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Judith Stamps blogs

by tedsmith » Sun Jun 01, 2014 10:15 am

Judith Stamps holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Toronto, and taught in the Political Science Department at the University of Victoria from 1990-2000. She is the author of Unthinking Modernity: Innis, McLuhan and the Frankfurt School, numerous journal articles, essays and letters to the editor. Judith is a member of Sensible BC and was very active in the campaign to decriminalize, and ultimately legalize, marijuana in that province. Her current writing focuses on cannabis history and the history of prohibition. You can check in on her current work by visiting her blog:
Posts: 1764
Joined: Mon Mar 31, 2008 12:03 pm
Location: victoria


by papapuff » Mon Jun 02, 2014 1:09 pm

Weedy Blues: Riffs on Marijuana and the Media: Part 1



Since the late 1990s, indoor cultivation of marijuana has been a constant focus of attention by the RCMP units that comprise the civil police for 62 out of 74 of BC’s municipalities. Through their reports, these units supply the crime information most heavily relied upon by mainstream media. In this way, they paint the portrait of marijuana that British Columbians encounter most often. Today’s blog describes the structural, or fixed, aspect of this portrait as described in Susan Boyd and Connie Carter’s new book, Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media and Justice. BC, they argue, is in the midst of a media supported, specialized drug scare: ‘the grow op scare.’ This argument is based on their analysis of 2,524 articles published from the years 1995 to 2009 in The Globe and Mail, The Province, the Vancouver Sun and the Times Colonist. In what follows, we look at the logic that underpins this scare.

We begin by asking: What drives the focus on growers? Boyd and Carter’s reply is that public opinion on marijuana has been softening for a couple of decades, especially in the matter of individual use. It is difficult to malign pot fans that are otherwise indistinguishable from one’s neighbours. It is harder still to malign the celebrities that seem to ‘come out’ every other day. It is easy, though, to target growers. Growers are hidden from sight and are, as a consequence, an exotic unknown. They are the perfect counterparts to a public that can be led to believe almost anything. It is on this foundation that the ‘grow op’ scare is built.

But it could not have been built without journalists, and so we ask next: Why have they been led so easily? The short answer is: Money. Over the past few decades, private newspapers have experienced declining revenues and accompanying budget cuts. Too many have needed to amalgamate, so every year we hear fewer distinctive voices. They now rarely employ their own investigative reporters, and so rely heavily on ‘ready to serve,’ on-line stories; even fewer voices. They are eager to take free, easily available offers from sources that seem legitimate. Hence the appeal of RCMP reports. Similarly, government cuts to public broadcasters, and to research budgets at universities and elsewhere, have diminished our access to independent reporting. What remains is a media environment that is poor in substance, but rich in opportunities for scare mongering.

The ‘grow op’ scare is a modern day spectacle. At its core is a freakish caricature of indoor plants, and of their planters and caregivers. The caricature is drawn from a series of elements, each of which distorts, and sometimes invents, some part of the setting. They include: infiltration by organized crime; infiltration by too many Asians; theft of electricity; inadequate wiring, resulting in fire and electrocution; and poor growing practices, resulting in moulds and noxious fumes. Growers are described as armed, dangerously sophisticated, and bewitchingly successful. Their plants are portrayed as magnets for plant thieves. Their numbers are said to be accelerating in plague like fashion. They are said to threaten the health of the children, the safety of neighbourhoods and the integrity of civil society In the year 2005, 40 children in BC were seized from their homes by social services. One headline read: “Cops find kids being kept in drug houses.” A reporter for The Province claimed to be quoting from an RCMP funded study of children found in grow ops. There is no such study, and there never has been.

There are, however, two studies of consequence, funded by the RCMP and completed in 2002 and 2005. They are cited extensively by the Canadian media and, more importantly, they continue to inform government policy and law. Their lead author is Dr. Darryl Plecas, RCMP university research chair in crime reduction. The most sobering fact about these studies is that the authors’ words contradict the numbers they provide. For example, Plecas and his colleagues exaggerate by 17%, the number of grows known to the RCMP, and by 100%, the increase in these grows from 1997 to the year 2000. They distort their numbers by conflating categories: they add alleged grows and confirmed ones in a single column. Worse, they call for a ramped up, punitive police response while, according to their data, 89% of grows examined during their study period contained no hazards at all. In short, they count, add apples to oranges, and then magnify.

In a balanced system, newspapers would provide a counterweight to these distortions. Instead, both the BC papers and The Globe and Mail echo them, and then add a few curves of their own. There are number curves. These include: stressing the number of plants found; counting the hazards found; and a favourite—citing exaggerated figures on the plants’ street value. Headlines that read, “Biggest Bust Ever” convey the notion of an advancing tidal wave. Then we get language curves. The worst of these is the phrase, “grow op.” Why not “garden?” We are bombarded by words like “massive,” “deadly,” “toxic,” and “gang-related.” We are stunned by headlines like, “Pot Thieves Bring Terror in the Night.” We are muddled by the newspaper’s narrative style. Marijuana stories, Boyd and Carter note, follow a three-part pattern. They begin with a report on a bust. They proceed to quotations from the latest RCMP report. They finish by reminding us of every element in the caricature, even in cases where none was present. They provide, in brief, a cartoon.

Since 2005, matters have worsened, primarily because new cartoonists have signed on. These now include mayors, Home Insurers, BC Hydro representatives, fire chiefs, and the BC Liberals. Their participation has changed the nature of the game. In 2005, the municipality of Surrey piloted a “multi-partner initiative,” entitled the Electrical and Fire Safety Initiative (EFSI). Present at the planning meeting, besides those listed above, were representatives from the BC Ministry of the Attorney General and the BC Safety Commission. All parties agreed that the courts were not doing enough to eliminate ‘grow ops.’ The EFSI, an attempt to fix this problem, worked as follows. BC Hydro Authority kept a record of households whose electrical use had increased, and passed the records on to the local RCMP. Residents selected by this process were given 48 hours to allow a safety inspection of their home. If they did not comply, their power was turned off. Signs could be placed in front of their homes, indicating that it was under investigation.

The BC Liberals, then under the leadership of Gordon Campbell, provided the fifty thousand dollars needed to pay for this project. Supporting facts for the EFSI were taken straight from the RCMP reports described above. Press coverage was positive; no one seemed alarmed. Later that year, Surrey Police Chief, Len Garis, added his own bias by producing an influential report entitled: Eliminating Residential Marijuana Grow Operations—An Alternative Approach. After replaying “the facts,” Garis called on the Liberals to provide enabling legislation. In 2006, the government complied by passing The Safety Standards Amendment Act. The Act permits local governments to obtain information on electricity consumption from the BC Hydro and Power Authority, and to share that information with local police. Pamphlets now abound, telling residents how to spot a ‘grow op.’ As of 2012, nineteen municipalities had endorsed the program. For prohibitionists, the ‘municipal safety’ issue has opened a new door.

So there we have it: the ‘grow-op scare,’ an evolved, intensely localized phenomenon that eludes federal law, or tries to, and appears positioned to drive its targets to the wall. There are, however, new lights in the realm. There have been court challenges to the EFSI, and some municipalities have begun to balk. The press has taken notice. There is trouble in Safety Standards paradise. In addition, Killer Weed’s author, Susan Boyd, has contributed her expertise to the court challenge that has halted, for the moment, the complete discontinuation of personal gardens, the Canadian Government’s latest volley in Canada’s medical marijuana war. In Weedy Blues, Part II, we reconsider the media landscape in the light of these newer events. Stay tuned.

© Judith Stamps, Victoria BC
Posts: 11033
Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 11:19 pm
Location: Victoria BC

by papapuff » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:58 am

Weedy Blues: The Ballad of Murder and Marijuana: Part Two


Cartoon by Judith Stamps – The author of this piece.

In Weedy Blues Part One, we looked in detail at how newspapers in Canada, especially in BC, have helped to create a contemporary spectacle: the “grow-op” scare. Based on content analysis provided in Susan Boyd and Connie Carter’s Book, Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow-ops, Media and Justice, we noted that elements of this scare included harping on indoor growing hazards, especially fire and mould; and on the notion that growing is currently the province of criminal gangs. Facts to support these distortions came from RCMP funded reports, whose authors consistently misrepresented their own data. In response, as we saw, some BC municipalities introduced programs of enforced home “safety inspections,” whose sole purpose was to find “grow-ops.” In this they were aided by the BC Safety Standards Amendment Act of 2006, which allows BC Hydro to share information with municipalities and with the RCMP.

But journalists are not magicians. They cannot conjure a drug scare without some basis in fact. For this they depend on key events, often catastrophic in nature. Canada’s opium scare, and the Opium Act of 1908, for example, followed on the heels of anti Asian riots in Vancouver, BC in 1907. Marijuana prohibition in Canada, in 1923, followed a series of hysterical, US inspired articles by Canada’s first female magistrate, Emily Murphy. Published in MacLean’s magazine, they linked racial hatred and violence to a plant virtually unknown to readers of the day. The contemporary “grow-op” scare has followed an event all its own: the Mayerthorpe tragedy.

On March 3, 2005, RCMP officers were called out to a small farm in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, as backup for bailiffs attempting to repossess a truck on which owner, James Roszko, had stopped making payments. On the property, inspectors found stolen car parts, evidence of a chop shop; ammunition and a night vision scope, evidence of a weapon; and marijuana plants. Roszko was nowhere to be seen. As it was late in the day, four guards were left on the property to await the arrival of an Auto Theft Unit in the morning. The guards were junior officers. In the hours that followed, James Roszko ambushed, shot and killed all four. He later turned the gun on himself.

Despite the complexity of the scene, news coverage focused on the plants. Initial reports called Roszko a ”cop hater” with a grow-op linked to organized crime. Authorities quoted in the news might as well have been vying for best song title: “Marijuana and Organized Crime Are All Around Us,” (Alberta’s solicitor general, Harvey Cenaiko;) “A Plague on our Society,” (RCMP officer, Guiliano Zaccardelli;) and “Let’s Have Stiffer Sentencing,” (Minister of Public Safety, Anne McLennan.) BC’s attorney general, Geoff Plant had the key theme. Growers of yesterday were good-natured, if misguided, local bumpkins. Growers of today are international criminals. Dissenting voices appeared here and there, in letters to the editor, or in editorials, but never on the newspapers’ main program. Over time the accepted story became: “grow-op” led to murder.

Cartoon by Judith Stamps

Six years later, in 2011, there was an official report on this event to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General. It turned out that Roszko had a history of violence: he had had six previous convictions. He was a sexual predator: he had attacked local youth. He had been prohibited from owning guns; yet he still had one. He had long been of “Special Interest” to local RCMP. Moreover, he had never been involved with organized crime. He was a loner who happened to have some plants.

But the damage to public perception was irreparable: the Mayerthorpe tragedy had become a morality tale. In 2007, popular singer Corb Lund wrote a verse about the event in his song, “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier.” Officers had been killed,” he sang, ”in scarlet coldest blood.” In 2008, CTV aired a TV Movie called “Menace,” originally titled “Mayerthorpe.” The description in IMDb calls the film a semi-fictional story based on “a shooting during a drug raid.” In 2009, musician, Ko Kapaches, released his song, “The Ballad of Jimmy Roscoe,” whose chorus ran:

He spent most of his time with his crops in the field
He’s loading and cleaning his steel, thinkin’
They, they gonna feel how I feel
If they get between me and my high

This morality tale had a practical effect as well. In Susan Boyd’s words, it sparked a more rigorous alignment of professionals: RCMP, police, real estate and insurance agents, mayors, city councilors, and BC Hydro. They formed the eye of the safety inspection storm that followed

In 2005, hard on the heels of Mayerthorpe, the municipality of Surrey introduced its Electrical and Fire Safety Initiative (EFSI.) The program worked as follows. A dedicated EFSI team received information on electricity consumption from BC Hydro, and homes were selected for inspection. Owners were given 48 hours to book an inspection; electrical service was cut for anyone who failed to comply. The team was not required to obtain search warrants. It charged homeowners $3, 800 each for an inspection; they were required to pay even if nothing of interest was found. It has to be a tribute to the fear inspired by all of the above that Surrey residents did not take to the streets.

