The (Gingrich) Revolution eats its children

So Eric Cantor, the fanatical right-winger (I refuse to use “conservative” to describe a movement that is un-American in its goals and radical in its tactics) who was hoping to succeed the extremely right-wing John Boehner as Speaker of the House, wasn’t extreme enough for the Republican primary voters in his Virginia district, and will now be forced to accept ten times or so his Congressional salary as a lobbyist for various factions of the plutocracy.

In the short term, this is bad news if you thought that something sensible on immigration might make it through the House this year, or if you believed that K Street/Chamber of Commerce Republicans, in coalition with Teahadis, constituted a possibly tolerable party of government. If you didn’t believe in that (or the Tooth Fairy) then it’s not bad news even in the short run. The fact of the apparently irreversible degeneration of the GOP is terrible  news, except that it’s not “new.” Anything that helps demonstrate that to deluded reporters and self-deluded Republicans counts, I think, as good news.

Footnote  Just to illustrate: it was Cantor who said of Social Security and Medicare “these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.” And led the jihad against NSF social-science funding.

Update

Nancy Pelosi:

“Eric Cantor has long been the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies, debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises. Tonight is a major victory for the Tea Party as they yet again pull the Republican Party further to the radical right.”

 

 

The banana Republicans

If they can’t offer policies that a majority of voters will support without relentless brainwashing, they free up the billionaire beneficiaries of the policies they actually offer to help them buy elections.

If buying elections won’t give them a majority, they rig the districting so they can hold a minority of seats with a minority of votes.

If they can’t win even in gerrymandered districts, they try to keep Democrats from voting.

If they still lose, they resort to outright bribery.

In the latest case, they offered a Democratic state senator in Virginia – whose vote resulted in a tied chamber, giving the Lieutenant Governor the deciding vote – a cushy job for himself and a judgeship for his daughter if he’d resign, giving the GOP 20-19 majority.

Similar deals have been done recently in New York and Washington State, though in those cases the bribes were legislative leadership positions rather than external jobs.

I can confidently predict that a not a single elected Republican, and few if any Red-team pundits, will speak out against this grossly corrupt deal.* If the state AG or the U.S. Attorney decide that it’s a prosecutable quid pro quo, Fox News and the National Review will howl about the “criminalization of policy differences.”

“Puckett” deserves to enter the language alongside “Quisling.”

The appalling content of its policies aside – the latest dirty trick is part of an effort to deny medical coverage to the working poor –  the modern Republican Party is a threat to the principles of republican government. Even when they’re not torturing, they lie, they cheat, and they steal.

Footnote And note the way the Washington Post uses the morally neutral “outmaneuver” to cover the payment and acceptance of a bribe. Did the Communists “outmaneuver” Jan Masaryk? Did the House of Guise “outmaneuver” the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day?

 * Update Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, who’s about as Red as they come, expresses his disgust:

Virginia Republicans are claiming that the jobs for Puckett and his daughter are unrelated to his resignation and the sudden seizure of control of the state Senate, but only their publicists will buy that. They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

Good for Morrissey!

 

 

A dispensary operator speaks out on “medical marijuana” and Americans for Safe Access

My post about Americans for Safe Access drew the expected outraged response from its target, but it also drew an unexpected note from someone I hadn’t met before, Muraco Kyashna-tocha, who runs the Green Buddha Patient Co-Op in Seattle. With her permission, I’m posting it here.

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I am the anthropologist who runs the state of Washington’s oldest medical cannabis collective. I loved your wonderful blog post on ASA. Actually, I have really enjoyed all your writings for the last year plus. You hit the nail on the head!

I made sure to pass your recent blog to Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles who I expect to write a bill for submission early next year which will regulate medical cannabis and align the two systems into the I502 system. I have been a strong supporter of this, as well as an open strong supporter of I502.

