough, though.  Really, I hope Jerry Brown reads it.   Crazy as it sounds, I think he’s going to be our next governor, and I think the Emerald Triangle needs a friend in Sacramento.

Grassroots organizing is powerful.  Despite all of the negativity coming from the rabbit-hearted growers afraid of the prospect of losing money, and despite the paralyzing paranoia of conspiracy theorists convinced that big Pharma will engineer all the fun out of marijuana, history teaches us that small groups of motivated citizens can shape public policy and culture.   If you don’t like what you think you see, you can do more than criticize those who are trying to create a better future.

Another thing history teaches to those with eyes to see is that authenticity is a powerful commodity.  Even if every cynical, self-defeating statement coming from those who insist on seeing the glass as bone-dry and shattered into a pile of dangerous shards is true – that ADM and RJ Reynolds will set up stadium-sized schwag-fields in Bakersfield or Sonora, Mexico, undersell every small-time grower, and have the audacity to market their fly-specked, dusty shit as “Humboldt Red” – no one can steal history.  Arguments about terroir and hybrids and knowledge aside, there’s a specific history here that can’t be undone, for good and bad.  It might be true that those by-gone outlaws who created strains of dank just to buy tricked-out Humvees had their own self-interests at heart, just like it might be true that those unlucky enough to lose their crops to CAMP or end up in prison after being busted for speeding in Utah with pounds in their trunk suffered by themselves, but their stories ultimately belong here.  This is – largely – where it went down, and agribusiness can’t buy your past.  At least, not easily.

Take the fight over “Surf City” as an object lesson.  I’ve lived in Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach, the two cities that have spent the better part of a decade fighting over the rights to that name.   Surfer magazine labeled it “Moniker-Gate.” Both cities fought hard.  Huntington Beach filed a patent on the name.  Santa Cruz filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.    Hear what I’m saying?  The waves roll in and out, regardless of what people do, but Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach fought tooth and nail over a nickname because of what it signified.

Beyond the specific nickname, what those two cities were really fighting over was authenticity.  Objectively speaking, Santa Cruz has it – that’s where California surfing was born, after all – but Huntington Beach wanted to make money from it, so both cities worked the levers of power until it was settled in the eyes of almost no one except for the people making money from tote-bags and t-shirts.  There’s decent surf in Huntington, but no matter what is says on some tourist’s t-shirt in southern California, no one with a board would choose the dirty, warm-water slop of the cliffs over the cold-water perfection of Steamer Lane.  And no matter what the courts decide, it’s far too late to change what happened in 1885.   The same is true up here, with the significant exception that no one is trying to take your authenticity away from you – it is indisputably yours right now.

I’ve read the comments from readers disparaging those people – like Kym – who want Humboldt to embrace its shady past.  Cindy H. offered this fairly-representative point on Kym’s North Coast Journal article:

Yes, this is how we should advertise and want the world to remember the beautiful north coast of California – Weed, not for the giant redwoods, not for the magnificent coastline, not for the historical victorian homes, not for the wonderful artist community, not for the colleges, no not any of those things.

I like the sarcasm more than the sentiment.  Not to belabor my earlier point, but there are people in Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz who think their towns have more to offer than water, too.  They may even be right.  Should they pretend that they’re not coastal, though?  The waves arrive whether you acknowledge them or not.  Take a cue from nature – the weed grows alongside the trees, not instead of them.  What is there to be gained by trying to pretend that marijuana growing isn’t a significant element to the culture in this part of California?  You can disparage it if you want, but you can’t honestly deny it – it is, regardless of what you want to believe.

I’m no more sympathetic to those people who try to hide the massacres of Indian and Chinese residents that took place up here in the 19th century.  Deny your history if you want, but that won’t change it.  Sorry, but the past has already happened, and you’ve missed your chance to stop it; now all that’s left is dealing with the fallout.

So, you can try to organize to protect your resource base, or you can organize to deny it and sweep all that money out of the county… or you can just sit on the sidelines and watch what happens to your county when people who have no connection to this place decide the matter for you.  Good luck with that.

There’s one more facet to the political dance that we shouldn’t overlook, too.  The state of California didn’t really have a dog in that “surf city” fight between Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz, because the money was going to end up in the state one way or the other.  Buy your t-shirt in Huntington Beach or Santa Cruz, California gets its 8.25% cut either way.  The same isn’t necessarily true about the money that will come after legalization.  Before you give up what you already have for the prospect of something that might replace it, you should consider the upside to the status quo.

