Penthouse Exposes Mindless War On Marijuana

Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2000
Subject: Penthouse Exposes Mindless War On Marijuana

Penthouse Exposes Mindless War On Marijuana


DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 Thursday June 26, 2000

The number of problems created by marijuana prohibition make it
difficult to give a good overview in a single article, but writer
Michael Simmons makes a nice attempt in Penthouse this month. His
article (below) shows how many people are getting hurt by the war on
pot, and how activists are working to stop it.

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Source: Penthouse (US)



US: Reefer Mindless
Newshawk: Jo-D and Tom-E
Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000
Source: Penthouse (US)
Section: Cover story
Copyright: 2000 General Media Communications, Inc.
Address: 11 Penn Plaza, Twelfth Floor, New York, NY 10001
Fax: (212) 702-6262
Author: Michael Simmons


[On the cover: Special Report: Reefer Mindless – It’s time to end the
vicious, stupid, losing war on pot]

As we enter a new century, the decades-long war against marijuana
continues, with pot busts doubling in the past decade, and tens of
thousands of Americans behind bars for possessing, growing, or selling
the nation’s third favorite recreational drug. When will this official
Reefer Madness end? Possibly sooner than anyone thinks.

“We are locking up this country!” the boyish-looking man in a suit
thundered from the podium. “Should drug use in the privacy of your own
home =85 end you up in jail?”

The packed crowd in a conference room at the Pyramid Crowne Plaza
Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, answered the question with an
emphatic “NO!”

“Does anybody want to press a button and retroactively punish the 80
million Americans who have done illegal drugs?” the man asked. “NO!”
the crowd roared back again. “And did I mention that I’m one of those
people? I’m one of the 80 million!”

This impassioned speech, delivered last November before a group of drug-law
reformers attending a panel discussion on “The Drug War: Who Is Winning?,”
could have been made by any one of 70 million Americans who have smoked
pot, or the millions more who’ve tried harder stuff. But here was Gary E.
Johnson, second-term Republican governor of New Mexico, denouncing the war
on drugs as “a miserable failure.” The 47-year-old triathlete, who now
abstains from all mind-altering substances, including sugar, admitted prior
to winning his first term in 1994 to using both marijuana and cocaine
during his college days. After declining to run for higher office following
his second and last term (which expires January 2002), Johnson began to air
his maverick views. He has received enthusiastic praise from those who see
the drug war as an attack by the government on its own citizens. He’s also
become the whipping boy for everybody from White House drug czar Barry
McCaffrey, who claimed that school kids were referring to the governor as
“Puff Daddy” Johnson (“This is goofy thinking that’s harmful to New
Mexico,” remarked the czar — “He ought to be ashamed of himself”), to
fellow New Mexican politicos and law-enforcement officials, to a
middle-school cheer leading team that refused to meet with Johnson because
of his views.

In a conversation after the conference, Johnson discoursed upon the
“reefer madness” scare tactics prevalent in his own youth, today’s
ludicrous brain-on-drugs-equals-fried-eggs analogy, and the inability
of rule makers to differentiate between substances as disparate as pot
and heroin. “We lived the lie,” he said. “Kids continue to live it,
see it played out on them. Take the [Partnership for a Drug-Free
America] advertisement, ‘Here’s your brain, here’s your brain on
drugs.’ Well, okay, so that means marijuana. We experienced the same
thing. We did marijuana. And it’s not what it’s been portrayed. You
don’t lose your mind. You don’t have a propensity to do crime. It’s
okay. It’s not a bad experience. So does that mean what the rest of
the government is telling us is also a lie?”


Johnson is a mind-blowing anomaly — a politician who tells the truth,
consequences be damned. And the core truth he speaks is that at the
heart of the multibillion-dollar drug war and its thousands of related
jobs in law enforcement and the prisons system is the nonsensical
demonization of marijuana. For 63 years, since the passage of the
Marihuana (sic) Tax Act of 1937, Americans have been told that pot is
an addictive narcotic that causes everything from amotivational
syndrome to sociopathic behavior to premature death. (The Controlled
Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug,
along with heroin and L.S.D., thus categorizing it as a substance with
a high potential for abuse and no medicinal applications.) Yet as we
enter the twenty-first century, pot is the third favorite recreational
drug of choice in the United States after alcohol and tobacco. Unlike
alcohol and tobacco, however, marijuana cannot be bought legally for
pleasure or relaxation by Americans who run to the corner store.
Unlike alcohol or tobacco, marijuana found in the possession of adults
can result in criminal sanctions ranging from the equivalent of a
parking ticket to, in the case of a federal statute governing the
import or growing of more than 50,000 plants or pounds, the death penalty.

