Governor's Gravitas: Jesse Ventura Wrestles With Cannabis PolicyRead More
By Erin Hiatt
Former WWE performer Jesse “The Body” Ventura prefers to be addressed as “Governor”. “I’m 66 years old,” he says. “Governor, that’s the official title they’ve given me.” By “they,” he means the people of Minnesota, where he governed as an Independent from 1999-2003, but adding “The Body” wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate. At 6 foot 4 inches he still seems tall even while seated. And though the muscles hidden underneath his boxy black suit jacket have likely grown softer over the years, his frame is not insignificant. His long white hair, trailing somewhat warlock-like from under his baseball cap, momentarily gives him a certain softness that’s quickly undone by the crackle in his crisp, blue eyes and the growl in his voice.
Ventura has made many careers over the span of his 66 years. He was a Navy SEAL who served during the Vietnam War, then rode in a motorcycle gang. He spent more than a decade as a wrestler at the apex of the sport’s popularity, then parlayed his accessible, in-your-face style to become a wrestling correspondent, moving into bit parts in movies and television.
He finally landed his own cable show based on a book he had written, “Conspiracy Theory,” whose title states its intent; to explore popular conspiracy theories like those surrounding 9/11 and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prison camps, among others. His most recent foray in entertainment is the “World According to Jesse,” née “Off the Grid,” was recently purchased by none other than Russian media propaganda machine, RT.
Ventura was the keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo held last June at New York’s capacious Javit’s Convention Center, where he extolled his most recent book, “The Marijuana Manifesto.” Speaking to a large and enthusiastic group, Ventura barked — if in a somewhat rambling way — at the crowd about the injustices of cannabis criminalization.
“I’m completely Independent,” he says of his political affiliation. “Completely, as in never belonged to any party. Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” Minnesota has had its share of quirky politicians, including Sen. Al Franken, uber-conservative cuckoo bird Michele Bachmann, and a five-year old mayor (though tongue in cheek, he was still “elected”). “I believe most people are like me,” he continues. “I believe in less government but also believe in gay rights and social liberties where government don’t [sic] belong. And that’s part of less government.”
Ventura was Trump before Trump was Trump. A populist candidate who was elected by Minnesotans out of “anger,” as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, his brash style drew both supporters and critics. But overall, his time in office was deemed at least a partial success, and that is what he hopes to leverage with the publication of “The Marijuana Manifesto.”
Admitting that the book will likely affirm the views of those already converted to the cause, Ventura says he hopes that someone of his stature writing a book on cannabis would convince those skeptical of legalization to get onboard. “People would say, ‘Gee, there’s a former governor writing this,’” he explains. “And it needed to take this step forward. And we need to come out of the closet. Gay people have come out the closet, and look, they’re getting their rights now.” Ventura believes that if more people “come out of the cannabis closet” that its use will no longer be frowned upon. “We are the majority,” he asserts. “It’s time for us as the majority to take back our government.”
Like many who come to support cannabis legalization, Ventura’s situation was personal, explaining, “Someone very dear and close to me developed an epileptic seizure two to three times a week.” He watched helplessly as his loved one seized and struggled with four different, unsuccessful pharmaceutical treatments. “In desperation, we drove to Colorado,” he recalls. “And I guess you could say we procured illegal medicine.”
“The Marijuana Manifesto” reads like a Cannabis 101 textbook told in Ventura’s stream-of-consciousness writing style. And Ventura, who sees addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, wants all drugs to be legal. “Drug addiction is a disease. For some reason we like to classify it a crime,” he emphatically states. “You can be addicted to anything! Obesity — we gonna make it a crime because people are addicted to food and won’t step away from the table?”
Ventura frequently steers the conversation back to “freedom,” and that includes the freedom to do, as he says, “stupid things.” “Like I said as governor, when you accept freedom, everything is a ying [sic] and a yang,” he says. “With accepting freedom, you have to accept what comes along — the freedom to be stupid. People are going to do stupid things. You can’t make every stupid decision against the law.”
Cannabis, Ventura believes, could have saved fellow Minnesotan Prince from overdosing on fentanyl. In fact, he thinks that cannabis is a panacea for many of the world’s problems, a concept he explores in his book. “Donald Trump wants to create jobs? Simple. Pull off the federal ban on cannabis,” he tells the Javit’s Center crowd. “I just read in The Wall Street Journal that Colorado has 18,000 new jobs. New Jobs. 18,000 people not on unemployment. Ladies and gents, that’s what will bring legalization.”
Ventura says that he sent a copy of the “Marijuana Manifesto” to Mr. Trump but that he never heard back. “I know him, I’ve been to dinner with him. We went to dinner,” he adds. “We coulda sold tickets. And he went with an advocate that’s as big as me for cannabis and hemp.” Pausing for effect, he continues, “Woody Harrelson, Trump, me, we went to dinner. Coulda sold tickets.”
But having dinner with Trump doesn’t keep Ventura from criticizing Trump’s nebulous — if nonexistent — thoughts on drug policy. “We seem to have Trump whose mantra is ‘Make America Great Again,’” he says. “But why would you do that by going backward? We go, as Star Trek said, we go where no man has gone before! How is ‘making America great’ by going backward?”
Ventura turns his sights on Washington’s political establishment, who, in his view, have forgotten, or at the very least are ignoring, the will of the people when it comes to cannabis legalization. “They work for us! They’re supposed to do what we want, they’re not supposed to do what they want! I hope there’s a revolution and I hope people will get up and tell the government, ‘We’re the boss, not you,’” he emphatically exclaims. “I think they’re gonna try to oppress us again, and I hope there’s riot, and I hope they’re not violent. But they could be.”
Next up for the Governor is broadcasting his righteous ire on an RT television series, “The World According to Jesse.” Ventura says that RT has given him no restrictions, other than an occasional bleep for profanity. RT wrote, “’The World According to Jesse’ will tackle both the current news agenda and deeper issues such as government hypocrisy and corporate deception, with Jesse’s distinctive take on stories sidelined by the mainstream media. Ventura will apply his uncensored, bold and bare-knuckled approach to thought-provoking interviews and on-the-ground reporting alike.”
“The reason I’m doing it,” Ventura begins, “is I was down off the grid in Mexico and we have this little bar we go to. A couple of years ago I walked into the bar, and there was a guy there and when I walked in, you’d think he met Jesus.” Smiling, he continues, “He was from Lebanon. He said to me, ‘Do you realize that whenever you come on CNN, everyone in Lebanon stops what they’re doing and gathers around televisions to hear what you have to say.” Ventura’s new Lebanese friend continued to tell him that the consensus in Lebanon was that Ventura should be the United States’ president, that the world would be a better place if he were.
“This guy tells me this,” he says. “It’s pretty humbling.” Saying that his experience in that off-the-beaten-path bar in Mexico led him to letting RT use “Off the Grid,” now “The World According to Jesse,” for a network series. Ventura concludes, “Screw our national media. I’m jumping over into international media. My show will be seen by 800 million people, second only to the BBC. To hell with our national media. I’m going above them.”
Ventura said in the RT’s “World According to Jesse” press release that he “looks forward to holding our government accountable. I will be exercising my First Amendment rights with no filters.” Given our current garishly bizarre political environment, maybe Ventura should resurrect his old conspiracy theory show to explore that topic. ♦
Fair-Weather Friends: Flip-Flopping on Cannabis Policy Like a Real A-HoleRead More
By DJ Reetz
Cannabis sure is gaining friends these days. With support for full legalization breaking through 50 percent nationally and support for medical cannabis reaching an all time high, backing sensible cannabis policy is a less risky political decision than it has ever been before. In fact, supporting rational policy rather than decades old dogma and prejudice seems to be a politically advantageous move, boldly announcing to the world that, “I support thoughtful policy, now that a comfortable number of people are cool with it.”
Adult-use legalization is rolling out around the country, and the possibility of actual federal reforms is increasingly likely as the number of congressional representatives from legal states grows with every victory. Representatives like those in the Congressional Cannabis Caucus see an obvious need for their constituents to have access to basic banking services, sensible tax rates, and uniform federal oversight and guidelines. But most shockingly, this pragmatism is slowly creeping into politicians and public figures who aren’t directly responsible to legal business owners currently being treated like criminals.
The changing tide has allowed those who in the past advocated for the broken status quo or enabled it with their silence to simply throw up the flag of reasonable, popular opinion and be lauded with praise from the pro-cannabis crowd. While many in the cannabis advocacy field are happy to welcome any fair-weather friend to the fold, it’s important to remember that some people are just pieces of shit. Despite what our president may think, good people don’t march with pieces of shit, no matter how gratifying it may be to wave them in front of their former allies.
People like Roger Stone — who cut his teeth in the same Nixon White House that engineered the modern war on drugs as a means of crushing dissidents and minorities before he was working alongside likely traitor Paul Manafort to engineer Trump’s election — don’t always have to be welcomed in just because they, as it turns out, have been smoking weed this whole time.
