Manufacturing consent and the drug war

Check out this “debate” between MPP’s Aaron Smith, and some chick called Calvina Fay:

Although I’m happy to see the issue being addressed (more or less) seriously in the mainstream media, I’m irritated by the inherent bias in the forum:

  • “street signs” at lower screen read:
    • “Golden state going to pot?
    • “Stoner stimuls for the states?
  • Off the cuff remarks biasing the forum:
    • “What if everyone walks around stoned all the time?
    • CNBC correspondent asking if the LA correspondents eyes are glazed.
    • L.A. correspondant: “you’d be high to think this is a slam dunk”

And let us not forget the inherent bias of the mechanics of the forum. Two people are given a few short minutes to present their point of view. The brevity of the allowed statements gives the dishonest representative of the dishonest status-quo an advantage, since all of here statement are familiar falsehoods, and thus ring true to the uneducated ear. The MPP debater has to focus on disassembling what lies he has time to deal with in the time allotted. So let’s take a look at the prohibitionists talking points:

” Legalizing it isn’t going to solve our drug problem, nor our economic problems. In fact it will make it worse.”There’s nothing new here of course, and there’s nothing true here either. While legalizing marijuanna certainly won’t solve our economic problems, it will create a new revenue stream and eliminate a harmful, wasteful, useless, cruel and racist expense: the incarceration and prosecution of marijuana users. It will reduce law enforcement costs, and free up funds and resources to fight real crimes. So it will mitigate our economic problems. Thus it’s a positive step in the right direction. The statement that legalisation will “make it worse” is just a fabrication to prevent us from looking at the sheer dumb-headed falseness of her statement.

Alcohol and tobacco have more social costs than they provide taxation income”But then what about the fact that Alcohol and tobacco have more social costs than they provide taxation taxation? This may very well be true. But we don’t criminalize Alcohol or tobacco production, despite the fact they are distinctly more harmful than cannabis. Why not? Primarily because we have learned from our mistakes. We attempted to apply cannabis style prohibition to alcohol back in the twenties, and it was a complete disaster. Not only did we lose the income from taxation of the substances, but their use increased, and the social harms exploded . Not only did we continue to see normal array of problems associated with alcohol abuse, but we added widespread crime and corruption into the mix. The parallels to the situation with cannabis are quite close. What’s different is the intrinsic harm caused by cannabis, which is much less than the intrinsic harm done by alchol use.

Legalisation will lead to more users. This is pure conjecture. The number she spits out (30%) is pulled out of hers, or someone else’s ass, with no basis in experiment to justify it. The data that does exists indicates that drug use either remains the same, or in many cases decreases with legalisation. Holland has lower cannabis use amongst its citizens than any of its neighbouring countries. Why? Well one Dutch official believes it’s because they “have succeeded in making cannabis boring”. This isn’t just an outlier. We have had similar results with alcohol prohibition, and Portugal has had similar results by decriminalizing all drug consumption. So the evidence suggests that prohibition not only doesn’t work, it has the opposite of the desired effect.

Marijuana is not harmless, it’s the number one drug that kids are in treatment for. This one actually makes me fucking angry. This is completely true, because Marijuana is the number one drug for which kids are being forced into involuntary “drug treatment”. One friend of mine was forced into one of these programs in his teenage years because he had smoked a few joints and got caught. They promptly put him on a series of pharmaceuticals. Brilliant. It’s the usual case that the most harmful consequence of cannabis consumption is getting caught. Now certainly marijuana is not harmless. Excessive use can rob your motivation. Excessive smoking can lead to bronchitis. All these effects can easily be cured by laying off for a couple of weeks. Cannabis is among the least habit forming drugs, and is associated with no withdrawal symptoms. So sure, excessive marijuanna use is harmful, just like excessive sugar or fast food consumption is harmful. Don’t overdo things. But criminalization of something radically safer than alcohol is just plain criminal.

