Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Times

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?

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.

07
Jul
10

Interest, if not approval

Sure, newspapers are increasingly irrelevant, but I still found it telling that the L.A. Times website  devoted an entire “section” of the online paper to Marijuana today.

The upcoming election is the proximate cause, as this article on the potential benefits of Proposition 19 makes clear.  Here’s the hair-standing-on-end/hair-pulling upshot:

The Santa Monica-based, nonprofit research institute [Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center] predicted the cost of marijuana, which runs between $300 and $450 per ounce, could plunge to about $38 by eliminating the expense of compensating suppliers for the challenges of operating in the black market.

Scary, right?  Or enticing?  I guess it depends on where you stand.  At least the Rand Center had the good sense to follow-up by admitting that they don’t really know what they’re talking about:

The researchers noted that projections for marijuana use and tax revenues hinge on estimates of use, prices, how use changes with price, taxes imposed and evaded, and numerous other factors. The report is peppered with caveats about the assumptions researchers had to make.

One of the most amusing aspects of the study is that the savings come from legalization, but the assumption is still that the product will be grown in “1,500 sq foot houses.”  Why, exactly?  Once it’s legal, and inexpensive, why would anyone grow it in a house?

Oh, and there was no mention of the actual costs involved in producing the product, just the proposed market value. That’s the more troubling element, to my mind, signaling an ever-widening gulf separating those who grow (and those who know something about them) from those who don’t (and don’t seem to know that they don’t know something).   Hardly a new development, I suppose, but it’s something that’s about to become politicized in a new way.

Someone get Neil Young and John Mellencamp on the phone, cause it’s starting to feel like the 80’s all over again, and there’s a new class of farmer in need of aid.  On second thought, that didn’t work out so well for the farmers back in the 80’s, so maybe we could use a better model.   It makes me wonder, was there a time when people cared about food production, or was our interest just limited by our technology and our income?  It seems like the reason that most of the food most people in the US consume (that used to be grown by members of communities) is now grown by machines and humans who emulate machines is that most of those food-buyers don’t have a clue about how their food is produced, and frankly don’t much care.  That’s not a beneficial attitude for anyone still pulling for the humans.   And I don’t see much of a distinction here between growing food and growing cannabis, at least in the price structure supporting the individual grower.

Beyond all the variables that the Rand center can’t figure, the one clear (though unstated) finding the study supports is that the purchasers of the product aren’t much concerned with the interests of the growers of the product.  At least those farmers back in the 80’s had the sympathy of the people putting them out of business.  Emerald Triangle growers – you’re on your own.  And never mind L.A.; you don’t even have much support from your own community.  I’m always a little surprised to read comments from residents of the Emerald Triangle (like the ones on Kym’s recent post on the benevolence of community members who happen to grow) that feed the perceptions of those who don’t actually have any contact with the grower community up here – guns and pesticides and deforestation and water pollution and mexican mafias and so on – because they seem so unreal to me.

I’ve tried my hardest over the past year to meet up with as many growers as I could, and even the scariest of those folks don’t seem to fit the stereotype.  I’m not saying they don’t have guns, but – seriously – who doesn’t have guns?  My old neighbors in L.A. were all armed to the teeth, too, and all they had to protect was their iphones and xboxes.  I’m much more sympathetic to the view that Kym takes, and mostly because I’ve met lots of growers who donate to their community and I haven’t met any of the ones who do all the bad things they’re all blamed for.  I know there are some bad actors out there, but I suspect that they’re a tiny minority.  And I’d bet that we’ll see way more abuses once we run the individual farmers out of the business.

07
Jun
10

Leading and following

In an unexpected display of leadership, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado just signed two bills regulating Colorado’s Medical Marijuana industry, providing clear rules for operators, patients, doctors and law enforcement officials.  Not everyone is happy about the regulations, but no one seems entirely unpleased and at a minimum, the laws provide clear guidelines.  You can read the details from the Washington Post report here, but here’s the critique from the cannabis activist community:

The measures face potential legal challenges from supporters who say they go too far, allowing communities like Vail, Aurora, Superior, Arapahoe County and Colorado Springs to clamp down on the industry.  “On the one hand, we are pleased it legitimizes this health care industry; however, we are concerned it may be overly strict and could cut off patient access to medication as a result of the dwindling number of dispensaries,” said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana patients’ group.

At the same time, as if to emphasize the  contrast between Colorado’s statewide approach and California’s patchwork of regulations, L.A.’s city-wide attempt to play catch-up goes into effect today.  From the L.A. Times:

More than five years after the Los Angeles City Council began debating controls on medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles Ordinance No. 181069 now takes effect…The ordinance shuts down more than 400 stores that opened in the last 2 1/2 years. Dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 will have six months to comply with new location restrictions, which will force many to move to isolated areas.

How’s that going to work, you may ask?  For the shop owners who decide that they aren’t interested in making money anymore, I suppose they could just close up and go home.   Seems pretty unlikely.  For the rest, those who decide to live with the uncertainty, they’ll be faced with fines and intimidation.  From the same article:

City prosecutors have declined to spell out how they will enforce the ordinance. “Our next step will be to ascertain the level of compliance,” said Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney. She said her office would rely on reports from police officers, building inspectors and neighbors to identify violators.

Like I said, fines and intimidation.  Or, they could just move to Long Beach, or Ventura, or the Inland Empire, or Orange County.  Or, they could head to the semi-underground – the home delivery market.  A report out today from KPCC California Public Radio calls attention to the ongoing absurdity of the California approach:

A flourishing and unregulated industry of pot delivery services is circumventing bans on storefront dispensaries and bringing medical marijuana directly to people’s homes, offices and more unconventional locations across the state, records and interviews show.

The unfettered delivery of marijuana through hundreds of these services highlights how quickly California’s fabled pot industry is moving from the shadows and into uncharted legal territory. These new couriers include enterprising farmers, business entrepreneurs and even a former Los Angeles pot dealer methodically switching her former clients to legal patients.

In other words, after five years of hemming and hawing, L.A.’s attempt to retro-actively regulate the industry that grew up around the initial attempts to regulate the industry produced a tiny legal speed bump that threatens to inconvenience some people while accomplishing very little.   Life  in the “Wild West.”

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.

02
Feb
10

A double D.A.R.E.

Great response here to last week’s op-ed by D.A.R.E. chairman Skip Miller’s in today’s L.A. Times.  Jonathan Perri with Students for Sensible Drug Policy dismantles D.A.R.E.’s campaign (and overall strategy) of misinformation.

Money quote:

Anti-drug groups such as D.A.R.E. refuse to acknowledge that today’s marijuana prohibition causes the same problems as alcohol prohibition did in the 1920s. It’s no wonder, then, that D.A.R.E. has been called ineffective by the National Academy of Sciences and, in 2001, was placed under the category of “ineffective programs” by the U.S. surgeon general. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2003 that there are “no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received D.A.R.E. . . . and students who did not.”

Ouch.




Legal Disclaimer:

This blog is for entertainment purposes only. We neither engage in nor endorse any illegal activity; any and all indications to the contrary are purely fictional. Purely fictional.
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