11
Oct
10

Experts in self-interest

George Skelton has a nicely-representative editorial on marijuana legalization in today’s L.A. Times.  That doesn’t mean it’s good, or insightful, or logical, or even especially notable in any particular way – just that it rehashes the opinion that the paper keeps rehashing, over and over, damning the same villains and citing the same experts.  It’s worth reading if you’ve never read one before, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same viewpoint that the paper keeps reprinting every week or so, just in a slightly different word-order.

How does this dumb story keep working?

If nothing else, though, repeating a dumb argument over and over again really highlights the tenuous foundations upon which the argument is erected, and in this case, that foundation is built upon the testimony of noted “experts.”  I don’t think much of Skelton’s editorial, but his use of expert testimony is worth noting.

Here’s George:

Would you buy a newspaper from this man?

Based upon his picture and his writing, I’m guessing that George must be Red’s older, less funny brother.  To be fair, though, he did make me laugh a little bit.  First off, when he framed the debate about Prop 19 this way:

Merely a quarter of buyers at medicinal pot shops “are truly in need of it because of a medical condition,” says attorney George Mull, president of the California Cannabis Assn., which advocates “reasonable regulation of medical marijuana.”

Mull opposes Prop. 19, illustrating a split in the marijuana community.

More on that split, later.  Mull, the attorney representing Amir Daliri, is further quoted as saying that “this whole [initiative] was set up by folks trying to make millions.”

And clearly, anyone who’s in it for the money can’t be trusted, right?

Skelton pretty much makes that argument when he follows up on Mull’s comment about just who is behind this nefarious scheme to decriminalize weed:

That would be primarily Richard Lee of Oakland, founder of “Oaksterdam University,” the nation’s first marijuana trade school. Lee says his medical marijuana dispensary, nursery and other pot-related merchandising generate up to $7 million a year, according to a Times article by reporter John Hoeffel.  Lee is in a good position to make a bundle off marijuana legalization. So far, he has spent $1.5 million to qualify Prop. 19 for the ballot and pitch it to voters.

Bear with me for a moment.  I’m no newspaperman, but something strikes me as odd about the way this argument is developing.   Skelton cites the L.A. Times report filed by Hoeffel about a month ago, quoting Lee’s own figure about making $7 million per year. That article largely focused upon Lee’s decades long political activism, rather than his business acumen, but let that one go.  I want to get back to the $7 million part.  Skelton ignores the subject of Hoeffel’s profile of Lee to focus on that dollar amount, after all, claiming that Lee’s real motivation behind the proposition is “to make a bundle off marijuana legalization.”

Now, call me naive, but the $7 million that Lee is already earning each year sounds like a bundle to me.   For that matter, the $1.5 million that Lee has already sunk into Prop 19 also sounds like a bundle, so I question the assumption that he’s just in it for the money.  Then again, I teach for a living, so I’m probably a poor judge of such things – pretty much anything that keeps me above the poverty-line sounds like a bundle to me.

Is this the stony face of greed in America?

Getting back to Skelton, though, and his claim about how Lee will make (more of) a bundle off of legalization.  Lee seems like a smart enough stoner, so I guess he could turn his little Oakland-based empire into something larger, but the opposite seems just as likely. I’ve read the proposition, and even though I see the flaws and potential problems that have been noted by my neighbors who are all voting to keep the status quo, it sure doesn’t seem like it was written to make Lee more money.

 

I think you could make a much stronger case for the opposite view.  In fact, the writers over at HempNews did just that, offering a distinctly different take on the previously-mentioned split in the marijuana community that Skelton cites, above.  Instead of simply providing a platform for Lee’s opposition, as Skelton does, the HempNews people actually tried to examine Daliri’s opposition to the proposition, and they offer their take with a simple question and answer about the various positions those in the industry take on Prop 19:

Why are some…medical marijuana providers opposing it?  Famed Canadian Marc Emery, from his US prison cell offered the obvious explanation: money.

