The All-New Reefer Madness: Cannabis advocates should not believe legalization is settled

The All-New Reefer Madness: Cannabis advocates should not believe legalization is settled
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One of the common denominators of recent 21st century Reefer Madness is Alex Berenson’s 2019 book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”

Every day the Weedly gets email updates on cannabis happenings and political actions throughout the country and an astonishing and/or depressing number of them — depending on one’s point of view — are about prohibitionist trends.

The Weedly has attended virtual seminars and heard first-hand, the hair-on-fire narratives that leads us to believe it may still be 1936 (the year classic stoner movie “Reefer Madness” was released) instead of 2022.

Take, for example, the recent mass murder in Uvalde, Texas.

As officers stood by and watched, prohibitionists used the shootings to call for more regulation. Not that they want to regulate guns, but the real culprit: legal weed.

On May 31, in the days after the horrific event, Fox “News” personality Laura Ingraham tipped off where the prohibitionist crowd is leaning, featuring a segment on her White Power Power Hour claiming marijuana is responsible for mass shootings in the U.S. and not the precious penis substitutes in the hands of angry incels.

Claiming that the Uvalde shooter was frustrated because his parents would not allow him to smoke weed, Ingraham complained that the New York Times buried “the story.”

“Was it bad information or is this the pro-marijuana bias that we’ve become accustomed to that’s so powerful because billions are on the line with it nationwide?” she posited.

“Is the story now irrelevant? ... The American people are hearing a lot about AR-15s and background checks, but they also deserve to hear about this as well. Respected medical studies for years now have demonstrated that pot use, especially among teens, can trigger psychosis and increase the chance that the young person will develop violent behaviors.”

Blaming the river of blood on baby boomers and high-potency cannabis (not the benign Woodstock dirt-weed everyone wistfully fantasizes about), guest Russell Kamer claimed, “We are shifting to a new addiction for profit industry.”

Kamer is medical director of Partners in Safety, a group that provides workplace drug testing and other employment related services.

“Tobacco, alcohol, even opiates are fading away and now the money is shifting over to the new industry,” he said. “And this shapes the conversation. Even in the medical field, many of my colleagues are not aware that this current marijuana is much more dangerous.”

To which Ingraham responded: “I guess they’re fine with doing a run on the guns, and I guess you can argue that if that’s what you want to do, get rid of the Second Amendment, but completely oblivious to what legalization of marijuana has done and is doing to an entire generation of Americans with violent consequences.”

A week after Ingraham barfed out her prohibitionist rant, the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Allysia Finley, titled “Cannabis and the Violent Crime Surge: Heavy marijuana use among youths is leading to more addiction and antisocial behavior.”

The piece repeated Ingraham’s charge that the NYT was covering up the connection between pot and the Uvalde shooter, linking pot use to mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (2018); First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017); Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida (2016); the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. (2012) and even Gabby Giffords’ shooting here in Tucson in 2011.

What was the common denominator in all these killings? Anyone who guessed “guns” would be completely wrong, because the real culprit was the devil’s lettuce, marijuana.

Earlier this spring, prohibitionists went after Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who co-sponsored the States Reform Act, which attempted to bridge the bipartisan divide in Congress to decriminalize cannabis and allow states to regulate in any way they wish.

A new political action committee called Protect Our Kids has invested tens of thousands of dollars going after Mace and other pro-cannabis Republicans.

Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of SAM and CEO of Protect Our Kids, recently told Marijuana Moment that Mace was the “face of marijuana legalization for the Republican party,” and accused her of being “a lackey for Altria Phillip Morris, the largest tobacco company in America which is bankrolling marijuana legalization.”

“Her constituents do not support commercializing marijuana, yet an inordinate amount of her time is spent stumping for the policy,” he claimed. “Legalization of marijuana has hurt kids, families, and caused large health harms in states that have passed such policies. It’s time to hold her accountable.”

Closer to home, Jan. 6 Committee darling, Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers (who is, let’s face it, still Rusty Bowers) has created a cottage industry in recycling talking points culled from “Reefer Madness,” advocating for legislation that would curtail cannabis users rights and shovel money into research seeking to find correlations between pot use and violent behavior.

