September 2017

Jeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck

The US attorney general is trying to undo the progress made in liberalizing marijuana consumption in the US. This will only lead to more people in jail

Once upon a time, the 1936 film Reefer Madness attempted to spread sensationalistic messages about marijuana to youths across the land. Just one toke, the film warned, and you could be setting off down the primrose path to murder, hallucinations, rape, suicide, and yes, the titular madness. Yikes!

Luckily for fans of the plant, we now know the worst effects of marijuana are smokers cough, laziness and a predilection for salty junk food. Furthermore, studies have shown it can be used to treat a vast array of health problems, from glaucoma to the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

The total number of fatal marijuana overdoses per year remains steady at zero. Why, its almost like pot is no big deal, and we should be allowed to have it if we want.

This knowledge, plus widespread social acceptance a recent Gallup poll found that one in eight US adults admits to smoking the stuff, and more than half have tried it have led to a gradual liberalization of marijuana laws on the state level, to the point where 29 states plus Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana.

Eight states have gone a step further and legalized it for recreational use, allowing people over the age of 21 to enjoy it responsibly. In 2016 alone, the citizens of eight states voted to relax their laws on recreational and/or medical marijuana, one of few progressive victories in an otherwise depressing election. (Perhaps because its one of a few issues that unites progressives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.) It would seem a critical mass of Americans is coming to accept the popular plant as the relatively harmless, potentially helpful substance it is.

But all that progress may soon come to a halt. As threatened back in February, Donald Trumps Department of Justice has plans to aggressively go after states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana the latter despite Sean Spicers promise that Trump sees a big difference between the two.

After making baseless statements that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin and that good people dont smoke marijuana, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions who once joked that he thought the violent white supremacists of the KKK were okay until I found out they smoked pot has established a task force to investigate the connection between marijuana and violent crime.

He might learn that legalizing marijuana has actually been shown to reduce violent crime in some instances and leave it unaffected in others. But, in case anyone thought he was waiting for the task forces findings to come in before acting, in May he wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking them to roll back protections put in place by the previous Congress. These use the power of the purse to keep the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana in states that have voted to legalize it.

In said letter, he referred to a historic drug epidemic, willfully conflating marijuana use with the crisis of opiate addiction plaguing our country. (Sessions either doesnt know or doesnt care that opiate deaths have actually decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana, partly because it can serve as a gentler alternative to addictive prescription painkillers.)

He scapegoats marijuana for violent crime once more. He even claims marijuana is linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, which sounds a lot like reefer madness to me. As with Trumps Muslim ban, Sessions notes this issue is too important to respect the rights of states to make their own laws. In Sessions bigoted eyes, states rights are only important when it comes to the passage of bills designed to discriminate against transgender people who wish to use the bathroom.

This approach is a departure from that of the Obama administration, whose relationship with the states on marijuana was more mixed. While Barack Obama raided growers in states that had legalized weed from time to time, the Department of Justice stated in a 2013 memo that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, provided the drug was adequately regulated. Obama also took some small steps to reform our criminal justice system, particularly where non-violent drug crimes were concerned.

While the fallout from legal marijuana is far from proven, the fallout from the ineffective war on drugs can be measured in lives ruined, particularly the lives of people of color. By 2001, there were 2 million people in our countrys prisons, and nearly one in three black men ages 20-29 was caught up in the deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Racial profiling, uneven enforcement, disparities in sentencing, and unequal access to lawyers have all helped ensure the majority of people in jail for drug offenses are black and Latino, despite the fact that black and white Americans use drugs at similar rates.

In rolling back states attempts at more sensible drug policy, Sessions seeks to bring us back to the days when misinformation and hysteria beat out science and reason, and the government used the war on drugs as an excuse to go after anti-war hippies and African-Americans, as a former Nixon official was once quoted admitting.

Our only hope is that the rollout of this policy is as botched as everything else the Trump administration has tried to do. Which, judging from recent history, is entirely possible.

Read more:

Mary JaneJeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck
read more

Netflix’s ‘Disjointed’ is offensive to stoners

With a clearinghouse of content available to stream, Netflix’s lack of a programming identity has bled into its originals at an alarming rate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new comedy, Disjointed.