I’ve lived in lots of places that make their money from tourism, and I’m of two minds on the subject.  It can bring in money and provide a stable economy of sorts, but it’s not an economy that I’d want to have anything to do with.  I know myself well enough to know that I can’t live in service.  But beyond my personal preferences, I’m not sure I’d even  want to be here to see the coastline and culture change to accommodate for tourism.  I’ll take old trees and rocky cliffs over convention centers and golf courses any day; the same goes for farms and forests.  I like the redwood curtain, and the last thing I’d want to see up here are wider freeways and bigger airports.  Let San Francisco cash in that way.  You’d do better to try to get the state government to structure the coming legalization to support the small-scale grower economy you already have, rather than trying to create an entirely new tourist economy out of nothing.

One final point on money.  There’s been lots of speculation about what will happen to prices in the aftermath of legalization.  Most people who’ve weighed in on the subject have argued that prices will drop, and the arguments I’ve seen in support of that opinion seem reasonable.  Unlike the past, though, the future can’t be accurately described, and there’s really no way of knowing for sure what will happen.  California’s central valley might be the best spot to grow marijuana, but don’t forget about the people who live in the central valley – you know, the people who keep electing those comically uber-conservative representatives?  the same people who have been passing laws to keep dispensaries out of their communities, even though they’re sort of legal under California state law?   Consider the possibility that the cultural landscape might trump the agricultural potential for those places that don’t share the Emerald Triangle’s unique history.

Consider, too, the possibility that the sky might not fall.  Just to end on a positive note, I’ll pass along a happy thought from one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers:

Gillespie is wrong — legalization of weed generally leads to higher prices, not lower (have you *seen* the prices in Amsterdam?).  Of course the sin taxes are a factor, but it also shouldn’t have been hard for a free market fetishist like Gillespie to see the other reasons.

Once it moves off the black market people have a lot more choices of product and aren’t limited to whatever their connection has this week, and so many start choosing quality product over the only stuff that’s available, which provides upward price pressure.  You also open up the market to consumers who often feel there’s too much risk vs. reward in participating in the black market, which also drives up prices as demand increases and a more affluent clientele enters the market (many of us with straight, non-pro-athlete, non-writer jobs can’t afford to have a pot bust on our record…).

So, consider the possibility that the future might be wide open.  And unlike the past that can’t be changed, it’s not too late to take action to shape that future, if you feel like nudging it in a particular direction.  Or you can just let it roll over you.  Don’t take too long deciding, though  – you know what they say about time and tide?

26
Mar
10

Spreads like a weed

File under political irony:

I may have been overreaching in my last post, when I lumped the anti-health care idiots to those who plan to fight against legalizing the demon weed in California.   Then again, connections spring forth in all kinds of strange ways.

You know how the same people who couldn’t care less about violating the constitution when it came to putting us all under permanent surveillance are now up in arms about our precious, fragile constitution when it comes to providing health care (in a very limited way) to poor people?  And they’re so angry about it that they’ve been mobilizing a collective effort to challenge the constitutionality of the reform bill?

Turns out, they’ve been outthunk by themselves.  And it’s all because of the demon weed.  The 6-3 decision by our cartoonish U.S. Supreme Court in the Gonzalez v. Raich case establishes the Federal Government’s right to regulate marijuana grown in the home for personal consumption.  On the basis that homegrown has some kind of tenuous connection to commerce.  Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?  Speaking of ridiculous, here’s the argument from the majority opinion written by Antonin Scalia:

Even “non-economic local activity” can come under federal regulation if it is “a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce.”

I’m no legal expert, but I’ve been watching Scalia long enough to understand that just about everything he writes or says is wrong, so I’m going to put aside my “ignorance of the law” excuse for the moment and call that a pretty stupid argument.

On the other hand, though, since Scalia’s opinions so rarely offer any reason for celebration, I’m going to take a moment to enjoy the fact that the above-referenced stupid opinion – designed, no doubt, as another brick in the wall of marijuana prohibition – is what’s going to put all of those anti-health care reform lawsuits to bed.  Here’s the link to the full article, but this paragraph sums it up:

[T]his week, Obama administration lawyers pointed to Scalia’s opinion as supporting the constitutionality of broad federal regulation of health insurance, and most legal experts agreed.  In the healthcare legislation, signed by the president Tuesday, Congress required virtually all Americans to have health insurance beginning in 2014…Legislators argued that the “individual mandate” was necessary because it would undercut the insurance market if individuals could just opt out of having health insurance…The court’s ruling in the 2005 case, Gonzales vs. Raich, “is an enormous problem” for those who contend the healthcare mandate is unconstitutional, said Simon Lazarus, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based National Senior Citizens Law Center.  “It clearly says Congress has vast regulatory authority over interstate commerce,” he said.