The same is true of the recent turn — or rather, mild remarks — from former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In an interview with Newsweek, Gonzales, who served as Attorney General for part of the Bush administration, advised current Attorney General Jeff Sessions against cracking down on state-legal cannabis programs, saying that to do so would be “bad optics.”
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” said Gonzales in the interview.
The perceived endorsement of the Obama-era hands-off policy was quickly picked up by the cannabis zeitgeist. A devout member of the old conservative guard was breaking rank to acknowledge that disrupting the current success at the expense of state’s rights simply to enforce ignorant policy steeped in racism against Hispanics like himself was maybe not the best course of action.
But before we get lost in this happy idea that reasoned progress may be taking root somewhere in the black heart of the neoconservative movement, let’s remember that we probably shouldn’t give a fuck what Alberto Gonzales has to say, about weed or anything else, because he’s kind of a piece of shit.
He fought against patient rights
When Gonzales took over the role of Attorney General from avowed agent of terror John Ashcroft he also took the reins of a high-profile case against cannabis patients. In 2002, cannabis patients Angel Raich and Dianne Monson were subject to a raid carried out in conjunction with federal DEA agents, which led to the destruction of a whopping six plants. Raich, Monson and two other California caregivers filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief against the prosecution, arguing that the Controlled Substances Act — which classifies cannabis among the most dangerous and useless drugs — was not constitutional when applied to personal, medically necessary use of the plant, and that the raid represented a violation of due process as well as the Ninth and Tenth Amendment and the doctrine of medical necessity.
The feds’ counter argument can be summarized succinctly as, “Nah, fuck that.”
An early ruling in the case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against federal interference with the patients, but the decision went less favorably when the case made it to the Supreme Court. Gonzales’ team successfully argued that banning personal cultivation fell under the authority of the Commerce Clause. Despite none of this medicine being proven to be leaving California, this cannabis could possibly find its way to the interstate markets if these patients chose to forego treating their chronic medical issues in order to make a few bucks, ruled the court.
The 6-3 decision by the court effectively set legal precedent for federal disruption of any cannabis cultivation, no matter the state law or medical need, which will undoubtedly factor into any overreach undertaken by the Sessions Justice Department. It’s too bad that Gonzales didn’t hold his current opinion about the foolishness of such an action 12 years ago, when it would have actually made a difference.
He was the guy who supported torture
When it comes to supporting torture, Gonzales wrote the book on the subject — or memo, rather. Back in the Bush years, when we were all terrified of Islamic terrorism and eager to inflict as much unpleasantness on dangerous, non-Christian religious fundamentalists as possible, Gonzales was hard at work on the legal justification for torturing suspected terrorists. To that end, Gonzales authored a memo claiming that suspected terrorists were not protected by the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Because — unlike wars fought between nations — the war on terror required information to be quickly extracted from captured enemy combatants to prevent future attacks, Gonzales called “legal” on practices such as waterboarding.
These things were allegedly already taking place at CIA black site detention centers, so Gonzales’ memo served to codify the practice and assure our brave shadow warriors that we wouldn’t be turning them over if any snitchin’-ass UN human rights inspectors wanted to try them for war crimes.
Torture is one of those things that just about anyone with a basic sense of decency can identify as immoral, but for Berto, as George W. Bush undoubtedly referred to him, not so much.
Also, a whole bunch of other shit
Harkening back to the days before roughly 50 percent of the population took issue with naked Islamophobia, Gonzales helped quite a bit in advancing the Bush administration’s fear-driven post-9/11 agenda. Beyond that whole torture thing, he was a strong supporter of the USA PATRIOT Act, the most cleverly and ironically acronym-ed effort ever to swing an ax at the bill of rights.
As Attorney General, Gonzales used the expanded powers granted to him by the act to spy on US citizens without warrant, and threatened The New York Times with prosecution for espionage when the paper reported some of it.
In addition to helping lay the groundwork for an Orwellian surveillance state, Gonzales was widely suspected to have fired several US attorneys for political reasons and earned a bit of a reputation as someone who had little compunction in lying to Congressional committees about his actions. Beyond that, Gonzales generally favored a lack of transparency in government and took a shot at the Freedom of Information Act by authoring Bush’s Executive Order 13233, which allowed the president to delay the release of presidential records.
It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for the Bush era these days. Back when corruption was a little more veiled, the ignorance was purposeful, the racism more subtle, and the president’s bumbling incompetence was more charming and less willful sure does seem like a simpler time. The days when government was run by a malicious cabal selling the country for profit, but at least they weren’t all up in your face with it.
Yes, it’s easy to think back fondly on those times now, and it’s natural to want to welcome any of those vampires to the fight against a new enemy. But before we heap praise on people who are risking literally nothing to show even minimal support for the inescapable progress being made, we should do an inventory of who is actually beneficial to that cause, and who can just fuck right off. ♦
Jeff Sessions: Troublemaker for Legal CannabisRead More
By Erin Hiatt
Since the Trump administration began, it has been one Tweet storm after another, creating chaos at the White House and unease in much of the citizenry. Scandal upon scandal, saber-rattling, and a never-ending deluge of scurrilous allegations have lent themselves to a governing environment where even those working for Trump seem to have no idea what the heck their boss wants, much less receive direction on how to do it.
But one politician who knows his way around the Hill, no matter who’s in charge, is Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions of Alabama. To say that Sessions is a drug war relic is probably too simple. He has been on the record saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that he didn’t mind the KKK so much until he found out they used cannabis, to play just two of Sessions’ cannabis greatest hits.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that a huge majority of Americans, some 94 percent, support legalizing medical marijuana. And many politicians, including conservatives, have distanced themselves from the old drug war playbook. But that hasn’t stopped Sessions from pawing gleefully through his D.A.R.E. scrapbook, and he does have one trick up his sleeve. When it comes to federal versus state law, federal law holds the top card.
“The AG clearly would like to implement federal law,” says Allen St. Pierre, Vice President of Freedom Leaf, partner at Strategic Alternative Investments, and board member at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “He has certainly laid down the pretext for going after some components of the marijuana industry at the federal level.”
Trump, who, for the moment, seems mostly indifferent to marijuana — and in fact said on the campaign trail that cannabis policy should be left to the states — told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in an April phone call that he was doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Since Duterte took office in June 2016, more than 7,000 people have been murdered in the drug crackdown at Duterte’s behest. Despite such a remarkably tone deaf compliment to the Filipino president, the only direction Trump has given Sessions is to crack down on crime. Sessions seems to have fallen into default mode by re-donning his drug warrior garb, and so far, he’s caused quite a stir.
Tamar Todd is the Legal Director and Acting Director for the Policy Department at the Drug Policy Alliance, and she sums up Sessions’ bluster as “a couple of statements.” Todd continues to say, “There’s no pattern or no noticeable increase in enforcement at state-level business.” However, that’s not to say that all the commotion coming from Sessions on drug policy hasn’t caused uncertainty and fear for legal cannabis players. “There’s been like talk, but not a departure from the Cole Memo or an adopted policy of enforcement strategy.”
“There’s some speculation as to why that’s the case,” says St. Pierre. “That probably has much more to do with his boss.” Intermittently Twitter-abused by Trump for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Sessions has shown determination to stay on as AG despite the floating of names like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie to replace him. “The two people that have probably gotten Trump’s ear on this are Trump’s largest (individual) donor, Peter Thiel — and Peter is one of the largest investors in the marijuana space, in Leafly and Privateer Holdings.” But Thiel is not the only one holding sway in Trump’s court. St. Pierre also points to nasty political operative Roger Stone, who recently started a cannabis super-pac called the United States Cannabis Coalition. “Roger apparently has had a very long, 25-year relationship with Trump.”
Since his tenure began, Sessions has directed the remaining US Attorneys (remember, Trump fired many of them last March) to enforce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses; linked the opioid epidemic and a rise in violent crime to cannabis legalization; overseen the renewal of contracts for the operation of private, for-profit prisons; personally went to Congress to ask for leeway to crack down on medical marijuana providers; and has re-upped the ante on civil asset forfeiture. Recently, he sent letters to the governors of Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, saying that he had “serious questions” about their cannabis laws, accusing them of diverting cannabis to children and allowing it to leak across state lines.
The crème de la crème was the convening of, and recently completed, Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, assumed to be created by the AG to provide fodder for a clampdown on legal cannabis states and businesses. The panel’s composition remains largely secret and remarkably opaque, leading many in legal states to do some worried fortune-telling regarding its recommendations.