Set in the world of medical marijuana, Disjointed takes a look at the pot industry in Los Angeles on the eve of recreational legalization. At Ruth’s Alternative Caring, cannabis lawyer, activist, and all-around enthusiast Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) is at a crossroads. She can either try to expand her business, as her son Travis (Aaron Moten) keeps urging her to, or she can stick to her roots, preaching the “healping” (healing and helping, as Ruth calls it) powers of weed.

Most of this is just setup for a bunch of lazy pot jokes, of course. The pilot episode leans so heavily into stoner humor, it feels like a collage of jokes pieced together from better scripts (Half Baked, Pineapple Express, Harold and Kumar, Dude Where’s My Car, pretty much anything involving marijuana.)

It makes sense for this show to exist. It makes sense for it to be on Netflix too, or at least on a premium cable network. Although widespread legalization may now seem inevitable, pot is still a pretty big taboo for many in this country (just ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions), making this show a tough sell for major networks. Which is why it’s strange that Disjointed plays like a something that should be on CBS.

The main explanation for this is the hand of executive producer/creator Chuck Lorre, who is a mini-sitcom factory unto himself. The man behind hits like Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly, The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and more, Lorre is perennially busy. Not only does he have Disjointed coming out this year, but Big Bang Theory spinoff Young Sheldon will be premiering on his home network, CBS, this fall.

Lorre’s approach is usually to take a script from another writer, develop it with them, and help guide it to fruition under his brand of humor. The other writer in this case is co-creator David Javerbaum, and regardless of what he might’ve had in mind when he first conceived of Disjointed, the end result has been thoroughly Lorre’d up. Like all of his projects, Disjointed is a caricature of how a group of people really behave. Disjointed is a caricature of stoners the way The Big Bang Theory is a caricature of nerds, or Two and a Half Men is a caricature of masculinity. And just as real “nerds” tend to reject the heightened, shrill versions of themselves they see on The Big Bang Theory, real pot smokers are likely to reject or even be offended by their portrayal on Disjointed.

That’s not to say that Lorre isn’t very hard-working or good at what he does. If his career is a testament to anything, it’s that both those things can be true and you can be extremely successful and accomplished without creating anything that’s particularly compelling or hip. Perhaps it’s this lack of hipness that in part makes Disjointed such a slog. One gets the sense watching it that Lorre has never smoked pot. (Maybe Charlie Sheen was right after all to rail at him over his healthy habits.) And without a sense of what marijuana is all about, the feelings it produces, or its complexities, the show ends up relying on other narrative devices to fill in the gaps.

Musical numbers, crazy transitions, fake commercials, and animated sequences are all used here, but because the show is so firmly rooted in typical sitcom tropes, there’s a disconnect. None of the stylistic flourishes Disjointed employs can distract from the fact that what you’re watching is essentially a run-of-the-mill sitcom with more drugs and cursing. Lorre and Javerbaum seem to want to distance the show from your typical multi-cam comedy. The runtime is longer, the credit sequence is sometimes played with, and Lorre even skips his signature vanity cards at the end. Yet all this serves to do is highlight how strange it feels to be watching this show on Netflix.

Not that Netflix shouldn’t have traditional sitcoms. The Ranch and Fuller House also come with a laugh track, and like Disjointed, a longer episode order. Sitcoms are cheap to make, and people still like them, so it makes sense that Netflix would want to get in on the action. It’s just, does it have to be with these sitcoms? Does making a sitcom mean you have to make a stereotypically bad sitcom? A note to the executives at Netflix, NBC recently canceled The Carmichael Show—an excellent sitcom that’s just waiting to be picked up by a worthy home.

Some things about Disjointed work. Bates is definitely having fun as the hippyish Ruth, though it’s a role she could play in her sleep. When the show goes beyond pot humor, it gets out the occasional good joke, as long as you don’t mind some stereotypical Asian humor and cynical zingers like, “You millennials, you’re always asking for validation. Everybody gets a quidditch trophy!” The show should get points for weaving a stronger narrative throughout its first season than most Lorre series do, although it only succeeds at this in small doses and you can almost feel the Netflix pressure to keep people binging. One subplot involving the dispensary security guard, Carl (Tone Bell), a former soldier who learns to cope with PTSD through pot, is surprisingly ambitious, though similar subject matter was handled better on FXX’s You’re the Worst.

Like Netflix itself these days, Disjointed doesn’t know what it wants to be. Just as Ruth is struggling to stay cool and anti-establishment under an increasingly corporate structure, Disjointed is straining to be edgy and timely under the guise of humor that is tired and old. It may not be the worst Netflix show ever, but it’s perhaps its most confusing blunder so far.