That law stuff is tricky.  It can cut you when you least expect it.  You can take that jay away from cancer patients, but once BlueCross gets their cut they’ll just get it right back.

24
Mar
10

And now for something completely predictable…

One thing I’ve found after living up here for a year is that everyone knows people who have been in trouble with the law over possession, transportation or growing.  Everyone.   Many people.  Trouble.

And now, you have the power to make that stop.

Initiative to Legalize Marijuana Qualifies for November Ballot!

No, it doesn’t sound perfect.  Yes, it might make it a little more difficult to make money growing weed.  Nothing good comes easy, though, and getting the police out of the business of making people miserable over this particular harmless activity is worth a few moments of attention.

I have to say, though, that first line of that article caught me a little off guard:

State election officials announced Wednesday that an initiative to legalize marijuana will be on the November ballot, triggering what will likely be an expensive, divisive and much-watched campaign to decide whether California will again lead the nation in softening drug laws.

We can’t even have one full celebratory sentence.  Congratulations, and here are the people who are going to do everything they can to harsh your mellow.  At first I thought – who’s really going to spend millions to oppose an incremental push forward for a movement that’s already snowballing across the country?  Where’s the upside to that?

Then I reflected on all of those dumbasses who’ve been trying to make it sound like extending basic health care to poor people would violate the constitution and destroy the nation.  Yeah, those same kinds of people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to say the same dumb shit about legalizing small amounts of weed.   Maybe not the same exact people, but you say dumbass and I say moron – it’s all just a variation on a theme.

And the worst part is that the people who make their money from magnifying conflict are going to hand those morons a bullhorn, devote airtime to showing them having a tantrum and repeat every word they say ad nauseum.   Just like they’ve been doing for the people who think the founding fathers risked their lives just so that one day, we’d be free to draw little Hitler mustaches on placards of the president and shout bigoted comments at gay people and black people who happen to have been elected to office.

Whatever.  At least I’ll get to vote.

14
Mar
10

Carrie Nation is trying to bogart your weed

The historical parallels between the two major episodes of drug prohibition in the U.S. aren’t exact in all regards, but they’re close enough to warrant attention at this moment, as marijuana prohibition appears on the cusp of collapse.  I sometimes like to imagine that the one is the other, just to give myself a sense of perspective that I often find lacking in contemporary discussions of our current era of marijuana prohibition.

It’s worth remembering that there was a presidential election taking place during the height of the alcohol prohibition frenzy, back in 1916.  As popular as the issue was among the electorate, neither Woodrow Wilson nor his Republican opponent wanted anything to do with it.  They gave no speeches on prohibition, spoke to no advocacy organizations about their plans for tackling the scourge of alcohol, and took no public stand on the issue in their respective party platforms – neither of them.  Interesting, no?  At a moment in history when the frenzy and manufactured fear of the demon drug was so intense as to prompt a majority of elected representatives in government to alter the constitution – an alteration almost immediately  approved by 36 states – neither of the men running for the ultimate position of national leadership wanted anything to do with it, not even as a way to attack the other.   Those were the days, right?

Or maybe the interesting thing is just how prescient those two, independent political decisions appear in the cold light of history.  Almost a century after the fact, the issue is revealed as the “lose-lose” proposition that both men must have understood it to be.   Independently, they wisely recognized that widespread support among the good citizens of the nation and almost all the lower-level pols in both parties didn’t necessarily mean that there was an upside to taking a public position on the issue at the top level of government.

In fact, not much has changed in that regard.  When faced with the decision of either appearing reasonable or trying to be popular with the public (and yes, I do view those two positions as being mutually exclusive, almost all of the time), most reasonable leaders will choose to avoid making a choice.  That’s not to say that presidents always remain on the sidelines, but they certainly seem to prefer to act through proxies when they can, to have lower-level bureaucrats perform the dirty work of politics from the shadows rather than in the light of day.

Speaking of dirty work and shadows, last week the U.S. Director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Gil Kerlikowske (the embarrassingly-idiotic national spokesperson on the current scourge of drugs in the U.S. ) did his best to prove – yet again – that Obama is “officially” not soft on marijuana, despite the fact that most people understand that Obama isn’t the drug warrior on this issue that his predecessor pretended to be.   Speaking first before the California Police Chiefs Association Conference, and then before the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Kerlikowske reiterated the consistent position of the U.S. on medical marijuana, from the last administration to the current administration:

Surprise, we’re still opposed.  An even bigger surprise is that we’re still opposed because “the science” still proves that marijuana is harmful.  This is IMPORTANT.  It’s not true, mind you; nor is it supported by any real evidence, but such is the game played by politicians when they find themselves between their electorate and the pile of candy that the electorate wants so much that it has to deny its own sweet tooth.  (Mmmmmmm, Sweet Tooth.)   Such an odd game, though.