We’d still have a black market for children, just like with alcohol and tobacco. The old “think of the children” ploy. It’s another complete line of bullshit. If you are worried about your children, or someone else’s children, you should be for the legalization of cannabis. Why? Well, the rate at which kids try cannabis under prohibition is high. By far the worst consequences of smoking cannabis result from its prohibition. If you get caught it can ruin your career, education and future. Why would you want to put your kids at that kind of risk, all because of a prohibition policy which has no benefit. ONDC polls indicate that high school age kids find it easier to get pot than to get alcohol. Under alcohol prohibition, an eight year old could walk into a bar and get a drink, no problem. Experience shows that regulation (like alcohol and tobacco) is more effective at keeping kids off drugs than prohibition (like cannabis and our failed attempts at alcohol prohibition). So the real question here is, are you stubbornly going to hold to prohibition, or are you interested in results? If you are interested in actually protecting your kids, support legalisation.

In closing, I just want to comment on the old trope “legalisation would be sending the wrong message to kids”. This statement is stupid in so many ways. Consider for example the Dutch experience (“we have succeeded in making cannabis boring”). Consider the kid who learns all the DARE propaganda, but sees healthy happy productive members of their peer group and society using and enjoying cannabis, and in fact coming off better than those using legal drugs. What message is that kid getting? Let me tell you: They are learning that the government lies, and that the laws are bullshit. Do you really want to teach your kid disrespect for the law?

Contemptible police tactics

I found out about this from the mpp blog. Apparently a federally-funded drug task force called “West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNet)” raided a medical-marijuanna club seized about 200 signatures, for a ballot initiative for marijuanna legalization.

The same group apparently raided another provider’s home. In the process of which, they handcuffed the family’s 14 year old son for two hours, and put a gun to his head”. They even confiscated $80 dollars form the 9-year-old daughter’s wallet in an attempt to prove that the dispensary was illegally profiting from pot sales.

lt’s hard not to get incensed over this kind of bullshit. What happened to the poor family makes a good story, and is easy to get riled up about, but the seizing of ballot initiative signatures is even worse. Drug laws would have changed 30 years ago, if it weren’t for the successful chilling-effect laid down by the destructive drug-laws and prohibition culture. This kind of thing is designed to frighten people, which in turn chills the efforts to obtain honest information about drugs and drug policies, and to have a real democracy, in which policy is informed by public knowledge, and public action.

The actions of WestNet violate Obama’s instructions to leave medical marijuanna providers be. Their actions represent the most despicable consequences and actions of the prohibition complex. In addition to legislative reform, we need culpability for bad cops. At the very least, WestNet should lose its federal funding as a result of these actions. I hope that you’ll join me in asking the ONDCP to take action against WestNet, to make an example of them, and let the rest of the overzealous, badly behaved, so-called “law-enforcement” officers.

Here is the text of the email I have sent them.  Please feel free to copy and paste:

I recently read about a federally-funded task force called “West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNet)”.

Apparently WestNet hasn’t gotten the memo that medical marijuanna providers are to be allowed to function within the domains of state laws. Worse, they have taken it on themselves to influence policy decisions by hampering legitimate political activism. I refer here to their seizing of petitition signatures as “evidence” (see

This same group, in another raid of another medical marijuanna provider, ransacked a licensed provider’s home, handcuffed their 14 year old son and PUT A GUN TO HIS HEAD. The further seized “as evidence” the contents of the 9 year old daughters mickey-mouse wallet.

Is this despicable behavior the intended use of federal funding being provided to this task force? I (and I am not alone) am sick and tired of hearing about this kind of brain-dead Gestapo tactics being used. Let alone being used against people who are trying to provide medicine to sick people.

It’s time that Police who show such bad judgement start facing some repercussions for their actions. I ask that you rescind the federal funding for WestNet. They are not using the money well.

Exit strategies for the war on drugs, part1: Framing the discussion

I am gradually of the opinion that drug-policy reform is now a sure thing, and the discussion will need to shift to alternative policies.  This is the first in a multi-part series, in which I prattle on about what comes next after the war on drugs.  This post attempts to formulate a useful basis for the discussion of the subject.

The Guardian has an excellent article: Prohibition’s failed. Time for a new drugs policy. The first line sums it up perfectly “”.

It’s clear that the debate now needs to be about what comes next.   We’ve created a stupid war against the citizenry our own country.  It’s completely fucking up our civil liberties, and in fact the entire premise is completely unconstitutional. Argentina’s government has realized this, and if we lived in a healthier democracy, we would have figured out the same thing by now. The good news is we seem to be getting there, so the time for figuring out an exit strategy would seem to be now.