Read more:

Mary JaneNetflix’s ‘Disjointed’ is offensive to stoners
read more

If Jeff Sessions revives D.A.R.E., he’d better steer clear of those old anti-drug ads, too

Don't do it, Jeff. Just say no.
Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Hello, it is I, your trusty *two-time* graduate of the Reagan-era anti-drug school campaign D.A.R.E. (short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education) here with a look at what could be done if Attorney General Jeff Sessions gets his wish of reviving the program on a national level.

Besides, not only am I a two-time D.A.R.E. graduate (once in elementary school, once in junior high), but I also share a home state Alabama with Mr. Sessions. So, Alabamian to Alabamian, I’d love to give Sessions a few pointers on mostly what not to do if he really sticks to his guns and revives the program.


The landscape is far different than it was 30-plus years ago when D.A.R.E. launched, though. For instance, marijuana, a huge target of both the 1980’s anti-drug campaign and Sessions, is now recreationally legal in a handful of states with more weighing legalization, not to mention states with legal medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, parts of the nation are continuing to fight meth addiction use while others are faced with a crippling opioid epidemic that is killing people faster than coroners can keep up with.

So the handbook is going to need an update for Sessions, who, speaking at D.A.R.E.’s conference in Texas this week (yes, it still exists, albeit without federal funding), called D.A.R.E. “the best remembered anti-drug program today.”

Best remembered, yes. Go to any Warped Tour stop and you’ll see a dozen teens ironically wearing D.A.R.E. shirts they found at a thrift store. But that doesn’t mean “most successful”; studies in recent years have claimed that D.A.R.E. has been a pretty big failure overall.

It wasn’t just D.A.R.E., though.

There was the “Just Say No” campaign led by then-First Lady Nancy Reagan and, most memorably, the ongoing round of ads from groups like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. All of these campaigns have become intertwined in our collective memory.

Those ads made a huge impression to kids who grew up during that era and those impressions aren’t exactly positive. Over-the-top, overly dramatic, tone deaf, and unintentionally funny, those ads, though separate from D.A.R.E., have, like that program, become emblematic of the “war on drugs” from the 1980s and 1990s.

And looking back through those ads and other promotions in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s easy to see why those are best commended to the past, an absurd lesson in how not to educate kids about drugs.

Forget the past

This is, really, the only lesson anyone needs. For the reasons I stated above regarding a new landscape, sure, but mostly because of the uphill PR battle they’d be fighting after the horrendously dated and unintentionally hilarious anti-drug campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s.

Cartoons were part of a huge push to get kids to say no to drugs. But the cartoons were also aimed at the under-12 set and, maybe I was naive, but I don’t recall anyone at my school lunch table pushing weed on me when I was 9.

It’s surreal stuff, rattling kids about weed and crack just before the hit puberty because early adolescence didn’t have enough anxiety to go with it, apparently.

And that says nothing of the cynicism that kids these days well, the whole world, really attaches to everything. Only in 1990 could Garfield, Alf, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Slimer from Ghostbusters join forces to get a kid off dope.

But that’s nothing compared to the cognitive dissonance associated with hearing Pee-Wee Herman say, “This… is crack.”

Also, be wary of using tween/teen stars. Addressing drugs in Saved By The Bell might have seemed like a good idea at the time but all anyone remembers is that infamous scene and not for the emotional impact.

Another reason so many of the ads of that era just didn’t work (and seem even more insane by comparison) is the hyperbole injected into them. Trying to scare kids off drugs is one thing; just plain scaring the shit out of them is another.

Also, don’t try to improve on the classics. Those results never turn out good. Like the alt-rock mid-90s update to the grandaddy of all anti-drug ads, not only is it eye-rolling-level derivative, it’s just… inane.

Thanks a lot, Trainspotting.

Anyway, there’s reason to hope. D.A.R.E. has been using a program called “Keeping it REAL” in more recent years and are seeing far more effective results. So maybe a bigger, nation-wide revival could work.

Whether or not Sessions, who isn’t exactly progressive, keeps that intact remains to be seen and could make or break the program’s revival.

And resurrecting these style of PSAs as part of a new “war on drugs,” which Sessions apparently wants to do, is a way to guarantee that everything associated with this effort would fail.

Read more:

Mary JaneIf Jeff Sessions revives D.A.R.E., he’d better steer clear of those old anti-drug ads, too
read more