Legal cannabis markets are essentially upheld by three governmental actions: The Ogden Memo, the Rohrabacher-Farr, aka Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, and the Cole Memo. The 2009 Ogden Memo was the first regarding marijuana laws and was a directive to de-prioritize the usage of federal resources to criminalize those in clear compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment was first introduced in 2003 and languished for some 11 years before passage. The amendment, which must be renewed each fiscal year as part of the federal budget to remain active, recently came under fire with the advent of the new administration. However, it was once again renewed and continues to prohibit the Justice Department from spending federal monies interfering in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
And last but not least, the much vaunted Cole Memo of 2013, which provides eight bullet points for federal prosecutors to focus on in legal states, such as keeping cannabis money out of criminal hands, making sure it remains within state borders, and ensuring minors don’t have access to the plant. For many in the industry, especially those who have taken great pains to heed state regulations, the Cole Memo has provided a veneer of safety.
However, Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, is a bit of a skeptic. “I don’t think people should take solace in the existing Cole Memo,” he says. “That’s the thing about the Cole Memo because it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder.” Citing challenges around youth use of and cannabis crossing state lines, he continues, “you could see how a US attorney could look at the Cole Memo and say, ‘I’m gonna close this down.’”
St. Pierre notes that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is a minor restriction on the federal government, but he adds, “It’s not entirely clear that the federal government is shackled by those laws.” He believes that if the federal government decided to walk back from the Cole and Ogden Memos that would essentially take legal markets back to pre-adult-use legalization standing. “That would bring us back to the status quo of 2010,” he continues, “and the first 14 to 16 months of the Obama administration had a more active raid schedule in California than any other year than even the Bush administration.”
Only recently, the task force members came out with some cannabis recommendations that likely weren’t what Sessions was hoping for or expecting. Brian Vicente, Esq., partner and founding member at Vicente Sederberg LLC, a marijuana law firm with offices in several legal states, views the task force recommendations as more of a wait-and-see. “There was a lot of discussion among advocates that they were going to issue these recommendations that were different from state laws,” he explains, “but it said, ‘we’re going to ramp up more research, and monitor it, and focus on the Cole Memo and banking issues.’ To sort of punt like that is fine by me.”
Despite the task force’s lukewarm guidelines and conservative’s slow shunning of drug war policies, Sessions could still throw some monkey wrenches into the works. “I mean, it really goes along the way of raid dispensaries and giving them x amount of time to comply with federal law,” Collins theorizes. “It could go to raids and shutdowns, civil asset forfeiture, or stuff that’s like paperwork-oriented. There’s a wide variety of options for them.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a particularly egregious law enforcement tool used as a drug war tactic, and it’s said Sessions is a fan. Former politician and presidential candidate Ron Paul recently wrote for the conservative Newsmax media site, “Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property.” This includes, cash, cars, jewelry, homes, and anything else even remotely associated with what law enforcement may deem a crime.
President Obama curtailed the use of civil asset forfeiture in 2015, but Sessions, in defense of his recent attempts at resurrecting it, has cited the practice as a “key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.” Todd points out that it’s unclear what “organized crime” means. “Does he mean licensed businesses in Colorado?” she wonders. “I think if the government is going to take someone’s stuff there should be due process! Who decides that the actions are criminal?”
Sessions could also direct the remaining US attorneys to do his bidding by enforcing mandatory minimums, or, as Vicente suggests, change the terms of plea bargains, which in his criminal case experience occurs 90 percent of the time. “We know that Sessions is, you know, a drug war dinosaur in many ways and an absolute prohibitionist. He talks tough on firing up the War on Drugs,” he says. “The Attorney General has a fair amount of discretion. He could delete the Cole Memo and issue a new memo, and say, ‘Now it’s a priority to enforce federal law.’ I think it would be wildly unpopular.”
St. Pierre has some predictions of his own. “The federal attorneys in those states, the first arrests they are going to make will be absolutely the least compliant, like illegal immigrants running illegal operations, that’s low hanging fruit,” he says. “When they get a compliant company, that state attorney will get such a load of shit. If they start trying to knock down these marijuana businesses in the Colorado’s and Oregon’s of the world, if they go after some of those, those constituents will pick up the phones.”
Todd is a bit more circumspect, considering the sheer size of the current legal industry. “Even if you remove the whole [Cole] memo, and before that the medical marijuana industry existed. For them to come in and say we’re going to prosecute anyone violating federal law, it would be a huge investment of federal resources.”
Currently, the Cole Memo stands unchanged and the majority of new US attorneys remain un-appointed. The Trump administration has enacted a hiring freeze and budgets have been slashed. Theoretically, Sessions could go after recreational markets, but, Vicente reminds us, Sessions doesn’t have absolute control over Congress and has limited power to go after medical marijuana. “They would have to literally stop looking at guns or child pornography or whatever the priority is and focus on marijuana,” he says. “They could sort of peel back the Cole Memo and say, ‘all recreational is bad and stop focusing on gun cases and start focusing on marijuana.’ I don’t think even Sessions would want to pull people off kiddie porn.” ♦
Throwing Gas on the Fire: Dealing with the Opioid Crisis Like a DumbassRead More
By DJ Reetz
A year after slightly less than half of the electorate made Donald Trump president I think I’m finally starting to get it. After having this time of somber reflection and panicked assessment, I finally feel that I’m beginning to understand why millions of Americans felt that electing the most ostentatiously rich asshole ever to seek the office would somehow benefit anyone other than said ostentatious asshole.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that 62,984,825 racists came together to elect this man — though I do subscribe to the idea that every racist to cast a ballot was among that number. No, Trump’s ascension to the executive office was the result of many different groups. I’d imagine there were quite a few who cast in favor of Trump simply because he wasn’t Hillary. Certainly there were the lock-step Republicans, who despite Trump’s anti-establishment veneer decided to suck it up and vote along partisan lines. There must have been plenty of misguided evangelicals who had to do a good bit of mental maneuvering to convince themselves to vote for a man who in the past favored allowing women to control their own healthcare, possesses a clear contempt for the sanctity of marriage, possibly never stepped foot in a church prior to his run in politics and is the living antithesis of the Christian notion of piety. And no doubt, there were people who voted for him because of his expressed desire to be shitty to Muslims and immigrants — and very fine people among that number.
But the group that I most empathize with is the group that just wanted to fuck shit up. When faced with the option of electing a flawed caricature of a career politician or an avowed political outsider, they chose the option more likely to shake things up. For this group, it wasn’t about policy, public service or even basic decency; it was just about razing institutions that were failing them. Trump wasn’t a candidate — he was stick of dynamite.
Now nearly a year into his presidency and it’s fairly plain to see that Trump is not this fabled omega, sent to bring an end to politics as usual. Rather, he’s just a Republican, and a pretty incompetent one at that. Sure, he still wants to fuck shit up, but most Republicans seem to want that to some degree. It’s a party whose mantra should be, “Government doesn’t work; elect us and we’ll prove it to you,” and Trump is right at home there. He’s got the ethically questionable business ties and anti-consumer outlook requisite for a Grand Old Partier. The only thing he seems to lack is the tact to just shut the fuck up and enact racist policies rather than broadcasting those underpinnings during awkward press conferences. All this is to say, Trump and his comfortably Republican agenda are really more about fucking shit up than bettering the country.
And now that the country’s attention has turned to the opioid crisis that has been quietly taking root for decades, he can turn his savant like eye for terrible policy toward making that worse as well. Now, I know Trump isn’t the kind of person who likes taking advice — or reading, for that matter — but I have some insight into how his toddler-like fumbling at the reins of power can steer this new national obsession even further into the mire.
Appoint drug warriors to assess it
Crafting effective policy is going to require a clinical eye. It will require people who can make decisions based around scientific assessment of the situation, rather than bias or prejudice.
Naturally, the best way to avoid this is to appoint people with a well-documented history of opposition to drug policy reform to assess the problem and make recommendations. Appointing Chris Christie to head the opioid task force was a damn fine start.
Christie, a man whose FUPA gives away his lack of impulse control, has been a reliable opponent to cannabis reform, and has been vocal in his support of the proven fallacy that cannabis is a “gateway drug.” Here is a man who will measure the situation and ignore the obvious solutions, all the while bemoaning the inescapable tragedy that has sprung from the confluence of poor policy and corporate greed.
What’s that? Christie was only given that token position because he was among the first of the Republicans to lick at the big boy boots of candidate Trump, you say. Could have fooled me. I guess this is another one of those times when the president’s poor decision making ability is indistinguishable from a willful desire to make things worse.
TV ads to discourage use
There’s a good chance that anybody reading this remembers the anti-drug ads from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which means there’s a good chance that you are aware of how blitheringly ineffectual those ads were. Fast forward to the modern era and the best strategy that these titans of intellect can put forward to combat the opioid epidemic is to do the exact same thing.
“This was an idea that I had,” said Trump of this notion, simultaneously driving home his self-deluded narcissism and ignorance of even recent history. In fact, this wasn’t even close to his idea but is a strategy proven to be a failure by decades of terrible commercials aimed at curbing drug use. While Trump might not remember the days when the Patrick Batemans of the world still thought he was a really cool dude, the rest of us should.