The issues aren’t simple. We have a monstrous police-state machinery in place. We have to pull out the troops and integrate them back into society, and provide them with counselling to reintegrate them into normal society. While this should be an easy sell, as there is a peace-dividend (reduced spending on law-enforcement and prisons, improved civil liberties, reduced crime…) the drug-warriors don’t want to give up sucking at the government teat, and form a powerful lobby. The most difficult question of course is “okay, prohibition doesn’t work, what now?”.

Unfortunately, the people who should be working on this are still too afraid to admit prohibition has failed.  While they get up to speed, the most productive discussions in this arena are taking place online, in in the periphery of other discussions. I’d like to discuss the issue more directly.


So, let’s identify some (hopefully) uncontroversial goals, by which we can judge whether a drug policy is working or not.

  • minimize addiction rates.
  • minimize overdose deaths.
  • protect children and uninformed consumers.
  • minimize crime (e.g. junkies stealing to get their ‘fix’)

There are other effects which are more difficult to quantify, such as health impacts (cancer and such) and effects on productivity. While these are worth considering, I think it’s a reasonable approach to consider them second-order effects. Once we have a policy which optimizes the easily measured first-order effects, we can worry about the second order ones. The key thing to keep in mind here is prohibition is a nightmarish failure, regardless of which effects you consider. It doesn’t accomplish any of the desired effects. The results of prohibition are so disastrously bad, that complete deregulation might end up working just as well, without the enormous cost (socially and economically) of funding the war.

An error the drug warriors make is framing the discussion in terms of “zero-tolerance”.   They want to completely eliminate all drug use.  What the last 100 years has shown is that that won’t happen. You can keep spending more money, you can keep use the constitution as toilet paper after shitting on people’s civil rights, you can get more and more violent and intolerant, you can impose increasingly draconian laws, and people will still use drugs. The figures are there.  It takes enormous cognitive dissonance to deny them, so let’s stop doing

There remains of course the question of how much we are willing to pay to achieve those goals. I suspect that the people who are so willing to spend billions on the drug war, will be less willing to spend the same billions on counselling, care, rehabilitation, education, and maintenance programs. Fortunately, the drug war has been so damned expensive, anything we come up with likely be much more effective at a greatly reduced financial cost.  This will allow us to frame all such harm reduction spending in terms of savings over the prohibitionist approach.

Having identified a set of goals which I hope we can all agree on, let us consider what will be needed to implement a sane drug policy.  It’s my conviction that a good drug policy will involve the following components.

  1. Rational evaluation of drug harm.
  2. Honest drug education.
  3. Honest drug scheduling (a rational classification system).
  4. A sane handling of the respective classes of drugs.
  5. Reality based assessment of policy effects.
  6. More power to states and communities for deciding drug policies.

Each of these points is non-trivial, and will require some discussion.  Thus they will be the subject of future posts.

Some might disagree with necessity of a drug scheduling system at all, and would advocate regulating all drugs like we do alcohol.  While I see some merits to such an extremely libratarian approach,  I would argue against pursuing such a goal for the following reasons:  It’s unrealistic in today’s political climate, it’s too rapid and extreme a change, and I suspect such a policy might be nearly as harmful as the current policy.  If it’s not clear to me, it’s going to be extremely unpalatable for the average citizen.

Keeping the classification system allows to handle the approach in a more reasonable and rationed manner.  We can agree to pursue a policy that accomplished the stated goals, and analyse each drug case by case, based on a rational assessment of its relative harm, made by qualified medical researchers. It also allows us to separate the questions “do we need drug policy reform”, and “what is a good drug policy for drug X”.  The answer to the former question is simple, the answer to the latter is, in some cases, rather difficult.  For example, I am torn on what constitutes a good policy for Heroin or Crack (I do know that current American policies are the wrong answer, but I’m not sure heroin and crack bars are the right answer).

