Posts Tagged ‘Anti-drug propaganda’

The truth about medical marijuana in Arizona

Amanda J. Crawford is contributing to The Arizona Republic’s 36-hour election blog at Here is her post about misinformation in Arizona’s Prop. 203 campaign.

My fellow commentator Farrell Quinlan is dead wrong when it comes to bad faith in the Proposition 203 campaign to legalize medical marijuana.

Opponents in this campaign have spread misinformation throughout the campaign: They’ve argued that the law would lead to an overwhelming number of dispensaries, even though the number of dispensaries statewide would be capped at 124.  They’ve said it will lead to more drugs smuggled into the state, even though the law requires dispensaries to grow their own marijuana. They’ve said anyone will be able to get a prescription, even though the Arizona law is very restrictive on who can qualify.

Quinlan points to what he calls “bogus science” behind medical marijuana. The truth is that there have been several legitimate and significant studies showing medical benefits. The only reason studies are somewhat limited is because the DEA has blocked medical marijuana research – even after its own advisers said they should allow it – playing politics with science.

Quinlan argues that medical marijuana is a guise for complete legalization. I won’t deny that I personally think the time has come to conduct a real cost-benefit analysis on marijuana prohibition. That being said, this law doesn’t lead to legalization of marijuana any more than allowing Oxycontin prescriptions is a step toward legalizing that highly addictive and potentially lethal drug. This vote is about medical use of a drug that many patients say gives them relief from very serious and terminal conditions.

Read more about misinformation in Prop. 203 from opponents here and our gubernatorial candidates here.

Crawford, a former Republic political reporter, is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute, freelance writer and editor of the drug war blog She is also president of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, a non-profit, non-partisan environmental group.

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Goddard comes out against medical marijuana, his base & the facts

Arizona’s Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard should know better.

Terry Goddard. (Photo from his campaign site.)

When Arizona’s Governor-by-default Jan Brewer announced her opposition to Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana on Wednesday, she had little to lose in the way of votes or credibility. There is strong opposition to medical marijuana among conservatives. And since this is the governor who made up tall tales about headless bodies in the desert and rampant drug smuggling by Mexican immigrants, no one is really looking to her as a beacon of truth on the subject. So when she warned in her press conference that medical marijuana dispensaries could overwhelm communities– even though the proposition caps the number of dispensaries at 124 statewide — no one was surprised.

But Goddard is a smart guy who has built his campaign on being, well, smarter and more honest about the issues than Brewer. So that’s why Goddard’s factually-problematic statement this week opposing Proposition 203 — likely posted in haste to pull the issue off the table when Brewer announced her press conference — caught so many people by surprise. Among them, Democratic political operative-turned-medical marijuana champion Andrew Myers, who is running the Yes on Proposition 203 campaign: “What I thought was really disappointing was that his criticism wasn’t even rooted in fact,” Myers says. It was so “remarkably off base”  it sounded like something coming out of Brewer’s camp.

The measure clearly requires dispensaries to grow their own marijuana and charges state officials with the responsibility to inspect them to make sure they are doing so. But Goddard joined the chorus of misinformation on the measure, contending that somehow it would enrich drug cartels:

“I have spent more than seven years as Arizona’s top law enforcement official cracking down on drug trafficking, unrelentingly working to keep Arizona children safe from the dangers of drug abuse.  I cannot in good conscience advocate for a Proposition that encourages importing drugs into our country or that might result in drugs getting into the hands of our children.”

No one seems to know where Goddard got this. Sick people in Arizona who smoke marijuana already get their pot from drug cartels, and Proposition 203 would give them a legal alternative if they qualify. His statement came on the tail of published opposition by the state’s county attorneys and sheriffs — but even they didn’t make this ludicrous argument. And his campaign refuses to explain it. My emails and phone calls seeking an explanation — giving the benefit of the doubt that maybe the attorney general had found a loophole in the measure that I don’t see — have met with no response, even though I have a professional relationship with Goddard and several campaign leaders going back many years.

Not only is Goddard’s opposition not rooted in fact — it doesn’t seem to be true to his own beliefs. As Attorney General, Goddard has said in the past that legalization of marijuana is something that should be discussed. His statement opposing the measure garnered an incredulous response from one of his own employees on Facebook. In a post, since removed, the long-time Goddard loyalist blasted his boss for backing away from his beliefs. “I have never seen him, ever, do something politically expedient in the 5 years I have worked for him — until now,” the employee wrote.