Then on May 28, 2007, the team knocked on the wrong door. Jason Arkinstall was a Surrey homeowner within an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and green house. He used a fair bit of electricity. He agreed to allow electrical and fire inspectors into his home, but refused entry to the RCMP. When BC Hydro cut his power, he moved his family to a hotel, and contacted lawyer and constitutional expert, Joseph Arvay. With support from the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), Arkinstall petitioned the BC Supreme Court to rule that the 2006 BC Safety Inspection Amendment Act infringed on Charter Rights. He won. It is no longer legal for local RCMP to enter a home without a warrant, even to look for a plant. During the hearing, Arvay informed the Court that, since 2006, BC Hydro had forwarded information on 6,000 Surrey homes to the Team. Of those, 1,000 had been inspected. Of the 1,000, one had been found with a “grow-op.”

The storm continued. In 2008, the Municipality of Mission passed its Controlled Substance Property Bylaw. In Mission, RCMP accompanied the Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT,) but waited outside, in plain view. Mission inspectors charged homeowners $5,200 each. In theory, owners paid only if the PSIT found evidence of a “grow-op.” Evidence meant finding any of following: potting soil, plant remains, unauthorized building modifications, altered wiring or plumbing, plastic covered windows, mould or moisture. In practice, there was no escaping this list. Three years into the storm, some people in Mission had had enough. In May 2011, 499 residents launched a class action suit against the District. A Mission town hall meeting, viewable on Youtube, reveals their distress. People felt violated. They called the PSIT rude and intimidating. They accused it of producing false reports. They called the program a cash grab. They wondered how the PSIT had the right to share information with third parties, such as home insurers and mortgage holders. Some insurers had cancelled insurance, and some banks had called their loans. People had lost homes. In the words of BCCLA lawyer, Michael Vonn, the citizens of Mission were being tied to “imaginary grow-ops,” with no effective means of escape.

Unhappily, the Mission case has proven to be complex. For reasons difficult to discern, it has stalled, and is unlikely to go forward. No one can say why. After viewing the Mission town hall meeting, I contacted City Councilor, Larry Nundal about the status of the case. He informed me that the plaintiffs had voluntarily withdrawn from it. I then telephoned plaintiff, Len Grotto, the man famously found to have been growing cucumbers. He had heard nothing for three years, and could not understand how the suit could have been halted without his knowledge. No one had told him anything. Moreover, he had attempted to contact the group’s lawyer, but had never received a call back. I then spoke with Michael Vonn, who had little to add to this tale. It was not the BCCLA’s case. Lost in the abyss, it appears to be no one’s case anymore.

Still, there is a bit of good news. In 2011, Mission disbanded its PSIT, and has halted automatic inspections. Some homeowners, like Len Grotto, were sent letters of apology; inspection fees were waived. While this story has no clear ending, the safety inspection storm has settled down. The illusion of a big safety issue, however, remains. It is integral to the Harper Conservatives’ current argument for shutting down medicinal home gardens. Because of her work in this area, Susan Boyd has been called as an expert witness for lawyer John Conroy’s Coalition suit against this proposed policy. In Weedy Blues Three, we look at facts presented in her affidavit in support of the suit. Tune in next Monday.

© Judith Stamps, June 6, 2014.
Posts: 11033
Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 11:19 pm
Location: Victoria BC

by papapuff » Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:59 pm

Weedy Blues III: Silly Logic: Fun with Numbers


Cartoon By Judith Stamps 2014

In 2001, in response to a court challenge, Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) was implemented in Canada, allowing patients to grow their own medicine. This law gave them a level of peace. But the federal government remained hostile to the idea, and so were a number of BC municipalities. In 2012, the peace ended. Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, sounded an early alarm. The MMAR, she announced, was out of control. Designed initially for 500 patients, it had ballooned to a program for 30,000. There were gazillions of home growers, creating chaos. Some couldn’t wire grow lights properly and were causing house fires. Others were becoming associated with gangs. In any case, their plants were magnets for thieves, bringing violence to good neighbourhoods.

Predictably, in July 2013, Health Canada announced the repeal of the MMAR, and its replacement by a new program, the MMPR. There was to be no home cultivation, and patients were to place themselves in the hands of Licensed Producers (LPs.) Panic ensued. Within months, a 6,000 member Coalition Against Repeal had formed and seasoned lawyer, John Conroy, employed to challenge the law. Over Christmas prior to the hearing, John Conroy had seen an advertisement for Connie Carter and Susan Boyd’s book, Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media and Justice. As illustrated in Weedy Blues I, and II, this book analyses commonly skewed media accounts of indoor growing, and the subsequent distortions in public perception, especially as regards public safety. It counters the charges made by Aglukkaq in 2012. After the holidays, Conroy contacted Susan Boyd, and engaged her as an expert witness for his case. On March 14, 2014, a BC Federal Court judge heard the challenge, and granted an injunction, halting the MMPR in its progress. A constitutional hearing on the matter is set to take place in February 2015.

In a telephone interview, Boyd noted that Canada has systems of regulation. So why not just regulate growing? Good question. The best clue lies in the shifts in law enforcement priorities and government attitudes over the past two decades. Cited in Boyd’s affidavit is the fact that Canada’s overall crime rate is at an all time low. There was less crime in 2012 than in 1972. BC has seen the most dramatic decline: less crime in 2012 than in 1965. These figures are true not only for absolute numbers, but for severity of crime as well. Canada now sees less homicide, less assault, less theft, indeed, less violence in general than it did 40 years ago. There is less gang crime. In brief, there is no basis for panic. But there is a basis for confusion. According to Statistics Canada, drug related crime has risen steadily since the early 1990s. The year 2011 saw an increase of 4.3% over 2010; 2010 saw an increase of 10.2% over 2009, and so on. So here is the clue. In the 1990s, law enforcement agencies, in particular, the RCMP, began targeting drug users. Drug arrests rose, and so did the associated crime rate; pure magic. Moreover, 52% of all drug arrests in 2010, and 69% in 2011, were for cannabis possession.

It is little wonder, then, that medicinal growers were offered no benign system of regulation. They appeared to be part of a crime wave, a point that goes to the heart of the problem for marijuana fans today. By the 1990s, it must have been clear to anyone who was looking that there were fewer violent criminals for Canadian law enforcement officers to chase. Judging from the numbers listed above, they then switched gears, and focused on the nonviolent ones. For reasons the reader will have to supply, they exhibited a special appetite for pot smokers. They exhibited as well, the circularity in logic central to prohibitionist practices. It goes like this. You start arresting folks for smoking weed, and then announce a spike in the crime rate. You use the spiked figures to justify harsher penalties and extra money for law enforcement. You take the extra money, and arrest more folks. You then repeat.

These manoeuvres sound loony enough, but there is more. Exercises in slippery logic are illustrated further by the Harper government’s obsession with indoor growing, licensed or otherwise. In her affidavit, Boyd makes this clear and powerful point. Regardless of what one hears about “grow ops” from ‘tough on crime’ politicians and law enforcement agents, the numbers tell us that their central targets are neither growers nor sellers, but citizens who toke. The concern with “grow ops” is a political bait and switch. Or maybe it’s just plain lying. Either way as regards the MMPR, one has to conclude that problems associated with indoor growing have never really been the issue.

Pie Chart 1 – By Judith Stamps 2014

Neither is safety. According to an influential report by Len Garis, Surrey’s Fire Chief, homes with “grow ops” are 24 times more likely to catch fire than homes without them. Whatever this number means, it is a figure repeated often, both in safety pamphlets and in the press. Alas, neither insight nor analysis alters the fact that your neighbour may well have bought Garis’ line. So I thought I would spice up this blog with some number inquiry of my own. The following account is intended to provide some facts that you can present to folks who rave about “grow op” fires.

There are three online sources for fire safety figures: a 2007 study, Fire Losses in Canada, prepared for the Office of the Fire Commissioner, Alberta Municipal Affairs; a 2009 report by the Council of Canadian Fire Marshalls and Fire Commissioners; and the 2002-2011 BC Annual Statistical Fire Report. They tell us this. There are, on average, 2,200 residential fires in BC each year. Their causes, by percentage and in descending order are: 23% cooking; 20% unknown; 12% heating; 11% arson; 8% regular wiring; 8% smoking; 3% candles; 2% welding; 2% each for various appliances such as dryers and toasters, and 1% for kids playing with fire.

Only the BC Annual Statistical Fire Report mentions indoor marijuana cultivation, with figures given for 2011. Apparently, there were 18 indoor grow related fires in that year. An article in The Vancouver Sun on April 1, 2014 provides a different figure. It states that there were 36 such fires in the last 8 years. The Sun tells us in addition that 9 of those were at licensed grows. Thus, according to this source, there have been 4.5 fires per year from indoor growing, including just over one per year caused by medical growers. As demonstrated by the accompanying pie charts, there is a reason that this fire data is never expressed in percentages. They are absurdly low. So tell the folks to rest easy. Should the province burn, it will not be from cannabis.

Pie chart 2 by Judith Stamps 2014

It will not be from panic either, or so we hope. I began this blog by noting that Canadian medical marijuana patients acquired the right to grow their own plants in 2001. As described in Weedy Blues I, and II, some of BC’s municipalities were not pleased. In 2005, frustrated by Ottawa’s seemingly slack attitude, they launched a series of automatic and distressing safety inspections intended to eradicate home growing. By 2011, citizens had rebelled, and automatic inspections ceased. Since that time, Ottawa has taken the lead. In 2012, the Harper government produced its Safe Streets and Communities Act, notorious for its introduction of mandatory minimums, and its intention to build new prisons. In 2013, evidently not content, it aspired to end all home medicinal cultivation. Clearly, this has been the decade of The Battle to Reinstate Prohibition. Fought at both local and federal levels, its strongest weapon has been the ability to create panic over public safety. If the fire chiefs are to be believed, growing weed makes us 24 times more likely to burn our cities. Studies like that produced by Carter and Boyd, and blogs such as these, must strive to lay this nonsense finally and completely to rest.

Judith Stamps, June 15, 2014.
Posts: 11033
Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 11:19 pm
Location: Victoria BC

by papapuff » Mon Jun 23, 2014 1:55 pm

And Now For Something Completely Historical: Updating Reefer Madness


Image: Judith Stamps

Many readers will be familiar with the story of America’s War on Drugs. As most of us know it, the story goes something like this. Following political upheavals in Mexico in 1910, large numbers of Mexicans immigrated to the US, especially to the Southwest. For predictable reasons, the immigrants became objects of contempt. They spoke a foreign language; they were dark skinned; they took low paying jobs. Moreover, they brought with them the practice of smoking weed. No one wanted them around, so both they and their practice were condemned as alien and harmful. The ‘alien’ notion was then boosted by the birth of Jazz in the 1920s, particularly by the emerging news that Black musicians and their admirers were fans of reefer. Then in 1930, American prohibitionist Harry Anslinger was appointed chief commissioner of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Within a couple of decades Anslinger and his crew had dreamed up Reefer Madness: the familiar stream of lurid tales that peppered the Hearst press throughout the 1940s and early 50s. As we currently understand them, these tales were invented by the FBN.

But it turns out that they were not invented by the FBN. They were not invented in America at all. The lurid tales were created in Mexico by Spanish-Mexican prohibitionists in the late 19th century, and only later copied by American journalists. This new fact is the subject of Mexican scholar, Isaac Campos’ recent (2012) work, Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs. Based on analyses of Mexican newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Campos’ study tracks the development of the original reefer madness in Mexico. Rooted in Mexico’s medical history, this reefer madness succeeded, by 1895, in convincing Mexicans that marijuana was the province of the violent and the insane; and by 1920, in bringing about marijuana prohibition in that country. In what follows, I offer a summary of Campos’ account.

One must begin, in Campos’ view, by discarding the idea that recreational marijuana is a casual, traditional part of Mexican life, something like coca leaf chewing in Peru or khat chewing in Djibouti. It has never been that. Recreational marijuana in Mexico has been traditional to two groups only: the inmates of Mexico’s prisons and the soldiers living in its barracks. Neither group was well thought of; both were known for senseless violence. There were, in addition, native peoples that used marijuana for medical and religious purposes. They were not violent, but the Spanish-speaking Catholics rejected their religious ideas, and the dominant Spanish medical practitioners rejected their healers. One way or another, ‘proper Mexicans’ did not embrace marijuana as something good for recreation. Rather, they associated it with bad living.