Conclusion and caveats:

To successfully advocate for drug policy reform, I think keeping the above goals in mind is extremely useful.  It provides a concrete, uncontroversial framework for evaluating the failure of current policy, and provides some useful indications for steps in a positive direction.  There may be additional goals which are useful to bring into the discussion, but in the terrible situation we currently find ourselves in, we should strive to work toward unifying, uncontroversial goals.  Once these are acheived, we can open up more controversial, difficult discussions, such as “what right does the government have telling me what I can put in my body anyway”, or the ethical merits of a drug-free lifestyle versus the spiritual benefits of psychotropic drugs.

Advocacy anti-patterns

A few years ago it became quite trendy to attempt to isolate succesful patterns in solving certain recurrent programming problems. Not long thereafter, it became clear that it was useful to identify identify harmful anti-patterns which frequently impede or halt the success of a project. Just as studying such anti-patterns can help the success of a software-engineering project, studying anti-patterns in human behaviour can help us be more successful in our attempts at social-engineering. Among the social issues for which I advocate I have noticed several such anti-patterns, which I will attempt to identify and describe.

The purpose of studying anti-patterns is self-analysis, not to provide a convenient vocabulary for attack within an advocacy group.  Indeed, in-fighting and splintering within an advocacy group is the mother of all advocacy anti-patterns.   I called it the “People’s front of Judea” pattern, and will write about it at a future date.

That said, a  comment at inspired me to write out the first few. The context is this: An editorial was posted discussing how illegal cannabis cultivation is destroying the ecology of our national parks. The article was specifically addressing the impact on Crystal Cave, but the problem is a general one. This is one of the negative consequences of cannabis prohibition, and will disappear once prohibition is repealed. A reader, ( primus) made a comment to the effect that “hey, we should try and get the Sierra club involved in this issue.”, a good point, and useful from an advocacy point of view, as it suggests an approach to bring more people into the cause.

Another reader (“James G”) replies:

I am more than sorry to inform you Primus that with the exception of our public lands,”thank God we do have those, for now” this world is not ours,”the common home of humanity,as it should be” but the” private property” of a small percentage of the human population who thouraghly believe they should be able do anything with their private property they see fit even if the rest of us is harmed.You must understand that these people are in favor of freedom and human wellbeing only to the extent that they can profit directly from such virtues.When freedom and the wellbeing of the 90 plus percent of humanity that does not belong to the ownership class threatens the power and or profits of the elite those virtues are cast aside in favor of totalitarian and facistic acts which insure that the masses never taste real freedom and wellbeing.

The facts are quite clear;the elite will first destroy humanity and the natural enviroment with their arsenals of nukes and biochemical weopons before they will loose or sucsede power to whom power rightfully belongs”,that is the people”.

Indeed this is not our world but the private property of the elite.This is why we now live in an age when a person can be incarcerated for the personal use of a plant ,”in the name of protecting the public wellbeing” while ultra wealthy manufactorers of the most deadly of weopons,”even nukes” walk scott free and enjoy the best life has to offer,all at our expence. It is really quite insane,but yet we still call it civilization !

Apathy of Despair

These three paragraphs can be summarised as “Dude, don’t even try and do anything because everything is so shitty you can’t possibly make it better.”. I like to call this “Apathy of despair.“.

Successful advocacy relies on people being engaged and working actively to a certain goal. People are motivated to work towards social change when they 1) see that there is a problem, and 2) have some hope that the situation can be improved. One often runs into people who start off claiming that there is no problem (apathy of denial). If one confronts these people with sufficient evidence to the contrary they move directly to despair (apathy through despair). What these two states have in common is a lack of action or effort. I get the impression the apathetic individual simply doesn’t want to take responsibility for their role society, and just wants to skate through without making an effort. Some accomplish this abdication of effort through naivite, and others through cynicism, but the result is basically the same.

The overwhelming journey

Laziness is not the only path to the apathy-of-despair. In James case, I believe he arrived there through a pattern of thinking that deserves its own anti-pattern, which I’ll call the “overwhelming journey”.  (I can’t think of a better name yet, but please feel free to make suggestions). The overwhelming journey occurs when an individual sees the problems involved, but can’t see the path to improvement.  They have forgotten that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with single step”.   They may be frustrated because they have forgotten that social change takes time, and is difficult.  Perhaps their frustrations with the problems they perceive leads them to an angry state of mind, and so they are unable to calmly and rationally analyse the problem and possible solutions.  The get wrapped in a ranting, raving, rabid froth.