One can only imagine how effective television ads featuring Scott Baio urging kids not to pop those percs will be when measured against their favorite Muppet-looking SoundCloud rapper’s discography. Unless we can get a recurring Snapchat story of Future lecturing on the pitfalls of opioid dependency, this ad campaign will probably be about as successful as previous efforts, and will likely serve as more of an empty gesture than a worthwhile use of public funds.
Way to go, Donnie. Truly an exemplary terrible idea.
Cut mental health and addiction services
Part of the Trump administration’s stated plan to deal with this crisis is to suspend a rule that bars Medicaid paying for drug rehab. While this would seem to be a break from the long-standing policy in this country of pushing poor people toward drug abuse then disproportionately punishing them for it, Trump and his political allies have figured out how to make this meaningless as well.
Trump, being the Machiavelli of simpletons that he is, can get around this one potentially good idea by simply following any of the Republican-led “solutions” to healthcare that have so far been proposed. Since all of these proposals would cut Medicaid, proposing that the program be allowed to fund drug rehab while simultaneously removing access for millions of Americans would be as devilishly backhanded as Trump donating his salary to the Department of Education while simultaneously cutting millions from its budget.
Expand drug courts
On a surface level, expanding drug courts seems like a compassionate and, dare I say, good idea. Drug courts function as a means of diverting addicts from the regular penal system, funneling them into drug treatment programs rather than penitentiaries. For those caught with illicit substances, this seems like the proper course of action.
The problem with this is scenario is that this is still rolling substance abuse into the criminal justice system. The issue manifests when an addict in one of these programs relapses, as addicts tend to do, and is typically ejected back into the regular court system and then jail or prison. Couple that with some of the rather suspect treatment courses that the judges — not addiction specialists — typically assign to those who appear in these courts and you’ve got yet another hollow gesture that stops short of actually treating addiction as the public health issue that it is.
Continuing to treat substance abuse as a criminal issue is a great way to compound the problems of addicts. Condemning substance users for some perceived moral failing rather than helping them to improve their situation definitely helps to fuck things up, and enacting policy that will help hide the lack of real solutions behind a veneer of false compassion helps to further preserve that status quo.
Crack down on cannabis
The number one thing that the Trump administration can do to really pour gas on the opioid crisis seems to have been a goal of the attorney general since day one: disrupting state medical and adult-use cannabis programs. Sessions seems to be chomping at his mouse-sized bit to launch a campaign of destruction against the cannabis progress that has taken root in more than half of the country. He’s been contemptuous of the notion that cannabis can be a replacement for conventional pain medications, something that has been echoed by the head of Trump’s task force on the issue, Chris Christie.
With a mountain of anecdotal evidence supporting the notion that medical cannabis is an effective replacement for opioids and data showing a decline in hospitalizations for pain killer addiction and overdoses in states that have legalized medical marijuana, it seems foolish to dismiss the plant’s potential given the stated goal of Trump’s commission to find non-addictive alternatives to opioids. Further, a study published recently in the American Journal of Public Health showing a six percent drop in opioid deaths in Colorado since adult-use sales began in 2014 seems to bolster the idea that increasing access to cannabis decreases opioid use.
But fixing things isn’t the modus operandi of the Trump administration, so embracing the objective truth that cannabis can be a solution by supporting federal reforms seems like it’s out of the question. Rather, Trump embracing the Republican inclination to direct policy based on counter-factual ignorance seems more likely.
Trump has several options available to him to really fuck this thing up. If you’re one of those diligent Trumpets still clinging to support for the administration, your well developed powers of cognitive dissonance will no doubt be enough to convince you that he’s doing a great job. If you’re one of the people who voted for him hoping he’d fuck up the political establishment and not decimate the country itself, that’s what you get for electing a human shitpost. ♦
ANSLINGER MADNESS!Read More
80 years ago, Harry J. Anslinger engineered America's marijuana prohibition. Noted authors – and a distant relative – weigh-in on his reefer madness legacy.
By Gregory Daurer
Eighty years ago this October, the very first convictions under America's brand-new, federal law against marijuana took place in Denver, Colorado. On October 8, 1937, a week after the law went into effect, Judge J. Foster Symes sentenced two men to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas: Samuel R. Caldwell, 58, received four years for dealing the drug and Moses Baca, 26, got 18 months for possession. Allegedly, Baca had tried to kill his wife while under the influence.
“I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics — far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine,” said Judge Symes, as noted within the Denver Post. “Under the influence men become beasts, just as was the case with Baca.”
Sitting in the courtroom that day as a spectator was the very man who had urged Congress to prohibit marijuana, through his testimony accusing marijuana of leading to ghastly crimes: Harry J. Anslinger, who was appointed the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.
Anslinger chimed in to the Post, “Marijuana has become [the country's] greatest problem ...We, too, consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics.” Quite a stretch but, after all, this was the same man who had authored the propagandistic article about marijuana entitled “Assassin of Youth.”
Within Anslinger's reefer madness horror show, marijuana was so scary that if Frankenstein came face to face with it “he would drop dead of fright.” Anslinger was especially fond of telling the story of a young man in Tampa who had killed his family with an axe, while supposedly under the influence of marijuana. And he publicized racist quotes from the likes of newspaper editor Floyd Baskette of Alamosa, Colorado: “I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret [sic] can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents ... who are low mentally because of social and racial conditions.”
Larry “Ratso” Sloman, whose book “Reefer Madness: The History of Marijuana in America” was first published in 1979, weighs in anew on his onetime research subject: “Ah, old Harry. He was one of the first purveyors of 'fake news' when he developed a gore file and publicized inaccurate stories that 'chronicled' horrific crimes due to the pernicious influence of reefer. He was a racist and a misanthrope and demonized Mexican and black users of Maryjane. And, ironically, he wasn’t even a true believer — his 'moral' diatribes against weed came from a totally cynical position of self-interest. He was a consummate bureaucrat who modified his Bureau of Narcotic’s message about marijuana (and other drugs) when it suited his needs and enhanced his operating budget. In the end he was a wannabe J. Edgar Hoover who made a lot of peoples' lives miserable.”
(Sloman, for whom Anslinger remains a contemptible figure, knows about larger-than-life characters: The former High Times editor has written about traveling on the road with Bob Dylan, co-authored autobiographies of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and boxer Mike Tyson, and crafted song lyrics for John Cale and Rick Derringer.)
Whether or not Anslinger was a true believer; whether he campaigned to make marijuana illegal in order to prop up his agency or in order to surreptitiously make hemp illegal on behalf of competing industrial interests (as has been alleged by the late author Jack Herer in his book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”) — or both; whether he held virulently racist views — all continue to be the subject of discussion.
Anslinger is reviled by many: One YouTube video depicts an individual urinating and defecating on his simple, flat gravestone, located in Pennsylvania.
But he's still celebrated by the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, whose contempt citation involving racial targeting was recently pardoned by President Donald Trump. Arpaio, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Anslinger, told author Johann Hari, “When you go back to Anslinger — you got a good guy here!” (Over the years, Hari and other authors have explored what they consider to be Anslinger's racist underpinnings, in addition to wrongheaded policies.)
But there's also one Denver woman who celebrates Anslinger's spirit, even though she's ashamed of what he did to institute marijuana prohibition. She cheerily refers to him as her “Uncle Harry."
In one of his books, Anslinger describes a formative experience that led to his prohibitionist thinking. When Harry was 12, he was visiting a neighboring farmer. The farmer's bedridden wife began howling in pain. The farmer urged Harry to drive a team of horses to a drug store to pick up a medicine. When the husband administered the drug to his wife, she immediately stopped her wailing. Anslinger writes, “I never forgot those screams. Nor did I forget that the morphine she required was sold to a twelve-year-old boy, no questions asked.” (Despite being readily available, presumably Anslinger never availed himself of any morphine as a youth. Which makes one question whether prohibition is in fact what keeps young people off of harmful substances, rather than, for instance, education or common sense.)
As a young adult, Anslinger began working as an investigator on the Pennsylvania Railroad, rooting out fraud.
Then, employed by the Treasury Department, Anslinger fought bootleggers during alcohol prohibition. Later, he changed his tune on the wisdom of those policies: “The law must fit the facts. Prohibition will never succeed through the promulgation of a mere law observance program if the American people regard it as obnoxious.” In his senior years, one of his co-authors noted that Anslinger enjoyed a “good martini.”
Anslinger lasted 32 years in his position of power, working for both Republican and Democratic administrations, and through challenges to his position. Early in his career, he got into hot water by referring, within an official government document, to an informant as a “ginger-colored n----r.” Despite a US senator from Anslinger's home state of Pennsylvania screaming for his removal, the commissioner kept his job. Over the years he was supported by a variety of civic groups, as well as pharmaceutical companies to which he granted the sole rights to manufacture narcotics.
One of his most noted — and controversial — achievements was ushering in marijuana prohibition via the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. (Although the act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1969, cannabis was quickly made illegal again during Nixon's War on Drugs.)