And as for political calculation, where were Goddard’s strategists on this one? As the underdog in the race, Goddard needs to both distinguish himself from Brewer and motivate as many left-leaning (and independent and undecided) folks to the polls as possible if he wants to overcome the odds and defeat Brewer. By jumping on the opposition bandwagon this late in the campaign with a half-hearted explanation (a short statement compared to Brewer’s bells-and-whistles press conference), he didn’t win the issue or take points from Brewer: The Arizona Republic, for example, blogged about Brewer’s press conference but only mentioned Goddard’s opposition in passing in the final sentence.

Proposition 203 is polling far better than Goddard’s campaign. It is especially popular among Democrats and Libertarian-minded Independents: Myers says internal numbers (albeit from last year) found Proposition 203 to poll favorably among 75 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Independents. Plus, polling in California has indicated that the marijuana vote there for Proposition 19 could be a big help to Democratic candidates.

Myers says he has received several calls from disillusioned Democrats, some of whom have said this cost Goddard their votes. I saw similar proclamations on Facebook. Myers’ campaign has asked Goddard for a retraction — reminiscent of Goddard’s own demands to Brewer to admit she was wrong about beheadings in Arizona. So far, no response. The worst possibility for Goddard is that medical marijuana supporters will answer the ballot question for governor the same way.


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Today’s Funny: The Taiwanese Take on Prop. 19

Next Media Animation TV in Taiwan, which produces cartoon-animated news items, has released this Reefer Madness-like take on California’s Prop. 19. So what does NMA predict will happen if California legalizes marijuana? Pot ice cream trucks will lure school kids and executives, who have seen their beer profits plummet, will go on shooting rampages — of course! I can’t believe opponents haven’t started using this yet.

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Dear drug warriors: Does marijuana support cartels & terrorism or not? You can’t have it both ways.

Dear drug warriors:

I am confused. For years, you have told me and other Americans that buying marijuana was really bad because it financed nasty people and caused violence around the world. After 9/11 you scared the heck out of us with those commercials explaining how our dope financed terrorists. I mean, there was even that creepy little girl whose ghost blames a middle-aged woman for financing “the bomb” that killed her. Wow. Terrifying.

Then in 2008, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a report that blamed marijuana — not harder drugs– for providing the bulk of funding for Mexican drug cartels. Many Americans, puffing on their joints, blamed the coke heads, crack whores, heroin addicts and meth freaks. But, no! You said marijuana provided more than 60 percent of Mexican drug cartel profits. This was just as the violence in Mexico crescendoed. Mass graves. Dead kids. Cities on the border turned into war zones. Because of pot!

So a whole bunch of people around the country, especially those forward-thinking California types, took your words to heart. They started thinking about the failure of the drug war. (Nearly 17 million people admitted to recently smoking pot last year — that’s an awful lot of Americans financing terrorists and drug cartels.) And they started talking about stopping the flow of the profits to the bad guys by making marijuana legal.

Think about it, they said: if marijuana were legal, it would stop all those millions of dollars that flow to cartels and terrorists. Instead, we may be able to tax sales and give money to schools. After more than 40 years of absolute failure in stopping drug use — even with escalating scare tactics — these people proposed another way to stop the bad guys. Californians will go to the polls in a month to decide whether this is a good idea.

That’s when you suddenly changed your tune. Earlier this month, the national drug-warrior-in-chief Gil Kerlikowske (the head of ONDCP) said marijuana provides only a “small part of the revenue” of Mexican drug cartels. Just ignore all those numbers we put out before, he said.

But I guess he forgot to send the memo to the rest of the drug warriors telling them that the “marijuana finances bad guys” spin was no longer being used. Doing some research this week I ran across this quote in a New York Times article from earlier this year about the HUGE role marijuana plays in financing Mexican cartels, from none other than the woman working the front line for the DEA:

“The cartels use the profit from marijuana to purchase cocaine in Colombia and Peru and the ingredients for meth and heroin from other regions,” said Elizabeth W. Kempshall, special agent in charge of the Arizona office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “So marijuana is the catalyst for the rest of the drug trade.”

See why I’m confused? You can’t seem to give me a straight answer. If marijuana finances the bad guys, then ending prohibition should help to stop them. If it doesn’t finance the bad guys, then you have been willfully lying to the American people for years. You can’t have it both ways.

Look, I know you don’t want kids to do drugs. I don’t have kids, but having whacked out little munchkins roaming around my neighborhood, crashing into my sports car with their big wheels doesn’t appeal to me either. (I mean, I occasionally flip past one of the psychedelic little cartoons they watch nowadays, and I don’t think kids need any help being weird.)

But the functioning of a democracy depends on the people being able to make educated decisions about public policy. When the people exercise direct democracy, like they are doing in California with Proposition 19, they need their experts (that’s you) to tell them the truth.

