[sixties-l] The New Politics of Pot (fwd)

From: sixties@lists.village.virginia.edu
Date: Mon Oct 28 2002 - 13:59:43 EST

  • Next message: jeffrey blankfort: "Re: [sixties-l] Who Will Lead? (fwd)"

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 10:31:05 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: The New Politics of Pot

    The New Politics of Pot


    Can it go legit? How the people who brought you medical
    marijuana have set their sights on lifting the ban for everyone

    Sunday, Oct. 27, 2002

    The drug czar is ready for pro wrestling. He already has the name, and now
    he's got the prefight talk down cold. In every speech he makes in Nevada,
    where Bush appointee John Walters
    has traveled to fight an initiative that would legalize marijuana, he calls
    out his
    three sworn enemies as if he were Tupac Shakur. The czar has a problem with
    billionaire philanthropists George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, who
    have bankrolled the pro-pot movement, and he wants everyone to know he's
    ready for battle. At an Elks lodge meeting in Las Vegas, he ticks off their
    names and says, "These people use ignorance and their overwhelming amount
    of money to influence the electorate. You don't hide behind money and refuse
    to talk and hire underlings and not stand up and speak for yourself," he
    By the end of a similar speech at a drug-treatment center in Reno, he says,
    "Let's stop hiding. I'm here. Where are you?" The czar is bringing it on.
    Before the new czar was appointed in December, it was the government's
    preference not to address the legalizers. But the pro-pot movement has gained
    so much ground they can't be ignored as a fringe element. Americans, it turns
    out, aren't conflicted in their attitude toward marijuana. They want it
    illegal but
    not really enforced. A Time/cnn poll last week found that only 34% want pot
    to be totally legalized (the percentage has almost doubled since 1986). But a
    vast majority have become mellow about official loopholes: 80% think it's
    O.K. to dispense pot for medical purposes, and 72% think people caught with
    it for recreational use should get off with only a fine. That seeming
    paradox has
    left a huge opening for pro-pot people to exploit. Eight states allow medical
    marijuana, and a handful of states have reduced the sentences for pot smokers
    to almost nothing.
    The midterm election Nov. 5 has lighted up the issue even more. While control
    of the House hangs in the balance and the race for the Senate is a dead heat,
    the political trend for marijuana is clear: support is gaining. The most
    battles on the November ballot are over pot initiatives: to allow the city
    of San
    Francisco to grow and distribute medical marijuana, to replace jail with rehab
    in Ohio and decriminalize marijuana use in Arizona. Many of these proposals
    are relatively modest, but the pro-pot forces are also raising the stakes. In
    spite of the electorate's contentment with the paradox of loose enforcement,
    some particularly powerful people on both sides have taken extreme
    viewpoints in an effort to end the political stalemate and force Americans to
    choose. Either pot is not so bad and should be legal, or people should be
    arrested for smoking it. The battlefield for the showdown is Nevada, where
    Question 9 would allow adults to possess up to 3 oz. of pot fo! r personal
    In fact, the state government would set up a legal market for buying and
    pot. To almost everyone's surprise, the race is too close to call.
    While the pro-pot forces have pushed their agenda at the polls, opponents
    have tried to use legal muscle to fight back. After a Supreme Court decision
    last year reiterating that federal drug laws trumped state ones, the Drug
    Enforcement Administration sent federal agents to California to bust
    medical-marijuana growers, a move that tended to outrage California voters
    who had approved this use. In fact, as the Administration pushes harder
    against the pro-pot forces, pot supporters seem to gain ground.
    Among the biggest pro-pot players, medical marijuana was actually kind of a
    ruse. Sure, there are sick people who really feel they need marijuana to numb
    pain, relieve the eye pressure of glaucoma, calm muscle spasms or get the
    munchies to help with aids wasting (see following story). But they are not the
    people who put the debate into high gear. A few years ago, the Drug Policy
    Alliancean organization founded by billionaire philanthropist Soros, who
    wants to legalize marijuana and reform drug laws by replacing jail time with
    rehabdecided it would fund only those initiatives that could be won. So the
    group ran a bunch of polls to find out how America feels about the drug wars,
    and the reformers came up way short on everything but three policies: people
    preferred treatment over incarceration in some cases, people hated property
    forfeiture, and an overwhelming majority felt medical marijuana should be
    legal. So Soros & Co. set out to get medical-marijuana legislation. The !
    has done quite well, especially when, to their surprise, the Federal
