Pot - A Special Series

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Aug 21, 2001.

  1. Seattle Weekly Special Report
    Source: Seattle Weekly

    The words you are about to read describe illegal activity.
    Despite the fact that, according to government figures, 70 million of the 280 million Americans alive today have smoked pot sometime in their lives, that this number includes our last two presidents, that 34 states passed laws between 1978 and 1996 recognizing marijuana's therapeutic value, that nine states including Washington have voted to legalize medical use of marijuana, that marijuana is less damaging on any number of grounds than alcohol, our government spends $7.5 billion annually fighting the war against pot.

    In 1998, nearly 700,000 citizens were arrested for marijuana offenses, 88 percent for simple possession. Yet over 100,000 supporters (presumably) of pot are expected to crowd Myrtle Edwards Park this weekend celebrating hemp, bud, medical marijuana--all the plant's many guises. Still, if you choose to smoke, you could get arrested.

    A serious national discussion about the appropriateness of the war on drugs, especially pot, is imperative, and it's not going to start if everyone keeps pretending that pot isn't pervasive. Pot's not going away. In this package writers discuss the current struggles of the pro-marijuana and hemp movements, the latest efforts to make it less dangerous to get high in Seattle, and what to do if you get caught. Because no one would do the stuff if it wasn't fun, you'll also find several stories here about the lighter side of lighting up, including personal essays on the first time, being stoned, and quitting.

    Inquiring Minds Want To Know How Does Pot Work?

    By Mark D. Fefer

    Cannabis research "has become a very active field," says pharmacology expert Leslie L. Iversen, who has written a book on the subject. At the University of Washington, for example, anesthesiology professor Dr. Ken Mackie oversees a six-person lab where the biochemical effects of the drug are studied. "There are maybe 50 groups in the country at work on this," he says.

    However, before you decide to switch careers, you should know that the actual lab work involves mostly petri dish analysis of minute chemical reactions--not dudes crashed out on sofas taking firsthand "field notes." Still, Mackie says, "It's a very attractive field." Unlike most academics laboring in the obscurities of neuroscience, "You can go to parties and tell people what you do, and they're interested," he says. Mackie rarely has trouble locating UW undergrads to help staff his lab. And he says his clinical patients over at Harborview are always eager to volunteer when they learn his specialty. But, he jokes, "When they find out it involves donating a slice of their brain, they become much less interested."

    Nearly 40 years ago, researchers figured out that a compound called THC was the element of cannabis primarily responsible for marijuana's pharmacological effects. THC is most concentrated in the plant's female flowering heads, or buds. But how exactly does THC work? Why does it produce munchies, red-eye, and that unique stoner mind-set known to researchers as "fatuous euphoria"?

    Some of these puzzles have begun to be solved. For instance, THC causes a relaxation of the smooth muscles in the arteries, leading to "vasodilatation." This effect is most readily seen in the blood vessels of the eye, which is why workday dope smokers need Visine.

    On the other hand, uncontrollable laughter remains largely a mystery. "This effect of the drug is hard to explain," writes Iversen in his book The Science of Marijuana (2000, Oxford University Press), "as we know so little about the brain mechanisms involved." Ordinary laughter is, from the biochemical/neurological point of view, still poorly understood, let alone stoned laughter.

    Nonetheless, says Dr. Iversen in an interview, "We know a whole lot more about THC now than we did 10 years ago." The most important discovery was of a special receptor in cells for THC, a kind of ready-made biological slot for exactly what marijuana has to deliver. This finding established that the drug was not just "dissolving in the membranes of brain cells in a nonspecific sort of way," says Iversen. "There's a very specific receptor protein."

    The places in the body with THC receptors seem to correspond with the drug's effects, though not always. "One of the key areas in the [brain's] frontal cortex has a high density of [such] receptors," says Iversen, "and that may have something to do with impairment in what brain scientists call 'executive' functions--short-term memory, learning, the ability to take in information, plan ahead, make complicated future arrangements. That ties in reasonably well with actual experience," he adds dryly.