Mexico did, however, have a medical marijuana tradition, much like that in other countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia. In 1842, marijuana was listed as a narcotic in the new Farmacopoeia Mexicana, where it was itemized both as Cannabis Sativa: cañamo, and Cannabis Indica: mariguana. But its distribution was highly restricted. Medical practice in Mexico followed the traditions of Spain, and Spain had a longstanding love of strict regulation, rooted in its mediaeval past. In mediaeval times, Spain had served as the world’s harbor for Arabic scholars. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the expulsion of all non-Catholics from Spain in 1492, those scholars were the keepers of Western knowledge. They studied the Greek and Roman medical texts, and translated them. They shared their studies with the Christian and Jewish scholars that lived among them. As a result, Mediaeval Spain had a set of medical practices far in advance of anything available in the rest of Europe.

Image: Judith Stamps

It also had a highly advanced system of regulation. By the early 1500s, for example, Spanish laws were in place to oversee and regulate all medicine and pharmacology in that country. There were national inspectors who paid regular visits to Spain’s physicians and apothecaries. There were laws for controlling access to medicines. In this world, physicians ruled. They wrote the prescriptions; Apothecaries dispensed only what had been prescribed. After its independence in1810, it was this system, deeply rooted in Spanish-Arabic history that Mexico chose to adopt. The system provided Mexican patients with medical marijuana, but only via prescription. It allowed prescriptions, but only from western style physicians.

Mexico had not adopted these rules with recreational users in mind. The rules were there simply to protect the authority of western medicine, and western medical men. But in practice, they served a dual purpose. Once in place, they allowed for easy prosecution of locals who liked to smoke. So by the time of the widely attended Hague Opium Convention of 1912, which recommended regulation, Mexico, with its Spanish background, was well ahead of the game.

Regulating marijuana was spurred as well by Mexico’s adoption of The Social Hygiene Movement, a set of ideas popular among emerging nations. Social Hygiene was based on the view that ‘modern’ science should be used to cleanse and perfect society; its methods should be used to select the ‘better’ social classes and reject the ‘degenerates.’ Followers of the Movement believed, in addition, that degenerate behavior in parents was physically passed on to their children. This notion stemmed from the work of Lamarck, a popular evolutionary theorist. According to Lamarck, actions in life alter genes. Mexican elites embraced this idea. They argued that pot smoking among Mexico’s prisoners and soldiers was making them worse. It was unraveling their genetic material, causing them to father crazy kids. In this way, it would soon corrupt the country, leaving Mexico a nation of despicable wretches.

Similar ideas were repeated and popularized in Mexican newspapers of 19th, and early 20th centuries. They developed a special fondness for stories about violence among Mexico’s pot-smoking prisoners and soldiers. They fostered the belief that marijuana and bloody knife fights went hand in hand. They popularized dope fiend cartoon characters, drawn to look bug eyed and bizarre. My accompanying cartoon, copied from an original featured in Campos’ book, shows the popular figure of Don Chepito Mariguana, a genetic misfit if ever there was one. Near the turn of the century, these messages went international. In 1895, The Mexican Herald began to publish an English language newspaper. As the Herald also held the Associated Press franchise for the Mexican capital, its stories were easily reprinted or reworked by American journalists. A Story retold in a Salt Lake City newspaper in 1898, for example, described a marijuana crazed boy who ran amok, tearing off his clothes and attacking passersby in the main street of his town. Other, similar stories made their way into American culture. In Campos’ words, “It was from this atmosphere that the US media began to pluck exotic, sensational stories of the new drug menace south of the border.”

To make matters worse, turn of the century America was much concerned with a problem plant called ‘locoweed.’ Locoweed is Jimson Weed, Datura Stramonium. When horses and cows graze on it, they go crazy. Press stories of the day confused marijuana intoxication with the effects of locoweed. Some readers thought that locoweed was marijuana. The term locoweed contains the Mexican word for ‘crazy.’ One can well imagine the effects caused by this kind of confusion. It is no wonder that Mexican immigrants were unwelcome in the US post 1910. Nor it is surprising that, from 1915 onward, individual states began to pass anti-marijuana laws. With the locoweed notion flying around, and all the preceding, neither the immigrants nor the plant would have stood a chance.

Put these elements together—restrictive medical practices, the use of marijuana by ‘social misfits,’ Social Hygiene ideas, locoweed, and the press—and you have Mexico’s original Reefer Madness. It was from these elements, and from Mexican sources, in Campos’ words, “that the US government and the press first heard that marijuana turned ordinary people into ferocious maniacs.” With these facts in mind, we fans of Cannabis must now review and reject the standard, well-boiled Reefer Madness stories on which we have been fed. Whether we are Cannabis historians, prohibition history freaks, or simply people who like to remember the old Reefer Madness story, we might also like to ask this question: where does all this leave old Harry Anslinger? Readers will choose their own answers; I say it leaves him every bit as mean, and a lot less inventive. It turns out that he didn’t need imagination; he just had to read the old papers. As to the immigrants, some of them obviously did use pot. And after American prohibition in 1937, their home country did become a key source of the plant. Regardless, it is now our turn. Those of us with a passion for understanding the past must work to make the necessary mental adjustments.
Posts: 11033
Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 11:19 pm
Location: Victoria BC

by papapuff » Sun Jun 29, 2014 12:26 pm

The Policy That Could: Reflections on an Interview With a Young Liberal


Comic by Judith Stamps 2014

On May 2, 2011, the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) suffered the worst defeat in its political history. Having won 34 out of 308 federal seats, the party found itself knocked into third place for the first time. It had a mere 19% of the vote, and held only 4 seats west of Ontario. For many it was a profound shock, raising for the first time the question of the party’s survival. One Canadian thus affected was Andrew J. Reeve, a 19 year-old political science student at the University of Victoria. Reeve was a middle of the road pragmatist, and did not want to see his party of choice die. If no one got involved, it just might die. At least he thought so. That year, he joined the Young Liberals, attended the party’s provincial convention in November 2011, held in Victoria BC, and became involved in a manner he could hardly have predicted. Based on an interview with Reeve earlier this week, this is the story of how a policy to legalize marijuana rose to prominence, and went on to become a part of the LPC’s platform.

Copps explained to the group that there was a good chance this policy would never be debated. It was comprehensive and well thought out, and many agreed with it in principle. But the party was in survival mode, and far too many feared that such a policy would hurt its chances.

Attending the same conference was Sheila Copps, 61 year-old-veteran of Canadian politics. Copps had served as a federal MP from 1984 to 2004, and was the first Canadian woman ever appointed as deputy prime minister. She was running that year to be president of the LPC. Although she lost the race to Mike Crawley, she may have helped Canadians to win something at least as significant. On the first evening of the convention, Copps invited around 35 members, including Crawley, to her hotel suite to talk policy. One of the policies up for debate at the 2011 convention was Policy 117, a plan for legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana in Canada.1 It had been formulated at some point earlier in 2011. Copps explained to the group that there was a good chance this policy would never be debated. It was comprehensive and well thought out, and many agreed with it in principle. But the party was in survival mode, and far too many feared that such a policy would hurt its chances. Thus far it had very little support. Moreover, the schedule was crowded. Plenary sessions, during which proposals come to a vote, are three hours in length, and there is never time to consider everything on the schedule. In Copps’ view, if present company wanted to see this idea debated, they would have to find a way out of this funk.

As the evening wore on, debaters began to drift away, joining social circles in a variety of the hotel’s hospitality rooms. Five stayed on. They were Russ Miller, currently vice president of the LPC in Vancouver East; Lindsay Amantea, now a law student in Alberta; Lewis Rhodes, at present a French teacher; Andrew J. Reeve, who has gone on to become president of the LPC in Victoria, and a fifth person whose name Andrew could not recall. At some stage in their discussion, they asked themselves this. Why can’t we create the support for this idea here and now? Why not hammer out a new policy, find enough members to sign it as proof of support, and get it onto the floor that way? The five were well equipped for this task. Amantea had done a paper on addiction for a university class, and had a handle on the statistics. Others had equally useful knowledge to share. Reeve had good writing skills. For the next couple of hours, the group’s ideas flowed, and he crafted the language for a brief, on the spot policy. Amantea turned the policy into a document on her laptop, and the hotel staff printed copies for them.

Andrew Reeve – Cartoon by Judith Stamps 2014

Paper in hand, they strode off to find supporters. At this hour, well after midnight, the convention had dissolved into a series of drinking parties, located in various suites and hospitality rooms, in two different hotels. Reeve took the lead. He approached individual revelers, and pitched a thirty-second promotion on the policy’s merits: it was the right thing to do; it was evidence-based, not ideological; it would free law enforcement to focus on real crime; it would eliminate gangs; and the substance was not harmful. If partygoers were at all receptive, he handed them his pen and said: “Just sign this on my back.” He repeated this routine in elevators, hallways and reception rooms. He got fifty signatures, a sufficient number by the groups’ calculations, and crawled away for a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning, he submitted the signed sheets to the convention co-chairs. The plan worked. People were impressed by the group’s effort, and the signatures provided a clear show of grass roots support. Their policy paper was presented at the plenary session later that day, discussed, and approved with a generous show of hands. Reeve retired to his room and crashed for eighteen hours

He would need the rest, as there was still much to do. The next stop in the policy’s journey was the LPC’s national convention, held in Ottawa in January 2012. It was an expensive trip for a student, but Reeve had a stake in the outcome. He attended. He was surprised and pleased to find that BC had the second largest delegation there. First place went, predictably, to Ontario. At this convention, the young Liberals did not present their quickly drafted proposal. They presented the original, Policy 117. Theirs had been instrumental in demonstrating support, but the original was far more detailed and generally a better document. There was lively debate. There were the usual concerns. Would this policy brand the party? Could it harm youth? A former police officer spoke persuasively in its favour. So did others. At the end of the day, via electronic vote, Policy 117 was approved by 77% of the members. By LPC rules, party leaders can still veto such a policy. They didn’t. Interim leader, Bob Rae, supported the plan and in 2013, so did Justin Trudeau. The foresight of a senior politician, and the drive supplied by five young BC Liberals, had given Canadians an official federal party policy to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

But official or otherwise, the question remains. What now? If elected, would the LPC make this happen? Reeve is optimistic. One consequence of the party’s severe setback has been a profound change in its demographic. After 2011, much of the old order drifted away and the party had to be rebuilt. Much of the new order is comprised of younger Canadians. Reeve is a prime example. At 22, he is the second youngest Liberal to serve as party president in a federal riding, in his case, Victoria. He points out that at the LPC’s BC convention held at Whistler, BC in November 2013, Young Liberals counted for over 50% of the participants. “This is not,” he notes, “your grandfather’s Liberal Party.” It surely is not. The question is: would the new, youthful order spell the end of the Machiavellian world of realpolitik?

To illustrate this point, let me tell you another, much sadder story. It’s the one about the Liberal Party’s 2003 attempt to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana in Canada. The Bill (C-10) was to have been part of the legacy of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who was set to retire in 2004.2 It is generally believed that C-10 died because Canada crumbled under US pressure. It did, but not without a plot from within. Three Liberal backbenchers, Brenda Chamberlain, Roger Galloway and Dan McTeague, opposed decriminalization. They apparently opposed the Canadian tradition of party discipline too. Soon after C-10 was introduced, without consulting anyone, they contacted and met privately with American deputy Drug Czar, Barry Crane. Chamberlain encouraged Crane to put pressure on the Canadian Government, and asked that the US be more vocal in its opposition. They provided him with an internal memo outlining the Bill’s weaknesses. A Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs official was also in attendance, and it is thanks to his subsequent memo that we know of this event at all. Jack Layton later accused the group of gross misconduct, but nothing much happened.3 So yes, Canada bowed to external pressure…after being stabbed by its own.

“The Pen” – Andrew Reeves

But times change, and a new order is set to take the stage. The new participants, as Reeve suggests, are not jaded. An untried, youngish Party is a beacon of hope. But it is difficult not to worry about the attitudes of the older MPs, the 23% that voted ‘no,’ and the 56 Conservative senators, now a majority. What are they thinking? The House stands presently at 308 seats. For the next election, officially slated for October 2015, this number will be increased to 338. We will see a lot of rookie candidates. If the LPC is successful, it is to be hoped that its MPs will develop a new level of co-operation and good will. For Andrew J. Reeve, who stood at the centre of a policy whirlwind, the 50 signatures stand as a sign of good things to come. As a token of his belief, he kept the pen, and still has it.