    took the bait and started arresting little old ladies and storming peaceful
    pot-growing cooperatives. In fact, the pro-pot people have done well enough
    that some of them feel it is time to drop the ruse and fight for full
    Plus, with Britain experimenting with a "seize and warn" policy instead of
    arresting pot smokers and Canada flirting with doing the same, the
    blunt-friendly were ready to take off the camouflage and fight. And where else
    to try this but in Nevada?
    That's why the czar is in Vegas, sitting in a room at the Venetian Hotel
    by U.S. marshals. The czar, a smart, likable, earnest man who believes he can
    help Americans by fighting the drug war, is derided by the opposition as "Bill
    Bennett's Mini-Me." Indeed, he worked for Bennett under Reagan in the
    Department of Education and then as Bennett's deputy drug czar in the first
    Bush Administration. When George W. appointed him, the President told the
    czar to watch the movie Traffic as a way to understand the problem. The czar,
    who told Time he has never smoked pot, believes marijuana to be not only a
    gateway drug but also incredibly detrimental in its own rightcausing driving
    accidents, domestic violence, health risks and crippling addiction. He thinks
    the legalization argument is absurd, especially when proposed by libertarian
    Republicans who are so doctrinaire he finds them to be outside his party.
    is great talk at 2 a.m. in a dorm room, that all laws should be !
    consistent. But
    the real world isn't consistent. It's ludicrous to say we have a great deal of
    problems from the use of alcohol so we should multiply that with marijuana,"
    he says. It doesn't take long for him to get back to the three
    billionaires: "It's
    unprecedented, the amount of money put in by such a small amount of people
    over one issue."
    The marijuana legalizers, including the billionaires Walters vilifies,
    don't have
    much kinder things to say about him. In fact, for old rich men, they can sound
    a lot like Tupac. One of them, Sperling, 81, is founder of the highly
    nationwide chain the University of Phoenix. He has spent $13 million on
    drug-reform campaigns and lots of other money on other pet projects,
    including cloning his cat. "Mr. Walters is a pathetic drug-war soul who is
    defending a whole catalog of horrors he's indifferent to," Sperling says
    from his
    office in Phoenix, Ariz. "The government's drug-reform policy is driven by a
    Fundamentalist Christian sense of morality that sees any of these illegal
    substances used as evil." Sperling says he smoked pot to combat pain
    associated with the cancer he fought in the 1960s.
    Lewis, 68, former CEO of Progressive, an insurance company, doesn't despise
    the czar quite as much, but he has been battling him even harder. The reasons
    for Lewis are more straightforward. He has been referred to by colleagues as
    a "functional pothead." He spends half the year on a $16.5 million, 255-ft.
    yacht, where he smokes pot regularly; he even got arrested in New Zealand
    on drug charges a few years ago, he told the Plain Dealer. He is one of the
    main backers of the radical Nevada proposal, having given heaps of money to
    the Marijuana Policy Project, which is running Question 9 there. "The
    absurdity of its illegality has been clear to me for some time. I learned about
    pot from my kids and realized it was a lot better than Scotch, and I loved the
    Scotch. Then I went to my doctor, and he said, 'I'm thrilled. You're drinking
    too much. You're much better off doing pot than drinking.'"
    Soros (who has smoked pot but no longer does) declined to be interviewed,
    and like the rest of the troika, he won't debate Walters. They are probably
    refusing for two reasons: 1) they would likely lose, since none of them are
    politicians; and 2) if you were going around the world on a 255-ft. yacht,
    would you list "Drug Czar" as one of your ports of call?
    So instead they fight federal policy with initiative after initiative,
    while also
    defending local pro-pot laws. Their side got a major media boost in California
    in September, when federal agents busted Santa Cruz's Wo/Men's Alliance for
    Medical Marijuana in an early-morning raid. The feds dragged the farm's
    owners, who were legally growing pot under California law, to a federal
    building in San Jose for breaking federal law and held a paraplegic
    resident at
    the farm for hours. "I opened my eyes to see five federal agents pointing
    assault rifles at my head. 'Get your hands over your head. Get up. Get up.' I
    took the respirator off my face, and I explained to them that I'm paralyzed,"
    said Suzanne Pheil, 44, who is disabled by the effects of postpolio syndrome.
    Her story was broadcast everywhere, since the pro-pot people had basically
    been waiting for her to be harassed, punching every phone number on their
    media list minutes after the raid. Pot people, surprisingly, can move p! retty
    fast when they want to.
    The bust couldn't have gone better for the pot folks. California attorney
    general Bill Lockyer fired off an angry letter to dea chief Asa Hutchinson,
