05/21/08 - Mitch Earleywine

Dr. Mitch Earleywine discusses his new book Parents Guide to Marijuana + Report from Doug McVay of Common Sense for Drug Policy

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Guest: 
Mitch Earleywine
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Cultural Baggage, May 21, 2008

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

My name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
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Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We have Doctor Mitch Earleywine, he’s author of the brand new book ‘Parent’s Guide to Marijuana.’ And we’re going to have an in-depth discussion in that regard. We’re going to talk about the truth of this matter and how we can deal with it more effectively. But before I do that, I want to give you a little clip that I picked up on last night’s television:
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Homer Simpson: Marge, she’s going to nark on our stash.

Marge: We don’t have a stash.

Homer: No, of course not.
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And with that, I want to go ahead and bring in our guest, Doctor Mitch Earleywine. Are you with us?

Dr. Earleywine: Pleasure to be on the show.

Dean Becker: Thank you, sir. I don’t know if you had a chance to hear that little Simpsons skit but they were talking about the kids turning them in for their stash. It’s one of the concerns, I guess, parents and children have a little bit of conflict or misunderstanding sometimes. But you have written another book ‘Understanding Marijuana’ featured in many Alternet and other internet websites for your acumen in this regard. But tell us about this new book ‘Parents Guide to Marijuana.’

Dr. Earleywine: Well, it was really a delight. The folks at Transhigh Corporation called me down to New York City and they asked me could I write a book basically dealing with why marijuana isn’t appropriate for teens and still I wouldn’t want to support the drug war. And obviously there aren’t a whole lot of folks who’d be willing to write a book like that but I was certainly game and I’m really grateful to Michael Kennedy and everybody at Transhigh. They’ve been really supportive throughout this process.

I started out writing something a lot like what I had written in ‘Understanding Marijuana’ and realized it was going to be a little too academic, a little too technical, and thought, you know, I’m going to adopt a different strategy here, I’m going to write about a little seminar where I’m talking to parents and they’re asking the kind of questions they really want to ask: the tough questions, the questions that aren’t so much about statistics but about their everyday individual lives and I feel like it’s turned out very well. I’m getting a nice response. The book is selling. People are writing nice reviews on Amazon.Com and things like that and it’s really been a wonderful experience, a creative one and just nice for me to be able to branch out into this sort of new area of research that I hadn’t had a lot of experience with before.

Dean Becker: Well, over the, heck, the decades of this drug war, the war on marijuana, there has been so much propaganda, so much hysteria, so much fear about the subject but the first chapter of your book talks about that. Just getting them to talk about it. Let’s talk about how we talk about it.

Dr. Earleywine: Well, it’s interesting because I tried to emphasize is this isn’t the kind of topic where you sit down and have one big lecture and then it’s over. Nobody likes to be lectured to and teens are probably the folks who like it the least. And I point out that there are lots of little times during each day or during the week where this topic is going to come up anyway, so whether you’re watching the news or listening on the radio or just thumbing through the newspaper you’re bound to see something about marijuana or drug use or something about teens and health and often that can be the simplest segue into ‘Hey, how are things going at school?‘ something that’s a real non-judgmental simple question that can, perhaps, touch on this topic that doesn’t have to turn into a big, long lecture but a nice mini-chat, that a series of these will end up adding up and making for a really delightful addition to your relationship with your child, not one finger-wagging, sort of berating, irritated rant.

Dean Becker: Well, exactly. That seldom works, does it? Mitch, the third chapter talks about ‘just say no to DARE.’ And let’s talk about why we should say no to DARE.

Dr. Earleywine: I mean, the bottom line is just, I think, people expected too much of DARE and it didn’t end up being implemented the way it was originally planned. The first plans for a nice teen drug prevention program were supposed to be run by other teens, older students who people thought were ‘cool’ and they would come in and really have a nice informal chat with you about some of these topics. Somehow that design kind of got spun into these almost insane visits from members of law enforcement who, I admire their devotion and their interest in the topic, but who end up sort of simplifying this, turning into a sort of ‘just say no’ exercise, and then when we look at the data in fact the only real positive effect of this is that teens seem, who’ve been in this program, seem to like police officers more but they’re just as likely to use drugs, they’re just as likely to run into drug problems and, in some settings, particularly upper-class white students they’re actually a little more likely to try drugs if they’ve had these DARE programs. And obviously that is not at all the effects we wanted to have.

Dean Becker: I talked about it in the beginning there, this disinformation campaign, I mean you talked about finding the proper situation to talk about it with your kids and the ONDCP puts these horrendously outrageous ads on television, you know, people weaving themselves into a marijuana cocoon and I’m sure that it’s something to laugh at and probably doesn’t distract one child in America. Your thoughts on that disinformation campaign.

