Archive Page 2

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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13
Sep
10

Free the D.E.A.

Another law enforcement group – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – comes out in favor of Prop 19.

(But silly acronyms? They're A OK!)

Today’s article in the L.A. Times focuses on former Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray who’s watched the War on Drugs fail from his courtroom. Pointing out the obvious – that cops who don’t have to waste their time looking for pot could waste their time doing something else – the Judge goes on to say something else that’s pretty obvious:  Police officers, sitting judges and drug enforcement officials can’t be trusted to tell the truth, even when the truth is obvious.

Here’s the money quote:

Gray, the retired judge, said he believes that many in law enforcement support legalization but are afraid to say so because of political pressure on the job.

“They have a political job, so they can’t tell the truth,” Gray said. “People are free to speak out honestly only after they are retired.”

I'm still getting paid overtime for this, right?

Wait a minute – we pay people to lie to us, and they lie to us because we pay them?  You know, instead of voting for Prop. 19, maybe we should just fire all the cops and judges who spend most of their time incarcerating people for drug possession.  They’d finally be free to tell the truth and live honorable lives, and we’d all save tons of cash.  It’s a win-win situation.  Now how can I get that on the ballot?

09
Sep
10

The gateway is shut

Mike Meno at the Marijuana Policy Project hammers another nail in the “Gateway theory” coffin.  He cites yet another study disproving the theory, this time from the University of New Hampshire.

Meno points out that this study – like every objective study conducted on the “gateway theory” – proves that marijuana use doesn’t lead in any causal way to the use of “harder” drugs.  What he doesn’t say, though, is almost more interesting.

Here’s the bit that I found so fascinating from the study.  It turns out that while pot smoking doesn’t predict additional sorts of drug use, there is something that does.  Ready for it?  Here’s the meaty bit from the study:

Whether teenagers who smoked pot will use other illicit drugs as young adults has more to do with life factors such as employment status and stress, according to the new research. In fact, the strongest predictor of whether someone will use other illicit drugs is their race/ethnicity, not whether they ever used marijuana.

So, race is predictive when it comes to who will or won’t go on to use harder drugs.  Which race?  I know what you’re thinking.  Or maybe I don’t.  I dunno.  Hell, I bet this guy knows what I’m talking about:

You sure don't want to light up when you're this flammable

Here’s the surprising or not-so-surprising conclusion from the study, depending upon your perspective:

Non-Hispanic whites show the greatest odds of other illicit substance use, followed by Hispanics, and then by African Americans.

That’s right, white people – it turns out that you’ve been the problem all along.   It’s your gateway.  So, stick that in your pipe and smoke it.  …And then, if you’re white, maybe you should go looking for something harder.

31
Aug
10

Game changer?

Professionally-documented, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence proving what every bleary-eyed smoker already knows – that while smoking medicinal cannabis can be fun, it also holds medicinal value.

From the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

Conclusion:  Our results support the claim that smoked cannabis reduces pain, improves mood and helps sleep.  Duh.

Okay, I added that last part.

So, how do you enforce criminal penalties based upon the premise that there’s no medicinal value to the drug when the CMAJ offers scientific evidence to the contrary?  First, you have to be an American…

...and that's why I get to set public policy.

25
Aug
10

Less is less (no matter what the Feds say)

Gil Kerlikowske and the usual suspects over at the ONDCP have recycled their hysterical, illogical arguments in today’s L.A. Times, this time in support of the continued criminalization of marijuana.  Reefer Madness in the house, yet again.  I’ve outlined my opposition to their arguments in the past – the logical fallacies, the self-serving untruths, the ridiculous defense of the status quo, etc. – so I won’t re-hash those points.

Well, are you, punk?

I did notice something new this time, though.  Responding to the carefully-defensive wording of Prop 19, the drug warriors have come up with a new dumb argument that rivals even the dumbest of their previous arguments.  Kerlikowske is arguing that decriminalization will not only NOT free up all of those law enforcement officers currently wasting their time busting people for weed, to go after real crime, but that it will create even more drug policing work.   Less is more, apparently.  Can “up is down” be far behind?

You could say the devil is in the details (though I think he’s actually writing press releases for the ONDCP).  Regardless, here’s what Kerlikowske is talking about:

In their attempt to seem like reasonable people who don’t actually want to corrupt the youth of America, the Prop 19 backers went to great lengths to assure voters that they only want to decriminalize the evil weed for adults.  You can check out the full text for yourself here, but basically, they’re saying just what we say about cigarettes and alcohol, spelling out the punishments that would apply to adults who provide minors with weed, with the added prohibition about imbibing around minors.  Translation: No weed for kids, no getting high around kids.  Doesn’t seem so very objectionable, right?

Here’s what Kerlikowski and his writers have to say about that seemingly-reasonable proposal:

Another pro-legalization argument is that it would free up law enforcement resources to concentrate on “real” crimes…Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana. This proposition would burden them with new and complicated enforcement duties. The proposition would require officers to enforce laws against “ingesting or smoking marijuana while minors are present.” Would this apply in a private home? And is a minor “present” if they are 15 feet away, or 20? Perhaps California law enforcement officers will be required to carry tape measures next to their handcuffs.