Some additional gripes

James’ post suffers from some additional anti-patterns, which are difficult to point out in a kindly manner.  He rants and raves about the “elite”, “fascistic act” etc.  Basically he’s falling into the “grand conspiracy” AAP (which is a close corollary to the tinfoil hat AAP).   This kind of thing dilutes a movements credibility, and drives away potentially useful collaborators.

In the end, James post encourages prohibition-repeal advocates to give up and stop giving a shit, and drives people who are undecided on the issue away.

What the Sotomeyer confirmation hearings have to tell us about the drug war.

So, people who are well informed about drugs, and have bothered to look over the medical evidence, are perfectly aware that X (MDMH) shouldn’t be a schedule 1 drug.  This is of course no surprise, since our drug scheduling system looks as if it was chosen by throwing darts.

Why is it illegal though?  The brief history is that MDMA was created by a guy called Anton Koellisch, working for the pharmaceutical Merck in 1912.  Apparently they were trying to develop a substance to stop abnormal  bleeding.  MDMA was just an intermediary compound on the route to methylhydrastinine, and Merck wasn’t interested in its properties.

Now, the next part is fascinating.  Apparently recreational drug users first determined the drug was worth taking, around 1970.  This led to a guy called Alexander Shulgin (who would have been around 50 at the time, working (I believe) as a p0st doc at UCSF to play around with it.  Apparently he called it his “low-cal martini”.   He in turn metioned it to a psychotherapist named Leo Zeff.   MDMA is very useful for  enhancing communications, reducing psychological defenses, and increasing the capacity for therapeutic introspection.

In the early 80’s MDMA started to catch on.  All the kids who grew up playing pac-man started hanging around in dark-rooms, listening to repetitive electronic music, and popping pills.  One of those pills was MDMA, and the Reagan-Bush “Say no to drugs”, “Say no to condom  education in schools”, “say no to Foreign aid unless you teach that abstinence is the only way to prevent aids, and forbid teaching about safe-sex” administration decided to say no to young adults having a good time and feeling more empathic to each other.

MDMA is an empathogen.  I don’t know if this is the accepted medical phrasing for what MDMA does, but take it from me, MDMA is an empathogen.  It makes you care more about other people.  This can be negative.  For example, if I have a single sixteen year daughter, I would discourage her from takine X at  a party full of strangers.  I would however encourage her as an adult to take with her partner.  It makes relationships richer and stronger, I promise you.

I have an informal ranking, which I call a drugs “Scary Monster” level.  It’s how much fear a drug evokes in a particular audience or demographic.  X is one of the more maligned drugs out there.  I think the average, over 40 American, and possibly european, sees X as worse than Cocaine, for example, which certainly doesn’t fit its ranking in rational harm rating.  My point here is, beyond being illegal (which it course should not be), it is villified disproportionately to the harm it causes.

For example, when Professor David Nutt, head of Britain’s drug advisory board recommended that ecstasy be downgraded to a class B drug, he tried to explain the relative risk inherent in taking the drug as being equivalent to the risk you take in riding a horse.  The point was to get people to understand that drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life.  This is an importnat thing to discuss, since the debate on drugs is typically so emotional and irrational, particularly on the side of the prohibitionists.   He wrote an article titled “Equasy: an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”.  Equasy being “Equine Addiciton Syndrome”, which has caused ten deaths, and causes more than 100 road traffic accidents a year.  He goes to explain that many other activities in life (like motorcycling) are much more dangerous than man illicit drugs.

The prohibitionists were up in arms, calling for his resignation.  They can’t attack his science or his reasoning, both of which are flawless.  They instead must make emotional attacks, claiming he is insensitive to the families of victims of drug abuse.  Sigh.  So victims of drug abuse suffer more than victims of horse riding?  Why?  The fundies react very badly to rational discourse on the relative risks of drugs.  Why is that?

I’ve long had the opinion that the problem is simply fundamentalism.  They see drug use as a threat against their culture.   There’s no question that this is the case for the drug policies of the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations.   I also think this is part of the particularly irrational attitude towards X.  It makes you feel more empathy, and fundamentalists are anti-empathy.