Dr. Earleywine: Well, I make a big deal out of this. That, in fact, this is a way for parents to be able to increase their credibility with their teens. So when one of these ads shows up in one way or another you can say ‘Hey, do you believe this?’ And then, in fact, you can provide the factual information. So what are some of the things they harp on? The gateway effect, the idea that using cannabis somehow drives you to use hard drugs the way eating salty foods make you thirsty or something like that.

Well, of course the data don’t support that and teens know this intuitively. They know people who use cannabis who don’t use hard drugs. They know people who are hard drug users who aren’t that into cannabis. It just doesn’t fit their experience. The problem with this is we say ‘Ah well, it’s just a tiny little lie’ or ‘We’re stretching the truth in order to help them’ but as soon as we tell them anything that doesn’t fit their experience, that doesn’t fit the data, then they never believe us again. So then when I’m harping on, you know, the evils of methamphetamine or things that I just don’t want them to do including, say, unsafe sex, they’re not going to believe you if you’re the same person who said ‘Oh, marijuana makes you into a heroin addict.’

Dean Becker: Well, exactly. And this kind of brings us back to ‘well, how do you know that?’ The fact is that most American adults have used. I think it was Time Magazine said it’s about fifty percent of us have use marijuana at some time or currently do. And how do we talk about our own use? How do we bridge that gap with our children.

Dr. Earleywine: I emphasize this in the book, that obviously every relationship is different and some kids are developmentally ready to hear about your experimentation or current use and some kids aren’t. And that’s really up to you but I encourage folks to never tell a lie. And often what will happen is if a kid asks a parent ‘Hey, have you ever used cannabis?’ the question may be ‘Would you believe me if I said no.’ And it’s funny how, once you open up that topic, you can actually engage in a really interesting discussion. Now, if you used cannabis and did run into drug problems and even had problems with cannabis, as a small minority of folks do, telling that tale can be really important.

And that can be a really informative message to give to students and to your own teens. If you used and you used earlier in life than you wished you had, you can walk through why you think maybe how you started out too young, how we have new data that we didn’t have back then to suggest that cannabis really isn’t good for the developing brain and may not be appropriate as far as just risk for dependence, and then you’ve opened up this conversation and now it’s not a taboo topic. And what’s interesting then is you’ll find your kids really trust you on all kinds of other topics and on this topic now that you’ve had one really nice interaction.

Dean Becker: Exactly, exactly. Truth seems to work a whole lot better. Once again, folks, you’re listening to the Cultural Baggage Show on the Drug Truth Network. Once again we’re speaking with Dr. Mitch Earleywine. And Mitch, there’s a chapter in here dealing with amotivation syndrome. And I want to put in my two cents there, that I am a regular user and if I’m amotivated I don’t know what is motivated. Your thoughts there, sir.

Dr. Earleywine: Well, it’s interesting because I feel like what happened was early on a couple of psychiatrists noticed some sort of bitter unmotivated teens who happened to also use cannabis recreationally and they thought that, Oh, this must be cause and effect. Literally, every study we’ve done ever since then has suggested that this isn’t the case at all. That those teens will probably end up showing loss of motivation because they’re depressed, not because of cannabis use. Giant studies in economics by a researcher named Kasner show that folks that use cannabis, at least adults, are no more likely to use sick days, earn the same amount of money, tend to be just as likely keep their jobs and keep their jobs for as long. And, in fact, one of those studies actually showed a small positive correlation between how much money people made and how much cannabis they used. Not that I’m recommending it as a way to get a raise, I just think people who had more money could afford more cannabis. And, finally, when we move down to say students, the college student data consistently show comparable grades, comparable involvement in activities. A large self-report study that I did shows that people who are regular users and even daily users are much more interested or equally interested in their own goals, in a number of questions that people who are, say, cocaine addicts tend to show a lot of apathy on, don’t seen to show any deficits among cannabis users. And what was interesting about that study was I had to throw out the medical users in order to make sure that these effects were correct and so I’m wondering if maybe some people’s impressions about cannabis and amotivation stem from actually looking at folks who were using medicinally. Well, what a surprise! People with cancer and AIDS aren’t necessarily pursuing the same goals they may have before they had that diagnosis. But to attribute any of those changes to cannabis is, of course, patently absurd.