    On the other hand, there are also THC receptors in the white blood cells of our immune system, which do not seem to have anything to do with the experience of intoxication and whose function is "largely obscure," Iversen says.

    There are no THC receptors in the brain stem, which controls critical functions like respiration, according to the UW's Dr. Mackie. That's partly why you never hear of someone fatally OD'ing on pot. "THC is not wired to be as harmful," Mackie says.

    So why does marijuana seem to have such different effects on different users? "THC may not bind as well in some people," says Mackie, "and some people may break it down more quickly than others. That's an area that hasn't been explored much."

    As a result of these discoveries, "a lot of interesting things are coming out from which new medical approaches may emerge," says Iversen. One long-standing hope is that the beneficial effects of marijuana can be isolated from the high--a separation that has so far proved impossible. That might help assuage Republican legislators, as well as make the drug more palatable to some patients. "These are not necessarily nice experiences," notes Iversen. "Inexperienced users can be frightened and anxious."

    Dr. Mackie's current research is aimed at understanding how our bodies develop tolerance. He notes that people taking the drug regularly for medicinal purposes often have to smoke increasing amounts for the same benefit, thereby becoming more subject to its intoxicating side effects. "If we understand how tolerance develops, we can develop strategies to get around that," he says.

    His research protocol does not involve administering a steadily graduated number of bong hits to journalist volunteers. Instead, he delivers minute quantities of THC to incubated frogs' eggs, then measures the electrical current flowing across the membranes of the cell.

    Mackie gets his THC directly from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which has a program for supplying controlled substances to researchers. The stuff is free, says Mackie, "so that helps the research budget." But it can only be used for basic science in the lab, not in humans. In this country, "all testing of medical benefits is virtually impossible," he says. "It's much easier to do human experimentation in Europe. Most of the really interesting trials are done there."

    Scientists do not imagine that the body's THC receptors are simply waiting for their owner to spark up a bowl; the proteins must have some other function. It was recently discovered that the body has its own cannabislike chemicals, analogous to THC, which occur naturally and attach to these same cell receptors.

    "What THC is doing is impacting on-- or hijacking, if you like--a natural system that's there physiologically for some reason that we don't really understand," says Iversen. Opiate drugs like heroin likewise have been found to mimic naturally occurring equivalents. "It's an exactly parallel story," says Iversen. "We start by studying a psychoactive plant-derived drug and discover a whole regulatory system in the brain that we didn't know existed."

    The first known of these natural cannabislike compounds is called "anandamide," from the Sanskrit word "ananda," meaning bliss. In animal studies, Iversen says, anandamide "has essentially all of the pharmacological and behavioral actions of THC."

    Researchers have shown that anandamide, like THC, seems to prevent the release of certain anxiety-producing chemicals in the brain. In general, Dr. Mackie says, the body's cannabislike compounds--or "cannabinoids"--"seem to have a function of keeping brain activity under control when there are a lot of neurons firing." Cannabinoids inhibit the chemical signals between nerve cells, slowing or suppressing certain kinds of transmission.

    Other research is looking at ways to subvert this effect. For example, recent studies indicate that blocking the cannabinoid receptors in humans can cause the anti-munchies--curbing people's appetites and helping them lose weight (a finding that, of course, has the big drug companies salivating). Dr. Mackie says these test subjects show "decreased intake of sugary, fattening foods."

    The study perhaps points toward at least one ultimate purpose for the cannabinoid system: to gear us up for pleasurable sensations. As Mackie suggests: "Maybe they serve a role in general hedonic-type responses."

    In other words, forget what Momma says; your endogenous cannabinoids want to party.

    Note: What makes dope so dope? Scientists around the world are searching for answers.

    E-mail: mfefer@seattleweekly.com

    Legalized Pot? Don't Hold Your Breath

    By James Bush

    As if coveting our water and envying our dot-com fortunes weren't enough, those Eastern Washington wheat farmers also don't want us smoking pot.