Now I feel affirmed.  Warren Richey writes about the Sotomeyer Hearings that

Republicans Question Need for “Empathy”

Republicans repeatedly criticized President Obama’s stated goal of seeking judges with “empathy” for “people’s hopes and struggles.” They questioned how the concept of empathetic judges could coexist with the well-known portrayal of a blindfolded Lady Justice.

Finally I have proof that  the sector of our culture which represents religious fundamentalism and intolerance is genuinely anti-empathy.  I knew they were of course, as did a great many people.  But now they are going so far as to say it openly, which means I can make this without a burdensome process of proof.  It’s easy, they don’t deny it. We don’t need empathy in the justice system? That’s some fucked up shit right there.

I think the fundies are anti-X in part because they are anti-empathy, and X encourages empathy. Used under the proper conditions it does so in a lasting and meaningful way. Criminalizing it only encourages its use in harmful locations, and decreases its positive use.

If we consider our culture’s evolution, I think there’s a real possiblity that empathogens and psychadelics can play a meaningful role in hunting down and de-clawing harmful social memes. Thinking about it like that, religious intolerance and flexibility, which is so symbolized by the modern Republican party, is like a mind virus.  Lack of empathy in our culture can be treated effectively with MDMA (as part of a directed therapeutic process), and prohibition of MDMA is a defence mechanism of the anti-empathy meme.

When one goes further to consider that addicts and people who do abuse drugs are people with medical conditions, deserving of our empathy and support, it’s clear that entire concept of drug criminalization is a defense mechanism against empathy.

Cannabis & Diabetes

Cannabis and Diabetes

A couple of years ago my mother started having chronic pain due some problem I don’t understand in her spine. She’s been on-and-off some pretty potent narcotics to manage the pain, and as been going to get her nerves cauterized every six months to make the pain bearable. It sounds perfectly horrible, not to mention unsustainable.

Several months ago she was diagnosed with Diabetes. So she had to quit drinking alcohol and eating sweets. The nerve pain means she can’t play golf anymore. So this drives me nuts because it seems like she can’t enjoy so many of the things that she always has.

All this got me thinking I’d like to get my mother to try Cannabis. The first reason would be to handle her chronic pain in a healthier way than the narcotics she currently has to take ( the risk and toxicity assessment of cannibanoids verses pharmaceutical pain relievers tends to be favorable. I would welcome any contradicting evidence). But is it safe for a Diabetic to consume cannabis?

The propaganda problem

The worst effect of the drug war is how difficult it makes getting good information. You simply can’t trust most of the information that’s available, particularly if it comes from a government agency (It is in the the charter of the ONDCP that they lie about the real effects of prohibited drugs. Googling the issue will help, but you first have to sort through a lot of “we have to protect our diabetic kids by feeding them propaganda” bullshit. If you’re willing to wade through the cruft, you can find some real information. Here’s a summary of what I’ve been able to find.

Dangers to diabetics (negative indicators).

The only real danger I have been able to find regarding cannabis use for diabetics is the decreased judgement and increased appetite. It might be best to try it for the first time with a controller.

Benefits to diabetics (positive indicators).

It turns out there is a overwhelming body of research to show that cannabis has many benefits for diabetics.

  • There is evidence that cannabis enables insulin production.
  • There is a large body of anecdotal evidence that medical cannabis may help stabilize blood sugar.
  • The anecdotal evidence is backed up by recent studies showing that Cannaboids arrest the onset of autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice
  • Yissum believes that Cannabidiol is a future drug against diabetes, and is in the process of patenting its cannabis extract.
  • Cannabis is a vasodilator and improves blood flow.
  • While cannabis is not generally thought to be an anti-hypertensive, (meaning it is not a replacement for ACE inhibitors), it contributes to lower blood pressure, which is an important concern for diabetics.
  • Cannabis is an effective substitute for muscle relaxants in the treatment of restless leg syndrome.


If you’re a diabetic, it would seem worthwhile to consult with a competent physician regarding using cannabis as a treatment for your condition. If you are concerned about some of the supposed dangers associated with cannabis consumption, I would refer you to this excellent table of marijuana misinformation