There’s a long tradition in the U.S. of torturing science for the sake of political expediency, so it should come as no surprise that science was dragged into the previous episode of prohibition, too.  In the early 20th century, in a medical industry dominated by quacks, hacks and P.T. Barnum-styled medicine men, alcohol was one of the few doctor-prescribed potions that actually produced a noticeable effect, thereby proving the magic of medicine.  As one of the few substances readily available that could almost instantly alter a patient’s mood, medically-prescribed alcohol enjoyed strong support among the medical community.  Beyond the “medicinal” effects directly linked to hard alcohol, it was also the medium of choice to float other similarly-psychoactive substances like opium, cocaine, and marijuana.  But it wasn’t just the hard stuff that galvanized the community –in fact, the real rallying point was a pint of plain (as Flann O’Brien would say).  At the time, there was a large body of anecdotal evidence suggesting that beer cures what ails you.  No surprise, then, that one of the strongest arguments against the sledgehammer approach of prohibition came from the medical industry.

In his recent article for The Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Jacob M. Appel calls this prohibition-era struggle “a crucial step in the political organization of the medical profession” and specifically cites the banning of “medical beer” as “the first instance of healthcare being regulated by the national government against the wishes of physicians.”   Beyond the details of this particular fight, Appel argues that the defeat of the medical lobby on this issue “opened the door to an era of much more widespread federal control.”  So, take that, death panels.

No surprise, I suppose, that the medical argument had no real effect upon the political reality of the issue – revolutions rarely come with co-pays.  Still, a fascinating article.  Appel includes a particularly significant  exchange between two of the central players in this “medicinal beer”  argument.  In an appearance before the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dr. John Patrick Davin faced off against committee chairman Andrew Volstead (R-Minn.).  Volstead, speaking for the people, makes the argument that medical decisions really shouldn’t be made by people trained in medicine:

VOLSTEAD: Do you not think that the common-sense judgment of the plain people of the country should be considered? Ought they not have some influence?

DAVIN: In matters of politics, in matters of finance, but not in a matter of engineering or in a matter of medicine. In such a matter, the science of medicine rises above “common sense,” as you call it.

And here’s where my historical parallel breaks down.  Because, hard as it may be to believe, as a nation we were more serious about science back when we thought beer cured everything from anemia to anthrax poisoning than we are today.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s directives to the Feds to back slooooooowly away from the medical marijuana issue reflects the reality of the Obama Administration’s position – the political reality – but Kerlikowske’s tortured reasoning reflects the “science,” such as it is.

Check out the position your national representative passed on to the rest of the world on your behalf.  In his statement before the UN, Kerlikowske said:

“I want to be clear about our Administration’s views on marijuana. In our country, we have seen significant consequences of marijuana use. For example, more and more people are dependent on the drug and treatment and call-in centers cite marijuana as a major reason people are presenting for help. We in the Obama Administration are opposed to legalizing marijuana or any other illicit drug. Research and experience have shown that by widening availability, we increase the acceptance and use of these drugs and the harmful consequences that go with them. We also believe medicine should be determined by science, not popular vote. Currently, in line with international protocols, there are numerous research projects underway which will soon provide more insight into the drug and its many components.”

Flawless logic, right?  The people who make their money on marijuana prohibition have told us that marijuana prohibition is a good thing, so they must be right.  Oh, and medical science should trump the will of the people  – well, except for those cases where medical science is prevented from weighing in because of limitations imposed by the will of the people from a half-century ago.  Like this one.  But rest assured, the research is being conducted that will one day support our political decision.

Even worse than this sort of official hokum, though, is the uncritical celebration of that sort of hokum that goes without examination.  Understandably, the Obama administration is doing nothing to publicize Kerlikowske’s idiotic statements, so the press was largely silent on his recent appearances.  Because they mostly do what their told, these days.  But even though they can’t afford to print on paper anymore, The Christian Science Monitor is on the job.  And why not?  After all, nothing evokes the bastardization of science for political ends like the publication arm of a voodoo cult devoted to that very subject.

In their editorial, “Marijuana Legalization? A White House Rebuttal, Finally” the CSM editors called attention to the ONDCP’s tortured view of science:

“The drug czar couldn’t have been more plain. On medical marijuana, which has strong public backing in opinion polls, the former Seattle police chief said that “science should determine what a medicine is, not popular vote.” As Kerlikowske pointed out, marijuana is harmful – and he has the studies to back it up. Read the footnotes in his speech; they’re sobering, especially No. 8.”