But the truth is that, slowly and inexorably, the Berlin Wall of
Prohibition is crumbling. The millions of Americans who have either
tried or continue to smoke marijuana know that its negative side
effects are either overstated or outright lies, and public outrage at
the constitutional violations perpetrated in the name of the drug war
is increasing exponentially. Medical marijuana has enjoyed majority
support wherever it’s been on a ballot. And farmers looking for a
profitable crop, entrepreneurs looking for an environmentally and
financially green product, and young people looking for a cause have
transformed hemp — the non psychoactive cousin of marijuana, with
hundreds of beneficial uses — into a $200-million-a-year industry.

Still, there is a dangerous disconnect at work in America regarding
marijuana. Viewers guffaw when the gang in That ’70s Show paints a
marijuana leaf on the town’s water tower — cultural code that
marijuana is a relatively harmless drug as well as a rite of passage
for youth. Reefer jokes are cracked on The Simpsons and by Jay Leno on
the Tonight Show, and weed is smoked to hilarious effect in such major
studio movies as Dazed and Confused and The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile,
tens of thousands of Americans are arrested annually, imprisoned, and
made to face forfeiture of their homes and belongings because of its
use, cultivation, or sale. Furthermore, draconian mandatory minimum
sentencing (the least amount of prison time to be served by law)
passed by Congress and many states is grossly disproportionate to the
alleged crime, as well as leaving judges no leeway to take into
consideration the particulars of each case.


Last November, Time magazine ran a tongue-in-cheek but factually
accurate breakdown of the particular social groups that prefer certain
drugs. For pot smokers, the social group was described as “everyone.”

According to recent studies, more than 70 million Americans have
smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime, 11 million use it
monthly, and about half of those inhale almost daily; this means that
about five percent of people over the age of 12 can be loosely defined
as pot smokers, and between five and six million of them are dedicated

Of course these figures must be gauged against the reality that many
potheads will not ‘fess up to illegal behavior, even when guaranteed
anonymity. With “zero tolerance” the watch-phrase of the antidrug
forces and corporate policy makers, such paranoia is completely
justified. If you factor in expanded police power to search and seize,
payments to informants, snitching for plea bargains, aggressive
conspiracy charges, and mandatory urine testing, the pot smokers’
dilemma becomes abundantly clear. Their jobs and their families, not
to mention their very freedom from imprisonment, are constantly at
stake. As R. Keith Stroup, the 56- year-old founder and director of
the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws, observes, “People are in the closet; they’re intimidated after
20 years of the war on drugs. They can’t be honest; they might lose
their jobs, or they might get drug-tested. There are all kinds of
reasons why people are not necessarily honest about how they feel
about marijuana smoking — including those of us who smoke.”


Although domestic pot production has been rising steadily over the
years, with increasing amounts being grown indoors under scrupulous
conditions aimed at producing high-potency, high-priced weed, it is
imported marijuana, primarily from Mexico, that remains the toker’s
mainstay, especially in locales where there is no pot-growing culture
and high-quality strains are hard to find or afford.

Debate rages over whether marijuana is stronger than it was 20 years
ago. The antidrug warriors say yes, maintaining it’s so much more
potent that it’s a different drug, thereby justifying their
zero-tolerance tactics. To bolster their contention, they point to
research done at the University of Mississippi, the home of the
federal government’s pot farm. The Potency Monitoring Project at Ole
Miss has found that pot is stronger now than in the early seventies,
though its average strength has been consistent since the early
eighties. On the other hand, independent analyses have detected higher
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, pot’s psychoactive cannabinoid) content in
such seventies strains as Maui Wowie and Thai Stick than in most
currently avail- able strains, bolstering the contention of pot
advocates that today’s weed presents no unique danger.