Judith Stamps. June 29, 2014
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by papapuff » Mon Jul 07, 2014 2:42 pm

The Life and Struggles of Educators For Sensible Drug Policy


Battling Daren the Lion

This is the story of Educators For Sensible Drug Policy. It begins in 2001, when 21-year-old Adam Jones, an education major at the University of Montana at Billings, was arrested for possession of ½ gram of psilocybin mushrooms. He was sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence later lightened to two months served, plus three years probation. Upon release, he found that, as a “convicted felon,” he no longer qualified for a student grant or loan. The creature responsible for his plight was the Higher Education Act (HEA). HEA had been signed into law by Johnson in 1965, and reauthorized eight times thereafter. Jones became an activist. That year, he started the Billings Chapter of NORML, with the idea of lobbying for medical marijuana in his state. In short order, after travelling to Helena, Montana to testify in favour of a medical marijuana bill without informing his parole officer, he was rearrested and re-jailed.

In 2002, Jones attended a conference at Anaheim, California, hosted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). The event was a smashing success. There were three hundred students, and veteran activists such as Ethan Russo, Senior Medical Adviser to the Cannabinoid Research Institute; Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA); and former US Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders. Set against the surreal backdrop of Anaheim’s Hilton—think multitudes of kiddies sporting Disney mouse ears–the conference inspired a new idea. Jones was an admirer of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), founded the previous March by five police officers. He decided that the world needed a similar organization, but for educators. He chose the name, Teachers Against Prohibition (TAP), and ran the idea by student representatives from the State University of New York, Richard Lake of DrugSense, and others. By early 2003 TAP, modeled after LEAP, had acquired thirty-five members, and was set to seek the endorsement of the National Teacher’s Association.

Then in 2003, Jones organized a benefit concert for the Billings SSDP and NORML, to be held on Friday, May 30 at the local Eagle Lodge. He hired bands, and advertised the event both on radio and the local press. It was not to be. On Thursday, May 29, he was rearrested. He had failed to report a change in workplace supervisors to his probation officer. He was ordered to provide a urine sample. When the test came back positive for drugs, he was jailed. Two days later, when a lab test showed the result to be a false positive, he was released. Meanwhile, plans for the benefit crumbled. Local DEA had seen the ads. They marched over to Eagle Lodge, waving a copy of America’s Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. Sponsored by Senator Joe Biden that same year, the Act made it illegal to provide a physical space for illicit drug use. DEA officers warned the owners that should one joint appear at this event, they would be fined $250,000.00. Sufficiently panicked, they backed out. So did Jones. Now reeling, he withdrew from activism.


Meanwhile in Canada, Judith Renaud was serving as principal at a small school on BC’s North Coast. She had been there since 2001, and had been witnessing incarcerations, despair, and suicide–effects of marijuana prohibition. She had already decided to dedicate her career to ending the war on this plant. She had joined an online activist group that revolved around American activist Richard Lake. Lake is editor of DrugSense’s Media Awareness Project (MAP), an impressive online archive of news and opinion pieces related to drug policy. They had met through a common listserv. She had also been in touch with Jones. When Jones’ world fell apart, he asked if she would be willing to take on TAP’s Canadian wing. Renaud conferred with Lake. She accepted the task but decided, with Lake, that the group needed new name. They wanted it to stand for rather than against something. Inspired perhaps by SSDP, they chose Educators For Sensible Drug Policy (EFSDP).

EFSDP is a coalition of educators who share the view that prohibition is destructive and futile. The group maintains a speaker’s bureau, and encourages letter writing to editors, elected representatives and policy makers. Its members speak at conferences: Renaud, its executive director, attended NORML Canada’s first National Conference, hosted by CHAMPS EXPO earlier this year. She is a member of Stop the Violence BC, and of NORML Canada. Herb Couch, EFSDP’s director for Western Canada, and my interviewee for this blog, has been a “newshawk” for MAP–providing articles for its archive–since 1998. He joined the group in 2004. The organization has affiliates in New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Yet it remains, by Couch’s account, small, about 150 strong, and mostly online. It has more influence in Canada than elsewhere. EFSDP’s aim to “harness the weight and credibility of the teaching professions to bring about an enlightened drug policy.” In what follows, we examine a primary battleground for doing just that.


One of EFSDP’s daemons is the DEA/RCMP led Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program taught by RCMP officers in all Canadian provinces, except Quebec. DARE is US based, and was founded in 1983 under the Reagan administration. Its first mascot was Hanna Barbera’s Yogi Bear. Yogi, it seems, was a prohibitionist. DARE produces teaching materials for instructors and workbooks for children. Wikipedia calls them “a demand side drug control strategy of America’s War on Drugs.” DARE BC was established in 2003. It is a registered charity, supported by most Legions, six municipalities, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, and Husky Energy. Officers wishing to teach the course in BC lobby school principals. The program is taught in over 120 communities, delivered by 250 RCMP officers, and has thus far reached over 100,000 children. In BC it is taught in Grades Five and Six.

The organization has a good handle on buzz phrases. It claims to be ‘evidence-based’ and to teach ‘critical thinking skills.’ Its authors are masters of rhetorical framing. DARE workbooks for children offer instructive tales delivered by Yogi’s successor, Daren the Lion, a cartoon character drawn in the style of a super-hero. One such tale is My Trip With Daren. The story begins when Daren, a rank stranger, taps on a kid’s bedroom window. For reasons not provided, the stranger is invited in. The kid is nameless, so we’ll call him Kid. Once inside, the stranger announces that they will be going on a trip. Kid hops along. Daren’s trip, it turns out, is a series of conversations. The first one is about bullying. Daren tells Kid that bullies are everywhere, and that one must always report them. They wend their way next through a tricky conversation on theft. What do you do, Daren asks, if you see your friend steal money from the teacher’s desk? The answer is: you must inform the teacher without your friend knowing anything about it. You must do this even if the friend has asked you not to. They trod off finally to a conversation with Officer McCarty. McCarty caps the trip by reciting the eight ways to say ‘no’ to drugs. These include saying ‘no’ repeatedly, changing the subject, and walking away.

Thus framed, the drugs in this story are about bullying, and being bullied. They are first cousins of dishonesty and theft, and second or third cousins of covert reporting. Daren, though a stranger, is embraced as a brother. Kid will follow him anywhere. Officer McCarty’s ‘eight ways to avoid drugs’ mirror the anti-bullying techniques described earlier in the story. They are also remarkably like the standard techniques for avoiding spinach and brussel sprouts, so it is a mystery to me why kids needs to be taught them at all. In any case, this is what passes for critical thinking and evidence-based programming. It might be funny were it not so insidious. Children are encouraged, as Renaud has said, to turn in their parents.

For Herb Couch, DARE creates two additional difficulties. It is dishonest, and young people soon figure this out. They then lose respect for their schools, and for any authority on drugs. Second, it creates a loss of autonomy for teachers. They cede control of a key topic to the police, and tolerate a program in which many do not believe. Besides this, conservative groups claim to protect children. It is essential to Couch that EFSDP not relinquish this agenda to them. One way to maintain it has been to attend conferences of the BC Teacher’s Federation. This road has proven to be tough. Renaud spoke at the 2004 conference; there were 800 participants. The talk was well received. Thus encouraged, she returned home, and sent letters to 35 BC school superintendents, proposing alternative programs. All 35 said ‘no thanks.’ They had already adopted Daren. Couch attended the 2008 conference. There he was able to provide copies of a drug education booklet commissioned and provided by the Drug Policy Alliance. Authored by activist Marsha Rosenbaum, the booklet is called Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. Thus far, battling Daren has been slow work, and the results are unclear.

Teachers, says Couch, have learned to be passive resisters. Many reject prohibition, but rightly fear negative parent response. To date, EFSDP’s active membership remains small, and school response not as one would wish. For Herb, its future lies in communicating with Parent Advisory Councils. If parents and teachers form a single force against DARE, they might create the authority necessary to move beyond the War On Drugs. The program, I should add, is conspicuously absent from Vancouver, Victoria and Saanich. Elsewhere, for the moment, Daren rules.
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by papapuff » Mon Jul 14, 2014 3:21 pm

A Tribute to Toking



Plus Thoughts on Mark Haden’s Attempt To Make Cannabis Boring

By Judith Stamps

A few days ago, On July 10, 2014, CBC News ran an article describing Mark Haden’s take on legalizing marijuana in BC.1 The province, says the UBC adjunct professor, should apply to the federal government for a ‘section 56’ exemption. Hmm. It’s tempting to remind the good professor, and the CBC, that this idea stood at the centre of Sensible BC’s draft bill, presented in 2013 as part its attempt to force a referendum on cannabis in BC. But one mustn’t quibble. Haden here makes four main points. First, public health is guided by evidence; BC, on an experimental ‘section 56’ basis, should be there to provide it. Second, if it does, its marijuana outlets should not to be located at ground level. Third, these outlets should look drab and boring. And fourth—here he offers a pre-conclusion–the experiment is sure to lead to decreased cannabis consumption. Whether by “decreased” Haden means fewer partakers, or just less pot for each, he doesn’t say.

Public Health guided by evidence? Not around here it isn’t. Ask the medical marijuana community. A minor point, perhaps. But here’s the major one. Why the required inconvenience of stairs or elevators? Why the mandated drabness? Why the expectation, apparently desirable, that we will thus suppress, maybe even repress, demand? One has to wonder if Haden has experienced much good cannabis. Maybe he doesn’t understand or has never been told much about the plant’s beneficial effects. Or maybe he’s forgotten. If he has, it is possible that we are partially to blame, we, that is, who love the plant. The fact is, we rarely rhapsodize about its effects. Not in detail, anyway. We’re so busy defending individual rights, cursing law enforcement, and battling media sponsored lies. We spend our time, cross-eyed, and reeling from contorted discussions about schizophrenia, or the teen-age brain, or crime rates, or prospective pricing. So for Haden, and for the rest of us, I offer two of my favourite tributes to marijuana; the first from the late 1920s, and the second, contemporary. Here’s to the utter meaninglessness of drab environments.

I introduce first, Jewish German essayist, literary critic, and cultural analyst, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). Over a number of years, and under the supervision of a doctor friend, Benjamin engaged in a series of hashish experiences, each of which he documented.2 This one, conducted in Marseilles, begins around suppertime on September 28, 1928.3 Sitting on his bed, Benjamin consumes a dose of hashish paste, and leaves his small hotel room to meander the city streets. He visits cafes, restaurants, and bars featuring jazz. He observes the scenes of the street, the texture of its paving stones and the finer texture of his inner life. He provides, in his memoir, the following observations.

Hashish summons the “ecstasy of the trance,” an experience whose effect is to heighten the memorability of thoughts and events that take place under its spell. Its method is to cut itself (and us) off from every day reality, the cut leaving fine, prismatic edges that form figures easily remembered, something like flowers. More succinctly, it throws events and objects alike into high relief, preserving them, flower-like for one’s journal.

Benjamin considers next, his métier. He is a writer of prose. The writer understands the trance best, he offers, through the image of Ariadne’s thread. Ariadne of Greek mythology is keeper of the Cretan Labyrinth, the maze at the centre of which dwells the dreaded Minotaur: half man, half beast. According to legend, Ariadne’s lover, Theseus, sets out to slay the brute. To ensure that he will find his way out again, she unwinds a skein of thread and lays it along the labyrinth’s pathway for him to follow. For Benjamin, the skein symbolizes the essence of creation; the act of unwinding, the dynamic image of the artist’s journey, its cave-like twists and turns, its anticipation of dangers lurking. The skein, artfully wound (as skeins are known to be) is the gnarled root, the chiseled face, the darkened courtyard, whose mysteries are to be unraveled. Unraveling stands thus at the core of the writer’s enterprise. “Under hashish,” he writes, “we are enraptured prose-beings in the highest power.”


Not so enraptured, however, as to refuse a “final ice cream.” He’s already had steamed oysters, pate de Lyon, and Cassis wine poured over ice cubes. Now past the peak of his journey, he calls to mind its first signpost, the one announcing that the plant had begun its work: a feeling of amorous joy dispensed by watching some fringes blown about by the wind. “When I recall this state,” he writes, “I should like to believe that hashish persuades nature to permit us—for less egotistic purposes—that squandering of existence that we know in love.” ‘For less egotistic purposes’ means something like this. Ordinary love, as provided by nature, can be bounded by expectations that it produce children, or social cohesion, or economic stability. It can be constrained culturally and entrapped in civil law. It can be harnessed. Hashish persuades nature to allow us a love unbound and unharnessed: the love of fringes blown by the wind, of mysteries unraveled, of their memories shaped and preserved by fine prismatic cutters.

