Admin; Amazing read about the shift to logic, reason paved by successful legalization in California and Colorado. The last two paragraphs are an excellent critique of the future of marijuana legalization in America.
Medical marijuana in Texas: ‘The wind is shifting’
A Q&A with drug-reform advocate William Martin
By Claudia Kolker, for the Houston Chronicle
April 7, 2015 Updated: April 7, 2015 5:41pm
What makes people change their minds about drugs? Specifically, what has prompted political leaders, voters, law enforcement officials, and even the medical establishment to so alter their views that marijuana is now decriminalized in more than 20 states and has been made legal for recreational use in Colorado?
For sociologist William Martin, one of Texas’ strongest advocates of drug-law reform, the answer lies in a compelling new mix of research, the experience of people who have used marijuana for medical purposes, and steady work by scholars and activists that has revealed the failures of drug prohibition.
Faith in the cause might also help. Martin, an emeritus professor at Rice and a senior fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, is currently best known for preaching drug policy reform. But he first appeared in the public eye as a different type of preacher: At 14 he was a child evangelist in the fundamentalist Church of Christ. Two years later, at Abilene Christian University, Martin was still preaching on weekends. But he was also beginning a career as a scholar. His studies led him to question the fundamentalist world-view and to focus more on Biblical principles of justice and compassion.
Martin went on to earn a seminary degree at Harvard Divinity School as well as a doctorate in sociology and ethics. Returning to Texas, he became one of Rice University’s most popular professors. During those years, he also maintained an unusual connection with mainstream readers, authoring seven books and writing regularly for publications ranging from The Atlantic to Texas Monthly.
Martin says that his own experience with illegal drugs was limited to a few timid tokes of marijuana in the early 1970s; his advocacy is based on the public health and economic fallout of decades of failed drug policy. As director of the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program, he has written, testified, and worked in favor of projects such as the needle exchange program proposed by Legacy Community Health Services in Montrose.
“This is not something I expected to be doing in my old age,” he says. “But it’s pretty interesting.”
Q: What drug-policy reforms do you advocate?
A: First, regulation is better than prohibition. Drug prohibition causes more problems than it solves. That’s not to say that drugs don’t cause problems. I’m not saying we should put rocks of crack in gumball machines at McDonald’s. But we have regulation already for much stronger substances than marijuana. We’ve already regulated drugs like amphetamines — there are many problems with their use, but at least they’re not contaminated with lye and people don’t blow themselves up making them.
Perhaps most important, we need to reform our approach to alcohol, which is the number one drug of abuse in the country. Absent criminal behavior, we ought to treat all drug use as we treat alcohol: as a medical and public health problem, rather than a crime. I think most scientists and medical people who work in the field of addiction agree on that. At one point, the National Institute for Drug Abuse and the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse seriously considered merging. They decided not to because people do not like to give up their fiefdoms.
We also should study the examples of other governments to see what works. Switzerland and the Netherlands provide addicts with pharmaceutical-grade heroin in a sterile environment with a nurse present in case of overdose. Participants in those programs can live a reasonably normal life and their participation in crime has dropped by more than 70 percent. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs. If someone gets in trouble, they deal with it as a social problem, with a three-person panel to decide on proper measures. I was in Portugal recently, and visited with the police there. It hasn’t been the chaos that people predicted, and no one has gone to jail for simple possession or use in fifteen years. Other European countries are looking at as a possible model.
The best thing we can do is to focus on adolescents and drug abuse. This is difficult. Part of the problem is genetic. Part is family and environment. But we have spent a trillion dollars on what doesn’t work. We’ve now got four decades of mapping illicit drug use. We know that about 7 percent of adolescents under 18 have a substance abuse problem.
Between 18 and 25 years old, 20 percent have a problem. Then, after age 26, it’s about 7 percent. As many as 90 percent of substance abusers in that older group developed the problem in adolescence before age 18. This is where we need to focus.
Finally, we need to reform the criminal justice system and the penalties for drug possession. One of the worst things that can happen to a young person is getting a criminal record. You lose a scholarship, your family can lose access to public housing, it’s difficult to find employment. In fiscal year 2011, nonviolent drug offenders who were incarcerated in Texas state jail or prisons cost us $725,000 a day — that’s $264 million a year. I think pretty much everyone agrees that drug policy reform is going to save or make money.
Bill Martin in his office.
Q: What drew you to studying drug policy?
A: When I came to Rice in 1968, I was assigned to teach a course in American social problems. I had never taken a course on American social problems! But I had seen the issue through reading and in projects such as starting a settlement house in Boston in the mid-1960s. Early on, I started bringing in people like gay and prison activist Ray Hill, prostitutes, police officers to speak to the class.
Also in 1972, a book came out, Licit and Illicit Drugs, published by Consumer Reports. It was a wonderful book: It talked about how heroin could be dealt with by providing addicts with pharmaceutical-grade heroin in a clean, medical environment, thus taking the criminal aspect out of it. It talked about how marijuana was not as harmful as it was portrayed to be. It was the early ’70s, a lot of my students were using marijuana, and I started paying attention to it.
I also taught criminology for 35 years. I thought that instead of saying drugs cause crimes, it is more accurate to say people who commit crimes also use drugs. Personal and social factors are more important than the drugs themselves. That’s not to say that drugs cannot cause serious problems.
