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Hi guys :)Apparently /r/timetolegalize/ has noticed the Prohibition series. Welcome aboard, guys :)


Today’s Fish is Smoked Salmond

The important question isn’t about risks of independence, it’s about the certainties of staying under Westminster rule.

Via a friend in the North, this article on the subject of Scottish independence:

But if staying in the UK seems likely to mean living in a country that leaves the European Union (Miliband, if he wins the election, has not yet promised a referendum on that, but neither has he refused one); if it is to be a country that continues to impose increasingly punitive and humiliating sanctions on its poorest citizens who live on social security benefits (Labour spokespersons on this subject seem determined to show they will match the Tories’ brutalities); if the Human Rights Act is to be repealed (as our present home secretary promises); if the UK continues to have the most centralised government in the Western world (strangling local governments and killing off civic leadership); if ‘green’ policies are to have low priority; and if our armed forces are to remain mercenary outriders to American foreign policy; then I would rather get out, whatever the hazards of independence.
                — David Donnison

A perspective I hadn’t considered. Nice catch, Chris Hutchings!

Perverse Incentives II: Prozac™ Nation

[ US & Them IUs & Them IIUs & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

cannabis-caduceusThe modern pharmaceutical industry has evolved entirely during the era of marijuana prohibition. When Anslinger declared war on weed, pharmaceutical chemistry and, most particularly, psychiatric chemistry were barely in gear. Prior to 1937, a significant percentage of remedies in the AMA register made medicinal use of cannabis, and yet by the 1970s the medical establishment had declared marijuana to have no medical uses, in order to classify it as a Schedule I narcotic. How did the majority of the US medical establishment reverse their view on a drug in just two generations? Here, again, we see the power of Hearst propaganda, but we also see another perverse incentive at work; there’s money to be made in banning cannabis.

The pharmaceutical lobby, which I shall follow Ben Goldacre and refer to as Big Pharma, came into existence during the era of designer drugs which emerged after the Second World War. Chemists were, with remarkable speed, finding new and interesting ways to mess about with biochemistry, and many of these inventions were quite genuine medical miracles. But along the way, a bizarre incentive arose; important US institutions make more money if people have to go to a doctor and buy a pill than if people don’t. Health being too good is a problem for Big Pharma.

A parallel problem is people having access to effective remedies no-one owns a patent on. And that’s the problem Big Pharma have with cannabis. We’re all accustomed to scientists debunking natural remedies; this is because a great many such ‘remedies’ are pure hokum, like homeopathy. Others, however, work; willow bark does treat headaches, and quinine did cure malaria. But for the accident of Anslinger, the things we now know and can prove about cannabis as a valuable self-medication for pain, depression, insomnia, and muscular spasmodic conditions would have become common knowledge in the 1950s. Cannabis is a natural remedy for a number of basic ailments which you can make at home, and if it were accepted as such a great many less people would be taking depression medication or popping paracetomol. And that means big money wants cannabis to remain prohibited.

Continue reading ‘Perverse Incentives II: Prozac™ Nation’

Perverse Incentives I: The Beltway Bandits

[ US & Them IUs & Them IIUs & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

                – Upton Sinclair (probably)


"... laughed my ass off, and had a really good time!" - Bill HicksThe INCB is one of several institutions which labours effectively on behalf of Orwell’s War. They are a UN institution, but they are American in nature, mission, and largely in personnel. I include them with the Beltway Bandits (the DEA, ATF, and company) because they are products of the same US domestic politics, and were originally staffed by US domestic operatives. Their governing mission is inherently bureaucratic: self-perpetuation. As long as the Drug War remains official international policy, they get to sound important and say nice things about a sickening list of human rights abuses around the world: “Time and again, the INCB has simply turned a blind eye to international standards, human rights, science and even basic decency.”