Odd position, you might think, for a dispensary, but we’ve been trying to hold the line and deal with only authentic patients, the ones the media sees – the ones with cancer, MS etc. They aren’t easy to find among all the riff-raff.  Half my clients are cancer patients who have found the “medical marijuana” explosion frightening, and they don’t tend to find themselves nor the products they really need in the current medical cannabis scene.Sincere patients are few and far between.

ASA has been a nightmare for my state. They rally “patients” – collecting their funds from those selling the medicine to those patients. Early this year they worked against all reasonable attempts to get mmj regulated. They spoke constantly to the media about “safe access” which is a euphemism and rallying cry for “Save the dispensaries.”

Dispensaries do not need saving in Washington State (as I have said frequently at hearings in Olympia) – even as patients’ rights do need securing – affirmative defense, arrest protection, small home grow allowance, etc.

I see ASA willing to throw out patients’ rights in order to secure legal dispensaries for the real folks they speak for. I feel like I bang my head against the wall all the time, so I loved this line:

accuses ASA of “relentlessly talk(ing) about the interests of patients while single-mindedly serving the interests of the sellers.

You are correct – this is what ASA does. Green Buddha looks forward to closing very shortly. (Gawd, please will the stores open and can we get serious about licensing producers? We’re at 50 as of last Tuesday)

Green Buddha is the last of the original collectives. We have no paid employees. We’re all volunteer. Average age of our patients is my age, 56.

I view ASA as one of the major impediments to my state rewriting its mmj laws and regulating the system – align it with I502. Stay the course and keep pounding on them.

 

How is legalized pot doing in Colorado?

Vox tries to cut through the clutter of conflicting claims about the outcomes, so far, of commrcial cannabis availability in Colorado.

So far, the only thing I see that counts as a downside surprise is the problem of misuse of edibles: little children getting into Mommy’s cannabis-laced candies and winding up in the emergency room, older kids bringing those same candies to school, and grown-ups (plus, of course, aging juveniles like Maureen Dowd) getting way, way too stoned and experiencing a very unpleasant few hours.

The problem wasn’t unexpected, in that it’s obvious that sweets are attractive to children and it’s been known for years that the “overdose” risk is higher when the latency between ingestion and feeling the effects is very long. The surprise is that edibles seem to be grabbing a very large market share, and that – for reasons unknown to me – the promised rules about dosage labeling (which could make edibles actually safer than inhaled versions once consumers learn to manage their intoxication levels) weren’t in place when the stores opened.

There has been one undoubted disaster: Levy Thomba, a 19-year-old Congolese student at a college in Wyoming, came to Denver on spring break, bought a high-dose cookie, and (apparently despite a warning issued by the retail clerk) ate the whole thing. He then jumped or fell from a balcony to his death.

That ought to – but of course won’t – silence the pot advocates who argue that “No one has ever died from taking cannabis.” Accidents are a statistically predictable consequence of any sort of intoxication, and inevitably some of those accidents will be fatal. So one identified death doesn’t count as a surprise.

In response to a reporter’s query, I looked up the comparable statistics for our primary legal intoxicant, alcohol. CDCR reports 7500 deaths per year due to alcohol-related falls (out of a total of almost 50,000 acute alcohol deaths per year, in addition to another 40,000 alcohol-related deaths from chronic disease).

Now, Colorado has 1.6% of the population of the U.S. So, assuming the rate of alcohol-induced fatal falls in Colorado is typical, in the five months since Colorado legalized commercial cannabis sales something like .016 x 7500 x 5/12 = 50 Coloradans have died from falling while drunk. So if Levy Thomba is the worst the advocates of legal availability have to show, I’d advise them to pack up their traps and go home.

On the other hand, very few of the likely bad results from cannabis legalization – all of which come down to an increasing number of adolescent and adult problem users – were ever likely to show up immediately after commercial availability began, especially in a state such as Colorado which has had virtual legalization under the “medical marijuana” mask for years. The problems to look out for will show up – if they show up – slowly, not quickly. We’ll get some indications within the first couple of years on the key question whether cannabis substitutes for alcohol or instead complements it, but even that result might not be the same in the long run as it is in the short run.