Meanwhile, I’ve been involved in the Baker Institute since it began. In 2000, I was asked by Jerry Epstein and Dr. Al Robison of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas if the Baker Institute would be interested in drug policy. I knew we were needlessly packing our prisons for drug offenses. Fortunately, others agree.
Q: You recently wrote an article for Texas Monthly about veterans’ efforts to obtain medical marijuana.
A: Many veterans find medical marijuana more effective than conventional medications for PTSD and chronic pain. When a guy has done four tours in Iraq and been shot in the chest, it’s hard to look him in the eye and say, “You just want to smoke pot because you’re a slacker.”
Different strains of marijuana are more likely to create anxiety or paranoia than others. Dr. Raphael Machoulam, the Israeli professor of medicinal chemistry who identified THC, the component in marijuana that creates a high, discovered that we have an “endocannabinoid system.” We manufacture cannabis and we have receptors for it. For people who don’t have enough or who get overwhelmed by trauma such as war, an outside source can bring them back into balance.
Q: Have you always specialized in marijuana policy?
A: No. One of the first things I took on was not marijuana, but a needle-exchange program for injecting-drugs users favored by the Legacy Clinic in Montrose. This is essentially a freebie. The science is clear: It prevents blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C without increasing drug use. We weren’t asking for any tax money: Charities would cover the exchange. We came quite close a couple of times, but never got it through.
In March, I testified in favor of a bill co-sponsored by San Antonio Representative Ruth McClendon Jones and Houston Representative Garnett Coleman that would allow pilot programs in at least seven of the state’s largest cities. Taxpayer funding would be allowed, but not required.
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff
“Iran has needle exchange programs!” says Martin. But in Texas, “fundamentalist Christianity is preoccupied with ‘bodily sins.'”
Q: Texas is the only state that makes needle exchanges impossible, by banning purchasing syringes for illegal drug use. Is there something in Texas culture that reinforces this position?
A: Even the conservative mullahs in Iran has permit needle exchange programs, to combat an AIDS epidemic spread by heroin users!
There’s an ascetic quality that one often finds among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, who have considerable influence in Texas politics. They are often preoccupied with “bodily sins.” Personal morality figures very highly. Sex. Dancing. Drinking. That is often accompanied by a punitive streak: ”We’re denying ourselves. You’re not denying yourself, so you should be punished.”
When I was at Abilene Christian in the 1950s, I never felt personally repressed. But a girl I knew got expelled for going to a dance during Christmas vacation. A guy was suspended for a year for drinking wine while he was in Europe in the summer. There is a belief in “mortification of the flesh.” That has eased up considerably in many quarters, including Abilene Christian, and the popular “prosperity gospel” does not emphasize self-denial. But that ascetic quality still plays a role in resisting changes to our drug laws.
Q: Does the Baker Institute support your advocacy for drug-policy reform?
A: I’ve never had anything but encouragement. I have lobbied and testified before the Texas House and Senate. I have written in the mainstream press about reform. I’ve organized conferences and worked in coalitions with a wide range of people. I know it does help that this initiative for reform is coming from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
Q: How have the supporters of reform changed in recent years?
A: They’ve really diversified. Some think of drug policy reform as a liberal cause, but this movement is supported by the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Ron and Rand Paul, and many others. I’m in touch with two women, conservative Tea Party members and members of a Bible church in Austin, who are fierce advocates for medical marijuana for autism and epilepsy.
The Texas Association of Business and Legislative Budget Board has called for lowering the penalties on things like cocaine possession. [Former District Attorney] Pat Lykos didn’t want to prosecute cases involving minute traces of drugs, and was supported by the command structure of the police department, but not the union. HPD Chief Charles McClelland made headlines last December by calling the War on Drugs a failure and calling enforcement of laws against casual marijuana use a waste of time and other valuable resources.
The organizations range from the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU, and NORML to Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, Mothers Against Teen Violence, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Q: What are the chances for legislative reform in Texas?
A: For the first time, the a major reform coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, has come together in an impressive way, including hiring a lobbyist and having professional organizers working in Austin for much of the last year. More than 300 people gathered at the Capitol on February 18 to visit every legislative office and distribute materials supportive of reform — including a document, Marijuana Reform: Fears and Facts, that our program’s Alfred C. Glassell, III, Postdoctoral Fellow Katharine Neill and I prepared. Other smaller groups have followed up since.
Bills currently before the 2015 session of the Legislature include the needle-exchange bill I’ve already mentioned, several bills that would lower or remove criminal penalties for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, and a comprehensive medical marijuana bill. On April 8, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear testimony on four such bills in a single session.
Reform has a better chance in initiative states such as Colorado and California, where voters can gather enough signatures to put issues the ballot. In Texas you have to convince legislators to draw up a bill and then move it through a complicated process, with possible roadblocks at every turn. But if other states relax their laws without falling into ruin, and people see pressure builds, and more people recognize multiple medical uses of cannabis and the financial benefits of lowered law enforcement costs and a legal marijuana industry, Texas will eventually come on board.
For this session, I think some form of decriminalization has the best chance, and perhaps a modest medical bill. Whatever happens, the wind is clearly shifting, and is finally at our backs.