Many who have taken cannabis have noted its ability to heighten senses, to create an extraordinary engagement with sights, sounds and textures. Opinion is mixed, however, on how to comprehend these effects. They can create a kind of stunned, seemingly opaque form of present mindedness. This is a state frequently satirized through comic routines, buffoonery and slapstick humour. Let the following stoned dialogue stand as an example. Taken from Richard Chlorfene and Jack Margolis’ book, A Child’s Garden of Grass, it goes like this.

Virginia: What were we talking about?
Andy: You asked if I were hungry.
Virginia: Did I?
Andy: Yes.
Virginia: Well, are you?
Andy: Am I what?

A contemporary, analytic view of this matter is provided by Michael Pollan’s work, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. It is easy, but banal, he notes, to lampoon a mind-state in which you forget where you were in a mundane chain of thought. It is far more difficult adequately to put the force of this mind-state into words.

What Cannabis offers, in Pollan’s view, is a temporary lifting of the culturally conditioned, conceptual filters that we acquire over a lifetime. It offers to suspend prejudice. We distance ourselves from things, he argues, by calling them banal, by treating them ironically, or by reducing them to abstractions. Consider, for example, an ordinary pencil—my example, not Pollan’s. Stoned, we do not regard it as banal. For that we would have to keep in mind having dismissed pencils, at some point, as uninteresting. We do not view it ironically. For that we would have to recall some engagement with it. We are unlikely to theorize about it. For that we would have to place it in a category, acquired at some point in the past. Without this distance, we are left with its thing-ness: the slender, prismatic shape, the smooth, coloured surface, the smell of wood shavings, calling up a rainy day in grade one. For adults, Pollan argues: “Memory is the enemy of wonder.” Lifting it temporarily allows us to see again unsparingly, without motive or end goal. This is, in essence, why we toke.

But what should we think about all this forgetting? Critics disparage it, comics joke about it, and even sympathizers fear it. Is it bad? One has to realize, Pollan notes, that forgetting is neither an absence nor a malfunction. It is a positive act, essential to every healthy mind. We would hardly enjoy having to remember every face, every sentence, and every stimulus we have ever encountered. We would go mad. To survive, we need filters. Taken periodically, marijuana reconfigures these, at least for a time. Tokers are time travellers. Just sometimes, they are a bit stunned.

This brings us back to Haden. What would it take to set up drab environments for pot sales in BC? I say that it would require first, that we create teams of shopkeepers who are Deltas. A Delta is a member of a social class, described in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, conditioned from babyhood to shun everything fine and beautiful. They would be happy with ‘dull,’ and would never take Cannabis. Of course we would know if they did. They would start sneaking in the Rasta posters and the sublimely blown glass pipes. They might start keeping journals, like Benjamin’s. Then there is the issue of having to avoid the street level. Aside from some mild inconvenience, this feature is likely to matter to no one at all. Would you shrink from a staircase? You might need an elevator.

So that leaves us with Haden’s prediction that, given these shops, there will be less partaking altogether. Less partaking of what, though? Less wonder? Less rapture? Less enjoyment? Truly, the neo-conservatives are right to despise this plant. Where would we be without all that banality, irony and abstraction?

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2. For memoirs of cannabis use, it is common to cite a group of literary personae of mid nineteenth century France, who formed a hashish group, Le Club Des Hashischins. They wrote elaborate descriptions that are fun to read. But it is unclear from the historical record what exactly the members were taking. Poet Charles Baudelaire described their medicine as hashish mixed a small amount of opium. Others, notably fond of absinthe, were likely to have mixed in some of that too. Their accounts are so otherworldly, it seems unlikely that they are true portraits of cannabis.

3. “Hashisch in Marseilles” in Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Biographical Writings, NY, Schocken Books, 1986
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by papapuff » Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:54 am

The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club: A Study in Home Rule


Judith Stamps 2014

The Victoria Cannabis Buyer’s Club (VCBC), Vancouver Island’s senior medical marijuana dispensary, is located on a quiet section of Johnson Street at the edge of downtown Victoria, BC. Its storefront window bears a perpetual ‘Under Renovations’ sign. Aside from this, the dispensary, lodged in an old red brick building, has nothing to mark its presence other than a mild whiff of pot, notable as one passes by. The Club has its roots in the activism of the incomparable Ted Smith, who began dispensing medicine out of an old white van in Victoria back in 1996. It moved to its present location in 2001. In 2012, under the directorship of Dieter MacPherson, VCBC became, and remains today, a non-profit society.

Having evolved under Ted’s holistic guidance, VCBC has come to wear a number of hats. It is a medical dispensary; a team herbalist, producing its own cannabis medicines; a community centre for its members; and a centre for liaison with the larger community. It is linked both through overlapping membership and by Ted’s directorship, to Hempology 101, an educational society that publishes a quarterly journal, The Cannabis Digest (CD) plus daily CD blogs, recently added, and sponsors community forums and other public events. Dieter, VCBC’s current director, has set his sights on refining the club’s functions, charting a professional course to safeguard the club’s neighbourhood status, and its status as a force for the ‘Good.’

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not legal in Canada. So status is central. The club is tolerated only because law enforcement has learned that judges will not convict medical marijuana dispensers. Between January 2002 and February 2003, the VCBC suffered four raids on its premises. None resulted in a conviction. The raids were absurd. But the dispensary remains standing for the right reason. It offers patients services vital to their health, and not available to them by any other means. Elsewhere, attitudes have softened. Victoria police seem for now, resigned to accepting dispensaries. In this way, VCBC has helped younger clubs that have followed in its footsteps.

But an iffy legal climate leaves the club without the benefit of external oversight; it has to self-regulate, a challenge it has met admirably. Staffing is done carefully; staff training, rigorous and well documented. Canada has no school for medical cannabis specialists, so it falls to the dispensary to train some. All its employees begin with a stint in the VCBC bakery. They spend weeks observing, listening to and shadowing the club’s three experienced bakers. The term ‘baker’ here refers to baking proper, and also to producing extracts, confections, salves and cannabis oil capsules. After a turn of observation, each trainee works two shifts a week at the bakery. They continue until they have learned all of its standard operating procedures. In this way, they become familiar with VCBC medicines, how they are made, and how best used. Over the twenty years of its existence, the club has developed a series of workmanlike recipes, stabilized over time. What you buy today is predictably like the same medicine on any day.

Judith Stamps 2014

VCBC’s members are patients, a large proportion of which are marginal members of society. Many are ill and cannot work; they live on disability income that barely covers living expenses; they struggle to eat well and are vulnerable to depression. Many have been let down by the medical system and by family. Others are recovering from years on damaging pharmaceuticals. Some have spent time living on the streets. Not a few have a severe mistrust of authority. Home rule in this milieu requires patience, humour and acquired counseling skills, pretty much on everyone’s part. Dispensaries cannot afford internal spats that spill out onto the street and cause police to look up from their paperwork. In its social life VCBC maintains an admirable level of internal stability. On almost any day the atmosphere is relaxed and the mood, excellent.

This mood is enhanced by VCBC’s choice to function as a community centre as well as a clinic. Beyond any illnesses born by its members, as Dieter has noted, their loneliness is in itself, crippling. VCBC features a mini lounge where patients can medicate in the company of others. It’s small, but it’s a haven. Besides the lounge, the dispensary offers movie nights, games nights and group outings. Various subcommittees on which members sit offer further opportunities to build internal community, and to exercise control over its activities.

That being said, actions by members that endanger the club result in loss of membership. VCBC members are enjoined not resell or share the medicines bought at the dispensary, and to refrain from attracting the attention of possibly snarly neighbours. They may not smoke or loiter around the entrance, and they need to observe a level of civilized decorum whilst in the vicinity. There are appeal procedures, but club members must pull together to see that the dispensary survives.

In a sane society VCBC would have the legitimacy accorded to pharmacies and other medical clinics. In lieu of ‘legitimacy’ VCBC cultivates an ethic of medical responsibility. Canadian doctors have not embraced medical marijuana, and are reluctant to suggest the plant’s use. Nevertheless, some dispensaries, the Victoria based Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS), for example, require a doctor’s note saying specifically that the patient could benefit from marijuana. VCBC sees this requirement as an unfair barrier. It asks patients for a note, written on their doctor’s prescription pad, outlining their condition: a Proof of Condition. The club maintains a list of acceptable ailments. These include chronic inflammatory or autoimmune illnesses, chronic pain, and neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s or epilepsy. Evidence of the plant’s usefulness for psychological problems is not as readily available, so at VCBC, patients suffering from mood conditions must have a doctor’s note suggesting that they try marijuana. That being said, the club helps its prospective members with paperwork they can bring to their doctors. Recent years have seen 50% of patients with a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis. That figure used to be 10%.

As part of its ethic, VCBC treads carefully when informing the public. There is strict documentation on what sort of advice staff can give, and on how to give it. The club avoids extravagant, unsubstantiated claims on the medicine’s behalf. Marijuana cannot be presented as a magic potion. When a families troop in asking for Rick Simpson Oil, or its equivalent, because Uncle Joe is dying and must be saved, they need debriefing. Regardless of what they may have read, while the oil will likely improve Joe’s quality of life, it will not necessarily extend it. Colourful charts on the number and uses of cannabinoids abound, and are very popular. But the truth is that we are still in the process of trial and error. There is no comprehensive database on patient responses across a wide range of illnesses. Still, it is safe to tell folks that whole plant cannabis has a long history of effective use, with risks known to be very low.

I asked Dieter why VCBC does not provide charts showing the cannabinoid profile for each of its strains. I have seen these charts elsewhere. But the charts, in Dieter’s view, are illusory. Repeatability is still limited. The profile of cannabinoids can vary from plant to plant even within a single strain. THC levels, for example, can be affected by how and where the plant is grown, and by conditions not yet fully understood. One can resort to lab tests, but there are few labs. VCBC thus presents its bud on a counter, along a line that goes from high THC or CBD, to low. Beyond this rough guide, patients must test the products to see how they work.

Perhaps the toughest conundrum for well-regulated dispensaries is how to respond to clubs that sell pretty much to anybody. The Vancouver Sun’s front-page headline for Saturday, July 19, highlights the difficulty. It reads: “Dozens of illegal marijuana dispensaries to feed your need.”1 Sun “investigators” apparently visited ultra liberal Vancouver dispensaries, found them ultra easy to access and voila, Drug Scare. The Sun can’t be wishing very hard to end the war on drugs, or it would never have drummed up this story. There is money in blaring headlines. Meanwhile, activists push the boundaries. Until the war is over, this tension will not go away. For those caught in the middle, security lies in maintaining a level of inward focus. Under its current system of Home Rule, Dieter is confident that if it must, VCBC will withstand any legal challenge.

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by papapuff » Mon Jul 28, 2014 2:46 pm

Online Programs For Cannabis Dispensers: Are You Ready For The Future?



This article was inspired by an interview with the manager of Ocean Grown, one of Victoria’s younger medical marijuana dispensaries. I was intrigued to hear that she had gotten her training from an online certificate program with Cannabis Training University (CTU), completed intensively over two days.1 The interview was enjoyable, but the CTU portion of it left me in a state of disgruntled disbelief. Two days? I had spent an eon in graduate school. I cheered myself a little by making up silly phrases: educational fast food, learning lite, dispensing 123. Readers can invent a few. I meant to file this information, but really couldn’t stop thinking about it. As I soon came to discover, Thinking Is Subversive.

A few weeks after the interview I had a change of heart. Schools like CTU made sense. Legalized medical marijuana is new, people will be opening dispensaries, and they need basic training. Then I had a radical turn. For the movement, public education is crucial. Any attempt at it has to have some value. Besides, why prejudge? Who knows how many days a course should take? Thus altered, I went online to check out CTU and similar schools. Truly, I have been out of the loop. There is a minor galaxy out there of online certification programs, many given by ‘entities’ calling themselves universities, colleges, or institutes.2 Keen to end my ignorance, I set out to sample them. I took courses from three schools: CTU (Ocean Grown’s choice), Cannabis Hemp Academy3, and Cannabis Training Institute.4 Doing entire programs was not practical, so I chose the schools’ courses on marijuana as medicine. The topic interested me, and I knew at least something about it. I could not have assessed courses on dispensary finance, for example. Each course is about an hour and a half long. Here is what I have to say about them.

