Thursday, February 19, 2009

21st Century Prohibition pt2- The Pot Warriors, the Bad Guys

(due to a posting error, this title was mistakenly placed on part one. Oops!)

This part and the next will discuss the people who fight the fight (both the good guys and the bad). This part is about the bad guys; the people who, through misinformation and fear, want to control the flow of good information about cannabis and its important uses. We, as advocates, seek an end to the Prohibition. There are folks like us all across this country who place themselves in legal jeopardy in order to provide information, advise and product to those who need it. These folks below aren't them.

First, a look to the past...
Marijuana has been hitching a ride on history's back since long before humankind put stick to clay and made words. Recently, a stash was found in a 2,700 year old tomb in a remote part of China. Apparently, this herb has been a companion to humans for a very long time.

As with any recreational activity, the leaders of the community want, or more precisely, demand the right to control it. They fear any activity that takes people away from their influence. Our leaders feel that it is their responsibility to coddle their 'charges' as a parent nurtures their young. They place restrictions on activity they deem dangerous or licentious. However, it's one thing to say "It's against the law to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge." than to say "It's against the law to alleviate your pain with this herb." As a community within a democracy, it is our responsibility to ensure our leaders create and enforce laws that don't cross the line into demagoguery.

The Enemy:

Our drug policy has been around for almost a hundred years. In the 1930's an anti-marijuana campaign was being shepherded around the world by a globetrotting law enforcement officer by the name of Harry Anslinger. He was a goon that made his name in strong-arming folks who tried to take on the corporate barons of the time. He favored the attention he received in his never-ending quest to make himself relevant. He was especially fond of attacking Marijuana and its users, particularly those who were people of color. Anslinger was quite successful in steering public policy about Marijuana (and by association - hemp) into a frenzy by using racial buzzwords and fear-mongering.

Writing for American Magazine, Anslinger told tales of woe and tragedy by cherry-picking quotes from police reports, unsubstantiated narratives of graphic violence and mass murder; all perpetrated by users of marijuana.
"An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When
officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in
a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, mother,
two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze… He had no
recollection of having committed the multiple crime. The officers knew
him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully
crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said that he had been in the
habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles,” a
childish name for marijuana."
The tales woven by Anslinger plus the public's ignorance and fear of minorities in a time of economic depression brought the necessary pieces together to forge a new and wholly undeserved label on marijuana. An herb that had been a companion to humans for thousands of years was now illegal because people were led to believe that it would lead to integration of the races and the collapse of Western Civilization (read: western white civilization).

Anslinger would be the government's drug 'czar' from 1930 to 1962 but still represented the United States on the UN Narcotics Commission for two more years. In his later years, he had become blind and infirm due to angina and prostate disease and took morphine to alleviate his pain. This contradiction has little influence on his attitude and work, he still believed that cannabis had no medical value up until his death in 1975.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey: General Nuisance.

Gen. McCaffrey was head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for five years. He served from March of 1996 to Jan. 2001. Like other figureheads of this black hole of anti-science propaganda, he was our 'Drug Czar'.

What McCaffrey was most known for was the stealth approach he used to get his message to the public. Most government programs produce ads in the media, flyers and programs for schools; but McCaffrey went one better - he went Hollywood!

In the spring of 1998, the ONDCP began to develop an accounting system to decide which network shows would be valued and for how much. Receiving advance copies of scripts, they assigned financial value to each show's anti-drug message. Then they would suggest ways that the networks could increase the payments they would get. The WB network's senior vice president for broadcast standards Rick Mater admitted, "The White House did view scripts. They did sign off on them -- they read scripts, yes."

Running the campaign for the ONDCP was Alan Levitt, who estimated that between 1998 and 2000 the networks received nearly $25 million in benefits.
Of course, the bulk of this propaganda was anti-marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, and other marijuana advocacy groups aren't against educating the public about the dangers of drugs. But this was beyond the pale. Paying networks to insert government propaganda into their programs without disclosing this in the credits is the stuff of spy novels and tin foil hat conspiracies. Gen. McCaffrey was called on it by the MPP (Marijuana Policy Project) and had to admit the covert actions.

The Drug Czar's running meme is that as long as it accomplishes its goals of getting kids to 'say no' to drugs, then they should be allowed to do whatever they can. Any criticism of their methods is dismissed and those who do so are accused of wanting kids to take drugs.

After McCaffrey, under the Bush Administration, we got John Walters. His task was to elevate the program to take on the pro-legalization crowd. The tide started to turn about the use of marijuana. Most of the generation of the 'Reefer Madness' years was dying off. The current generation, the Baby Boomers had more experience with marijuana, many of them were former users.

Communities all over the country started looking at their policies for dealing with marijuana; the reality of incarcerating thousands of people for smoking a little weed became apparent. Medical marijuana clinics were being established all over the West and in some parts of the Northeast. States like California and Washington passed initiatives to allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients that needed help with pain and nausea. The only roadblock to these state laws was the ONDCP. And Walters used that roadblock like a bulldozer.

Not only did he use the bully pulpit to chastise, accuse, and denigrate the anti-marijuana prohibition groups in every state, he violated government campaign finance laws (the Hatch Act). He oversaw the spending of millions of dollars on campaigns of misinformation and outright lies. he used his office and government funds to travel to each of the states considering changing their marijuana laws to campaign against it. Oops, there's that Hatch Act again!

The common thread he used in his campaign was that there is no 'established' medical use for marijuana. The ONDCP used the narrowest definitions to arrive at that statement by basically making the case that since the US hasn't done comprehensive studies on the effects of marijuana on patients, then there is NO evidence that it has any medical value. The reason they have in saying this is simply that the Bush Administration prevented any substantial research into the field by denying grants and federal research money to those activities.

When you control what is being said, you can say anything you want.

Next post: Part Three: Pot Warriors - the Good Guys
Last post: Part One: The Goods

So Mote It Be,
David A.

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