I could point out that cops pick and choose the laws they want to enforce depending upon their mood, and if they so choose, they could enforce a whole raft of onerous, burdensome laws that would take up all kinds of time and effort.  For example, they could choose to enforce that bit about “arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana.”  But then, as Mr. Kerlikowski so disingenuously points out above, that would be a pretty ridiculous burden.  And from the sound of things, they don’t seem to have any problem ignoring that law.  After all, when the head of ONDCP tells you that cops don’t bust people for small amounts of weed, I guess you have to believe him.

Will life imitate art?

Alternatively, I could point out that Kerlikowski is basically calling all cops stupid – and not just a little stupid, either.  I dunno, but when the head of one of the largest law-enforcement agencies tells me that the po po have to use a tape measure to figure out when something is happening in the presence of another person, it makes me wonder if we should allow those guys (and gals – equal opportunity stupidity here) to carry guns.  After all, if they’re that stupid, they just might forget which end goes bang.

Really, though, it’s all the rest of us that he’s calling stupid.  Because he’s assuming we’ll believe him when he says that decriminalizing weed will force cops to bust more people, instead of less.   That’s not just a little stupid, either.

22
Aug
10

News is a drug

David Gregory must wake and bake.

In my effort to replicate the best parts of the “back-to-the-land” movement of the 70s, I’ve been trying to avoid the siren song of cheap electronics, mass-produced in China by slave labor.  I left my television back in southern California.  I gave up facebook and ipods and tivo, along with the stress those things produce.  I couldn’t give it all up, though.  I still need my pc for work, and I’m still wired.   I try to avoid using it for all the other temptations it provides, but every once in a while, the spirit gets weak.  I’ve been particularly angry about the debate over the Cordoba community center that’s been taking place lately, so I broke down and watched a couple of news shows this morning to catch up.  Now I’m coming down, and it doesn’t feel good.

One of the reasons that I was so happy to abandon my television when I left L.A. was that I felt poisoned by the constant stream of idiocy beamed out by news shows.  (“News show” by the way, is a perfect example of a modern oxymoron, since the “show” dictates the absence of anything that might be based in fact).  Anyway, I slipped up today, and caught a few minutes of Meet the Press, a show I never really liked all that much even when Tim Russert was still hosting, but one that I”ve come to despise ever since Gregory took over as host.  What a tool that guy is.

The various discussions about the Cordoba community center in lower Manhattan were as disappointing as I thought they’d be – “good Muslims”?  Really? –  but I was caught off-guard by the way Gregory slipped in the republican talking-point about raising taxes as though it were true.  Dave did the same thing on his blog a couple of weeks ago, and it made me just as unhappy to see it there, but I think Gregory has a slightly bigger audience than Dave, so it’s that much worse.

It’s bad enough that the new amnesiacs in the republican party – sorry, I keep forgetting to apply the new brand – in the Tea Party can so loudly spout off about deficits out of one side of their mouths while simultaneously proclaiming the need to re-up on the dumb tax cuts that weren’t even paid for the first time they supported them (back when they were running things and didn’t care about deficits).  Even worse than the hypocrisy, though, is the way they’re trying to spin a new version of reality to support that hypocritical position:  instead of the temporary tax cuts coming to an end as they were designed to do,  the new reality they’re spinning as though it were true is that Obama is proposing massive tax hikes.   I suppose I should feel grateful that they’re not having the news clowns call it Obama’s Ramadan Tax…   or reparations…

But okay, redefining reality to better suit their goals is, after all, what partisan hacks do.  They spout ridiculous nonsense as though it were obvious truth.  Fair enough.  It used to be that the careful viewer could discern a little space between the partisan hacks and the journalists, and in an ideal world, the journalists keep the hacks honest.  Or, at least, more honest.   Tim Russert was a blowhard, and he could get pretty caught up in the showmanship that passes for reality in DC, but at least he was willing to resist the unreality from time to time.  In contrast, Gregory seems to delight in repeating the phony talk as though he’s proud of being able to remember what he hears other people say.

Sad.  I’m going to go wander in the forest until I stop thinking about it.

UPDATE:  I’m not saying that a Nobel Prize winner has to poach ideas from me, but it must mean something that Paul Krugman’s complaining about the same thing today that I was complaining about yesterday.  (Maybe that my ego is outgrowing my cabin?)

12
Aug
10

Support your local cartel

How many of us need to admit that the war on drugs is lost before we finally declare defeat and go home?  Does anyone in law enforcement or government seriously believe that keeping marijuana illegal does anything but enrich drug cartels?

The latest news from – of all places – Wisconsin:  ‘Marijuana Megafarm’ Hidden In Wisconsin National Forest

Cheesehead weedgrowers in the forest?   Nope.

Drug investigators believe Mexican cartels are largely responsible…Growing the drug here helps them get it to major American markets more quickly. They often import unskilled laborers from Mexico to help find the best land and tend their crops.

But why go all the way to Mexico when you can find good help right here?  The feds found evidence of money being wired to Modesto.  And then there’s this:

An unnamed informant arrested at the Seymour house told detectives on Wednesday he was in San Jose, Calif., several months ago when he was approached by a man who asked him if he wanted to work at a ranch. This person arranged for the man to travel to Green Bay, where he met Nunez-Guzman.

The informant said he helped dry marijuana at the house and Nunez-Guzman, also known as “Green Bay,” was the boss. He came to the house every 15 days to check on the operation and sent a runner into the woods every three days to check the crop.

Yep.  It’s that easy.  Time to declare “Mission Accomplished” and stop all this foolishness.