Saturday, January 21, 2006

The plant is vindicated in Britain

This is a happy ending to the story that I made note of upon its advent.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, today ruled out another reclassification of cannabis despite recent warnings that the drug can cause serious mental illness.

Mr Clarke said cannabis would not be changed back to a class B drug, instead announcing a public health campaign to warn people of the health risks associated with its use.

He told MPs that his decision to keep cannabis as a class C drug had followed advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and was supported by police and most drug and mental health charities.

The council's unpublished report is said to have concluded that the risk of someone developing schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis was "very small".

It is believed to have said it was a "substantially less" harmful drug than those currently classified as class B, including amphetamines such as speed and barbiturates.

Celebrate, blokes!

Friday, January 20, 2006

SSDP has a new executive director

SSDP is excited to announce that the Board of Directors has selected Kris Krane to lead our organization as executive director. Kris comes to SSDP with a wealth of knowledge and experience in drug policy reform, having served as associate director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for the past five years.

Kris was an active member of SSDP while attending American University, and has played a key role in the explosive and sustained growth of NORML's student activist network.

The SSDP staff and chapters look forward to working with Kris to foster sensible drug policies that truly take into account the concerns of young people.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sacrificing the war on terror for the war on drugs

The Associated Press reports that an increasing number of soldiers are being kicked out of the military for drug use.

Drug use is also an increasing reason that soldiers are being discharged from the Army, up 40 percent since 2002; last year 1,986 soldiers were kicked out of the Army for using marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs. By contrast, soldiers thrown out for alcohol dropped from 251 in 2002 to 164 last year.

Rod Powers, a retired sergeant in the Air Force who writes an advice column on the Web about military service and has written books on the subject, said that the drug-use discharges probably reflect more sophisticated drug-testing policies in all military branches.

"The military is getting smarter about drug testing, with better science and more random tests," he said. "I hear from a lot of young recruits thinking they can beat a urinalysis, but I tell them it's not so easy."

In a time when enlistment is dropping and the military is stretched way too thin fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, why would the government work extra hard to kick soldiers out of the service for drug use? If a soldier's performance is impaired by his or her drug use and others are being put at risk, of course the military should act. But it makes no sense to randomly test soldiers to search for arbitrary drug use.

Where are our priorities?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Smoke's definitely being sent up somewhere

From the Metro East region of my hometown St. Louis metropolitan area, the salacious tale of a so-called "double life." The story gets off to a good enough start:
Monday through Friday, he commutes to St. Louis. He wears a tie to work. He is 30 years old, single, and shows up for his job promptly every day at 9 a.m. For 40 hours every week, he is a fully functional computer support technician, earning $38,000 per year.
For those of you joining us from nearer to the coasts, I can attest that $38,000 is a sufficiently comfortable salary for a single male in these parts, given the relatively low property values and cost of living around here. From here, though, things begin to get a little more dicey:
Then comes the weekend. And the weed. Lots of weed. From 7 p.m. on Friday until the late hours of Sunday night, Robert is a marijuana addict.
That's funny; I'd never heard that one could have an addiction on a weekend-only basis. Thanks to the high quality of our media's coverage of the War on Drugs, though, I get to learn something new and previously presumed to be completely inconceivable every day. Just look at what an out-of-control maniac this guy turns into:
He lights up on Friday evenings, as soon as he arrives back at his house in Collinsville. He usually smokes with friends, though many times, he gets stoned alone. He stays high for much of the weekend, watching television, surfing the Internet.
So, let me get this straight. Here's a guy who's got a pretty well-paying job, lives a seemingly contented life well within his means and seems to have no problems fulfilling any of his obligations to anyone. Sounds to me like he's a pretty stand-up guy. But no, because he enjoys smoking marijuana on the weekends while hanging out with his friends or watching TV, he's an "addict." In the words of Charlie Brown, good grief.