Dean Becker: I used to do a lot of construction work. Especially roofing crews would smoke before they hit that roof, they would smoke at lunch and they would smoke during the day, contribute mightily to that subdivision’s progress. We have to reexamine the reasons why we have this fear of marijuana. Mitch, I mean I’ve said this over before, but you as a professor, as a doctor, have perhaps more credence with my audience. Where did these laws begin?

Dr. Earleywine: Well, it’s intriguing ‘cause when you look back to alcohol prohibition and what a disaster that was basically the folks who were in law enforcement and essentially charged with enforcing alcohol prohibition knew, ‘Hey, we’re going to be out of a job here. Perhaps we need to do something to create some kind of new terror to get folks to, essentially, keep our tax money coming in.’ Harry Anslinger, who was the drug czar of the day, the first head of what was then called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had heard about this ‘crazy, loco weed’ down in Texas and it allegedly made Mexicans, you know, have super human strength and just all this absolutely insane stuff. Some local ordinances passed throughout the U.S. and individual towns and states and when you start looking at where were these, they were often places that either had a lot of immigrants or a couple of locals in Utah, where people who had gone down spreading the word about Mormonism, brought cannabis back up and their elders were not excited about that at all. And so, in a sense, this was really a set of laws designed to control ethnic minorities rather that control cannabis and I’m afraid that racist quality of it remains even today, so now when we look at arrest rates in modern New York City, arrest rates throughout the U.S., a wonderful study by Mandell in California, we see that despite markedly less use in both Latinos and African-Americans, they are by far more likely to get arrested, particularly for possession, in a number of areas in the U.S. It’s hard not to think that this is clearly a sign of a racial problem rather than a drug problem.

Dean Becker: As you say, it continues to this day. New York being a prime example of that. Houston itself being a prime example, that we have a situation here where legislature passed a bill, 2391, which would allow district attorneys to no longer arrest people for less than four ounces of marijuana and yet only one district attorney in the state has embraced that idea. Your thoughts, sir, isn’t it just a money machine?

Dr. Earleywine: It’s curious to me because I feel like when we think about how do we want law enforcement to spend their time, of course we want them protecting us from violent crime. And this, unfortunately, has turned into sort of a back-handed way to get overtime hours or to look like you’re really doing a job when, in fact, this is sort of just taking the easy way out. If you had to arrest somebody who was violent and hostile or somebody who’s mellow and happens to have a joint on them, it seems like the thing to do would be to get the violent person off the street but in fact it’s much easier to nab some cannabis user and drag him in and get an hour and a half of overtime instead. It’s sad and yet Harry Levine’s data in New York really suggests that this is the case and that this misplaced set of priorities is running all the way up and down from the local to the federal level.

Dean Becker: It is sad that the number of unsolved property crimes and violent crimes is going up while the number of drug arrests is going up. Mitch, I’ve got another question for you but I want to play this track and then we’ll address what it’s saying.
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Carl: What’s the matter, Homer? You’re drunk but you’re not like sloppy drunk.

Homer: Going cold turkey isn’t as delicious as it sounds.

Lenny: Look, I’m really glad you’re off the wacky tobaccy. Yeah, you were getting all spacey and everything. We were going to have an intervention.

Carl: Yeah, but at the planning party. I got alcohol poisoning. I nearly died.
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Dean Becker: OK, now that brings to focus the efforts of many, many people around this country but that’s been most successful, or at least progressive, up in Colorado, with the SAFER organization that talks about alcohol being a much more dangerous substance. Your thoughts on that, sir?

Dr. Earleywine: Well, the data are really compelling and, I have this argument at least twice a week as you can imagine, the neurotoxic effect, which is the effect of alcohol on the brain at high doses are markedly worse than the effect of cannabis even at high doses. The search for some kind of neuro-psychological deficits amongst cannabis users took years and years and years whereas among binge drinkers it’s relatively easy to find these functional deficits, and so to even drink five, six drinks a night, and a lot of folks say ‘Well, the cost is related to higher levels of use in alcohol’ but in fact it doesn’t look like that’s the case when you take a good look at these data.

Some research that a student of mine has done actually shows that the folks who seem to be more likely to show cannabis dependence are the ones who are actually drinking a lot and I can’t help but wonder if they’re misinterpreting some of their symptoms and thinking that they’re from cannabis when really they’re from alcohol. And, as we’ve discussed time and again on your show, the alcohol lobby is big. We’re not going to see a return to alcohol prohibition and I think that’s a good thing but the idea that this drug, this really potentially dangerous drug, we’re willing to trust adults and say ‘Look, you’re able to handle this’ and yet here’s a drug that has no toxic dose, is not going to be as likely to produce dependence and is in many ways markedly healthier, we’re not going to allow that one? The irony of that is just a little too upsetting for anyone.