Not content to attack marijuana alone, zero-tolerance zealots also
target its “delivery systems.” Most states have some form of anti
paraphernalia laws on the books, and while there are no available
statistics on how many candy-store owners get raided for carrying
Bambu rolling papers, the paraphernalia laws come in handy when
prosecutors want to “pile on” years to a drug offender’s prison
sentence. Furthermore, the paraphernalia laws are often used by the
local police as a pretext for an assault in what is at its core a
cultural war. Says NORML’s deputy director Allen St. Pierre, “It’s
literally town by town by town. If a shop owner has things such as
NORML information, or High Times or other countercultural magazines at
hand, or if there are T-shirts or other cultural affectations in the
store that would lead a reasonable person to believe that marijuana
was part of the culture within, then that’s the standard that one
would probably use to arrest somebody for selling paraphernalia.
That’s why most prudent paraphernalia stores strew their displays with
tobacco and insist on 18′ and over, as they should, and have zero
discussions beyond the obvious.”

From sea to shining sea, and contrary to popular perception, the war
against marijuana is increasing in intensity. According to available
data, pot busts have accelerated in the 1990s, most notably during the
phony-liberal Clinton administration. F.B.I. statistics for 1998
record 682,885 marijuana arrests, 88 percent for mere possession,
belying law enforcement’s conventional spin that the enforcers are
mainly concerned with large-scale growth and distribution rackets.
These figures are slightly lower than those of the year before, when
NORML noted that the Clinton administration had already out busted the
kinder, gentler George Bush by 30 percent on an average yearly basis.
In fact, pot busts have more than doubled since 1990, while those for
heroin and cocaine fell by more than 50 percent. In 1998, 44 percent
of all drug arrests were for marijuana; one out of every 25 criminal
arrests was for marijuana possession; and one in seven persons in
prison for drugs had been convicted on marijuana charges.
(Interestingly, the number of pot arrests has risen steadily while the
estimated number of smokers has fallen off from a reported high in
1979.) Approximately 43,000 Americans are presently behind state or
federal bars for marijuana, at an estimated social cost of $7.5
billion annually. More Americans get popped annually for marijuana
(and many receive harsher sentences) than for murder, rape, robbery,
and aggravated assault combined. According to current federal
mandatory minimum-sentencing law, you can be imprisoned for 15 to 21
months and fined $1 million for delivery or sale of a single joint,
and slapped with five to 40 years and a $2 million fine for possessing
more than 100 plants. Cultivating or selling more than 1,000 plants or
1,000 kilograms can earn you a life sentence in a federal


Matters are far from laid-back for pot enthusiasts in California. Last
October, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, an interagency
eradication effort, announced that it had already seized 241,164
plants for the year 1999. The confiscated plants had an estimated
value of $965 million, up 80 percent over the ’98 tallies, and 40
percent higher than the previous record year of 1985. And while
law-enforcement figures warned that the passage in 1996 of Proposition
215, the initiative that legalized medical marijuana in California,
would tie their hands and create a de facto legalization of
recreational marijuana use in the state, there were nearly 2,000 state
pot prisoners in California is July of ’99, an increase of ten percent
since the proposition passed with the support of 56 percent of voters.
In fact, while possession of less than an ounce is punishable by a
relatively light $100 fine, the state’s cops and prosecutors see red
when it comes to anything greater than an ounce, especially where
cultivation and/or distribution are concerned, with the possible
exemption (thanks to Proposition 215, as we shall see) of some medical
marijuana operations.

New York State tops the United States for the greatest number of pot
busts per 100,000 smokers (at 6,294 as of 1997), but regionally most
take place in Mid-western states (for sales/manufacture) and the
Midwest and South (for possession). Justice in some of these states is
often wildly disproportionate to the alleged crime, even when compared
with the national standard. Oklahoma, for example, has what are
overall probably the harshest pot penalties in the United States.
Possession of any amount (such as the residue of a joint) can bring up
to a year in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense (a second bust for
the residue of a joint) warrants two years to life and a $20,000 fine.
Possession of paraphernalia (say, a single rolling paper) is
punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Four years to life
imprisonment is mandated for sale or delivery of under 25 pounds, and
the minimum penalty increases with larger quantities. Punishments are
doubled for sale to a minor or within 1,000 feet of a school. And, as
in several other states, you can have your driver’s license suspended
as penalty even if you’re not driving while nabbed.