Of the three schools, CTU is the most commercial. When you visit the site you are met by a looped, music-backed sales talk that will not go away until find a course on which to click. A six-course program costs $99.99, $199.99 if you purchase the MB2 Botanical Extractor. The host for this course is Arif Khan, director of Greenway Medical Marijuana Physicians. There is a back beat and drifty music throughout the entire presentation. Musical wallpaper is a new thing in e-education. I looked it up. The program features a number of speakers, not all identified. There are testimonials. The juxtaposition of music, images and testimonials is uncomfortably like the infomercials popular on late night TV. We hear requests for funding from Patients Out Of Time, and the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, and are invited to buy Irving Rosenfeld’s book, My Medicine.5 Still, the program is reasonably informative, and I was pleased to see Dr. David Allen there. He discussed America’s medical marijuana plantation in Oxford, Mississippi and the IND program under which, between 1976 and 1992, thirty five patients in the US, including Rosenfeld, cited above, received federally rolled joints. The program is now shut down. America goes down in history, apparently, as having had the first ever federally approved medical marijuana program.6


Cannabis Hemp Academy, by contrast, is noncommercial. It is also more expensive. The CHA full certificate program is priced at $420.00, a trifle cute, I think. The medical marijuana course is given by Robert J. Melamede, a well-known molecular biologist. The entire session takes place in a classroom. There are no visuals. Melamede is New-Agey. He devotes much class time to discussing entropy, thermo-dynamics and equilibrium. We learn that molecules act creatively and co-operate. We learn about Behousov-Zhabotinsky reactions.7 We learn that biochemical feedback systems are magical, that equilibrium equals death, and that it’s all about flow. Okay. I’m all for the universe, especially without canned music and ads. Otherwise I am left wondering how this information would manifest in dispensaries run by Melamede trainees.

But Melamede makes observations that resonate, at least with me. A hundred years ago, he noted, we died of infectious diseases. We now have age related ones like inflammation, neurological ailments, cancers, and osteoporosis. Endo-cannabinoids reduce stress and inflammation, but from an evolutionary point of view, have not kept up with our new conditions. So external cannabis is crucial. For our time and place, it is nothing less than an essential nutrient. This is an impressive idea. Except that several hours later, it occurred to me that maybe pharmaceuticals have done such a good job extending our lives, we now need cannabis to cope. Huh. This all bears rethinking. Meanwhile, I have adopted the idea that cannabis is an essential nutrient, and plan to repeat it often.

Melamede is an enjoyable and inspirational speaker. But he could do more to impart his knowledge to students. He announces at the outset that he will arm his listeners by introducing them to thousands of peer-reviewed studies. He gestures meaningfully, I think, toward a MacBook Laptop, sitting on a table beside him. But we hear neither the mention of a specific study, nor the name of a researcher. Rather, students are referred to Cannabis Science Inc. (CSI), a research institute of which Melamede is CEO.8 By my standard, that’s tacky. I checked out the site, and wandered for a while through its maze: mission statement, investors, corporate structure and so on. If it offers a portal to thousands of research articles I didn’t see it.

Then there is the Cannabis Training Institute. Its full program costs $155.00, $255.00 if you plan to take the online test for certification. The medical marijuana course is $58.00. It is also one of the better $58.00 I have ever spent. CTI is run in collaboration with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). ASA is a grass roots movement, dating from 2002, developed in response to DEA raids on California dispensaries carried out in the 1990s. CTI teaches raid preparedness courses. From the outset, thus, its mission is social and political.

CTI has put serious thought into the art of online teaching. The program combines expert speakers, always identified, helpful, sometimes animated diagrams, and frequent quizzes. Long lists of facts absorbed in short order are inherently confusing, so the quizzes are helpful. Through taking them I was better able to distinguish the course’s minor details from its major points. Students get a score for each quiz. This may sound trivial, but rewards do a fine job keeping a learner’s attention. What can beat this? “Your accuracy was 86%.” Yay! As ASA’s broader mission is public education, CTI begins by telling students that there are 15, 000 peer reviewed cannabis studies out there, over 2,000 on the endocannabinoid system. Students are referred to Donald Abram’s research9 and to a comprehensive collection of cannabis studies, O’Shaughnessy’s Online.10 They are also invited to check out the abstracts in PubMed. I should add that this site contains much anti-cannabis research; you need to know what you are looking for.

The segment on the endocannabinoid system is good, especially as an introduction. CTI calls the ECS the “human body’s silent balancing act.” The program adds to our historical understanding of ECS research. I learned, for example, that in 1973 medical researchers discovered opioid receptors. Two years later in 1975, they found endo-opioids, the substances we now know as endorphins. This pattern of discovery set the research path for cannabis. The years 1988 and 1992 saw the discovery cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, respectively. Based on the experience with opioids, scientists then searched for an endogenous compound, something the body makes that matches its receptors. The year 1996 brought news of anandamide, one of body’s own cannabinoids. Much of this work was carried out at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem by renowned researcher, Raphael Mechoulam. These discoveries, according to CTI, marked a turning point for cannabis politics. Following these historical points, CTI students are introduced to the basic chemistry of cannabinoids and their receptors, and taken through a detailed description of how cannabis interrupts and halts chronic pain. All in all, for online education, it is very good.

Check out the link to cannabis schools provided in the second endnote, and you will see that the term ‘university’ is tossed about very loosely these days. Listed therein are real estate agents to help you find a good location, agencies to help you purchase marijuana collectives (I hadn’t realized they were for sale), lawyers’ offices, and sites no longer active. One has to ask, though: Is all this necessary? Can you not get a comprehensive start without online schools? I would say decidedly, yes, if you know what questions to ask. Traditionally, training has been self styled, informal and apprenticeship based. Things have changed. Online programs purport to teach cultivation, dispensary finance, patient care, marijuana and the law and the science of cannabis. Some offer courses on cooking. For some new breeds of dispensers, this will probably be the future. Rank beginners do not know what questions to ask. They may not have access to apprenticeships. Indeed, they may know no one relevant at all.

Still, outcomes are unpredictable. Ocean Grown’s person took my least favourite program. But the dispensary has 1500 clients, apparently doing well, and the place is sincere. On the other hand, this is small, fairly friendly Victoria BC, where Ocean Grown has been able to benefit from some mentoring by VCBC, VICS, and other established groups. What will happen in more remote places, or bigger cities, is yet to be seen. In the meanwhile, have fun looking up some of this stuff. It’s scary, but entertaining. Oh. And by the way, here’s my favourite link to the ECS.11 Cheers.

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by papapuff » Mon Aug 04, 2014 11:35 am

Counselling and Cannabis: Musings on an Interview with James Kerr



Picture this. You are a friend of cannabis. You are you in the midst of a crisis. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or your relationship. Everything seems to be falling apart. You think you could use some counselling. Who do you call? From what I can tell: hardly anyone. In fact, you could have a further crisis tracking down a therapist who will not regard your plant friend as the primary issue—if you mention it, that is. Of course, you don’t have to mention it. You could, like an international spy, remain in hiding. But if you are in hiding, what are you doing in a counsellor’s office? Here is a dilemma worthy of a documentary. Or at least a spy comedy. To either of these, let today’s blog serve as a preface.

Inquiry into such a preface began last Tuesday, when I interviewed James Kerr, a cannabis friendly counsellor in Victoria BC. I gathered from our conversation that such counsellors are rare. Intrigued, I went off to do some internet exploring. I wanted a rough measure of attitudes out there on the psychological benefits of cannabis. So I searched the web using a variety of key words. Google searches provide ten items at a time; for each search I went with the first ten. Along the way I got enough therapeutic advice to grasp the scope of the problem.

I began with the key words ‘cannabis friendly counselling.’ Out of ten, eight sites offered to treat my cannabis addiction. The first one described cannabis as a central nervous system depressant, a characterization so mind numbingly inaccurate, it will receive no further comment. From me, anyway. The second site called cannabis a double-edged sword. The metaphor is bad enough, but in this version the anti-cannabis edge was by far the worse. The one positive site, Psychology Today, provided a transcript of a podcast by Boston psychiatrist Jeremy Spiegel, dated March 2013.1 In Spiegel’s experience, cannabis is effective in undoing negative conditioning. In fact, he states, the plant has passed a double blind test on this point. I must look this up.

The key words ‘cannabis and counselling,’ yielded ten negative items out of ten. Some selections informed me that cannabis causes anxiety and depression; others, that is addictive, and will provide a fake escape from my troubles. The words ‘cannabis and psychotherapy’ worked better. They yielded six positive sites. One provided a chapter of William Novak’s work: High Culture.2 This book is worth reading. One was a link to I have yet to explore this site. A third, from DrugSense’s MAP project, lists author, Dan Merker, who recommends cannabis as an adjunct to grief counseling.3 The fourth, from the newsletter, Counterpunch, features a 2006 interview with Dr. Jeffrey Hergenrather.4 The Article is called: “What Have California Doctors Learned About Cannabis?” Speaking ten years after the passage of California’s Proposition 215, Hergenrather recounts a survey of 1,400 patients. Of these, 30% took cannabis for depression, anxiety, attention deficit problems and other such ailments. All were treated adequately with Cannabis. A tiny paragraph in Wikipedia’s entry on bipolar disorder notes that cannabis can help. The final item led me to Harry Hermon. A Manhattan based psychiatrist, Hermon observes that cannabis puts patients in a more receptive and empathetic state. Hermon is unique. He is the first and only therapist listed that actually counsels with the help of marijuana.5

When I switched to ‘cannabis and psychoanalysis’ I got two positive items. The first was fantastic and should be read by everyone. It is a personal story by Lester Grinspoon called “To Smoke Or Not To Smoke: A Cannabis Odyssey.”6 The story ends with a reminder that cannabis enhances appreciation of our surroundings, helps in problem solving, and needs to be explored for future therapeutic work. The second, an article by Tod Mikuriya, is a summary of cannabis’ effectiveness in treating PTSD. Mikuriya died in 2007, and Grinspoon is 86. If you have not heard of these two, look them up soon. In the meanwhile, ask yourself: Where are all the young people? Aren’t they offering cannabis friendly psychotherapies?

The search words ‘Cannabis and Jungian therapy’ yielded one positive result, though it is excellent. The site led me to a series of interviews on Shrink Rap Radio with Gerald Trumbule.7 Trumbule is a former neuropsychological researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and NASA. He is ardently pro cannabis, and is a delightful ‘wild-man.’ Do get acquainted. Otherwise in the literature, one gets a positive view on cannabis and counselling from New York based psychiatrist, Julie Holland.8 By this stage in my search I had come to see James Kerr’s point.

James moved to Victoria BC from Camrose, Alberta in 2012. He had been working at the local hospital as a counsellor in an emergency based program. During his time there he had been struck by this fact. All patients had to fill in a standard intake form, which asked what substances they took. If they mentioned cannabis they were diverted to a drug rehabilitation program. Something similar happened in private practice too; he sometimes got patients on the rebound from other therapists. When James came out west, he decided to try something different. With the help of employment advice acquired through Work BC, he developed a plan to become a niche therapist. He would counsel cannabis fans that just wanted to talk about their life issues. Work BC liked it.


Business plan in hand, James began to do more reading on the subject. At some stage he came across Joan Bello’s work: The Benefits of Marijuana: Physical, Psychological and Spiritual, of which more later.9 Bello’s book became his essential guide. He participated in the Sensible BC campaign, BC’s citizen’s initiative to decriminalize cannabis. Meanwhile, he set out to visit Victoria’s dispensaries. Then he met Ted Smith. The meeting was turning point in James’ journey. Ted was extraordinarily welcoming. He invited James to spend as much time as he needed getting to know the patients at the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC), and permitted him to circulate a brief questionnaire, the better to understand them. These activities gave him grounding in the local scene, and in the psychological issues faced by members of the medical marijuana community. He was able later to do a similar survey at the short-lived Vancouver Island Health Advocacy Centre (VIHAC), a ‘harm reduction’ style dispensary. He put up posters wherever he could, and set up a counselling office next door to VIHAC. The staff referred patients to him, and he began to do well. When VIHAC closed, James got work as an employment counsellor at a Jubilee hospital outpatient program, and now has 50-60 patients in private practice. This may be as good a time as any to note that there appears to be no end to Ted Smith’s salutary influence on this town.