Anxiously waiting for your reply,


P.S. Same goes for medical marijuana. You would have far more legitimacy telling us that marijuana has no medical benefits if you stopped blocking the tests to show whether or not there are medical benefits. Just sayin’.

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Marijuana use is up. So are arrests. What now?

Drug warriors: start your tsk-tsking.

A federal government report out today shows that illicit drug use, especially of marijuana, went up in 2009.  And who’s to blame? The media, cancer patients and any parent who won’t exaggerate the dangers of marijuana.

Fueled by discussions of legalization, so-called “medical” marijuana, and a proliferation of pro-drug messages in the media and popular culture, young people are misinformed about a drug whose potency has tripled in the past 20 years and sends more youth to treatment than any other drug.*

The report found that 16.7 million Americans had smoked pot in the last month, up 8 percent from 2008. The average age of first use was 17 years old (down slightly from 17.8 years old in 2008, but fairly unchanged for the last several years). The National Office of Drug Control Policy blamed a change in public sentiment toward marijuana, with the survey finding that fewer young people agreed with the statement that smoking marijuana regularly presents a “great risk.”

The “great risk” they should be afraid of turns out to be arrest. Another federal government report out this week, from the FBI, showed that more than 858,000 people were arrested in connection with marijuana in 2009 – mostly (88 percent) for possession. The pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project notes that this is up significantly from recent years and amounted to a marijuana arrest every 37 seconds. The two reports taken together should signal a need for change in marijuana laws, the MPP says:

“It’s now more obvious than ever that decades of law enforcement efforts have absolutely failed to reduce marijuana’s use or availability, and that it’s simply an exercise in futility to continue arresting hundreds of thousands of Americans for using something that’s safer than alcohol,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Rather than criminalize millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens and waste billions of dollars that could be better spent combating violent crime and other real threats to public safety, it’s time we embrace sensible marijuana policies that would regulate marijuana the same way we do alcohol or tobacco.”

Some other things worth noting:

-The age group that saw the largest increase in drug use wasn’t tweens; it was their grandparents. The percent of adults age 50-54 reporting recent drug use went up a whopping 60 percent! That increase was followed by an increase in drug use among 21-25 year olds and 26-29 year olds, which went up 11.4 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively. The increase in drug use among 16 and 17 year olds was nearly 10 percent, but the increase in drug use by all younger age brackets was nominal.

-Marijuana use by youth age 12-17 was up slightly to 7.3 percent from 6.7 percent in 2008. But it was still lower than in 2002-2004.

-*The NODCP’s contention that more youth are in treatment for marijuana than for any other drug can be misleading. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily there because they are “addicted” to pot and need help. There has been a significant increase in diversion programs nationwide through which someone arrested for possession of drugs can avoid jail time by going into treatment. More people use marijuana. More people are arrested for marijuana. So more people are in treatment for it.

-The FBI found that violent crime was down five percent nationwide in 2009. So more people are using drugs but that has not led to more serious crime.

-In Phoenix, The Arizona Republic reports that crime is down across the board except in one category: home invasions. Home invasions went up 48 percent in 2009 over the last four years. These usually involve human smuggling and drug smuggling operations. So more crime from drug users? No. But from prohibition and a broken immigration system that empowers smugglers? Yes.

Read more:

-The AP story on the NODCP’s report.

-The Huffington Post on the Drug Czar’s confrontation with a representative of Students for Sensible Drug Policy over whether legalizing marijuana would help defeat Mexican drug cartels.


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In AZ: Calling for a “genuine” debate on medical pot

It is so seldom that we get honesty in drug war politics. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer has been talking about imaginary drug cartel beheadings for months. And we all know that marijuana is a “gateway” drug (or isn’t it?).

That’s why I was so pleased while reading The Arizona Republic recently to see the head of the campaign to defeat Proposition 203, Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative, call for a “genuine discussion.” (You know, an honest debate about reality, devoid of propaganda and scare tactics.)

Then I saw why Carolyn Short said she was leading the “Keep AZ Drug Free” fight against medical marijuana: because her stepdaughter is a meth addict. She also trotted out problems in other states with far different medical marijuana restrictions than would be in place in Arizona. There goes that “genuine discussion” thing. (Read E.J. Montini’s completely unskeptical column here.)

Last week, while I was on vacation, it got worse. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall spoke out about her concerns with the measure at a Tucson City Council meeting. When the medical marijuana campaign manager got up to correct her misinformation, it was so bad that one local television station insisted that LaWall was set up for embarrassment.