Bureaucracies are organisms which eat budgets and seek to survive. No such organism can admit it is wrong easily, let alone admit that the entire rationale for its existence is misguided. As a result, the INCB is currently in a direct confrontation with the sovereign nation of Uruguay, and look likely to be publicly humiliated: President Mujica’s not for turning. Behind all the propaganda and theatrics, the INCB are the international arm of a Beltway empire-building exercise which would have stunned even Nixon had he seen what it would become. I covered the origins of this Napoleonic enterprise when I spoke of Harry Anslinger, but it only starts with him. What mattered is the institutional legacy his personal ambition left behind him, and the way US governmental incentives created a self-feeding war machine. To cover the DEA and its associated support troops I’ll need to go back into Anglinger’s methods. Continue reading ‘Perverse Incentives I: The Beltway Bandits’

Us & Them IV: Tipping Point

[ US & Them IUs & Them IIUs & Them III – Us & Them IV ]

"... laughed my ass off, and had a really good time!" - Bill HicksAnyone who’s been reading along at home should now have some idea of how we got here, and why. Cannabis was criminalised by racist sentiment and lies on the floor of Congress. A twenty-year campaign of misinformation was waged in support of the petty ambitions of a Beltway Napoleon. Via the UN, in 1961, the USA strong-armed much of the world into a war they didn’t want. The relevant authorities have known since 1972 that cannabis is not dangerous and that the War on Drugs as a whole is miguided, and they have deliberately ignored all evidence to that effect. This pernicious attitude has proved durable and persistent. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been destroyed, tens of thousands have been murdered, and the bald economics of demand creates supply have carried on regardless. Vast criminal enterprises have been spawned by prohibition, and the costs to society of this ugly and vindictive conflict have been born, overwhelmingly, by the poor and by people of colour.

The alert reader will have noticed by now that I am writing a series investigating the geo-politics of the War on Drugs and yet I’m mostly talking about marijuana prohibition in the US. You’re right, but I’m not trying to indulge in rhetorical sleight-of-hand; the chronicle and socio-politics of US marijuana prohibition completely changed the way the non-medical use of drugs is perceived and discussed, let alone treated, in the post-Enlightenment West. From Anslinger’s ambition has grown the dominance of a moralistic doctrine on self-medication which prior to that point had not controlled a major polity since the Puritans banned Christmas [1] in the 1650s. The war on drugs (excepting only those which have a powerful, pre-established lobby, of course) starts with marijuana.
Continue reading ‘Us & Them IV: Tipping Point’

Us & Them III: After Anslinger

[ US & Them IUs & Them II – Us & Them III – Us & Them IV ]

Would you trust this man with your kids' future?When Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971, Anslinger had been gone from the FBN for nearly ten years, but his legacy was alive and well. The Iron Law still held, though by that time the category of Them had been broadened to include anti-war protesters, civil rights protesters, hippies, teenagers and anyone else who troubled right-wing America. One of Nixon’s first acts in prosecuting his new war was to recruit the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Typical of Nixon, he did the thing Anslinger had always had the sense not to do; he got some guys together who knew some stuff and instructed them to look at the evidence and tell him what it said. The result rather surprised him.

The use of drugs is not in itself an irresponsible act. Medical and scientific uses serve important individual and social needs and are often essential to our physical and mental well-being. Further, the use of drugs for pleasure or other non-medical purposes is not inherently irresponsible.

A variety of other key findings from the report confounded the orthodoxy Anslinger had invented. Marijuana is not dangerous, and its use is very rarely debilitating. Marijuana is not addictive, but can be habit-forming. If marijuana were legal and regulated, alcohol addiction and its associated social traumas could fall by as much as 25% [1]. Marijuana prohibition might not withstand honest Constitutional scrutiny. The report concluded that:

[Anslinger’s] policy grew out of a distorted and greatly exaggerated concept of the drug’s ordinary effects upon the individual and the society. On the basis of information then available, marihuana was not adequately distinguished from other problem drugs and was assumed to be as harmful as the others.

The increased incidence of use, intensive scientific reevaluation, and the spread of use to the middle and upper socioeconomic groups have led to the informal adoption of a modified social policy. On the basis of our opinion surveys and our empirical studies of law enforcement behavior, we are convinced that officialdom and the public are no longer as punitive toward marihuana use as they once were. [2]


Law enforcement policy, both at the Federal and State levels, implicitly recognises that elimination is impossible at this time. The active attempt to suppress all marihuana use has been replaced by an effort to keep it within reasonable bounds. Yet because this policy still reflects a view that marihuana smoking is itself destructive enough to justify punitive action against the user, we believe it is an inappropriate social response.

Let that one fester a while. The US government has known since year one of the War on Drugs that the whole shooting match is a waste of time.