With all due respect (to the newspaper of a voodoo cult), the only thing sobering about the footnotes backing up this specious argument is that they suggest that it’s possible to rise to the level of “Czar” in the government of the most powerful nation on earth with the equivalent of a “freshman writing course” understanding of logic.  Read the footnotes if you want, but all you’ll find is the same collection of hesitant, half-hearted statements produced by anti-drug advocates, and based far more upon the absence of scientific studies than any truly-conclusive results.

As dumb as they seem, though, at least the CSM editors understand that Obama is playing a political game of keep-away with this issue.  The most revealing comment from their article reflects that game far more than the “substance” – if I can call it that – of Kerlikowske’s statement.  They write:

“What’s too bad about the drug czar’s speech is that it was made behind closed doors at a venue not accessible to the press, then quietly put on the administration’s website. Given the confusion over the message, the White House needs to be far more outspoken about this.”

So, the statement is released during a press conference of sorts, but one where the press is dis-allowed from attending.  I think the subtlety of that move might have been lost on the CSM editors.  And by the way, when they say that the statement was “quietly put on the administration’s website,” they mean “quiet” the way a dog whistle is quiet.  As in, well below the threshold of human hearing.  I challenge you to find anything about Kerlikowske’s statement on the White House.gov site.  I gave up after fifteen minutes, but I’m pretty sure there’s no link there.  Sure, you can find it if you go to the ONDCP’s site, but you’d have to be high to do that.

Am I happy that Obama’s Drug Czar is pushing the same idiotic message that the last administration pushed?  I am not.  Am I happy that said Drug Czar is still pushing the junk science and tortured logic that has characterized virtually every policy statement on marijuana prohibition since Harry J. Anslinger first went reefer mad?  Again, no.  I console myself, though, with the fact that reform efforts continue to gain support, even in the face of continuing government propaganda and posturing, halfhearted though it may be under Obama’s lead.  I’m further consoled by the fact that at least Obama has the good sense to keep his fingerprints off this toxic political issue.  Now if only we could return to those enlightened days of the 1920s, when Americans still had a little respect for science.  Bottom’s up, stoners.

Oh, and by the way:

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,

And your face is pale and wan,

When doctors say you need a change,

A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.

–Flann O’Brien

08
Mar
10

Shocking News: State lawmakers behave rationally!

I’m used to hearing the term “States’ Rights” invoked as a rationale for the perpetuation of racism, sexism or other sorts of bigotry; acts largely condemned by national majorities, but venerated as part of the authentic cultural heritage of small, out of the way places.  I know there are other, less objectionable ways of looking at it, but that’s how it seems to me.  In my mind, too, that term is pronounced with a southern accent.

Strange, then, to see state legislators in Colorado invoke states’ rights in their efforts to push back against the Feds in this story.    The letter to Obama via Attorney General Eric Holder is worth reading, if only as a reminder that elected officials can occasionally propose reasonable views on hotly-contested issues.

It’ll be interesting to see who gets the regulatory framework for decriminalized medical marijuana right first.  I’ve always assumed that California would lead in this regard, if only because of our unique historical continuities and long lead time, but it looks like Colorado might get their shit together a little bit faster.

With all of the focus on how to regulate medical marijuana, it’s also worth considering what comes after.  Russ Belville, the host of NORML Show Live, had an interesting editorial a little while back, published on the Huffington Post, on the problems inherent to the medical marijuana stalking horse.   He argues that state-by-state gains in Medical Marijuana are actually counter-productive to the eventual legalization of marijuana for all, leading to increasingly onerous regulation (and idiocy).    Maybe he’s right – that the time to shift from a strategy of “decriminalization for the most needy (with exceptions)” to a broader strategy of “re-legalization for all” is now.  There’s firm public support for legalization, across a range of demographics, and the Feds are largely hemmed in by Holder’s stated position.  Even if that is the case, though, having a sound platform of widely-accepted regulation probably won’t hurt.   I’m all for the end of dumb public policy, but that doesn’t mean that I want pot shops to take the place of liquor stores.

In the meantime, I hope Obama and Holder can keep their dogs leashed.   And if that means arguing from a position of states’ rights, I’m all in, y’all.

03
Mar
10

Legalizing profit

Colorado lawmakers are tinkering with their version of quasi-legalization.  The big news, though, is that they’re addressing the obvious motivation hiding behind the medical rationale – no, not the getting high part, the money part.

How long before California follows?