Last year, Astroturf groups from Phoenix parachuted into Graham County to get the locals all spun up in an attempt to curtail legal, and profitable, cannabis businesses in the county.

A group calling itself “Respect the Will of the People,” submitted more than 2,200 signatures in support of overturning a cannabis-friendly zoning change. A different group calling itself “Protect Graham County No to Drugs” inserted itself into a zoning fight over a cultivation facility.

The chairman of that organization, identified as former Peoria chiropractor Kenneth Daniel Krieger, has a history of attempts to stop grow facilities across the state. Krieger reportedly led a group known as “Citizens for a Safer Snowflake” that sued to stop Copperstate Farms from setting up its successful grow facility in Snowflake. That case was dismissed.

Clutching it like the Bible

One of the common denominators of recent 21st century Reefer Madness is Alex Berenson’s 2019 book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”

The book has been cited in organizations from the International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis (IASIC) to the hallowed halls of the Legislature in the state of Arizona, with its anti-cannabis message linking pot use to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”-scale violence.

In a House Health and Human Services Committee meeting in February 2020, Bowers stated his belief that marijuana is “habit forming” and a “gateway drug,” as he invoked the names of “friends” who used pot in the 1950s and ’60s, but are now inexplicably dead.

Bowers claimed that marijuana use leads to “violent violence: Not just somebody punching you in the face, but very horrendous insanity violence.”

Blaming it on “the hyper increase in THC,” Bowers advocated for keeping cannabis listed as a Schedule I narcotic and advocated continued punishment of even the most benign recreational users.

The legislation he was championing, HCR 2045, would have directed the Department of Health Services to fund a study to link cannabis to violent behavior.

“Tell Your Children” has become a major piece in the echo chamber of prohibitionist rhetoric. Arizona NORML Executive Director Mike Robinette says he has seen it pop up in legislatures in both Arizona and Colorado as well as in many prohibitionist groups throughout the country.

“We saw Bowers clutching it to his heart as if it were his Bible,” Robinette said. “It’s like they had a book club and Berenson’s book was assigned as the book to be read. Then they all sat in a circle and echo-chambered to death about it.”

An alphabet of anti-pot groups

Leading up to the passage of Prop 207, a group calling itself Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, chaired by anti-cannabis activist Lisa James, filed a challenge against Smart and Safe Arizona in an attempt to get the legislation pulled from the 2020 ballot.

The Arizona Supreme Court swatted down the challenge and Prop 207 passed with the support of 60% of voters.

Arizonans for Health and Public Safety came from a group calling itself AZ Parents Concerned About Legal Recreational Pot, which has connections to MATFORCE, a Yavapai County group focused on addressing opioid and other drug addictions. It has more than 300 volunteers, as reported on the website marijuanaharmlessthinkagain.org.

MATFORCE itself is connected to several programs devoted to drug prevention and education in schools, including “the Yavapai Reentry Project, Trauma Lens Care, public awareness and education campaigns, and advocat[es] for policy change at the state and local level.”

In addition to those groups, there are others, such as the Parent Action Network, an initiative that is also associated with SAM.

Given that cannabis is now legal in some form in 36 states, the proliferation of an alphabet soup of prohibitionist groups with a dedicated political agenda should set off alarm bells for pro-cannabis activists throughout the country, especially given the current state of freedoms in the United States and the courts’ willingness to overturn the will of the people.

NORML’s Robinette thinks that rather than go after legalization, these groups have begun to focus on weakening existing cannabis laws.

“I don’t know if they’ve gained or lost power, but I think they’re shifting the focus of their power,” he recently told the Weedly. “I’ve been preaching that the real next threat from the prohibitionist groups will be not to go after legalization but to try to alter the market through prohibition of products—for example, high potency THC products, extracts, concentrates, etc.”

Through his work with Colorado’s branch of NORML, Robinette has seen a troubling trend, with groups that traditionally support legalization buying into anti-pot propaganda packaged in “save the children” rhetoric.