    The overriding powers of state law will continue to keep pot illegal in Seattle, despite the appearance of a city initiative aimed at chilling enforcement efforts against casual tokers. The recently introduced Initiative 73 would basically serve as a policy statement that citizens want the cops to focus on solving real crimes, not hassle pot smokers.

    But, as cities have been prohibited since 1989 from passing more liberal local drug statutes, that's about all I-73 would do. Beyond directing the city to make the enforcement of laws pertaining to the possession of small quantities of marijuana the city's lowest public safety priority, the initiative would also remove marijuana prosecutions from Seattle Municipal Court and set a legal definition for the phrase "60-day supply of marijuana," a standard created by the state's 1998 medical marijuana initiative.

    Dominic Holden of the Sensible Seattle Coalition (I-73's formal sponsor) says that, while the city can't unilaterally decriminalize marijuana possession, the initiative would represent the democratic voice of Seattleites who favor a tolerance policy on pot smoking. "It gives our police officers and our prosecutors the ability to focus on the real crimes, instead of arresting and prosecuting people who smoke a little bit of marijuana," he says.

    The city of Seattle once had the state's most lenient pot laws. A 1975 statute made possession of 40 grams or less a noncriminal violation (the equivalent of a parking ticket). Drug war-minded state legislators were outraged; in 1989, they voted to force all cities to enforce the Washington law, which designates marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, punishable by a day in jail and a $250 fine for a first offense. Seattleites still grumble about the slight.

    "It's basically wasting resources-- arresting, prosecuting, and locking up people who aren't doing any harm to society," says Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-W), which aided in the drafting of I-73. "It's not the way the city should be spending its resources."

    Andy Ko, director of the ACLU-W's Drug Policy Reform Project, speculates that removing pot possession cases from the Municipal Court could save the city money, but it appears that the state Legislature has beaten us to the punch there as well. According to Richard Greene of the Seattle Law Department, a 1997 state law mandates that cities pay prosecution and incarceration costs for nonfelony crimes, regardless of where they are prosecuted (under I-73, King County District Court would assume jurisdiction for pot possession cases).

    On the bright side, I-73 seems a shoo-in to make it onto the ballot. Organizers should easily be able to gather the approximately 18,000 signatures needed at Hempfest and Bumbershoot, and Seattle voters are unlikely to vote down the rare ballot issue that doesn't seek to raise their taxes.

    But real change in marijuana laws can only come at the state level. Last year, Alaskans voted down a sweeping initiative that would have legalized personal use of marijuana while freeing convicts jailed on marijuana charges. In 1999, Microsoft millionaire Bruce McKinney financed a short-lived state-initiative campaign that would have seen marijuana sold alongside Jack Daniels at state liquor stores. However, that initiative effort stalled, and McKinney disappeared as if in a puff of smoke.

    Holden says McKinney is still an active player in the marijuana reform community, but adds that a state initiative would require gathering ten times as many signatures [as a city initiative] and running a major political campaign --a daunting task for a largely volunteer-run movement. A state initiative will come some day, he says, but for now, "we wanted to focus our efforts where we knew the voters would be right behind us."

    E-mail: jbush@seattleweekly.com

    The Politics of Pot

    By Geov Parrish

    Industrial hemp is a cash crop that can be used in a stunning number of ways--fiber, paper, building materials, cosmetic products, feed, fuel, flour, birdseed, paints, inks and dyes, bedding for cattle and horses, and untold numbers of industrial uses, among others. When cannabis was criminalized in the first half of the 20th century, communist bloc countries exempted industrial hemp from their prohibitions; after the end of the Cold War, European countries started following suit, beginning with France. In the last five years, Germany, England, and Canada have all begun growing hemp, giving rise to hopes that the U.S. will also relent. Edwards, however, notes that the DEA is trying to criminalize the import of hemp products and says that legalizing industrial hemp cultivation will be an uphill battle that can be summarized in one word: dollars. With 85 percent of all drug busts involving marijuana, "Anything beneficial about hemp would mean the disintegration of the prohibition of hemp. . . . It would be very difficult to justify the $40-$50 billion a year [spent] on the drug war."