Here’s the “genuine” reality: Arizonans voted to legalize medical marijuana 14 years ago, the same year as voters approved it in California and by a larger margin. The Legislature blocked the law, voters reauthorized it, but a wording error kept Arizona’s law from going into effect. (It said doctors could “prescribe” marijuana, which is against federal law, instead of “recommend.”)

In the meantime, 13 more states legalized medical marijuana with vastly different regulations. In California, nearly anyone with $150 can get a prescription for pot. In Arizona, truly sick people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses or the side effects of chemotherapy risk felony arrest. (Read my Phoenix Magazine story about the genuinely sick patients I met at an underground medical marijuana co-op in Tucson here and a previous blog post on medical marijuana and Mexican drug cartels here.)

In November, Arizonans will get to vote on a medical marijuana initiative that would probably be the strictest in the nation. It is not the panacea desired by pot activists. (As a reporter I attended a Phoenix NORML meeting last year where a heated debate broke out over support for the measure by members who thought it didn’t go nearly far enough.)

  • Under Arizona’s proposed measure, most sick people would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana. That drives most pot activists crazy. You could only grow your own if you live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.
  • While Short and LaWall both talked about the vague conditions and lax regulations that allow not-so-sick people in some other states to qualify for medical pot, that wouldn’t be the case under Arizona’s law. You would have to be suffering from a “a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition” or its treatment (i.e. chemotherapy). (Read the measure yourself here. See #3 under the “Definitions” section.)
  • At the council meeting, LaWall resorted to a powerful NIMBY scare tactic: She noted that there were 545 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles “more than the number of Starbucks and Subway sandwich shops combined.” She failed to note that the Arizona initiative imposes a strict cap: a maximum of 124 dispensaries would be allowed statewide. Statewide. That’s a maximum of one dispensary for every 10 licensed pharmacies.
  • Then there is the contention that medical marijuana is the first step toward complete legalization. It took 14 years for California to take step number two then, and it is the only state that has moved forward with legalization. Proposition 203 campaign manager Andrew Myers says we should be able to consider the two issues separately, and he’s right. Medical marijuana shouldn’t be defacto legalization, but opposition to legalization shouldn’t halt the debate about medical use either. OxyContin, morphine and any number of much more dangerous and addictive drugs are legal by prescription and no one says that is the first step toward legalizing them for recreational use.
  • And then there is the marijuana to meth pipeline. The truth is that Short’s stepdaughter and every other meth addict probably did try marijuana first. And they probably smoked cigarettes. And drank alcohol. They may have raided their parents’ medicine cabinets and huffed their cleaning products, too. Plus they likely had sex, had emotional problems or body image issues. Some of them had bad parents or bad relationships or just really thought they would like the feeling of bugs crawling under their skin or look cooler with meth mouth. Who knows. But new research has disproven the whole “gateway” drug thing. And the statistics don’t hold up: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million Americans had used marijuana in the last month in 2007. Only 529,000 people had used meth.

I’m not advocating for passage of Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative. And there are legitimate arguments to be made against it. Frankly, as with immigration reform, I would prefer to see the federal government take action. The truth is that I agree with opponents: we need to be having an honest discussion.


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The Drug War & Civil Rights: ‘The New Jim Crow’

Has the War on Drugs replaced Jim Crow laws as the way to control blacks and other minorities in America?

Civil rights scholar Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor, argues this point The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In the book, she shows how the War on Drugs has replaced blatantly racist policies of the past but had a similar effect in keeping large portions of the black community as second-class citizens.

I had the opportunity to hear Alexander discuss her insightful new book at an Open Society Institute criminal justice conference in Austin this week.* Alexander’s critique of the history of the drug war should concern any equality-loving American.

In the 1980s, images of the crack epidemic in black communities flooded TV — a propaganda tactic, Alexander argues, designed by the Reagan administration to bolster support for the newly-escalated War on Drugs. Those images “forever changed who drug dealers and users are and what should be done with them,” she said. “And a tidal wave of punitiveness washed over America,” forever transforming law enforcement in our country.

While the American public was sold on the drug war as a way to fight violent crime, Alexander noted that the vast majority of anti-drug funding and law enforcement effort has instead gone toward busting non-violent drug users.

Today, the majority of young urban black men are either behind bars or have a felony record, according to her book. And the prison population in the United States has skyrocketed. Hispanics have also disproportionately been impacted by the drug war: “Although this drug war was born with black folks in mind, it is a hungry beast that has begun to demand all people of color,” Alexander said. (See Alexander discussing her book on “Democracy Now.” Read a recent article here.)