Continue reading ‘Us & Them III: After Anslinger’


“This … is an economic land grab. It is the process of taking a criminal industry away from criminals.”        – Hugo Riffkind

In between the investigatory series on the War on Drugs it’s time for another Ball, Rolling round-up of interesting things that have happened in the last few days. So in no particular order:

When the levee breaks…
"We can't stop here..."I commented before that one of the really noticeable effects on journalists of the ballot legalisations in Colorado and Washington is that lots and lots of people are suddenly writing articles they’d never have dared write before, and getting them published in places that would never have offered them a platform prior to 2011. Apparently this kind of combination of a trail-blazer with a tipping-point in popular politlal cover applies to states and nations:

But Mujica reminded that Yans did not say a word about the US states of Colorado and Washington, which also legalized marijuana.

“Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world’s strong countries?”

The Torygraph continues to take an interest, doing a brief survey of the state of play in the US of A. And it’s not all bad news in the UK press, either: there’s an attempt at a cannabis cafe in Manchester. We’ve got an interesting review of changing attitudes around the world, and an update on the polling numbers in the US. Big Pharma is interested in Uruguay, and China wants to play. The celebrity chefs have joined the brave new world: even the Swiss are catching up.

And from the world of Science…
cannabis-caduceusIt’s been a good week for real data. We have a better idea of why cannabis does not in fact cause insanity, criminality and death. We already knew that cannabis helps kill cancer but this is useful confirmation. Mainly, though, I wanted to draw people’s attention to one aspect of the medical science on cannabis, which also interacts with the social science and with the enormous, lucrative and vigorous corporate opposition to ending the War on Drugs. You see, cannabis may repair the brain damage already done by alcohol. This is one of many reasons that scientific authors since the 70s have been arguing, successfully, that legalising pot would reduce alcohol use by up to 25%, and problem alcohol use by potentially a great deal more than that. I’ll address why this causes big alcohol conglomerates to fund prohibition later on in my ongoing Prohibition series.

In more detail…
A couple of particular entrants into the debate in the UK press have caught my eye for closer investigation. I did wonder about writing a rebuttal to John Rentoul’s rather bumbling Indy piece, but I didn’t feel I needed to. This will be read by a lot more people than my hypothetical piece anyway, and is quite good. But it does perpetuate one mistake made Rentoul and many others:

I think there is quite a lot of evidence suggesting a link between heavy cannabis use among teenagers and mental health problems, particularly schizophrenia. I remember being convinced of this even before much of the recent evidence emerged – one of my best friends from school, a heavy cannabis user, was Sectioned at 17 and has been in and out of ‘sheltered’ accommodation ever since.

For one thing, and I quote Jason Schiffman [1]:”The onset of schizotypal symptoms generally precedes the onset of cannabis use. The findings do not support a causal link between cannabis use and schizotypal traits.” To go on with, findings of schizotypal symptoms associated with heavy cannabis use in non-schizophrenic teenagers are temporary, not permanent, and cannabis does not erode your brain: “They concluded that the heaviest users may have a decrease in their ability to learn and remember information, but that this effect was so small as to be ‘acceptable’.”

By contrast, Hugo Riffkind’s piece in the Spectator is pretty good throughout. My niggles are small (why do several journalists seem to think Uruguay started this ball rolling, when the whole point is that Mujica needed the political cover provided by Colorado and Washington to act?) I mostly wanted to highlight a couple of priceless quotes:

Our media, for obvious reasons, often seems to give the impression that the great evil of the criminal drugs trade is the way that it makes some middle-class kids do unexpectedly poorly in their A-levels. […] a worse evil is the way it makes into criminals people who would otherwise not be.

Well, indeed. And I’ll finish with this one:

If you want to end the war on drugs, the only real solution is to find a way to stop fighting it without surrendering to the bad guys. The triumph here is that people have finally made a more sensible assessment of just who the bad guys are.

[1] In “Symptoms of Schizotypy Precede Cannabis Use,” published Mar. 30, 2005 in Psychiatric Research.

July 2018
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Per Argument Ad Astra

Politics, history, economics and rampant speculation from a victim of the Great Recession, currently at large in the West Midlands.

"When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters."
                -- Adam Smith