George Bushs Joint

Rebecca Schoenkopf takes on the presidents drug war

Denniston was very, very good. And did I mention he was reasonable?

When Juan (actual teen!) told us of his experiences and subsequent sobriety, Denniston told him kindly, "You were fortunate in a couple of ways. There was treatment available, for one." This is the kind of thing Californians especially, with our terribly sane new policy of mandating treatment over jail when available, like to hear. Then he asked a really useful question, too: "What's the availability of treatment here in San Diego?" That is a superuseful question! Bridgeman Smith raised her hand, but Urquhart answered instead —before throwing another condescending simper at Juan.

Juan, by the way, started smoking pot at 12 or 13 at the house of a friend who had a bad dealer brother. He also got hooked on meth and heroin, and when he OD'd (though probably not on pot), he decided he needed help. I think that was a fine decision.

Alexander agreed, adding, "Marijuana and meth are very interrelated."

Igor, the UCSD psychiatrist, gave us the 411 on how marijuana affects the brain. As we'd all suspected, it damages it. Luckily, "We've found the effects are reversible, so it's less severe than we thought." That's the good news. Later, when asked by one of the three journalists about the difference between how marijuana damages the brain and how good, old-fashioned bourbon damages the brain, he forthrightly stated, "Alcohol is much more toxic. From a chemical-composition standpoint, it's worse. Much worse." Little bit off-message, Igor. And as John Ashcroft already knows, you really shouldn't let those pesky journalists in to media briefings at all.

Now Igor, remember, is against pot. But, to make sure we all got the point, Igor added, "There's no evidence marijuana by itself can trigger violent or criminal behavior. Alcohol definitely can." Eight separate pages in our handy press packets cited marijuana's links to violent and/or criminal behavior. Several had very large graphs, including the one titled, in 26-point type, "Marijuana Use Is Also Related to Other Delinquent Behaviors."

And 20 minutes later, the head of the local youth-marijuana task force stated from the audience, "For everyone who believes marijuana is 'Haight/Ashbury, go to the beach and listen to folk music,' I think the statistics will show that now it's 'toke up and go rob a liquor store.'"

Igor was getting off-message again. He had already explained that many of the people who become dependent on marijuana are using it to treat depression, when he explained to us, "We know that problems in school are not the result of substance abuse, but rather are a major factor in the initiation of substance abuse." (His emphasis.)

Do I really need to tell you how many pages in the press packet cited the relationship between pot and poor school performance?

Luckily, Denniston was there to set things right. "So you're saying, 'Let's not confuse cause and effect. Marijuana is not the cause of school failure, and school failure is not the cause of marijuana abuse, but it's circular.'"

Am I insane? Eh, probably so.

Then, during the panel's closing statements, the probation department's Alexander stated, "Parents ask me, 'What about testing? Should I test?' I say, have a plan. What are you gonna do if it's positive, and what are you gonna do if it's negative?"

Denniston: "That's an interesting conversation. It raises issues of trust and punishment vs. treatment."

Alexander: "There's a carrot at the end of it, but you gotta test."

Since I'm not somebody who tries to win arguments by twisting things, I will be fair and point out that the parents he's telling that to are parents of kids who are already in the system.

Bridgeman Smith got to talk for a moment, saying the county is very supportive of treatment services. I'm very glad to hear that.

Urquhart talked about drug use and the behaviors that go along with it, including doing poorly in school. Was she not listening to Igor at all?Juan said he had no closing statement. I like Juan. I'm glad he's clean.

After the panel discussion ended, Denniston came over to thank me for my questions (okay, I was the journalist who'd asked about pot and alcohol, plus a bunch of others that were too boring to go into on their "emergency room" statistics, which were just retarded, and some other stuff, too). I introduced my father and explained his magazine.

"Oh, so you probably advocate harm reduction?" Denniston asked.

"No, we don't advocate it, but we present all points of view without judgment," my dad rambled.

"We're not allowed to talk about harm reduction," Denniston chuckled. "Federal employee and all." Boy, he is so reasonable!

He's so reasonable he's probably even against Orrin Hatch's "VICTORY" Act, which would expand the PATRIOT Act to include "narco-terrorism." Not that he'd ever say so, since he's a federal employee.

He's Mr. Reasonable, in fact. Boy howdy, is Bob Denniston reasonable! He is not shrill at all, and we had a lovely chat about Cuba, among other things.

But when I called the next day to follow up on House Resolution 2086, the re-authorization of the Office on National Drug Control Policy, which includes the language, "take all steps necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance" (so tax dollars, for instance could be spent on partisan campaigns against a pro-legalization candidate), and to follow up on Denniston's role, if any, in the Super Bowl "terror" commercials and to ask some budget questions, why, my new pal Bob didn't call me back.

Nor the next day.

In fact, of all the panelists I called for follow-up (their numbers were very thoughtfully included in the press packets), only Igor ever answered his phone.

I've got eight pages, though, helpfully informing me of the relationship between marijuana use and delinquent behaviors.

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