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Us & Them II: Lies, Damned Lies and Harry Anslinger

[ US & Them I – Us & Them II – Us & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

The man who declared war on weed.

Harry Anslinger.

In 1930, in recognition of his headline-worthy service to the Bureau of Prohibition (and as a result of a string of suspcious scandals in the department) Henry Jacob Anslinger was made Commissioner of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with a brief to enforce the Harrison Act (which had regulated cocaine and opiate usage, largely as a quality control measure aimed at quack doctors and snake-oil peddlars). Alcohol Prohibition was already failing by that time, and the Harrison Act really didn’t generate a whole lot of newsworthy arrests, because people didn’t break it all that much. Harry Anslinger was a very ambitious man, and saw himself as a rival to the legendary J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. For that to happen, Anslinger would need an adversary as headline-grabbing as the Mob, and the FBN simply didn’t have one. So Harry Anslinger went out and made himself one.

In the 1920s and 1930s almost no-one was getting high on cannabis in the US except Mexicans [1], a few Filipinos, and New York intellectuals who’d read some Jung. The American Medical Association used cannabis in a number of medical remedies, which according to the 1937 evidence of the AMA’s Doctor Woodward totalled about a third of those on the register: bear in mind that to this day, cannabis carries a Schedule 1 prohibtion, which defines it as ‘without recognised medical use’. Why did Anslinger pick such an obscure target? Well, he knew a guy who really, really didn’t like Mexicans.

Continue reading ‘Us & Them II: Lies, Damned Lies and Harry Anslinger’

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Media Matters

Climate change denialists lose on the internet.

Rapid post drawing attention to this article:

We discovered that the disruptive faction that bombarded climate change posts was actually substantially smaller than it had seemed. Just a small handful of people ran all of the most offensive accounts. What looked like a substantial group of objective skeptics to the outside observer was actually just a few bitter and biased posters with more opinions then evidence.

Negating the ability of this misguided group to post to the forum quickly resulted in a change in the culture within the comments. Where once there were personal insults and bitter accusations, there is now discussion of the relevant aspects of the research. Instead of (almost comically) paranoid and delusional conspiracy theories, we have knowledgeable users explaining complicated concepts to non-scientists who are simply interested in understanding the research. While we won’t claim /r/science is perfect, users seem happy with the changes made.

Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.

So if a half-dozen volunteers can keep a page with more than 4 million users from being a microphone for the antiscientific, is it too much to ask for newspapers to police their own editorial pages as proficiently?

            — Nathan Allen

The Grist write-up is entitled, Reddit’s science forum banned climate deniers. Why don’t all newspapers do the same?. Why, indeed.

Us & Them I: The Average Opiate Addict

[ Editor’s Note: the navigation guides at top & bottom of these articles are pre-configured for when the series is finished: the ones with dates in the future (i.e. all of them, to begin with!) will only start to work when the relevant articles publish. ]

[ US & Them I – Us & Them IIUs & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

You, too, could electrecute yourself with cannabis!If you belong to any generation raised between 1936 and about 1980, you are likely to have one of three opinions about cannabis. A small percentage are experienced users, who were turned on as Beats in the ’50s or Hippies in the ’60s and ’70s. A larger percentage used the drug then, but as they aged and were absorbed by the establishment order, converted; claimed they never inhaled, so to speak. They often see cannabis as a kind of student disease, like left-wing politics and pot noodles. Many, however, have a clear understanding that cannabis is the Devil’s Weed, the Harvest of Horror, the Assassin of Youth. “Everyone knows” these things: that cannabis causes insanity, criminality, and death. That it is acutely addictive. That it leads directly to heroin addiction. That the drug was banned because of the damage it caused to the war effort; this story varies depending on age between soldiers in WWII, soldiers in Korea and soldiers in Vietnam.

Every item on that list is factually wrong, but people hold this view for a completely understandable reason. They spent their formative decades being systematically and deliberately lied to by the US government and the press. To understand why it was worth intentionally deceiving entire generations about a common plant, you have to understand how different drug use and abuse were before the War on Drugs, and you have to understand the mechanics of prohibition: the psychology of Us and Them.

Continue reading ‘Us & Them I: The Average Opiate Addict’

Give Peace a Chance

This is mostly a meta-post about what is about to happen on the blog from tomorrow, but here’s a quick trawl around the net first:

News in Brief

Meanwhile, up in the tokey mountains...

Colorado.

Michael Gove is being an idiot. My degree was in history and I work in TIE at a Tudor museum, so I’m not even going to start on how much of an idiot he’s being; that would get ranty. Mike Konczal at WonkBlog wants us to know that economists agree on raising the minimum wage being effective at diminishing poverty. This is newsworthy not so much for that conclusion as for the phrase, ‘economists agree’. Wren-Lewis continues to illustrate self-interested errors among city economists. And Business Insider has a delightful and satirical response to the Brooks-Marcus-Brown axis of reefer madness (while we’re on that note, this ball just keeps on rolling).