    wrote back saying that federal law allows the feds to seize pot. "During the
    Clinton years they didn't do this," says Lockyer. "It disappointed me that
    would be using precious resources to act like a bunch of bullies." San Jose
    police chief William Lansdowne was so annoyed by the raid that he withdrew
    his officers from the local dea task force, ending 15 years of close work.
    Governor Gray Davis, who has been quiet on the marijuana issue, expressed
    concern over the feds' bust. A week after the raid, Santa Cruz officials
    gathered at city hall to supervise public distribution of marijuana to
    members of
    the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in front of TV crews, a way of
    giving Washington the finger.
    To many Republicans, this looks like bad politics for Bush. "It seems to me
    about as far from Compassionate Conservatism as you can get," says former
    Nixon and Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger. "There are an awful lot of people in
    their 50s and younger who smoked pot when they were younger and don't
    look on it as something that destroyed their lives. I think there is a lot
    open-mindedness toward pot than there used to be."
    In Nevada, popular Republican Governor Kenny Guinn refuses to take a
    stand on Question 9, the pot-legalization amendment to the state constitution,
    saying he'll go with whatever the people vote for. And he won't really have to
    worry about it for a while, since the constitutional amendment will go into
    effect only if Nevadans vote yes on Nov. 5 and again in 2004. So Guinn may
    be smart to stay out of the debate, because the rhetoric from both sides has
    gone out of control. The drug czar's latest commercial, which was actually
    focus-grouped with teens and their parents, shows two teens getting stoned in
    their father's study, talking apathetically about a bunch of stuff. One
    pulls out a
    gun from his dad's drawer, the other asks lazily if it's loaded, and the
    gun-toting teen shrugs and shoots the other kid. "The suggestion is not to say
    too many children are being shot in their dens who are marijuana users,"
    Walters said. "It's meant to show that marijuana alters your ability to ! use
    judgment." In the other camp, many of the workers lied to voters in the course
    of gathering signatures to get Question 9 on the ballot, saying it was a
    medical-marijuana proposition, according to several pro-pot Nevadans. The
    two camps even fight regularly about how many joints can be made from 3 oz.
    of pot, the proposed legal maximum. The pro-pot people claim 80, while the
    anti-pot people carry around bags of 250 joints to illustrate their case. Yes,
    moms across the state are spending large parts of their nights rolling parsley
    and oregano.
    The Marijuana Policy Project in Nevada has a chance partly because it is far
    better organized than its scattered opposition. The project made a smart move
    in hiring Billy Rogers, a Democratic political consultant from Texas, to
    run the
    Nevada campaign. Rogers sends people door to door daily to target
    supporters he can call on Election Day and bus to voting booths. This could
    make the difference in what the polls show is an almost evenly split
    Rogers' office is situated in a Vegas strip mall, just above an Asian massage
    parlor, which is right next to a children's tutoring center, which is all
    you need
    to know to understand why the project is staging this fight in Nevada. The
    office looks more like a sorority fund drive than a ^A'60s dorm room. Posters
    drawn by children depict images like a teddy bear with a heart labeled vote
    yes on 9. Rogers, wearing a collarless white shirt, is still at work at 1
    editing a commercial. "In college we'd sit around and talk abo! ut thisthat
    when we grew up we were going to change these laws. And now we're doing
    it," he says. Rogers, who says he hasn't smoked pot in 15 years, doesn't have
    a personal connection to the fight, but it's pretty easy to get him into a
    Carville mood. When he talks about Walters' oft repeated claim (an assertion
    shared by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) that marijuana has much
    higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (thc) than it used to, that, in Walters'
    words, "it's not your father's marijuana," Rogers goes ballistic. "It's a
    Whatit's not your father's broccoli? Its genetic structure hasn't changed
    in 30
    years," he says, eating steak for a late-night meal. "These guys will say
    anything. If I had a billion-dollar budget, I'd say anything to stay in
    That's one of the major conspiracy theories of the pro-legalization
    movementa rant right out of the Eisenhower era, that the government is
    keeping pot illegal so it can maintain its giant drug-war bureaucracy. Its
    advocates also believeas put forth directly in the pro-medical marijuana
    commercials of billionaire independent New York gubernatorial candidate
    Tom Golisanothat politicians are in the pocket of the pharmaceutical
    companies, who fear marijuana is such good medicine that their own products
