Week of May 30, 2001

Law and Disorder
Our police force does a great job: I know it's your newspaper's practice to print somewhat outrageous articles, but Safir Ahmed's article ["Black and Blue," RFT, May 16] paints such a poor picture of our police force in St. Louis, I felt I needed to speak up.

First, "innocent bystanders" do not run from police. Second, he mentions how some witnesses are afraid to come forward because they have had "run-ins" with the law. Again, innocent people don't have "run-ins." Why don't you try asking what kind of record somebody has before you put any credibility in their side of the story? To even interview and print the side of the story from somebody you know is a drug dealer is just stupid!

There are honest people out there who are not afraid of police; we fear the people who are breaking the laws -- the ones who do fear the police! Our police force does a great job. If more people would respect the law and make sure their children do, too, there wouldn't be shootouts like this on our streets.
Mark Newlin
St. Louis

Bitch Slap
This is your idea of praise? It's great that we have five more inductees for the Walk of Fame, but Byron Kerman certainly reduced the honor for Mary Engelbreit and her fans with his gratuitously scathing review of her art ["Hooray for Homeys," RFT, May 16]. He refers to her work as "saccharine-cute artwork [that] appeals mainly to 8-year-old-girls and grandmothers with senile dementia."

Is that Kerman's idea of praise? I know Engelbreit will be crying all the way to the bank, but why slap around 8-year-old girls, senile grannies and those other fans whose tastes differ from Monsieur Kerman's?
Sam Emers
Sullivan, Mo.

Confronting Hypocrisy
Bad journalism to blame: Kudos to Ray Hartmann's brilliant opinion piece "The Media Go to Pot" [RFT, May 16]. There is no shorter explanation for the irrational longevity of marijuana prohibition than "bad journalism."

Many major media outlets have long since forsaken their social contract to report news both fairly and honestly when it comes to marijuana-related issues. Progressive developments which counter orthodox drug-war ideology are ignored, ridiculed or reported selectively, or with a condescending editorial bias front and center. Puns and clichés like "pipe dream," "high hopes" and "up in smoke" are commonly built into headlines to condition the reader to not take the issue too seriously -- after all, it's only "medical" marijuana.

An American citizen is arrested every 46 seconds for marijuana -- 13 million since 1970. Marijuana prohibition, the backbone of the drug war, is one of the great frauds of the past 70 years. If journalists and editors confronted the hypocrisy that sustains this policy with even a shred of courage, there is simply no way it could stand the light of day.

Another little detail that the media missed when reporting the Supreme Court decision is that Clarence Thomas, who wrote the brutal opinion of the court, is the one justice who admits having smoked marijuana, when he was at Yale Law School.
Kevin Nelson
Bow, Wash.

Regulation, not prohibition: Ray Hartmann chastises the media for not reporting the complete story behind the recent Supreme Court decision on medical marijuana. In asking if marijuana can treat the side-effects of bad journalism, Hartmann touches upon the root cause of America's marijuana laws. If health outcomes determined drug laws instead of cultural norms, marijuana would be legal.

Alcohol poisoning kills thousands annually. Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Marijuana is not physically addictive and has never been shown to cause an overdose death.

The first marijuana laws were a racist reaction to Mexican laborers' taking jobs from whites during the early 1900s, passed in large part due to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's yellow journalism. White Americans did not even begin to smoke marijuana until a soon-to-be entrenched government bureaucracy began funding reefer-madness propaganda. These days, marijuana is confused with '60s counterculture by those who would like to turn the clock back to the '50s.

This intergenerational culture war does far more harm than marijuana. Illegal marijuana provides the black-market contacts that introduce users to hard drugs like meth. This "gateway" is the direct result of a fundamentally flawed policy. The Netherlands has successfully reduced overall drug use by replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation. Dutch rates of drug use are significantly lower than U.S. rates in every category. Separating the hard- and soft-drug markets and establishing age controls for marijuana have proven more effective than zero tolerance. Drug-policy reform may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think the children themselves are more important than the message. Opportunistic "tough on drugs" politicians would no doubt disagree.
Robert Sharpe
Program Officer
Lindesmith Center
Drug Policy Foundation

Legalize medical marijuana: Congratulations on the commentary about the medical-marijuana question. It's time to push Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer to introduce bills in Congress legalizing all appropriate medications for palliative use. I am close to this issue since so many of my friends receive marijuana from the Los Angeles Cannabis Cooperative and since I am a former friend and business associate of Peter McWilliams, who died in his bathtub while under a federal order not to consume or inhale THC.
Kevin Martin
Los Angeles

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