So while I laugh at the drug warriors’ desperate attempts to portray Colorado as a disaster area, the pot advocates’ blithe assurances that everything is fine remind me of the guy who jumped off the observation deck of Empire State Building. As he passed the 42nd floor on his way down, someone yelled out to him, “How’s it going?” to which he replied, “So far, so good.”

How bad is stoned driving, and what should we do about it?

Dishonest advocacy aside, what are the actual risks of stoned driving? The answer, from what seems to be a well-done case-control study, is that driving stoned is hazardous, but much less hazardous than driving drunk. (A relative risk of 1.83 – meaning that driving a mile stoned is about as risky as driving two miles sober – strongly suggests that cannabis-impaired driving is a problem, but also that it isn’t much of a problem; the relative-risk number for alcohol is over 13.) On the other hand, the same study shows that adding cannabis or other drugs to alcohol substantially worsens the odds: alcohol-and-something-else has a relative risk of 23.

Given those numbers, and the technical difficulty of identifying cannabis-impaired driving (because impairment doesn’t track cannabinoid levels in blood nearly as well as it tracks alcohol levels) I’d propose the following rule: anyone who tests positive for cannabis on a mouth swab (which detects use within the past few hours) should be considered guilty of impaired driving if that person’s BAC is detectably different from zero. All that means is that, if you’ve been toking and drinking, you need to wait as many hours as you’ve had drinks before getting behind the wheel.

Of course, if I were advising someone personally, I’d be much more cautious: driving within six hours of using cannabis is pretty damned stupid. But the same is true of driving after a sleepless night. The question isn’t what’s imprudent; the question is what’s hazardous enough to make a serious criminal offense. So far, the numbers I see about stoned driving (in the absence of alcohol) don’t bring it across that very high threshold.

Given the long latency of THC, the “zero-tolerance” rules now being passed in some states, which making driving with any detectable cannabis on board drugged driving per se, without evidence of actual impairment, are simply a backdoor way of recriminalizing cannabis use.

Footnote A case-control study – comparing a group of drivers responsible for accidents with a random sample of all drivers – is the only way to figure out what’s really going on. The observation that, as cannabis use spreads, more crash-responsible drivers have cannabis on board tells you precisely nothing. After all, if consumption of blintzes were to increase, more responsible drivers would test positive for ricotta. You neeed a denominator, not just a numerator.

Drunk driving, stoned driving, and official lying

As if on cue, the day after I blasted the dishonesty of a group of cannabis advocates, comes Radley Balko to report what appears to be an even more outrageous bit of bamboozlement from the anti-pot side. It now comes out that the “stoned driver” who plowed his truck into a pair of police cars with flashing lights had a blood-alcohol content of .268%, which Balko (or at least his headline-writer) correctly identifies, using the relevant technical vocabulary, as “drunk off his gourd.” (Sometimes read as “drunk out of his gourd,” or the shorter and more graphic “sh*tfaced.”) This driver was at more than three times the legal limit of .08%.

The involvement of alcohol is hardly surprising. Drunk driving is much more dangerous than stoned driving, and the combination is worse than either drug alone.

Yes, Keith Kilbey was also at about double Colorado’s legal limit for THC. But, as Balko points out, it’s virtually impossible to believe that the cops at the scene didn’t notice that the driver was blotto; a Breathalyzer would have been routine under the circumstances. So when state police Cpl. Heather Cobler told reporters that “we believe marijuana” caused the crash, she was almost certainly being … economical with the truth. If I were running the Colorado State Police, Cpl. Cobler would have a whole bunch of ‘splainin’ to do. The credibility of police as witnesses is a key resource for law enforcement; if they routinely lie to reporters, why should jurors believe them?