“They have this down to where it’s about children,” he said. “They’ve got the scare tactics and everything they do will make Americans and Arizonans fear what cannabis has become. Because they’re a little loose with their facts, they can certainly perpetuate fear.”

Robinette emphasized that he and NORML are not advocating for kids to have access to pot and that Prop 207 and the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act have protections enshrined in law to keep it out of the hands of people under the age of 21. Medical patients under the age of 18 must have parental consent to qualify for MMJ certificates and gain access to commercial markets.

Pro-cannabis information

For every book and study championed by prohibitionist groups, there are answers in the cannabis community.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws website features a “Fact Sheet” page at norml.org/marijuana/fact-sheets that provides a long list of peer reviewed papers and studies surrounding the effects of legalized cannabis on society.

From impacts on health, safety and the economy, to effects on crime rates to racial disparities in enforcement, NORML provides evidence-based information intended to guide cannabis policy.

In the wake of Ingraham’s Kabuki Theater of fear mongering, a study by the University of New Mexico was released that found a correlation between pot use and pro-social behavior, directly contradicting prohibitionist talking points.

Likewise a peer reviewed article in the Jan. 2022 edition of the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry found a strong correlation between marijuana use and a reduction in social anxiety, which might be helpful to an armed male who can’t get laid.

What does it all mean?

Given the contentiousness of our political processes in 2022, it behooves everyone in favor of legal access to pot to become their own advocate, as the prohibitionist forces are motivated and have well-funded political machines at their disposal.

As Prop 207 was passed by voters, it is subject to the Voter Protection Act, meaning that making changes in the law would require the support of three-fourths of the Arizona Legislature.

“The fundamental reason NORML supported 207 had nothing to do with the business model, it had to do with six or seven major consumer protections that were afforded by Prop 207,” Robinette said. “DUI protections are in place, but also the smell of raw or burnt marijuana does not give an officer probable cause to search. Those are great protections.”

Robinette is concerned that the next attack will come in the form of THC caps for commercial cannabis products, which would likely drive consumers back into the illegal market.

“My fear is, given the fact of redistricting, coming back into the legislature next year with potentially up to half new members in the House and Senate, we have new fertile ground to plant seeds with regard to potency caps,” he said.

“Rep. Osborne out of Goodyear has for two years straight tried to rein in advertising and has said in committee, we need to put guardrails up around 207. Well, 207 has its own guardrails: It restricts advertising and does not allow advertising to kids, etc., etc. But what Osborne wants to do is treat cannabis businesses as second-class corporate citizens. Because there’s that myopic, blind, lack of acceptance that 60% of Arizonans wanted a legal, controlled market and wanted legalization.”

Bowers and Osborne, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, have also acted as gatekeepers, blocking good cannabis bills from getting a hearing in many cases.

“We couldn’t get an autism spectrum disorder bill with veterans’ PTSD as a qualifying condition to even be heard in her committee because it was a wall,” Robinette said. “The prohibitionists aren’t done. They’re not going away. And they’ll just continue to push and try to find ways to sway public opinion.”

In conclusion

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are 191,682 certified medical marijuana patients as of the end of May and, combined with adult-use recreational, legal cannabis sales totaled nearly $1.5 billion in 2021.

If even a small fraction of those pot users became psycho killers as a result of their consumption, it seems as if there would be rivers of blood running through the streets of Tucson and the metro Phoenix area, but unless there really is a “lamestream media,” we have not seen that.

If we’ve learned anything in the past two years, dear Weedly readers, it’s that legalization is a matter of definition and enforcement and, much like representative Democracy, the fight is never over and the war is never won.

Pay attention to the process. Arizona NORML can offer a blueprint and education about the process. Regardless of what one thinks of the organization or its positions, AZNORML can offer a gateway to an arcane process and enough information for consumers to make informed decisions on what is sure to be a continuing attack on freedoms we thought were already enshrined in law. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring a lobbyist.

Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court should serve as a cautionary “Handmaiden’s Tale” about the importance of standing up, fighting and voting for candidates who truly represent our values as cannabis consumers. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema excepted.

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