Dean Becker: All right, you are listening to the Cultural Baggage Show on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We do have with us on the phone Dr. Mitch Earleywine, author of the brand new book ‘Parent’s Guide to Marijuana.’ You know, Mitch, I look at some of the chapters in here, you talk about marijuana and brain function, marijuana and the teen brain, marijuana and intelligence, and it doesn’t turn you into some sort of a Cheech or a Chong, it doesn’t ruin your future, it’s just been totally misrepresented, has it not?

Dr. Earleywine: Well, it’s funny because you and I both met Tommy Chong. He’s not the character he is in the movies. The man is really brilliant and heartfelt and sincere and a wonderful guy to interact with. And these stereotypes about cannabis that, you know, are certainly the butt of many a joke, and can give anybody a belly laugh, unfortunately, you know, that’s kind of backfired on us in certain ways and, of course, we really don’t think that anybody is actually living the lives that are often depicted in these films and in some of the jokes and I feel like the sense that somehow there’s a subset of folks who have wrecked it for all recreational cannabis users is pretty rampant throughout the cannabis movement.

I think part of this may stem from people being frightened about being candid about their use. So when I go up in front of a class and say I’m a regular user everybody freaks out and they think ‘How could this possibly be?’ and he’s written all these books and he has a P.H.D. and things along those lines but the point is that lots and lots of people are responsible users of cannabis but they’re too scared to come right out and say so and then, of course, who are the ones who end up being the most seen? The ones who are maybe more joke like in their stereotypical behavior and then everybody seems to think that those are the only people who are doing it and, of course, that’s clearly untrue when we look at national surveys...

Dean Becker: Mitch, I want to get back to the rationale. You’re talking about the fear, you know the fact that folks just don’t want to expose some truth about themselves for fear of the repercussion and that’s what holds this altogether in it’s own way, is it not?

Dr. Earleywine: It’s curious because I understand, particularly when you’re in sensitive jobs or you’re in situations where other folks aren’t going to be as understanding as you wish, and I’m not saying that everybody who’s ever used has to go have a big giant parade although I’d kind of like that. But I do feel like telling your closest friends you often find out that, guess what? They’re cannabis users too. And then as we realize that more and more folks are actually engaging in this behavior without any negative consequences, the absurdity of the cannabis prohibition becomes clearer and clearer and clearer. And then, the tragedy when someone we know or someone just like us is busted, especially for a possession bust, it becomes more and more obvious and that this is clearly, you know, a waste of law enforcement resources. Also, it seems pretty salient.

Dean Becker: Don’t even know how to say this. It’s the stair-step effect. That a kid gets caught with a little bit of marijuana at school. Maybe he gets sent to some alternative school. Maybe he loses his driver’s license. Maybe he has a hard time getting a job. The ramifications, the life long ramifications of that drug bust become pretty obvious if you just look at it, right?

Dr. Earleywine: Well, the curious thing about that too is sometimes what could have been a really small decision earlier on can send people on a very different trajectory. Suppose somebody in a high school is caught with a joint and there’s a giant big deal made out of it and suddenly the whole school has drug testing and everything just really gets blown out of proportion and this student really can be at higher risk for not graduating from high school and we know that from there on down the line things get really bad really quickly. But what if some administrator said ‘Look, instead of us having a giant bust and turning this into a big ordeal, I’d love it you would meet with our school counselor once a week and talk about this.’

And if that counselor was properly trained and had that opportunity to really form a relationship with this student, that student got out of high school, became everything he or she wanted to be, got a productive job and did, perhaps, remain a recreational cannabis user, that would be an incredible win. And the likelihood that that person would become cannabis dependent or at all involved with hard drugs is extremely low. Nevertheless, in that other small decision of ‘Oh, we’re going to get out the hammer’ or we’re going to punitive for his or her own good in fact is much more likely to send folks on a really bad trajectory.

The true tragedy of having cannabis be part of the underground market increasing people’s exposure to hard drugs and drugs that have markedly worse negative consequences. We’ve seen these data time and again comparing the Netherlands to other countries and, in fact, that prime group of teens, the twelve to eighteen year olds, they are less likely to use cannabis than folks in other countries and when they do seem to use at eighteen, much as we have these sort of rituals here around 21 and drinking, they’re much more reasonable about it, there’s no forbidden fruit, and their connection between using cannabis and using hard drugs is markedly smaller.