In James’ view, cannabis can bring special insights; if his patients are having these, he wants to hear about them. His philosophy is close to that expressed in Joan Bello’s book, noted above. For Bello, cannabis leads to health. It promotes fuller, deeper breathing, bringing relaxation to every part of the person. Besides this, it promotes awareness. It is much maligned in industrialized societies because it does not promote love for material acquisition. “A relaxed attitude,” she writes, “is only harmful to the goals of a workaholic.” At its best, she adds, cannabis is an aid to spiritual self-evaluation, and to deepening one’s relatedness to others. In James’ interpretation, the best uses of cannabis explore these ideas. The better recreational practices set out, with the aid of cannabis, to explore the natural world, to engage in creative projects, or deepen one’s understanding of a chosen subject. His advice? Have some cannabis and visit the art gallery, or the beach. Of course if it helps you to relax, that’s good too.

I asked James if there is a group of professionals in town with a similar outlook. No. He has a colleague that shares his viewpoint. I asked if it is standard practice for counsellors to demand signed paperwork, itemizing what prospective patients eat, take or smoke. It is. I then ran all of the above by a librarian friend, and based on our conversation, did one more refined search. I tried ‘cannabis for psychological healing.’ There I got an item on pro cannabis Republican politician, Ron Paul. Otherwise I read things like: “Cannabis: A Serious Warning.” With the phrase ‘psychologists who like marijuana’ I encountered a single nugget, friendly but irrelevant: Joints are sometimes called Love Boats or Happy Sticks. ‘Counsellors who are pro cannabis’ yielded ads for addiction counselling plus “Five Pro Pot Myths.” ‘Psychotherapists with positive views on cannabis’ yielded “Use Positive Thinking to Beat Cannabis.” Then there was ‘counsellors who love cannabis,’ my Hail Mary Pass. This brought: Are you a love addict? Take my advice. When sorting out your difficulties, pick your helpers carefully. Have a good week.

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by papapuff » Mon Aug 11, 2014 10:17 am

Who Discovered THC? Setting the Record Straight



Anyone who delves into cannabis history, in pulp form or online, will have read that THC, the molecule and its specific structure, was discovered in 1964 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Israeli researcher, Raphael Mechoulam and his associates. Cannabis Culture calls him ‘The Man.” If books aren’t your favourite, do a Google search on who discovered THC and you will see this fact for yourself. Until recently, I thought the same.

Then, this spring, I went on a self-guided history tour: the reading variety. The readings took me through a series of ‘truth serum’ experiments conducted by the US government during World War II and the cold war that followed it. One of the ‘sera’ used was cannabis. In both phases, researchers had used THC infused cigarettes: liquid THC mixed with tobacco. The first set of experiments was conducted in Washington DC during the war years 1942-3; the second set began in 1953 and ended officially as late as 1973, although its scope had already been limited by 1964. I also read a study commissioned by Fiorello La Guardia, New York City’s anti-prohibitionist mayor. Conducted by medical experts from 1939 to 1944, and recorded in the 1944 La Guardia Report, it had concluded that cannabis is harmless. These experts too had relied on cigarettes injected with THC.

Roger Adams in his lab

At some stage of this tour I stopped to ask this question. How did American scientists do trials with THC before THC had been discovered? According to the record, they were supposed to have had it before 1942. Opportunities to ask questions of this sort are rare; you don’t normally run into major contradictions in the literature. Intrigued, I switched directions, and started a different kind of search with a brand new question: Who discovered THC in 1940? This work had to be done online, as there appear to be no pulp based cannabis histories that provide a clue. I have to say, in anticipation of the story’s end, that the answer was not hard to find. Indeed, it was hidden in plain view.

The first thing I found was an essay by a British chemist, Roger G Pertwee, who identified a Roger Adams as having discovered THC in 1940. That was easy. Then I looked up Roger Adams. That was a revelation. It turned out that Adams was not at all obscure. He was a renowned and extensively published American organic chemist. There were more surprises. It soon became clear that Adams is widely recognized for his discovery of THC. He is invisible to cannabis historians. Who knows why? But he is very well known to the folk chemistry community: those DIY characters with labs or access to labs, who have been learning to make elaborate cannabis extracts all these years, and to test their potency. Look up the ‘Adams Scale’ for determining THC levels and you will see what I mean. Follow this magical trail a bit further and you will find Adams everywhere. So in honour of Adams and his followers, I offer the following ramble.

In 1937, under the direction of Harry Anslinger, Prohibition Commissioner of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), cannabis became a banned substance in the US. In 1938, Anslinger convened a meeting of 23 individuals, each of which had some expertise in ‘marihuana.’ 1 This was a planning meeting to implement prohibition, and an information session to learn more about the plant. There were experts on psychological effects, on hemp crops, and on ‘marihuana’ chemistry. Of the psychologists we need say little. A key researcher present that day was James C. Munch. Munch had been testing ‘marihuana’ on dogs and rats. He thought it was shrinking their brains. He had also testified at a murder trial in which the defendant was claiming ‘marihuana’ induced insanity. Upon cross-examination, Munch stated that he had tried smoking it himself. After two puffs, he said, he had been transformed into a bat, had flown about the room and then into a deep inkwell. Opium, I suspect.

Then there were hemp specialists. It was explained to Anslinger that hemp plants were typically cut down at the end of their growth cycle, and left over the winter to ret in the fields. This process provided usable fibre, but created a problem. By popular report, the flowers were in the habit of disappearing; the neighbours liked them. There had been concern that these flowers might be “physiologically active.” Researchers of the day had a test they could use: the Beam test, developed in 1911, in the wake of Egypt’s prohibition of hashish.2 When applied to local hemp flowers, the test had confirmed the presence of an essential oil similar to that found in hashish, presumably CBD. They were thus thought to contain the “active principle” as the researchers called it, and hemp was termed a “public nuisance.”

The first tests using ‘marihuana’ were conducted during the years 1942-43 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington DC

Finally there were the chemists. The FBN was keen to hunt down this “active principle,” whatever it was, but the commissioners’ chemists were floundering. A senior FBN chemist, Siegfried Loewe, decided to pass the work on to his friend, Roger Adams. Adams turned out to be a marvel. From 1940 through 1949, he and his associates carried out 27 studies on cannabis, published in the American Journal of Chemistry. He isolated Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He synthesized them. He developed THC acetate. The chemists of 1964 had the benefit of a new method of observation: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy. But Adams’ drawings of the respective molecules look like any of the others you are likely to meet. He inferred their structure and basically got them right. When you Google Adams and THC or THC acetate, you encounter detailed accounts on how Adams refined and super-refined potent cannabis extracts. You read about charcoal filtering in the ether phase; fractional distillation; producing THC from CBD, the virtues of THC acetate, and so on. Good sites are Kind Green Buds 3 and The Vaults of Erowid, but there are many.


Having cleared up the THC story, I continued reading about truth serum. The first tests using ‘marihuana’ were conducted during the years 1942-43 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington DC. They were done under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the CIA. The goal was to invent techniques useful for questioning prisoners of war. Drug testing of this sort dated generally from the 1930s, and had made use of mescaline, scopolamine, and sodium pentothal, a barbiturate. The ‘marihuana’ was smoked as THC infused cigarettes, based on a liquid form provided by Adams’ laboratory. It was tested initially on employees of The Manhattan Project, the US’s ultra secret project to build an atomic bomb. Presumably the testers felt that this group already had a high level of security clearance. The cigarettes were tried subsequently on soldiers at US army bases. It was wartime, and they were looking for subversives. Truth to be told, no one concluded that ‘marihuana’ was a truth drug. It produced interesting results, entertaining results, but unveiled no secrets.

This fact did not stop the CIA from repeating such efforts in the 1950s and 60s. During the cold war era, under the supervision of its mind control group, MK ULTRA, THC laced cigarettes were offered to prisoners, mental patients unwitting vagrants, and sex workers. They didn’t reveal any secrets either. St. Elizabeth’s has since become the US office of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, Roger Adams turned out to have a whimsical side. During a lecture to the National Academy of Sciences, detailing his work, he remarked casually that ‘marihuana,’ when smoked, had “pleasant effects.” This remark caused a major uproar. Anslinger snarled at Adams, and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) wanted him labeled a security risk. Members of his team argued that they could not do without him. They called upon the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover to intervene. Hoover lied. He told ONI that Adams was a very common name, and they must have gotten the wrong guy. Adams was placed, after this event, on a list of “people to be watched.”

Unrepentant, he became an equal opportunity supplier. If you read the La Guardia Report, you will come across this statement. “We are indebted to Dr. Roger Adams at the University of Illinois, and to Dr. H. J. Wollner, consulting chemist of the US Treasury, who supplied some of the active principles of marihuana which were used in the study.”4 Anslinger was enraged, called the study unscientific, roared at the chemists, and the rest is history. It is hard to fathom the selective bias that has coloured so many historical accounts. But the next time they tell you that THC was discovered in 1964, don’t believe it. It just ain’t so.

1. This is the same spelling that the Harper Government uses. I think it’s the prohibitionist spelling.
2. ... ge005.html As you will see from this link, Adams was a subject of study in the 1960s for researchers in the former Yugoslavia.
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4. ... uardia.pdf
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by papapuff » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:24 am

Hysteria Over Marijuana and the Teenage Brain: A Mild Rant



In 2015, Canadians will be heading into a federal election. A key issue will be legalizing marijuana. The contending Liberal Party of Canada led by Justin Trudeau, supports the idea. The ruling Conservatives led by Stephen Harper oppose it. But while the Liberals have taken the lead by proposing this legislation, it is their opponents who have defined the terms of the debate. They have chosen for their battle cry: Marijuana endangers the developing brain. In December 2013, they announced an 11.5 million dollar campaign against legalization, focused specifically on youth. Of course, this viewpoint is not limited to Canada. America’s National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) supports it. America’s Partnership for a Drug Free America has recently changed its name to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Project SAM, a US national anti-legalization organization says in its literature: “Research…states clearly that marijuana can impair the developing adolescent brain.”

So what is the evidence? In a 2012 New Zealand study with just over a thousand participants, researchers examined IQ scores over time. They determined these for participants as youngsters, and again at 38 years old.1 They compared the scores. They then looked specifically at the 38 participants who had been heavy marijuana smokers and concluded that, as measured by the tests, their intelligence had dropped by eight IQ points. You can find these results quoted by The American Psychological Association, The National Academy of Sciences, NIDA, in The Guardian, and in every other blog out there.

A second study with 40 participants, published in April 2014 in the Journal of Neuroscience, was conducted at Boston University.2 Employing MRI, it scanned the brains of twenty marijuana smokers aged 18-25 and compared them with twenty nonsmokers. Researchers reported abnormalities for smokers in two areas of the brain that play a role in the brain’s reward and aversion systems, and thus in addiction. This study is also widely quoted.3 Some journals have dramatized it, citing it as proof that marijuana kills reasoning and decision making skills. One headline reads: “Will Marijuana Turn Your Teenager’s Brain Into Mush?” The answer was “Yes.”

One worries about researchers these days. You cannot get significant results by testing groups of 20, or even 38. In any case, none of them thought to ask what strains of marijuana their subjects had been smoking. So what were they measuring? Why do they publish such nonsense? And why are they so persuasive? In what follows, I will argue that the current obsession with the teenage brain is an attempt to maintain a mechanistic view of science and society that has dominated our society since the 1950s.

Intelligence tests have been around since the late 19th century. But mass attempts to test and subsequently rank children really belong to the cold war era of the 1950s. In 1957, The Soviet Union launched its satellite, Sputnik. The event was a call to arms. The Russian were ahead. Their children, it was feared, were receiving superior math and science training. Besides, North America had been relying heavily on scientists who had emigrated from Europe in the 40s. Importing scientists is a time limited strategy. It was time to build a local elite. In 1958, the US government signed into law The National Defense Education Act, a set of initiatives intended to boost the teaching of sciences in all schools. Meanwhile, IQ testing had become the standard; by the mid 1950s, virtually every school in North America was involved. This competitive view of IQs has never gone away; it has only worsened. Contemporary parents linger over applications to prestigious preschools; mass markets pile on the Baby Einstein toys.

But while 50s educators were bent on high achievement for youth, the notion of science they pushed was based on dominion. It aimed to subdue nature; it valued the artificial over the natural. Childbirth was reduced to hospital procedures, babies were bottle-fed, and newly introduced, frozen TV dinners, touted as superior to homemade. Everyone loved the miracle drugs, those substances derived from coal tar: antibiotics such as sulpha, antipsychotics such as Thorazine and tranquilizers like Miltown, pervasive and highly prescribed. Pharma was in; home remedies and plant therapies were out. Predominantly, they still are.