Civil rights organizations have been reluctant to take on the drug war and incarceration policies as primary issues. As one OSI staffer noted at the conference, drug users and felons aren’t quite the wholesome image that Rosa Parks was to build a movement around.

The California State Conference of the NAACP bucked this trend earlier this month by passing a resolution in support of Proposition 19, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in the state of California. California NAACP President Alice Huffman writes:

“As leaders of the California NAACP, it is our mission to eradicate injustice and continue the fight for civil rights and social justice wherever and whenever we can. We are therefore compelled to speak out against another war, the so called ‘war on drugs.’ To be clear, this is not a war on the drug lords and violent cartels, this is a war that disproportionately affects young men and women and the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow justice on poor African-Americans.”

The NAACP’s resolution coincided with the release of a report by the Drug Policy Alliance which documented major disparities in marijuana arrests between African Americans and Caucasians in California. In the 25 counties examined, blacks were arrested at double, triple or quadruple the rate of whites — a rate inconsistent with their percent of the population. This also occurs despite the fact that government studies show that young whites actually consume marijuana at rates higher than young blacks.

“The findings in this report are a chilling reminder of the day-to-day realities of marijuana prohibition and the large-scale racist enforcement at its core,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Racial justice demands ending this policy disaster and replacing it with a sensible regulatory system that redirects law enforcement to matters of genuine public safety. Proposition 19 is California’s exit strategy from its failed war on marijuana.”

The African-American community is certainly not in lockstep with the NAACP on this issue. In fact, some black pastors came out loudly against the California NAACP. According to the AP, Ron Allen, president of International Faith-Based Coalition, which represents 3,600 congregations, said he opposed the resolution because of the negative impact “illicit drugs” have had on the black community.

There is no doubt that what Pastor Allen says is true. But do we really think pot is what we’re talking about here? Lumping marijuana in with lethal drugs like heroine and crack is like punishing graffiti taggers the same as armed robbers.

Is it time to examine drug policy, mass incarceration and police practices that have put a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars?

*Note: Alexander was a 2005 Soros Justice Fellow with OSI. I am a 2010 Soros Media Fellow with OSI, which helps to support

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On this day in history: Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs

Like most people of my generation, my introduction to the drug war was the “Just Say No” anti-drug propaganda of the mid-1980s. I remember the commercials well: racially-ambiguous girls and gang-banger boys lured clean-cut kids in dark stairwells with the frightening promise that some drug –any drug – would make them “feel good.” Later, the TV taught me that my brain would fry like an egg if I ever strayed and said “yes” – even once.

Although it was President Richard Nixon who first named a national drug czar, it was Ronald Reagan who launched the anti-drug offensive as we know it. The time was ripe: the conservative revolution had begun — a backlash to the loose morals and rampant drug use of the 1960s and 1970s.  The war in Vietnam was over and the hippie generation had traded flower power for Wall Street chic. Reagan wanted to shrink government, and the drug war gave him moral high ground against cushy social entitlement programs and liberalism.

On June 24, 1982, Reagan signed Executive Order 12368, which gave the White House new control over national anti-drug efforts. Addiction treatment programs were cut. Aggressive interdiction was prioritized. Stiff prison sentences were urged. The propaganda battle, in which there was no room for nuance, no distinction between pot and heroin, geared up.

From the Rose Garden, Reagan called on international governments to join the fight against drug trafficking and made it clear that any solution other than tough law enforcement was simply another form of surrender:

“Drugs already reach deeply into our social structure, so we must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country, to let kids know the truth, to erase the false glamour that surrounds drugs, and to brand drugs such as marijuana exactly for what they are—dangerous, and particularly to school-age youth.

We can put drug abuse on the run through stronger law enforcement, through cooperation with other nations to stop the trafficking, and by calling on the tremendous volunteer resources of parents, teachers, civic and religious leaders, and State and local officials.

We’re rejecting the helpless attitude that drug use is so rampant that we’re defenseless to do anything about it. We’re taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts; we’re running up a battle flag. We can fight the drug problem, and we can win.” (Full remarks here.)

Now 28 years later, thousands have died in a U.S.-funded battle with drug cartels in Mexico, our prison systems are overflowing with non-violent drug offenders and our nation has spent $1 trillion with no measurable results. Last month, the War in Afghanistan officially became the United States’ longest military battle. But the War on Drugs has lasted even longer, with more casualties and domestic ramifications. It is time to consider whether this is a war that we as a nation can win, and at what cost. There will be more to come from Consider subscribing via RSS and follow me on Twitter (links to the left). And please join the conversation.

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