So when you compare cities like Amsterdam to cities like San Francisco and look at who uses more hard drugs among the cannabis users unfortunately its San Francisco. It’s places where the drug laws are such that the cannabis market is connected to the hard drug market and then of course these cannabis users are more likely to use these hard drugs.

Dean Becker: Well, Mitch, we’re going to have to wind this up but I was wondering if you’d kind of give a little pep talk to the parents out there, to, you know, incorporate some of the thoughts we’ve been discussing.

Dr. Earleywine: Well, I mean, I’d love to have folks run out and get a copy of the ‘Parent’s Guide to Marijuana.’ It’s only a hundred pages. It’s an easy read. It’s the kind of thing you can have right beside your bed and actually having the book is often a great way to just open up the discussion with your teens or other kids in your neighborhood. And my hope is that really this is just part of building a strong relationship with your kids. That this decreases the number of taboo topics in your relationships, that they can learn to trust you, they come to you and they know that you’re really looking out for their best interest, you’re not going to lie to them, you’re not going to be punitive, you’re going to investigate things with them and solve problems with them. And suddenly it’s no longer about marijuana anymore, it’s more about having a really nice loving relationship. And that’s really all I could ever want for any parent and any child.

Dean Becker: All right. Mitch Earleywine, thank you so much for being our guest and...

Dr. Earleywine: It’s always a pleasure being on the show. Thanks, Dean.
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It’s time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

Loss of personal freedom, family and possessions, ineligible for government funding, education, licensing, housing or employment, loss of aggressive mindset in a dangerous world. This drug’s peaceful easy feeling may be habit forming.

Time’s up: The answer! Doobie, jimmy, joint, reefer, spliff, jibber, jay, biffa, jazz, blunt, steege, greener, cracker, hogger, bone, carrot, maryjane, marijuana, cannabis sativa.

Made by God, prohibited by Man.
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Dean Becker: You know, Mitch and I were talking about the fact that the DARE program comes in and they, they disseminate bad information or just wrong, slanted information but what they don’t teach is things like the combination of drugs, what that might create, and our good friend Doug McVay, publisher of Drug War Facts, had a friend die recently. I got this little piece I want to share with the listeners.
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Doug McVay: In memory of Elizabeth.

No, that’s not an incomplete Alman Brothers song title. This is a short piece about my friend, though it could be about any of us. Last weekend I played croquet with some friends. Since I know live in another state I don’t get to see these folks very often but it was a special event so I made the trip. They were holding a memorial tournament dedicated to the memory of a friend, we’ll call her Elizabeth. She enjoyed playing the games and frequently participated in past tourneys and casual play so it was a good way to remember her. Elizabeth suffered from chronic pain. She managed to get around and to hold a job though it took quite a bit of pain medication to do so. Over time she developed a high tolerance to her meds. August of last year she ran low.

Her doctor wouldn’t help because she had refilled her prescription too recently so she went to the emergency room. The doctor there gave her a large bottle of methadone pills and a similarly large volume of valium, neither of which were here usual meds so they were unfamiliar to her. A few days later she was dead. Basically it was an overdose. Really it was the combination of those drugs plus probably some beer.

I don’t know why she didn’t know better. I don’t know why it had to happen. So here are the facts. Opiates work to relieve pain and some people need them to get by or even just make life livable. Some opiates are very powerful. Taking too much or combining opiates with valium, alcohol or other drugs can be very dangerous, possibly even lethal. Always pay attention to dosage and to what combination of medications you’re taking.

This is not the first friend I’ve lost this way. No more, please.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, Director of Research at Common Sense for Drug Policy.
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Dean Becker: You know it’s kind of a sad story but it’s one that happens all too often across America, people combining drugs and suffering the consequences. You know, back in the day morphine was first promised to be the cure for alcoholism, that didn’t really go so well. Then heroin came along and it was supposed to be the cure for morphine addiction and now we live in a situation where methadone is supposed to be the cure for heroin addiction. And the sad thing is methadone is killing three times as many people now as does heroin. We’ve got to educate and we’ve got to really cooperate and work together to bring this madness to an end.

That’s what we do here.
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[LEAP promo]

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards and wardens. They have seen first hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

Please visit LEAP.CC.
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Dean Becker: All right. I’ve got just a couple of seconds left here and I do want to urge you to visit the website of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP.CC. We have more than ten thousand members now worldwide, not just cops and former cops but we’ve got prosecutors and wardens, members of the DEA, CIA, FBI, the Justice Department. I’m told the only ones we don’t have a member from yet is the Secret Service and we’re working on that. I would also urge you to check out our hundreds of radio programs available online at DrugTruth.Net.

And as always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag.

Please be careful.
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To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net