Will Foster is the most well-known victim of Oklahoma’s zero-tolerance
legislation. The 42-year-old Tulsa father of three was given a 93-year
sentence in 1997 for 60 plants (said the prosecutor; 10 plants and 50
seedlings and clones, Foster maintained). Foster has advanced
rheumatoid arthritis, precisely the kind of ailment for which pot has
been shown to be an effective medicine in numerous studies, including
six presented to the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., in
1997. In the summer of 1998, Foster’s sentence was reduced to 20
years, but Governor Frank Keating has ignored repeated pleas and
declined to pardon him. In fact, Keating is pushing the Oklahoma
legislature to toughen its marijuana laws.

Latter-day frontier injustice is not limited to state law, however.
Current federal mandatory-minimum (or “man-min”) sentencing, codified
by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, prevents judges from using their
discretion and orders lopsided sentences disproportionate to the
alleged crimes. A man-min sentence can be reduced only if the
defendant cooperates with the prosecution and snitches others out in
the pursuit of questionable conspiracy convictions. It’s a quid pro
qua deal: You give us the names of fellow travelers in order to notch
our belts with more guilty verdicts, and you’ll do less time or none
at all. Often, far more culpable informants receive lighter sentences
than the people they inform on. Throw in forfeiture laws, according to
which, until recently, a drug offender — or even anyone suspected
prior to trial — forfeits his or her assets to be divvied up among
the law-enforcement agencies involved in the case, and the result is
incentive for cops and prosecutors to use the Constitution as toilet

Consequently, the number of conspiracy prosecutions against Americans
arrested for the sale or manufacture of weed has soared, wreaking
havoc on thousands of lives. Take, for example, the horror visited
upon the Tucker family of Georgia.


In some cases, alleged marijuana transgressors face a far more deadly
penalty than prison. Donald Scott, a 61-year-old wealthy Malibu
rancher, was murdered in 1992 by a joint task force (comprised of
members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, L.A.P.D., Park
Service, D.E.A., Forest Service, California National Guard, and
California Bureau of Narcotics) conducting an early-morning raid on
the pretense that Scott was growing pot on his property. Responding to
his wife’s screams, a clueless Scott grabbed a gun and confronted the
intruders. Two bullets were pumped into him. No pot was found. Ventura
County District Attorney Michael D. Bradbury released a report
criticizing the task force for using false information to secure a
search warrant. Bradbury characterized the effort as an attempt to use
forfeiture laws to slice up Scott’s considerable assets between the
participating agencies. “Clearly one of the primary purposes was a
land grab by the Sheriff’s Department,” Bradbury wrote. While no
law-enforcement agency or officer was ever charged with a crime, Los
Angeles County and the feds tentatively agreed to pay $5 million to
Scott’s survivors earlier this year.

More recently, Mario Paz, a 65-year-old father of six and grandfather
of 14, was shot dead in his Compton, California, home last August by
officers from the nearby El Monte Police Department who were engaged
in an ongoing investigation. Again, it was an early-morning putsch on
an uncomprehending victim. It turns out a suspected pot dealer had
used Paz’s address as a mail drop. And once again no marijuana was
found, nor was any police officer charged with murder. In January, Q.
J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran filed a suit on behalf of Paz’s
survivors, accusing the cities of El Monte and Compton of wrongful
death and conspiracy to violate Paz’s civil rights.

[The article has been cut here and snipped above to keep this mailing
to a reasonable size. To read the rest of the article, visit]



To the editor:

Thank you for your article Reefer Mindless. It’s heartening to see
more and more people come forward to try to stop the drug war
fascists. It’s clearer than ever that the marijuana user isn’t the bad
guy in this war, that role falls to our own government.

The article was probably written some time ago, so did not mention the
unfortunate death of author and medical marijuana activist Peter
McWilliams. Peter had been arrested on marijuana charges and was
forbidden to mention his illness, Aids and cancer, or the legality of
medical marijuana in his state at his trial. Left with no defense he
was forced to plead guilty. As a term of Peters bail he was required
to submit to urine tests for marijuana, the only drug that helped him
keep down his medication. His mother was told that she would lose her
house if he failed the test, so Peter obeyed his masters. On June 14th
Peter choked to death on his own vomit as a direct result of being
forbidden to use marijuana by Federal judge George King. We’ve lost
another good man to the will of petty dictators.

Jeff Flanagan

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