How abnormal is Robert's behavior? Let's see. He's a single 30-year-old computer technician who lives in Collinsville, IL. I'm not quite 30 yet myself, but I'm awfully close. And I have to tell you, bumming around the house on the weekend watching some tube is not a terribly uncommon activity for the single male members of that demographic. Even more so, I imagine (if the reader will permit me a single prima facie politically incorrect observation) this is the case among single male 30-somethings who also happen to be computer technicians. In short, aside from the fact that he likes to spark up a joint when he finds himself with a little free time on his hands, there's just absolutely nothing about this guy that sounds out-of-the-ordinary to me in any way. But, as the story goes on to describe:
He rarely goes outside, hardly ever speaks with his neighbors. His house is well kept, and he hides his weed in a shoebox even though he lives alone.
Wow, so now not only does his job performance at least meet all expectations and his punctuality stand above reproach, but it turns out that he also actually keeps a notably clean home and is smart and courteous enough to keep his marijuana use out of sight. As far as his interactions with his neighbors are concerned, it's not clear to me how his marijuana use ought to be held accountable for his generally private disposition when his smoking is only confined to the weekends. It seems James Frey isn't the only one whose incredible tale of the allegedly catastrophic consequences of recreational drug use is getting some exposure this week.

There's a disturbing trend in the media of salacious stories of drug use that just don't pass the smell test. not that this is anything new. As we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let us remember that fishy stories even worse than these were commonplace in the early days of marijuana prohibition, as Black users were routinely depicted as menaces to society. The overt employment of derogatory racial stereotypes may no longer rule the day, but the prohibitionists' hysterical tales of woe remain with us still.

The article cites a NIDA-sponsored study that estimates the number of regular marijuana users in America to be somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million. NORML estimates the number of regular users to be closer to 11 million, but no matter. The fact remains, there are many millions of regular marijuana smokers in the United States, the overwhelming majority of whom are safe, responsible users whose lives are not the least bit adversely affected by their marijuana use. From what I can tell, attempts at anti-marijuana spin notwithstanding, Robert definitely falls into that category. The article even includes a favorable quote that puts the relative risks and advantages of marijuana use into perspective:
Many decided long ago that they didn't like the taste of alcohol, the feel of a hangover, or the sickness that comes with drinking too much. According to the users, marijuana has "all the fun with none of the side effects."
Call me crazy, but that actually just plain makes sense to me. But despite commendably including a sensible comment about the actual effects of marijuana use, the article still couldn't even resist resorting to the "leading a double life" cliche three times, and twice in the span of two sentences!
When Manning was in his 20s, he led a double life. Like many users, he led a double life, working a white-collar job Monday through Friday, then getting high and staying that way for an entire weekend.
The article goes on to relate his story, in abbreviated form, the details of which sound remarkably similar to Robert's. Except the author avails himself of the completely unsupported and unsubstantiated "gateway drug" theory, and then discusses at length an outfit called Marijuana Anonymous. (Their somewhat dubious list of twelve warning signs of marijuana addiction are listed here, with a note that exhibiting as few as one (1) symptom is evidence that you may be a problem user.)

Look, I'm not saying that there are no problem marijuana users whatsoever. My issue, rather, is the total disconnect with reality when it comes to the media's portrayal of recreational drug users. When they go out of their way to describe an overwhelmingly responsible recreation user like Robert as a crazed fiend, I can't help but think that there's got to be something up with the accuracy and objectivity with which our media report to us on drug-related issues.

On top of that, there are opportunistic hacks like James Frey who peddle these stories for profit because they've succeeded in duping a tremendous portion of the American public into believing that such tales capture an "essential truth" about the inevitable consequences of recreational drug use. There's only one problem: none of these stories are true. Try as they might to defame his character, the Collinsville Herald's depiction of Robert left me convinced that he's precisely the sort of marijuana user that every marijuana user ought to be. And it turns out Frey's story was, in significant portion, made up.

So maybe someone could help me understand, because I don't think I quite get it. If these stories about the evils of drug use need to be exaggerated and outright fabricated in order to achieve the desired effect (i.e., shock value), then what's the essential truth? What's essentially true about any of these hysterical tales when their purveyors, when pressed, are forced to admit that they embellished them because they would otherwise be completely toothless in their capacity as a cautionary tales? It seems to me that the only essential (and sad) truth is that our nation's drug education has managed to produce a populace that's overwhelmingly unable to discern drug fact from drug fiction when they see it. But then again, I might have just missed something; after all, like I said above, thanks to our media's coverage of the WOD, I get to learn something new and previously presumed to be completely inconceivable every day.