It's safe to say that Anslinger prevented research into medical cannabis, and saw that it was removed from the nation's pharmacopeia, during his 30-plus year career. “It is too unpredictable to be a good servant of medicine,” claimed Anslinger. However, that doesn't mean that he was against all types of marijuana research: During WWII, Anslinger, closely tied to intelligence agencies, allowed his agents to dose unsuspecting subjects, in order to find out whether a super-potent form of cannabis could be used as a truth serum, something that might possibly loosen the lips of enemy spies.
He authored two books after his retirement, “The Protectors” and “The Murderers”. In the latter, Anslinger wrote, “From the start I have thrown the full efforts of the Bureau not against minor characters trapped in their weakness and despair but against the sources — major violators, the big hoods, the top-drawer importers and wholesalers in the international traffic and on the national syndicated crime scene.”
Yet despite claiming to only be targeting big-time traffickers, his agency spied-on, harassed and incarcerated petty users — among them noted musicians, actors, and athletes. In his book Chasing the Scream, author Johann Hari documents how Anslinger's agents hounded the great jazz singer and heroin addict Billie Holiday to her death — quite literally, on her death bed. Yet Anslinger let a white socialite, who was addicted to a narcotic, off the hook because she came from, as he wrote, “one of the nation's most honored families.”
The commissioner wasn't just publicly incensed about people using dope, he received publicity for his agency's campaign against the doping of racehorses, as well.
Whether traffickers targeted two-legged or four-legged users, Anslinger faced off against them. Anslinger detailed his agency's battles against the Italian mafia, which the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover refused to acknowledge even existed. But changing political times led to shifting targets: First he stated that the major drug runners were Italians, then during World War II they were agents of Imperial Japan, and then during the Cold War they were the Red Chinese — a charge that many international diplomats found laughable.
Did marijuana users graduate to heroin? Not on your life, he testified in the '30s. But, within 15 years, Anslinger changed his tune on that, endorsing what's been called the “gateway” hypothesis.
Whether or not one relatively benign substance actually led to the more dangerous one, Anslinger made sure that marijuana users and dealers received the same mandatory minimum penalties as users and sellers of heroin, through his support of the Boggs Act in 1951.
Anslinger died in 1975. Towards the end of his life he was on drugs himself; due to a weakened heart, he was medicated with morphine (the same drug that had had eased the screams of that farmer's wife when he was 12, as “Chasing the Scream” author Hari has noted).
Even after his death, his legacy of prohibitionist drug policies lives on globally.
Have you heard of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which still remain in place, making it legally difficult for any country to enact sensible drug policies?
For that, you can thank Harry J. Anslinger, who was a major arm-twisting lobbyist on its behalf.
Like Larry “Ratso” Sloman, author Alexandra Chasin also sees contemporary parallels to Anslinger and his policies.
Chasin says, “I think [US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions is the re-animation of Harry Anslinger, because he has the same kind of Manichean world view that is very black and white, in which everything related to black market drugs is bad and in which, in particular, the black market in drugs is populated by people of color, people coming across borders.”
Chasin — a literary studies professor, self-described on her website as a “language engineer, revisionist writer, and cultural worker” — is the author of the book “Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger's War on Drugs”. Within it, she points out how America's drug war — which Anslinger was largely responsible for — overwhelmingly targets people of color. Chasin writes, “Rather than solving social problems, drug policy and law have, in effect, constructed criminality along identity lines, turning a criminal justice system into an administrative mechanism for racist and classist social control.”
So were Anslinger's policies driven by racist beliefs he personally held?
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Chasin believes they were: from Anslinger collecting press clippings in his “gore file” documenting crimes supposedly committed by African-Americans and Latinos under the influence of cannabis to his bureau's harassment of African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday, as but two examples.
In his later writing, Anslinger would say that his bureau had hired more individuals of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than any other federal agency, and that although there were, for instance, Italian or African-American individuals involved in notorious crimes, those ethnic or racial groups included good, honest people. Chasin believes that was Anslinger changing his style to fit the times, couching his animus. “[He was] looking to present a different persona,” says Chasin.
According to Chasin, Anslinger believed that immigrants and people of color were using drugs to destroy the fabric “of what he imagined to be an intact, white, homogenous society” — with marijuana being a particular weapon of choice.
Asked if there's anything about Harry J. Anslinger that she admires, Chasin takes a long pause to mull that question over.
Ultimately, her answer is no: “I would say that he's not really a figure that I admire.”
Mary Carniglia sees something to admire in Harry J. Anslinger: “I've got a feeling that he was a stand-up guy. That he was a man of the people. That he was really somebody to be reckoned with. He could be intimidating, physically and energy-wise, because he knew he was standing up for what was right.”
But that doesn't mean that Carniglia approves of the federal prohibition against marijuana, which Anslinger championed.
“I'm just a huge weed snob,” she says. “Golden Goat is my favorite.”
Carniglia's not just a “weed snob,” she's related to Harry J. Anslinger. Harry's older brother, Robert Jr., was Carniglia's great-grandfather; her mother was an Anslinger. Mary was about three years old when Harry died in 1975, and she thinks there might still be a family photo somewhere of him holding her as a baby. She refers to the onetime commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics as “Uncle Harry.”
Carniglia says she was smoking a joint with a cousin when she learned about her late relative's historical ties to marijuana prohibition.
“You know the reason this is illegal is because of Uncle Harry,” her cousin informed her.
“What are you talking about?!” asked Carniglia. “Uncle Harry?!”
Carniglia admits, “It was pretty crummy to find out that [cannabis] was illegal because of the bullhorn of my uncle. That's embarrassing.”
She speculates, “I think he really felt like he was doing something that was going to keep people safe, somehow. People always say racism, and I can't believe that ... I didn't get that growing up from any of my family.”
Unlike authors Sloman, Hari, and Chasin — who in no way suggest that marijuana prohibition was tied to hemp's competition with synthetics or with timber interests — Carniglia does believe there was a conspiracy involving hemp, just like Jack Herer alleges in his book. She says, “And the only thing I know [Harry J. Anslinger] waffled on was the whole hemp thing, because he didn't want anything to do with getting rid of hemp. He thought that was a ridiculous idea. They told him, 'You have to!'”
Who told him that?
“Well, the people with the money. The people that gave him the job. The people that were telling him what his directives were.”
Would that have been the head of the Treasury Department, Andrew Mellon, who it's said was related by marriage to Anslinger, and one of the reasons Anslinger got his job? (Contrary to what's been written in several books, Carniglia adamantly disputes there was ever any family connection between Mellon and Anslinger.)
“It may have been,” she replies, before conspiratorially adding, “But I feel like it was Rockefeller.”
One thing Carniglia knows for certain is that the Anslingers never had much money. Harry J. Anslinger spent his last days in a modest house he'd purchased in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
From the Great Beyond, Carniglia envisions her uncle letting out a huge sigh over the “global impact of not just cannabis being taken out of medicine but of hemp being taken out of the world ... All his work his whole life had been for nothing. I felt his deflated spirit.”
Carniglia, who grew up in California and New Mexico, moved from the East Coast to Colorado in 2014 in order to get a job in the cannabis industry. She presently works at an office which connects patients seeking medical marijuana recommendations with a doctor. Carniglia often fields calls from sick and dying people, their relatives and parents of ill children who inquire about relocating to Colorado. She gives them information, advice and, perhaps, even hope.
Carniglia says she personally uses cannabis to treat PTSD, and she's personally experienced how the war on drugs adversely affects people: Carniglia says she once found herself in a compromising position with a police officer who agreed to accept the $80 bribe she discreetly offered in place of charging her with possession of a small amount of marijuana, rather than insisting on any sexual favors from her.
As for her Uncle Harry's legacy — being the man who engineered federal marijuana prohibition 80 years ago — she expresses a desire to help right the policies he brought about.
Carniglia says, “I feel a moral obligation to unscrew-up what he screwed-up.” ♦
THE URUGUAYAN WAY: Uruguay, the first country in the world to legalize cannabis sales, faces hurdles with hope.Read More
by Gregory Daurer
The second smallest country in all of South America has become the first in the world to initiate legal marijuana sales.
Uruguay — which, geographically, is about the same size as Missouri — began allowing pharmacies to sell cannabis on July 19th.
“As you can imagine, it feels great,” says agronomist Eduardo Blasina about the revolutionary changes in his country's cannabis laws. “When I was a child, we were living under a dictatorship.”
Today, Blasina, 52, works with a legal grow situated “nearby the top-security prison in Uruguay,” which provides marijuana to pharmacies. He also runs a learning center in the country's capital, the Cannabis Museum of Montevideo. Blasina says he started the museum “so people can learn that cannabis [has been] important all [throughout] human history — and not only because of the smoking part of it.”
