Week of May 30, 2001

May 30, 2001 at 4:00 am
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

"They're just stupid": "It would send the wrong message to the children" is one of the standard responses to arguments in support of medical marijuana. By keeping marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the federal government sends the wrong message to my 14-year-old daughter.

Our daughter's Sunday-school teacher, a close family friend, contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in 1982. More than a decade later, AIDS caught up with her. The side effects of the medications she took forced her to stop teaching. She couldn't eat and was being fed through a tube. She wasted away and looked like a skeleton. After visiting her, my daughter had nightmares.

In January 1997, California's Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215, went into effect, and we encouraged our friend to try cannabis. As a Sunday-school teacher, she thought it would send the wrong message to her students. We finally convinced her to try it in private. Within weeks, she was eating voraciously. She was out and about, enjoying herself. She returned to the classroom.

Our young daughter saw the transformation. This unique medicine gave our friend two more years of life. In May 1999, our friend died from a ruptured pancreas, a result of the highly toxic AIDS medications she took.

My daughter understands that Congress has made marijuana possession a federal crime. I asked her whether the mixed messages confused her and how she could reconcile the government's stance with her experience. "I'm not confused," she said. "They're just stupid."

I want the next generation to be able to look up to our government and elected leaders. My daughter sees through the government's stubborn refusal to admit to marijuana's obvious medical benefit and the disinformation campaign used to support that inhumane position. And that sends the wrong message to my kid.
Jane Marcus
Palo Alto, Calif.

Programmed to Frustrate
Certification wears out small businesses: The idea that a company would be rejected by the certification committee because the final document has not been notarized is ridiculous [Peter Downs, "Certifiably Mad," RFT, April 25]. In such an instance, it is the certification specialist who should recognize the incompleteness of the documents and assist the applying company to remedy the situation rather than presenting the application for certification and having it denied for such a simple technicality. This [example] crystallizes the point being made by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: [The city's minority] certification process is riddled with technical pitfalls that have nothing to do with substantive factual information.

I was told and led to believe that the certification process was informal and straightforward, only to be ambushed by a formal process riddled with technical pitfalls and subjective judgments. The taxpayer-funded certification process controlled by Percy Green is used to wear out the small business by bringing the unlimited resources of the public sector against the limited resources of minority-owned small businesses.
Tony Angel
Gonzalez Cos.
via the Internet

The need for stringent criteria: I read the article on Percy Green and the criticism he received primarily from the Hispanic community. For anyone to accuse Percy Green of discriminating against another ethnic group is a clear admission to me that he or she does not know him. I worked with Percy for numerous years in the civil-rights movement. He exudes fairness, wisdom and understanding and makes decisions objectively, based on facts. And he cannot be bought or influenced by special interests. I currently live in Indianapolis and have been certified as a MBE and a WBE. The process took at least a year, and I resented it. As the state certification committee explained to me, "too many white-owned companies have placed women and/or minorities as presidents of companies or given them part ownership with no true control of the business." I then understood and appreciated the stringent criteria.

Ethnic people and women continue to be denied business opportunities because of whites' chicanery. I applaud Percy for standing his ground. I want to know why the mayor is not publicly supporting Percy. Is he influenced by special-interest groups?
Jacqueline M. Bell

Whom Can You Trust?
If we believe politicians, why not Jim Green? I recently moved to St. Louis from Caruthersville. You ask why we should believe James C. Green [C.D. Stelzer, "Maybe in Memphis," RFT, May 9]? The same reason we believe politicians and the government. Politicians and the government have lied or covered up situations for years, most recently the Oklahoma bombing files. Do we really know the truth about other events, or do we believe what we are told? We as humans believe anything and everything we read or hear.
David J. Kelly
St. Louis

U. City Time
Justice has been served: I want to thank René Spencer Saller for the straightforward words used to describe the rap-buying public in the reference to Nelly and his success ["The 2001 RFT Slammies," RFT, May 16].

It is sad that many artists are merely "flavors of the month," but Nelly has hung on so long, there seems to be a difference -- a talented artist who limits the annoying boasting. Nelly will be in the public eye for some time with the St. Lunatics and his own follow-up LP; we can only wish him the best. Also, congrats to DJ Charlie Chan for his Slammy win.

Finally, justice has been served and Charlie gets his due! U. City is representing. As Charlie might have said back in the day (as has Nelly), "U time, U time, U, U...."
Marshall Gralnick
University City