In the interest of full disclosure, HempNews takes a strong position in favor of the proposition.  More disclosure, I entirely approve of their position and their reasoning behind it – to end “the continued mass law enforcement campaigns against marijuana users and sellers” that they claim has led to “more than 61,000 people…arrested for marijuana possession in California in 2009 alone.”

In contrast, Skelton opposes the measure because he claims it will make California “an even bigger laughingstock to the nation.”  Yeah, okay.  Like the nation has room to talk.

Nazi, Scot, Nazi, Nazi...Which one is running for public office? If you said the guy in the skirt, then you don't know Republicans.

In fact, all of that nonsense aside, I’m more bothered by the way interested parties are routinely presumed by journalists to be experts, and precisely because they have a vested interest in the subject of their expertise.  Lee wrote the proposition on decriminalizing marijuana, but would anyone consider that act a justification to view him as an expert on marijuana legalization?  Certainly not.  He’s recognized as what he is – an advocate.  That’s even a point that he, himself, makes in that article that Skelton cites, but doesn’t seem to have read.

 

Amir Daliri runs his own pot shop, and to protect his business, he founded the California Cannabis Association to oppose the proposition that would decriminalize weed.  That means that he’s just as much an advocate for a political position as is Lee.  And so is the lawyer who he’s hired as a mouthpiece, and who Skelton treats as an expert.  Skelton goes on to cite other “experts” – Fontana Police Chief Rod Jones who opposes the measure and who’s opinions Skelton supports with data from the California state prison system, and retired judge James P. Gray, who supports decriminalization (and who is identified in the article as a libertarian “flame thrower”) – but the real problem comes with the concluding expert, the one with the final say on the matter.

 

Skelton ends his editorial by citing the expert testimony of Dr. David Sack, a psychiatrist and chief executive of Promises celebrity rehab centers.  Sounds authoritative, right?  Who better to weigh in on the problems posed by drug addiction than the people who earn a living off of them.  Here’s Sack’s expert opinion:

“Drugs cause tremendous hardships to children and families, and the risk of addiction goes up with exposure…Marijuana is clearly addictive, impairs judgment and increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents and interferes with brain  development, particularly in adolescents….The biggest concern I have is that legalization will create a societal validation that marijuana is not harmful.”

I bet that’s his biggest concern.  Seriously.  Because if that came to pass, he’d have to find a new scam.  And that’s precisely why he shouldn’t be treated as an expert on the subject.

Here’s how the scam works:  Whenever the drug warriors want to cite the dangers posed by marijuana as an addictive drug, they cite the vast number of young people sent to seek treatment for addiction to marijuana.  What they fail to mention is that those same patients are compelled to seek treatment by their brainwashed parents, or by the courts.  In other words, the proof that marijuana is addictive flows directly from a policy designed to prove that marijuana is addictive.  The circular logic behind this little dodge gets even weirder, though, because then, the people who cash in on this odd quirk of an even odder policy are treated as experts on the subject, precisely because they’re the ones who profit directly from the policy.  No wonder, then, that Skelton would treat Amir Deliri and his lawyer in a similar way.

Interesting religion, but it's no basis for sound social policy.

Of course, Skelton didn’t invent this shell-game; he’s just a convenient tool for a much bigger industry.  For decades now, the drug warriors have trotted out people like Dr. Sack to justify the billions of dollars of public funds that have been spent keeping marijuana dangerous, and keeping medical professionals on the public’s payroll by laws designed to produce the expert assholes ace in the holes necessary to maintaining the whole house of cards – the people with medical degrees who are willing to offer definitive medical opinions on the dangers of marijuana addition, just so long as doing so keeps them in business.

Do you really want this man to tell you how to raise your kids?

 

Like I said before, plenty of my neighbors have told me that they’re going to vote against Prop 19, because they worry that decriminalization will lower prices for the crop that allows them to live out here, on their own terms.   I sympathize, and I’ll be a little sad if those worries really do come to pass, but I can’t help but think that there’s something shameful about knowingly voting to maintain fraudulent policies and practices, just to make money.  That’s a better rationale than the one that Skelton offers in his editorial, but not much better.

 

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