Legal cannabis sales are the result of legislation passed by the country's parliament in 2013. The reforms were supported by then-Uruguayan President José Mujica, a onetime guerilla fighter. “We want to steal that business from the illegal market and bring it to the light day,” Mujica said in an interview broadcast by Fusion Media. In the past, much of the cannabis consumed in Uruguay has been pressed, low-quality brick weed grown in Paraguay by illegal operations.
But the newfound freedom has been accompanied by stringent regulations, and, for now, low-potency government-approved marijuana.
In order to purchase cannabis from a pharmacy, an “acquirer” — the official term — needs to register with the government. This entails filling out paperwork and providing an electronic fingerprint. Then, at the pharmacy, the person's fingerprint needs to be matched with the government's database, before the otherwise anonymous sale can take place. The law allows individuals 18 years of age and older to purchase up to 40 grams a month. By mid-August, 12,460 people in the nation of 3.4 million had registered to purchase cannabis. But only 16 pharmacies in the entire country have been willing to sell the plant.
And, so far, only two types are available for sale in those pharmacies. Alfa I is an indica hybrid with two percent THC and seven percent CBD. Beta I is a sativa hybrid with two percent THC and six percent CBD. “I think they are nice, soft, they don't make you cough, good-flavored and good state of mind,” reports Blasina. “The only problem is demand is much bigger than supply.”
Laura Blanco, a cannabis activist and educator, says of the two offerings, “The people who smoke often and know the good flowers — it doesn't [get them high]. But the people who used to smoke the Paraguayan brick [weed], they say it's okay, that it's the same in the high.”
Although she's personally inclined to view cannabis containing only two percent THC as “a joke,” Blanco allows, “I think it's a good beginning, but they have to improve the quality.”
Luckily, the law allows for adjustments.
“They've built flexibility into their system,” says Hannah Hetzer of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which worked with civil society groups (such as trade and student unions, human rights and LGBT organizations), as well as prominent citizens in Uruguay, to advocate for the 2013 policy changes. “So they're starting off a little bit more restrictive, and then, later on, if [the government wants] higher THC levels, they can make some adjustments as needed. They wanted to have a very slow and cautious start.”
Blasina thinks more strains will be for sale in pharmacies in the future.
But recently there have also been banking problems for pharmacies. Citing international regulations, banks have been telling pharmacy clients that they won't accept businesses that deal with cannabis. “They are making things difficult,” Blanco says about the banks. Mujica, now a senator, has threatened to enact a gridlock in Parliament unless the situation is resolved.
Pharmacies aren't the only way for Uruguay's citizens to gain access to cannabis, though. The 2013 national directive has also allowed personal cultivation, as well as the formation of cannabis membership clubs where users can share the harvest of plants. As with sales from pharmacies, self-cultivators and membership clubs also need to register with the government. According to the government's statistics for August 15, there are 63 membership clubs and 6,996 self-cultivators. Given that Blanco says Uruguayans can purchase, for example, European and North American-derived seeds, higher-THC cannabis is available to those willing to grow it themselves.
And while the changes have also allowed medical marijuana to be distributed by the country's Ministry of Public Health, that agency says on its website that it's awaiting access to imported pharmaceuticals — not domestic flower. Perhaps indicative of attitudes in Uruguay, its current president, Tabaré Vázquez, is an oncologist who says that he's never recommended cannabis to any of his patients, according to a report in the newspaper El Pais. “He's not a huge advocate, but he's also not a naysayer,” Hetzer says of Vázquez's position on legal cannabis.
Yet simultaneously, a therapeutic CBD preparation made from hemp is in the works by a private company, which has received governmental funding. The company, CannaPur, was granted $59,506 from the country's Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining for the product's development. Joshua Young, a CannaPur representative, says his company's first order of business is registering its proprietary high-CBD strain. After that takes place the company plans to sell therapeutic CBD-oil products in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia – countries in which it's already acquired pre-sales agreements.
Asked why he thinks the government has taken a risk on CannaPur, Young says, “I think they saw the expertise of our team.” In addition to being overseen by an experienced international attorney and an experienced medical device distributor, one of CannaPur's cultivators is Juan Vaz, a self-described grower of “gourmet cannabis” who Young says is considered “the Ed Rosenthal of Latin America. Everybody knows him, everybody respects him.”
Uruguay has garnered respect for possessing one of the highest standards of living in Latin America and a highly touted human rights record. (As an example, the country has legalized same-sex marriage.) And now it has legal cannabis sales, too.
However, don't consider visiting Montevideo for marijuana, as one would Amsterdam. “A lot of people think they can travel to Uruguay and consume marijuana, but I want to clarify that the system is just for Uruguayans or residents,” says Hetzer.
“They don't want Uruguay to be perceived as a place that's just going legal for drugs,” adds Young.
While Uruguay has had to assure its neighbor Argentina that Uruguayan cannabis won't be flooding over the border, Hetzer says, “In general, there hasn't been a lot of pushback from other Latin American countries. To the contrary, a lot of them have looked to Uruguay with interest ... If Uruguay can prove you can regulate [cannabis] effectively, then others might follow suit.”
Uruguay's changes in drug policy are remarkable in light of how low the support is domestically for legal cannabis sales. A recent survey revealed that 50 percent Uruguayans are against pharmacies selling cannabis, according to the newspaper El Pais. Only 27 percent are in favor, while 19 percent are neutral.
But for many supporters, the newly enacted policies are highly welcome.
Blasina says of his country's radical yet cautious changes, “We are very proud – and we also have a feeling of great responsibility, in that we need to show to the world that we have made a good decision.” ♦
A Woeful BowlfulRead More
by DJ Reetz
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates there are around 7.5 billion human beings on Earth at this moment. We can estimate from this that, genetically speaking, males make up roughly half of that number. This would allow us to guess that, allowing for some mitigating circumstances, there are likely around 3.75 billion dicks swinging through this world, all of which I would direct toward the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police for prompt consumption.
WASCOP, an acronym that seems to imply these people were at one point actual cops, released a statement last August warning against bringing legally purchased cannabis into the state for the 2017 eclipse, lest you face the brunt of a law enforcement apparatus with nothing better to do. Since the total eclipse, described by many as a “once in a lifetime event,” was not visible in Colorado, law-abiding cannabis consumers in the Centennial State were left with several undesirable options. The first option, simply avoid the barren expanse of dry prairie grass and sagebrush that is Wyoming and enjoy only a partial eclipse from the comfort of Colorado. The second option, toe the line, leave the cannabis at home and experience the eclipse with only the prospect of being under the influence of alcohol — the substance WASCOP describes as “the contributing factor most often present in situations that result in someone going to jail” in the state. The last option, step back into the dark ages of policy guided by ignorance and racism, and violate the law by bringing cannabis with them.
My inclination when faced with these options: game on. If police in Wyoming feel they can prevent me from enjoying this monumental alignment of celestial bodies in whatever manner I see fit, I’m eager to see if their outdated law enforcement ideals are a match for the skills I’ve honed over years of (mostly successful) avoidance of prosecution for illegal cannabis use.
To do this, one must stick with the golden rule of casual criminality by breaking only one law at a time. This means making sure that all the light bulbs are functioning on the car, all tags are up to date and properly displayed, and, above all else, not consuming while driving. This carefully orchestrated dance has evolved slightly over the years with the legal industry’s technological advances providing ever more discreet options like vape pens. While these devices will never fully replace flower in my mind, I reasoned that the tradeoff was worth the added discretion. Unbeknownst to me, my camping supplies included a joint and a container of flower, which I discovered only after making camp.
But WASCOP doesn’t limit their disdain for cannabis to futile finger wagging. The organization operates the ironically named thereisnodebate.org, dedicated to presenting highly debatable, if not out-rightly spurious, “facts” about cannabis.
The website is a wealth of nonsense meant to inflame the ignorant and soothe the prejudices of prohibitionists; one could almost admire this steadfast dedication to providing informed cannabis consumers with lolz.
Clicking on the website’s “products” tab leads to page stocked with information on the dangers presented by legal cannabis products, which one must assume is intended for a demographic that has never set foot in a legal dispensary. “Did you know?” asks the page, “Young children typically explore their surrounding environment by touching, tasting and in some cases, fulling [sic] ingesting items they find around them.”
WASCOP explains that shady, legal cannabis merchants are making infused candies that are indistinguishable from the commercially sold, non-dosed varieties. Of course, this is patently false for products manufactured in the legal market of the one adult-use state that borders Wyoming, where all edibles must be identifiable as containing THC and are legally barred from mimicking popular candy brands.
But asking that the operators of this website base their presentations in fact is clearly too much. The section further asserts that children under the age of 12 will “require hospital care to address the severe symptoms (emphasis theirs) that accompany ingestion” should they accidentally consume one of these products recklessly marketed to children. This seems to be drawn from advice given by the Colorado Children’s Hospital, advice that also seems to neglect the fact that not a single death has ever resulted from a cannabis overdose.
The better advice might be that children under the age of 12 who accidentally consume edibles left out by negligent parents require a nap to address the slight discomfort that accompanies being too stoned (emphasis mine).