But the responsibility here goes way above a corporal’s pay-grade; the department should have come forward to correct the story as soon as the toxicology results were in, rather than waiting for others to notice the falsity of the original assertion. It seems to me that reporters in Colorado should be demanding an official explanation of how the misstatement was made, why it wasn’t promptly and frankly corrected, and what institutional steps are being taken to prevent the repetition of such misconduct. Whether reporters ask or not, it’s the responsibility of the department to make the necessary inquiries and take appropriate administrative action. Continue Reading…

Decisions, decisions

Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats want to help college graduates drowning in student debt refinance. Republicans, naturally, are against it. Natalie Kitroeff, who has reported on the ruthlessness of the agency that enforces such debt, explores the long-term damage: apparently student debt is one reason the housing market isn’t recovering.

Really and truly: if you’re not a fanatical partisan Democrat by now, you’re simply not paying attention.

Megan McArdle points out that there are other people than indebted college graduates who are worth helping, and also that there’s an alternative to the Warren/Obama proposal for debt relief: changing the rule that makes student debt undischargeable in bankruptcy. I agree on both points. We could also cut back radically on incarceration and use the savings to restore the savage cuts to public higher-education budgets. (Fifteen years ago, California spent 9% of its budget on higher education and 3% on prisons. Those numbers have now been reversed.)

I’d merely point out that Megan can’t find any actual elected Republicans willing to vote for any of those programs, any more than they’ll vote for the Warren/Obama plan. In the real world, we don’t have a choice between Democrats and an alternative party that cares about the needs of people under financial pressure but prefers a different set of programs to help them; we have a choice between Democrats and plutocrats. That – and not the details of debt-relief policy – is what I claim Megan and her fellow libertarian-leaning but socially concerned pundits aren’t paying attention to.

 

 

 

 

Lies, damned lies, and “medical” marijuana

The “medical marijuana” business – which in practice gets most of its revenues from non-medical users and from buyers intending to resell illegally, including those who resell to minors – now grosses more than $1 billion per year nationwide. Of course, every billion-dollar industry needs a lobbying group, and the green-cross crowd has one: Americans for Safe Access, which relentlessly talks about the interests of patients while single-mindedly serving the interests of the sellers.  (Like most of the rest of the “drug policy reform” movement – with the exception of MAPS (Update: and CA Norml) – ASA has yet to spend a nickel on medical research or safety studies; everything goes to campaigning, litigating, and lobbying.)

And, since no trade association is complete without dishonest 30-second political ads, ASA has decided to celebrate the passage in the House of the Rohrbacher amendment – designed to protect medical-marijuana sellers (in states where it’s legal) from federal enforcement – by grossly slandering some Congresscritters who voted against the amendment. Here’s the attack on Andy Harris of Maryland.

As the image of a four-year-old and his mother come on the screen, he voice-over says, “Why would Congressman Harris vote to send patients like this to prison?”

Why, indeed?

Continue Reading…

Sasha Shulgin, R.I.P.

Sasha Shulgin died yesterday, peacefully, at home, at the age of 88. He was a chemist, a musician, a writer, a thinker, and an incorrigible punster. He was brilliant, funny, and brave.

Here’s what I had to say about Sasha and Ann a couple of years ago.

http://vimeo.com/97360420

The question of how to make use of the hallucinogens – to get their indisputable benefits, and not just in “medical” use, while limiting their equally indisputable risks – is one on which the serious debate has yet to start. If and when it gets appropriately resolved – and I am far more hopeful about that than I was twenty years ago, though still not in the short run –  ”Shulgin” will be a name that the history books treat the way they treat “Pasteur.”

Update Two excellent published obits (to go along with a huge outpouring of blogged and tweeted material): one from the New York Times, one by Jon Hanna on the Erowid site.  The positive tone of the Times piece provides strong evidence of the change in attitudes toward the hallucinogens, at least a the elite level.