Orwell’s War
Around this time last year, as I was trying to launch this blogging effort, I began a research series on the War on Drugs. The series came in three sections: the two I had mostly completed that time round were Us & Them, which covered the origins of the modern Drug War, and Perverse Incentives, which dealt with how the Drug War is maintained in the present era. That series was still incomplete when I dropped off the internet last year and was unable to continue writing here.

A sufficient number of the existing articles have needed reworking to reflect new developments that I decided I should run the whole series again, with the updates and continuing on through the last two Perverse Incentives essays to Orwell’s War, which will talk about the final days of the War and look forward to a possible peace. I should be able to publish an article every second day or so until the series is complete. Watch this space. If you have time, watch this video.

Daily Trawl

Missed my Friday Giant due to off-line commitments, but I have read a few things I found interesting over the last couple of days, so here they are.

1. Balls still rolling.

And yet civilisation has failed to grind to a halt.

Good Morning, Denver

It is hard not to notice that two issues which have been daydreams for the left for a very long time have both suddenly gained popular traction and started moving towards resolutions. I’m not the first to draw parallels between marriage equality and cannabis prohibition. One of the things that was remarked on during the process of moving marriage equality from a fringe view to a majority one was that the great post-AIDS growth in activism aimed particularly at living out of the closet had made an enormous difference. The more important people suddenly realised they had a gay relative or friend, the more people who had for years supported the idea but been prevented from speaking out by expediency kept coming out of the woodwork and writing articles.

Something very similar has happened with the growing cracks in the international consensus on cannabis prohibition, and it can be seen easily in the coverage by the FT. After the GCDP report in 2011 in which 149 major world dignitaries outed themselves as in favour of ending cannabis prohibition, the FT published a careful and guardedly positive article pointing out the economic benefits of ending the War on Drugs. There have been several more positive blog posts and op-eds since. But in the last two days they alone have published no less than three different articles [1] on the subject. The Torygraph (oddly) have generally been supportive (they were the main vehicle for Richard Branson’s press campaign in 2011 and 2012) but since ballot legalisation in Colorado took effect several of their authors have come out openly cheerleading for the project. The Independent is not immune. Add in the Nutt-Sack affair, Sanjay Gupta’s informative mea culpa, Uruguay’s current confrontation with the INCB and all the other things that have happened and you can see why this time feels a bit different than last.

Continue reading ‘Daily Trawl’

Today’s Fish is Eating Crow

Nice to have a new entrant for my Catch of the Day (hat tipped as always to Jonathan Bernstein) feature. In the New York Times Paul Krugman has spotted a right-wing economist (Art Laffer himself, no less) admitting in public that the austerians, hysterians and all other stripes of anti-Keynsian are quite simply wrong. Definitely worth an honourable mention, particularly given the stature of the guy who said this:

“Usually when you find the model this far off, you’ve probably got something wrong with the model, not that the world has changed,” he said. “Inflation does not appear to be monetary base driven,” he said.
        – Business Insider

Austerians take note; that is how you respond to the world proving your politics to be mathematically flawed. And to Professor Krugman, nice catch!

Ball Rolling & other stories

Denver, Colorado.

Tyler Alstrup, 23, paid $100 for an eighth, two joints and an edible at LoDo Wellness.

Probably not a threat.

Overall, the day went as marijuana activists had hoped it would: In the most extraordinary way possible, it was ordinary.

“I’ve been waiting 34 years for this moment,” enthused Chrissy Robinson, who arrived at one store, Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, at 2 a.m. to be among the first in line. “I’ve been smoking since I was 14. No more sneaking around.” […]

The first customer was 32-year-old Sean Azzariti, an Iraq war veteran who campaigned for marijuana legalization and said he uses cannabis to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Under a canopy of cameras, Azzariti bought an eighth of an ounce of the marijuana strain Bubba Kush and a package of marijuana-infused candy truffles.
                — Denver Post, 01/01/2014 07:24:53 AM MST

And yet, mysteriously, civilisations have failed to come crashing down. There are no mobs of marauding layabouts forcing people to smoke pot in the streets (thank you, Ayn Rand): there has been no observable breakdown in law and order, people are still going to work, the state has not run out of pizza and no-one is trying to sell weed to children. The big news of yesterday was of course that the 2012 ballot legalization of cannabis in the US state of Colorado went into full effect as of 8am, 2014. This is the first time cannabis has been legal in an industrial state since 1961 (that’s anywhere in the world, although drug laws in a lot of sensible places are not, shall we say, rigorously enforced) and to the surprise of absolutely no-one who has been paying attention, there is a marked absence of any evidence of insanity, criminality and death. Anslinger’s lies may finally get staked at the cross-roads.

Continue reading ‘Ball Rolling & other stories’


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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