This restrained course of action might veer too much toward rationality though, and accurately representing the dangers of cannabis sure makes you look like a dick for fucking up people’s lives over it.
Perhaps the most infuriating section of the “we can’t debate this” website is dedicated to debunking the notion that cannabis is in fact medicine. The page insists that medicine is a highly regimented affair, requiring tightly controlled dosage prescribed by a medical professional that has spent at least an hour examining a patient’s medical record. You don’t smoke medicine, insists the page. Certainly, these people must have entered law enforcement to further their knowledge of how people intake medicine.
The page further claims that cannabis medicine doesn’t qualify as “natural” since commercial varieties have been bred to have 10 times the potency of “natural” cannabis plants. This claim, while entirely missing the point of why cannabis patients view their medicine as natural, also neglects to check its claims against the website’s “Potency” section, which centers on the tired prohibitionist trope that modern cannabis is 28 times stronger than varieties sold in the ‘70s. So either cannabis growers were intentionally growing less potent pot in the good ol’ days — when the people the website is targeted toward were apparently dulling their intellects smoking dope — or the authors couldn’t even bother to check their assertions against their other assertions.
What is clear from this website, and from the WASCOP statement, is that those who depend on cannabis for an improved quality of life aren’t welcome in Wyoming and should wait until 2045, when the total eclipse will pass across Colorado.
Which brings back to my original point about the astounding number of dicks that WASCOP can suck if they wish to deny the rights of a cannabis patient to consume their medicine, or just be shitty to those of us that want to use cannabis legally for any reason. Sucking literally all of the dicks may seem like enough — and I’m counting dusty, flaccid old guy dicks in that number — but 3.75 billion still seems lacking to me. Perhaps they could also suck baboon dicks, or, exhausting the supply of terrestrial dicks, search the galaxy for other sentient beings to blow. My point is, anyone that has a problem with legally grown and acquired cannabis ending up anywhere needs to occupy themselves with something more productive than espousing self-righteous, short sighted horse shit.
As for my own experience, my endeavor to once again smuggle cannabis across state lines for personal consumption met the expected end without incident; though my commitment to breaking only one law at a time was tested during the 12-hour jam of return traffic. For those that feel it an unnecessary risk to bring cannabis into a state that outlaws the plant when the partial eclipse was visible right here, you should know it’s not the same. I won’t be beholden to the laws of man when the cosmos beckon, and the total eclipse is something special, capable of being viewed by the naked eye without damaging your eyes like some kind of dipshit that was elected president.
And for those that think taking legal cannabis across an invisible line that makes it illegal somehow sets a bad example or threatens a federal crackdown on the legal progress made here in Colorado, you’re wrong. And you can share in that bounty of dicks. ♦
People vs. The Politicians: The Dueling Paths to Medical Cannabis in UtahRead More
By Erin Hiatt
Mormons in Utah and cannabis have a bit of sordid history together. In the late 1880s, some Mormons, many of whom were practicing polygamy, were commanded by then prophet Brigham Young to migrate to Mexico to flee religious persecution by the United States government. And the Mormons did well there, proselytizing, farming and building. But in 1912, Mexico, in the throes of revolution, turned their anti-American sentiment toward the Mormons, and they fled, returning to Arizona and Utah.
One surprising thing that also made the trek north: cannabis. Joseph Smith, founder and first Prophet of the Mormon Church revealed to his congregants in 1833 the Word of Wisdom, an edict that counsels: “Beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth should be used sparingly and only in time of great need.” It also prohibits “hot drinks,” “tobacco,” “strong drinks,” and suggests eating grains and fruit.
It is said that when the Mormons brought cannabis to the Utah, leaders moved quickly to outlaw it with an official ban in 1915. And though they were the second state to prohibit cannabis, a couple of years behind California, they do have the distinction of being the first state to pass CBD-only legislation, Charlee’s Law, in 2014. Charlee’s Law is far from ideal, even amongst CBD-only laws, allowing for only one condition, intractable epilepsy. Even worse, the law provides no way for patients to legally obtain it. Since then, Utah has been making progress, albeit very slow progress, in the form of more expansive yet unpassed bills.
However, this forward movement has been stymied by disagreements between pro-medical marijuana politicians pressing for more extensive programs and the Mormon Church, who have supported CBD-only programs and strongly oppose smoked cannabis. Any Utah politician worth their salt knows: the elephant in the capitol is the Mormon Church. And the closer those laws get to things like liquor or cannabis, the more they will need to have the church’s support.
“I’ve talked to the church at length, obviously, you need to do that,” says Utah State Rep. Brad Daw, a Republican representing House District 60, a very conservative, Mormon, and safely-red district about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. Daw is working with Rep. Evan Vickers, Republican from Cedar City, on crafting a bill for the 2018 legislative session that would legalize medical marijuana. Daw doesn’t know yet what qualifying conditions his bill will include, but he does know one thing for sure, no smoking. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that have said, ‘No, don’t smoke it. It’s not medicine,’” he maintains.
The regulatory system Daw plans to propose is very different from other states. “We’re going to have a central dispensary that’ll go 24-hours,” he explains. From that location, all medical marijuana orders would be sent via courier within 24 hours. “In Utah, when you have populations that are isolated or have very few people, it would be hard for a dispensary to be successful. Let’s have a dispensary location with a full-time pharmacist on staff that can do all inventory control, that can do all the things that a pharmacy is supposed to do.”
Christine Stenquist is the president of TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), and works closely with the Utah Patient’s Coalition (UPC), who recently got the go-ahead to gather signatures for a medical marijuana ballot initiative slated for November, 2018. It’s structured similarly to medical programs in other states, with a dispensary or more allowed in each county, depending on population, the option to grow at home if patients are too far from a dispensary, and a broad range of qualifying medical conditions. Their bill, in a likely concession to the church, does not allow for smokeable cannabis.
The daughter of a narcotics officer, Stenquist has been a driving force in Utah cannabis advocacy for the past couple of years. She came to medical cannabis through decades of debilitating illness and chronic pain. “Five years ago, I hit a really bad spell,” Stenquist begins. “At this point I’d given up on doctors, but I begged my husband to take me back to the doctor to ask him about cannabis.” Expressing concern about marijuana being illegal, her doctor nevertheless told her about a clinic where she could obtain Marinol, the FDA-approved synthetic cannabinoid.
But the side effects made her even more miserable, so she went online and started researching. After finding study after encouraging study, her quest for whole-plant cannabis began in earnest. “I reached out to my dad and told him I wanted to start cannabis, and he was supportive,” she recalls. “He reassured me that even though it was illegal I could probably find a bag.” So Stenquist asked her recently graduated daughter if she had any friends who smoked pot.
She and her husband had used cannabis in their earlier years when he was part of a rock band, but using it as a mother with children had never entered her mind. “My husband sat there and looked at the bag, and it was hard to wrap our head around,” she recalls. “It never dawned on us that we would be using it for medicine. Now I’m sort of crippled in bed and he’s holding a pipe up to my lips and he’s helping me toke.”
Her nausea subsided on her first hit. “And in two weeks, I was walking with a cane. Six months later I was driving and eight months later I was on the Hill.” Since that initial dose in 2014, Stenquist has been tireless in her work, saying, “I truly am, ridiculously an advocate.”
Her presence on the Hill brought her together with Mark Madsen, a former Utah representative and medical marijuana patient, who tried, and failed, to pass more comprehensive medical marijuana bills in 2015 and 2016.
Medical marijuana advocates had the tiniest of successes in 2016, when Salt Lake Republican Brian Shiozawa passed a nonbinding resolution that urged Congress to reclassify marijuana to Schedule II to allow its study for medicinal purposes. But 2018 is going to get interesting when Daw’s bill and the ballot initiative could both get passed.
“The plan is as follows, I have a bill file open right now,” says Daw. “The state department of agriculture is allowing a rule for hemp to be produced for research purposes as part of the omnibus bill. I have a bill file open that will allow hemp production for commercial purposes. My partner Vickers has a bill up to allow for production of medicinal cannabis and hemp.” Another part of his plan is a product review board, one composed of doctors and other people in the community to appraise cannabis research. These assessments will then be used to decide what qualifying conditions will be included in the bill.
“What we’ve seen in Colorado, Washington, and California,” he explains, “what we see is a very few percentage [sic] of doctors that write the majority of the prescriptions.” Daw envisions a program where every doctor in the state could recommend cannabis for each condition they find appropriate. This is where the product review board comes in. Also, the definition of “CBD” as written in HB 130, Daw’s bill: cannabinoid, or non-psychoactive cannabidiol.
Still, Stenquist believes that the only cannabinoid the panel is allowed to evaluate is cannabidiol, and reading the bill’s text, it’s easy to understand her logic. “It’s just a 10:1 CBD-only ratio,” she asserts. When pressed, Daw says that the 10:1 CBD ratio was an error in the draft of the bill and that the ratio is incorrect. He says at the University of Utah, they’re studying placebo, THC and CBD, and CBD using cannabis grown by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and other studies are using hemp designed for medicine.