This version of science was also mechanistic. No one looked at children’s IQ results in the context of nutrition or of their social experience. Rather they were seen in isolation, as if their brains were machine parts. Critiques of the studies cited above can illustrate these points. Consider the New Zealand study. Participants who had smoked marijuana exhibited a decline in IQ. But as labour economist Ole Rogeberg has noted, such results can be explained by economic differences. The researchers had not looked at the participants’ standard of living. Individuals who have grown up in poverty always experience cognitive decline with age. If you leave school at eighteen and work at a boring, low paying job, your language and math skills suffer. IQ studies carried out in such a disconnected manner tell us little of value.

Similar problems plague the MRI study. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University is a key critic. Hart notes that the researchers did not ask how, or even if, subjects were employed. They did not ask if subjects enjoyed good family relations, or if they had experienced a trauma, any of which could have altered the results. In this study, marijuana smokers’ brains were said to exhibit abnormalities. But the notion of ‘abnormality’ was not placed in context either. Studies based on tobacco or caffeine use might have yielded similar levels of abnormality. Anyway, what’s an abnormality? Brain scans devoid of social context are for mechanical brains, not human ones


Compare this debate to views expressed by authorities in the 1960s. The youth-led social movements of the time—pro civil rights and participatory democracy; anti war and consumerism—came under heavy criticism. Marijuana did too, since it travelled with these countercurrents. IQ continued to be a matter of national concern. Yet no one worried about the counterculture’s brain. Its participants were labeled wrong headed and unpatriotic, but they were not considered brain impaired. They were well educated, articulate, talented, and achievement oriented, much as cannabis fans are today. The case against marijuana was political. Then again, the 60s counterculture was never subjected to an MRI. If it had, we’d be blaming the civil rights movement, the war protests, the New Left and organic gardening on the teenage brain.

Let’s widen the lens even further. Who invented the teenager anyway? In the war years, people under the age of 20 served in the military. Those that left school early could find meaningful work. They married, started businesses and engaged in political activities. What would their brain scans have looked like? Were they ‘teenagers?’ Mechanization, mass migration to cities, and the need for extra years spent in school have created generations of intelligent beings with few avenues to contribute meaningfully to society. Governments make no effort to create programs that integrate youth into real activities: forest renewal; urban renewal; food production. Instead, they create misery by denying them access to free or inexpensive higher education. As a badge of maturity, they offer nothing but a license to drink. Heaven forbid they should offer a joint.

Children in the 1950s were herded into gymnasiums to take batteries of IQ tests. No one told them what was going on. They were test subjects. Teenage brains are tossed about in public debate today as if their owners were infants whose parents were debating the merits of feeding schedules. They’re not even seen as subjects. What is it with our relation to youth? Do we respect so little their ability to make reasonable choices? Can we not bring them into the discussion? What if we said this? Hey guys, we’re legalizing cannabis. You can have some when you are eighteen. It seems to have worked elsewhere.

So what is to be done? What should Justin Trudeau do? It is no good, in my view, fighting a defensive war over the teenage brain. Brains do not exist outside of a wide social context. As the political rhetoric develops over the next election campaign he needs to grasp the limited, non-holistic mindset from which his opponents’ views spring. This isn’t just about cannabis and the brain. It’s about creating a nation in which youth is integrated and supported. Let him announce new youth programs in science, culture and sports. Let him offer funding for universities, colleges and trades programs to make them easily affordable. Let him really protect the youth. If he does this, mechanistic notions of brain studies will dissipate, and his opponents will have nothing to say. Otherwise he’ll be mired in their outmoded mindsets without a clear way out.


2. ... ties-brain

3. ... juana.aspx

4. Yes, I am aware of the 2002 study reported in the CMAJ that shows an increase in IQ for mid level pot smokers. There were nine of them, an absurdly small number on which to base a conclusion.
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by papapuff » Tue Aug 26, 2014 10:51 am

Absurdities in the War on Drugs: A New Timeline







1. The Indian Hemp Commission was carried out in India at the behest of British Parliament. Some of the wealthier classes had complained that “Indian Hemp,” as Cannabis as called, was making the working classes lazy. The Commission found the “hemp drug” innocuous.

2. Albert Hofmann discovered LSD in 1938. In 1943 he took a large experimental dose and rode his bicycle home. He recorded the experience in his journal. The description has inspired a number of artists. Check these out.
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by papapuff » Mon Sep 01, 2014 11:14 am

After Prohibition We Will Still Need Cannabis Activists: Lessons From Colorado


Image – Judith Stamps 2014

We once had alcohol prohibition in North America. The arguments that promoted it are depressingly similar to those that maintain cannabis prohibition today. Both revolve around the notion that mind-altering plants harm children and families. But there, as they say, the similarity ends. Alcohol prohibition, for all its faults, was attended by widespread public dialogue. Moreover, it didn’t last long. Within half a generation, it was over and life returned to normal. Cannabis prohibition, by contrast, arrived with no discussion. It arrived instead on the spearhead of Reefer Madness, a campaign of forbidding imagery that is hard to exaggerate. This imagery has gone hand in hand with waves of suppression: imprisonment, forfeiture of property, loss of children, loss of livelihood. Both—campaign and suppression— have lingered for four generations. It has to be said, thus, that we no longer have a normal to which we can return. After eighty years, we have lost the experience of freedom. Whatever it is, we will need to create it anew.

It is only to be expected, thus, that life after legalization will be iffy and at times, snarly. We have barely begun a real conversation with the tribes of opposition. Furthermore, if 55-60% of North Americans support cannabis, then 40-45% oppose it. That’s a lot of opposition. In what follows, we will explore that opposition by looking more closely than we sometimes do at Colorado’s experience. We celebrate every step on the road to legalizing cannabis. We’d like to be next. But we need to look at the stumbling blocks too. Ours might look similar.

An Activist. Let me begin by introducing Colorado cannabis activist, Michelle LaMay. In 2008, inspired by Oaksterdam University and President Obama’s promise to end DEA interference with states’ rights, LaMay founded Cannabis University (CU). CU is one of six practically oriented Cannabis Schools in Colorado, and one of the only two focused on recreation. Ideal for beginners, it offers a full day program on cannabis law and cultivation, one Saturday each month. Currently, eighty percent of its students are from out of state. The school has no fixed location. Students register online, pay the fee, and at some stage are told where to show up. This practice preserves the students’ anonymity, and prevents the classes from being, as LaMay puts it, “invaded.”

On other days, LaMay travels about Colorado with a fifth wheel trailer that houses the LaMay Cannabis Bookstore and Museum. Like CU, it too pops up here and there almost unannounced. It seeks attention, but only from those interested in learning. In addition, last spring LaMay wrote, proposed and organized an initiative to be placed on the ballot for Colorado’s upcoming November elections. The plan was to remove all restrictions on cannabis possession. Currently, adults over 21 can carry an ounce. In LaMay’s view, this restriction results in fines that fall disproportionately on minorities. The initiative failed, but the activism continues. Here’s why it has to.

The System. In November 2012, 55.32% of Coloradans voted for Amendment 64 (A64), which permits adults over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of dried marijuana, and to grow up to 6 plants. A64 followed A20 in 2000, which permitted medical use and state licensed dispensaries. In July 2011, Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division (MMED) tightened regulations. It required the industry to account for every ounce of pot produced by or for dispensaries. All such plants are now tracked from seed to sale. When sets of buds are dried and trimmed they must bear the label of their original plant. If dispensaries have multiple outlets, they must flag plants to indicate their final destination. If patient Joe S. selects a dispensary to grow his allotment of plants, dispensary owners need to be able to show inspectors which plants are Joe’s. Inspections are random and unannounced. Employees do drills to prepare for them. Dispensaries must produce 70% of their own cannabis. They can buy the rest from a licensed grower or another dispensary. Colorado’s has to be the most stringent system this side of Mars.

Problem One. When A64 was signed in to law, medical dispensaries were permitted to apply as retail outlets for the recreational market. Undoubtedly, the tight controls gave licensers a sense of security. Thus far, the state has licensed 136 of these, 75 of which are in Denver. This is a problem. A64 contains a provision that allows local jurisdictions to opt out of the retail business. They can ban dispensaries, growers, producers and marijuana testing facilities. They are required to allow only personal possession and personal plants, both well hidden. Thus far over 100 cities, towns and regions have issued such bans. Indeed, of the 10 largest cities in Colorado, only Denver remains free. Colorado is 300 miles wide and 380 miles long. There is a delivery system for patients, but if you are a recreational fan, you might have to drive a very long way to find a legal outlet. If you are unable to travel or grow a few plants, you can abstain or continue with the illegal market.

Image – Judith Stamps 2014

Problem Two. Over forty percent of Coloradans don’t like A64. Sensible Colorado, which aided in the fight for medical use and spearheaded the 2012 campaign, continues to engage in public education. The organization counts among its allies, the ACLU, American for Safe Access (ASA), The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), NORML, and Patients Out of Time. But Colorado is also home to SMART Colorado (SC), a prohibitionist group whose name is subtitled: Protecting Our Youth From Marijuana. SC wants to see A64 repealed. It quotes the usual studies on marijuana and the teenage brain.1 It argues that individual or states’ rights approaches are wrong because marijuana is uniquely bad. One of its members sat on the state committee that wrote Colorado’s rules for public use.

Problem Three. Colorado does not allow cannabis coffee houses. No one can consume marijuana in a public place, including a cannabis dispensary. Dispensaries, conversely, are forbidden to sell drinks or snacks. Large ticketed events such as ball games and concerts, which normally allow the sale of beer and wine, do not permit cannabis. Last spring the Colorado Symphony Orchestra wanted to host “Classically Cannabis,” an event to which audience members would bring their own bud. The city banned the event. There was much growling. In the end, the Orchestra returned the tickets and transformed the concert into a members-only private party; okay for residents; not good for tourists.

If you visit Denver you may find yourself at a loss. Where do you go to toke? If you have friends, you can go to their house. If you have booked a hotel you may be in for a surprise. Many hotels have banned marijuana. Some are internationally owned and fear the feds. Others just don’t want it, even on a balcony. There is marijuana friendly lodging, but you must find it. There are few private facilities. You cannot go to a bar. There is ongoing discussion on what constitutes public use. What about vape pens, indistinguishable from those filled with tobacco? What about gummies or cookies that look just like ordinary ones? Can you have those in the park? The ‘public thing’ is problematic for locals too. One dispensary owner was cited for putting up a banner indicating that her shop was open….too public.

Problem Four. Then there is the matter of money. Costs of a license to operate a retail outlet range from $7,500 to $18,000. This is not a poor man’s game. License holders must pass a criminal record check. This rule cuts outs many growers and activists. Then there are the taxes. Medical marijuana patients pay the 2.9% Colorado sales tax. Recreational fans are assessed an excise tax of 15%, another tax of 10% to cover the cost of regulation, plus the sales tax. That’s almost 30%. Excise taxes, called ‘sin’ or sumptuary taxes are imposed on items considered morally undesireable. They are intended to discourage use. Canadians pay some of the highest sin taxes on liquor and tobacco in the world. The additional 10% for regulation seems rather unfair, especially in a system that is not so user friendly.

Problem Five. Finally, there is the matter of banks. As long as having cannabis is a federal crime, no bank will deal with it. Neither will the credit card companies. No one can get a bank loan. Bundles of money are stuffed into safes, regularly shuffled off in paper sacks, and locked into the trunks of cars destined for the tax office. Dispensaries have security staff. These are often retired military men with special ops training. In a legalized Canada, this would not be an issue. But had Sensible BC succeeded in 2013, it might have become one.

Michelle LaMay’s classes are beginning to attract more locals. Coloradans are coming specifically to learn home growing. One Colorado School—The Grow School—is dedicated solely to this purpose. Both schools cover legal issues, growing techniques and that touchstone of Colorado policy: how to be ‘private.’

Oregon and Alaska are on the brink of legalizing cannabis. Canadians may be too. But whatever we do, decades of prohibition have left scars not easily removed.

Legalization will come in some form, but the need for activism will remain. Perhaps our biggest challenge will be the quality of dialogue we open up with opponents. However much we dislike their attitudes, this time around, we’ll need to talk. And then we’ll need to keep talking. It’ll be a stretch.

Read More from Judith Stamp on the Cannabis Digest Blogs

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