    A similar rationale seems to be stymieing efforts to allow medical uses for marijuana. Medical marijuana legalization efforts are relatively recent, beginning with anecdotal discovery in the mid- to late '80s that pot brought enormous relief to many AIDS, glaucoma, and cancer patients. Nine states (including Washington), some with overwhelming majorities, have voted to allow such use, but the federal government remains implacably opposed. For the time being, says Edwards, the buyers' clubs distributing pot for medical uses--such as West Seattle's Green Cross--are at risk, especially after the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially allowed Congress to determine (without any evidence) that pot has no medical benefits. While a few unfortunate souls in California have been busted more or less on their deathbeds, individual users have mostly been left alone. Edwards says, while "Theoretically, the feds can bust anybody . . . [they] don't have manpower to go after individual users."

    Leaving individual users alone is the goal of this year's big recreational users' push: Initiative 73. Hempfest organizers are hoping to collect the 20,000 signatures needed to put the "Sensible Seattle Initiative" on the city ballot over the weekend of Aug. 18-19. It would require the police and city attorney to make possession of 40 grams or less of marijuana their "lowest enforcement priority." Holden thinks it's a slam dunk to get it on the ballot, with many times that number of people attending the festival. And he thinks it will resonate with the general public, too.

    "I think the primary thing people have noticed is that the drug war has failed. . . . Nobody knows what to replace it with, but everyone agrees that it's failed." Suddenly, after 11 years of Hempfest, condemning that failure has become a mainstream event.

    E-mail: gparrish@seattleweekly.com

    Standing Up for Stoners - Attorney Jeff Steinborn Fights for Your Right to Party

    By Rick Anderson

    In the midst of the bandanna-wearing, tie-dyed crowd attending this weekend's Hempfest, Jeff Steinborn will be the guy in the suit. As a Hempfest organizer, he'll be smoothing his necktie and saying, "You're beautiful, you look great, but if you want to be taken seriously in this world, you've got to dress like me." Especially if you come to court, as Steinborn's customers do.

    When he's not advocating the reformation of marijuana laws, he's in court as an attorney challenging them. Either way, "Dress to win," he says.

    Specializing in drug cases since 1968, the dapper 58-year-old Seattle criminal attorney and cannabis activist is the go-to defender for anyone busted for marijuana violations. Jerry Sheehan of the ACLU tags Steinborn as an expert on drug laws and civil rights, and a county deputy prosecutor says simply, "He's the best, isn't he?" His admirers and detractors alike think he's what lawyering's all about--providing the most informed and aggressive defense available. After three decades of fighting laws and governments, he has earned an apropos title, the Public's Defender.

    Aided by partner Alison Kay Chin in his small Pioneer Square law office, Steinborn juggles dozens of cases at a time, attracting an average of three new clients a week. He passionately believes potheads are victimized by the system and has earned a prize-fighter's reputation trying to prove it in the courtroom.

    "Most of the accused," he says, "are demonized by the public and police. But my clients mostly are real nice folks. I don't represent any predators, child molesters, thieves, or wife beaters."

    Steinborn personally keeps a low media profile and would rather be writing or talking about his cases than about himself. But he explains what motivates him: "I started out with the idea of being a lawyer who stood up for the rights of individuals," says Steinborn, who thinks draconian is too nice a way to describe today's drug laws. "That's the reason I became a lawyer."

    As a law grad in his 20s, Steinborn launched his court career taking draft- evasion cases during the Vietnam years. When the drug war blossomed in the late 1960s, "I found myself sucked in. It was a natural."

    His belief in the decriminalization of weed and the unfettered distribution of medical marijuana keeps his heart pounding, he says. Once someone is charged, "You can lose everything, from your home to your freedom."