    will suffer. The pro-legalization forces also believe, more convincingly,
    that the
    right wing of the Republican Party connects drug use with sin and radicalism
    and the failure of the family. "I've known John Walters for about 10 years,
    I don't think this is about drugs for him," says Ethan Nadelmann, head of the
    Drug Policy Alliance. "John is a reactionary ideologue. It's the broader
    about what we tell kids about life. It's a vehicle for promoting a tougher,
    meane! r approach to life and government." Democratic Congressman Barney
    Frank of Massachusetts claims the war on drugs is really a war against the
    Other. "Alcohol does more damage in many areas of society than drugs,
    particularly marijuana, but we treat marijuana as much worse, and that's
    because it's associated with the counterculture."
    Some Republicans, however, are ready to legalize medical marijuana. Texas
    Congressman Ron Paul, a doctor and onetime Libertarian Party presidential
    candidate, has been fighting for medical marijuana. "From a humanitarian
    standpoint, people should never be denied this kind of help," says Paul. But
    fellow Republican Hutchinson stands behind the decision to prosecute. "Why
    would they want to authorize behavior under state law that is still a
    violation of
    federal law?" he says. "It endangers a population, to me. It gives the
    green light
    on the one hand and a go-to-jail ticket on the other."
    Among cops and other law enforcers, there are sharp divisions too. Some, like
    Joseph D. McNamara, a former San Jose police chief and now a Hoover
    Institution fellow, call for an end to the criminalization of marijuana.
    "Most of
    the police officers I hired during the 15 years I was police chief had
    tried it,"
    says McNamara. Like many pot legalizers, he believes the system, which he
    says arrests more people for marijuana than for any other drug, is racist.
    "Ninety million Americans have tried marijuana. When you look at who's going
    to jail, it is overwhelmingly disproportionateit's Latinos and blacks." Not
    surprisingly, the topic is radioactive in the police profession. Andy
    who was head of his state's largest cop organization, the Nevada Conference
    of Police and Sheriffs, announced that his board members unanimously
    supported the pro-pot initiative so they could focus on more serious crimes. A
    few days later, Anderson was forced to resign. The voice for Nevada cop! s
    then became Gary Booker, deputy district attorney in charge of the
    vehicular-crimes unit, until he told members of the press he believed the wild
    claims of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche that Soros is pro-legalization
    because he bankrolls drug cartels. When talking to Time at the Elks lodge
    where he introduced the drug czar, Booker awkwardly tried to explain away
    his statement: "The word cartel was used, not drug. A cartel is a group of
    businessmen who control price, and that's what we've got here. Three or four
    guys are controlling the thing." He too stepped out of the role of Nevada
    police spokesman.
    The pro-pot people feel that victoryeven if it comes not this year and not in
    Nevadais inevitable. Each year there are fewer members of the pre-boomer
    generation, who tend not to distinguish between heroin and pot. In 1983, only
    31% of Americans surveyed had tried pot; the new Time/cnn poll puts the
    figure at 47%. And though pot use among teens is down from its ^A'70s highs,
    parents sneaking joints when their kids are asleep is a fresh phenomenon. But
    the polls show that Americans still cling to pot's forbidden status, which
    is why
    the pro-pot people are working so hard. "You would think you would get a
    change, but you're not going to," says Charles Whitebread, a law professor at
    the University of Southern California who has written extensively on marijuana
    law. "Even though it did nothing to them, the fear that it will somehow
    their children has made some of the people who used marijuana extremely
    freely now say, 'Oh, gee, I wouldn't be in favor of the change in t! he legal
    status of marijuana.'" It may be that the major dividing line between the pro-
    and anti-legalizers is not party affiliation but parental status. And even
    parents, moms see more against pot than dads.
    So, barring another wave of '60s-like radicalism or a lot more poorly
    thought-out co-op busts by the feds, Americans' complicated feelings about
    pot aren't going to be reconciled overnight. And recent studies showing that
    marijuana can have addictive properties, though in a small percentage of
    is going to make some parents more nervous about their kids turning into
    potheads. While alcohol and cigarettes may be more dangerous, a lot of
    parents would rather smell beer on their kid's breath than have a 29-year-old
    living at home, eating Cheetos and watching SpongeBob.
    With reporting by Matt Baron/ Chicago, Laura A. Locke/San Francisco,
    Viveca Novak/Washington and Sean Scully/Los Angeles

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Oct 28 2002 - 14:13:05 EST