Daw describes sitting down personally with the doctor leading the panel. “What I told him, number one, is don’t wait for studies to come from Utah,” he says. “There are studies across the country and start with those, and you can get to work now. And if you can bring those to the legislature, that gives us a chance to make laws.” Daw is expecting that the board, chosen for their research expertise, will honestly and objectively analyze studies presented to them. “It’s a cannabis medicine panel, and their job is to evaluate research that’s being done and present it to the legislature,” he explains. “Just like you do with a peer review study, they become the peer review board.”
More CBD-only legislation in Utah is not acceptable for Stenquist, who believes that patients need more options. “I try to be very honest, we do need more research,” she says. “What they really say when they want research — they want dosing. It’s a bit of a shit show, bring your popcorn.” Stenquist, who's worked hard in the past two years to not only educate and support patients, but to encourage them to share their stories with the legislature, believes that Daw and Vickers don’t have the patients’ best interests at heart. “We have a prohibitionist [Daw] and a pharmacist [Vickers]. And nobody seems to understand why people have a problem.”
Misunderstandings and miscommunications about the product review board aside, the primary difference between Daw’s bill and the UPC initiative, as seen by Stenquist, is Daw’s and Vicker’s seeming indifference to patients. “What I’m trying to do is have a grown-up conversation with the legislature and say, ‘This is coming.’ Saying, ‘let’s talk,’” Stenquist explains. “The hard thing, too, is it’s the patients that suffer. They may not be saved or cured, but this can ease their suffering. A lot of them have given up and moved to Colorado. The sacrifices these people make to have a better quality of life ... it breaks my heart.”
Though Daw’s approach to legalization appears to be largely pragmatic, he disagrees with Stenquist’s assertions. “What they said all along is wrong, frankly. We’re not opposed to helping patients,” Daw says, “as long as we can do it in a way that looks like medicine.” Hence the product review board, born to mimic an FDA approval process, gives comfort to the Utah Medical Association and, ostensibly, the Mormon Church.
Should Daw’s bill pass during the 2018 legislative session, that won’t kill the ballot initiative.
If it makes the fall ballot, Daw predicts a battle royale. “The Church will come out against it, law enforcement will come out against it, the legislature probably will, and I can tell you right now, there are some parts of the bill that are impossible to implement.” But he’s confident about his bill passing, saying, “[Support] was almost unanimous last year, so I think there’s a very strong interest in moving the ball down the field.”
The UPC seems to be moving the ball down the field, too. They recently launched their signature gathering campaign, are finding support and funding, and have popular support. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that over 75 percent of Utahns support the ballot initiative. But Daw has the benefit of being privy to the machinations of the Utah political machine and the confidence of the Utah Medical Association and the Mormon Church, a perk the Utah Patient’s Coalition doesn’t enjoy. Look to the fall of 2018 for things to get good. ♦
Public Debate: As Denver Prepares for Cannabis Consumption, Some Businesses are Ahead of the GameRead More
by Matthew Van Deventer, photos courtesy of Heidi Keyes
In 2014 Heidi Keyes founded the first Puff, Pass, Paint in Denver on a whim of passion. She didn’t expect it to be so successful and the odds were against her considering Denver was (and still is) lacking a framework that encourages or even allows social consumption.
However, Keyes, like a handful of other entrepreneurs, found a place in the law for her business. Today there are seven Puff, Pass, Paint programs across the country, each navigating the consumption laws of the city it’s in.
“I didn’t know they would be successful. [They] started on passion,” says Keyes. “I think people can genuinely tell we care about the plant and what we do to destigmatize [cannabis].”
In Colorado it’s illegal to consume cannabis in public, and places where locals and tourists can go to smoke it are few and far. Hotels usually don’t allow smoking in rooms, and it’s not allowed in bars or any other public establishment, so people resort to a front porch, risk doing it illegally in a public setting, or find one of a handful of private cannabis clubs.
Keyes’ business is one of a few that has managed to stay afloat. She says a lot of their out of town guests are frustrated and surprised when they land and find out they can’t smoke their cannabis. Many of them are consuming it legally for the first time and they want to do it right.
People who want to puff, pass, and paint, must reserve tickets online. Many locations don’t even give guests an address until they purchase a ticket for the private event. Guests must be at least 21 years old, are required to sign a waiver when they get there, and it’s BYOC — Bring Your Own Cannabis.
They don’t just stick with painting either, says Keyes. There are other classes like pottery, sewing, cooking and even classes for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s not just a fun thing, it’s something that helps people relax,” says Keyes.
Each class is two hours and is instructor-led, but they aren’t overly structured; people can paint what they want because the point is to encourage creativity, fun, and relaxation with a little help from cannabis.
“Even if you’re not an artist, we want to keep it really laid back to encourage creativity,” Keyes continues. “It’s not pressured, even if you don’t typically make art.”
Coloradopotguide.com lists about 10 clubs mostly in Denver and Colorado Springs, where people can consume cannabis. They are private, members-only clubs, most of which require their guests bring their own cannabis and they don’t necessarily have a creative activity set up for guests. They are more just places for people to hangout.
Denver’s longest running club, iBake, charges members $10 a month plus two dollars a visit. It offers T.V.s, movies, video games and board games.
The Lazy Lion in Colorado Springs claims to be the first dab bar in the world. It offers its members concentrates, edibles, and flowers through its “reimbursement” plan, according to the website. Members who have signed an agreement can reimburse the club for up to an ounce of cannabis at one time.
Other programming that has found the sweet spot in the law is touring. Guests on a cannabis tour are shuttled around the city usually in some sort of party bus where they can safely and legally consume.
Mike Eymer is the founder and CEO of Colorado Cannabis Tours. He was involved in the initial talks of I-300, an initiative passed by Denver voters last November that set in motion the creation of a social consumption pilot program. However, after months of back and forth with industry and neighborhood advocates as well as local lawmakers, the initiative came up short in the eyes of Denver’s cannabis industry, including Eymer.
“I don’t think anybody is entirely satisfied with what they’ve gotten approved or passed. It was supposed to be more than it currently is. I’m fairly lukewarm about it,” says Eymer.
People questioned why he got involved in the initiative since his brand, which purchased Puff, Pass, Paint in 2015, is and always has been operating within the law and won’t be affected by the pilot program. Eymer says he wants to see more competition in the industry, instead of businesses being forced to operate in the sliver of legal space available to them.
“We as a company believe competition is good, and competition is lacking in this department. We know we are at often times frustrated by copycat businesses because they think this is the only way to do it,” Eymer says. “So we really wanted more options for people because you simply can’t lock good entrepreneurs and good ideas out of this state.”
Eymer speculates that I-300 was a test of Kayvan Khalatbari, a lead architect of the initiative and now 2018 Denver mayoral candidate, to see how local legislators’ law making processes could incorporate community input in creating a law everyone could get behind.
“I think he might be coming up with his answer right now, which could be behind part of his run for mayor . . . part of this may be proving one way or another they’re going to try to thwart us,” suggests Eymer.
The voter-approved initiative was sold as a way to enact rules that would treat cannabis like alcohol and allow guests at clubs, theaters, and public events to consume cannabis freely. But that didn’t necessarily happen. Instead, after months of committee meetings, it became apparent that the next fight the cannabis community must grapple with is consumption.
At a June public hearing about the initiative, neighborhood advocates, established homeowners, and neighborhood associations like the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association praised the ordinance while some wanted it even more strict. Speakers from the cannabis community voiced their concern that it would crush any potential entrepreneurial spirit and make the city and state less competitive as other parts of the country open up legalization.
The passed law requires businesses seeking a consumption license to be in good standing with the neighborhood, have an odor mitigation plan in place, be 1,000 feet away from a school or public park, and prohibits them from serving alcohol, among other rules. A spokesperson for Denver Department of Excise and Licenses says they won’t be able to processes applications until August 31.
In an ideal world, Eymer says, “You should be able to walk into a cannabis club, sit down at a bar setting, pay for a dab, pay for a joint, consume it there, and leave.”
He likens it to going to a baseball game and being able to choose from an array of different brands of beer and liquor. The same could go for cannabis, where guests at a club or event can choose a joint, dab, or flower manufactured by their favorite company.
Businesses like Colorado Cannabis Tours and Puff, Pass, Paint won’t be affected by the ordinance — they were legal before and will continue to be so. However, the fate of the industry’s creative programming is at stake. On the larger scale, so is Colorado’s competitiveness as a cannabis tourism destination.
However, successful ventures like Puff, Pass, Paint not only help people relax, be creative and safely consume cannabis socially, but also progress the industry.
Keyes continues, “These types of events really help to destigmatize cannabis and therefore normalize it, and help push legalization nationwide. Other states do look at us, see tax dollars coming in [as] states [are] trying to figure it for themselves.” ♦