    Despite some decriminalization and other legal changes over the years, dope smoking remains a hazardous pastime, in Steinborn's perspective. Marijuana's main mind-boggling effect has been on our leaders. "They're mad with power," he says, chuckling. "The last 25 years, the government's been getting everything on its wish list from the courts or the legislators. Cops today really think they've got the power and responsibility to poke into your private life."

    Steinborn, co-author of Marijuana: The Law and You (now only available used), considers himself the government's antidote. Though an officer of the court, he freely gives out legal tips to dopers on the Net or at public appearances. "I think I am allowed to tell you of some of the devices out there [used] to trick and capture you," he says. In particular, he warns growers of the biggest threat: the anonymous tipster, the citizen informant, the partner-turned-snitch.

    "Police are terrorizing these people," Steinborn says of those who come to him. "They bully them into confessions and do it routinely."

    In the end, it's costing a lot of money just to spoil people's fun, he thinks.

    "How dare they spend a dime," Steinborn asks with a smile, "to keep us from the giggles and the munchies?"

    E-mail: randerson@seattleweekly.com

    Beating The Man

    Think you might become a casualty of the war on drugs? Here are some of Seattle drug attorney Jeff Steinborn's best tips on, shall we say, observing the law:

    Once you're suspected, you're fish in the barrel. At the border, officers can search you and your vehicle with a dog--without a warrant. If you look funny, smell bad, have been crossing too much, somebody will pull you over.

    When arrested under any circumstances, don't talk. Whatever you say will be rewritten and enhanced. So shut up, shut up, shut up. You can say "Oh shit" or "Excuse me, officer, do you have any toilet paper?" But that's about it.

    Your house may be searched. Your mom's house may be searched. Your bank accounts will be frozen. Your home, your car, your boat, and maybe even your lawn mower will be seized. Be ready to deal with this very traumatic loss without turning into a blubbering fool.

    The prosecutor determines the sentence by what crime is charged, after which the judge can only evaluate categories and rubber-stamp predetermined sentences. In the U.S., a felony is nearly an economic death sentence. You get most of your rights back, but discretionary niceties such as employment, insurance, or credit are often impaired. Boeing and Microsoft won't consider you.

    Prior to the actual trial, it used to be that some folks would get off on what many mistakenly refer to as "technicalities." As my mother used to say, "The Constitution is not a technicality!"

    E-mail: randerson@seattleweekly.com

    Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
    Published: August 16 - 22, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Seattle Weekly
    Contact: letters@seattleweekly.com
    Website: http://www.seattleweekly.com/

    DL: The Politics of Pot - Seattle Weekly Series http://www.seattleweekly.com/supplements/pot/
  2. The So Called "uncontrollable Laughter After Smoking Marijuana," Is Bullshit. The Fact That People Think That Is A Side Effect Is Why They Smoke It. When In Reality It Is Not. I Have Been Smoking It On And Off For The Past 30 Years And I Have Never Experienced Uncontrollable Laughter. In Fact, To The Contrary, I Get Awfully Sleepy And Controlled.
  3. Any drug affects different people differently. Also, tolerance is an issue. If you are used to being high (as you would be after 30 years of experience), then you won't get the giggles. Uncontrollable laughter is much more common with new users or users that have gone very long periods with no use. Sitting on the couch and calmly, happily satisfying yourself with munchies is more like what happens to experienced tokers with higher tolerances.

  4. You have to admit, when your high there can be some crazy fits of laughter. God I'm pretty stoned* right now :smoke:

    *spelled it stonder lol Isa Smart :rolleyes:
  5. I think the reason people laugh is because they expect too, like some people (including myself) dont get itchy when using opiates until i think hey im not itchy, then you say dam im itchy.
  6. ^ I don't think so. I think the easiness of laughter is caused by the immense relaxation we get from indulging in pot. I think the more relaxed any person is, whether high or not, is easily susceptible to laughter.
  7. QFT. the message is to short.

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