Opus 319a (January 10, 2014). Off-topic somewhat this time—but forgivable, considering the Historic Nature of the event—we review the cannabis situation in Colorado, the first state to legalize the rad weed. We found at least four editoons on the subject and post them, and we post another two dozen that comment on the Big Newsstories of 2013, a year-end round up. That’s it for the Bounding Bunny Bonus. And it begins right chere—:
THE NEW ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
No, I’m not high on pot in this photo, supercilious but blissful grin notwithstanding. I’m just sprouting a few chin whiskers, trying to keep up with the current stubble fashion. I began the facial follicle project thinking it’d make me look dashing; but when the whiskers came in gray and white, it ended making me look doddering. So much for vanity. (But I’m still keeping the stubble.)
In posting this beaming selfie, I’m celebrating, with countless others, the advent of legalized recreational weed in Colorado. On January 1, recreational pot shops opened all over the state. And so did pot tourism. Three new companies are offering guided cannabis tours, expecting out-of-staters to descend on the state to visit pot shops, buy grass, and stand on the step of the state capital building that has etched on it “one mile high” (above sea level); everyone will get a “Mile High Club” sticker. One pot tour company is offering a $99 “Napa Valley wine tour but with marijuana.” But out-of-state visitors cannot buy weed and take it home with them: transporting Maryjane across state lines is illegal. And it’s illegal to have it at the Denver airport. But passengers in tour buses might be able to toke away; that’s not quite clear yet.
Colorado’s monumental marijuana event did not attract much attention among editoonists anywhere in the country except, for the most part, in the West. And only a few of those was I able to find. Inspecting the adjacent visual aid clockwise from the upper right, Walt Handelsman at the Advocate in New Orleans was the only one in the East I saw. Both he and Pat Bagley at the Salt Lake Tribune were simply having cartoon fun with the notion of weed being so readily—and legally—available. Jim Morin at the Miami Herald made a more pointed observation, comparing marijuana use to alcohol use; implicit in his comparison is the likelihood that most of us have never seen a stoner staggering under the influence—ergo, drunks are more dangerous than stoners. But retired Mike Keefe, erstwhile of the Denver Post (for which Keefe does a Sunday cartoon), joined Bagley and Handelsman in acknowledging the legality of pot in Colorado without crusading on the issue one way or the other; Keefe simply depicted the Colorado state flag with a joint between the “lips” of the C. Neat and clever use of a visual.
Despite the seeming permissiveness of the new law, it’s illegal to smoke pot in public. No toking on the street. And during the months-long run-up to January 1, disputation arose about whether or not you could blow a stick on your front porch. Or your back porch. Or, even, inside your house if someone passing by outside could see you lighting up through your front window.
It’s also illegal to drive under the influence. And because pot is still illegal under federal law, cannabis consumption in the military (which must, by definition, obey federal law) is prohibited.
The new law lets Colorado residents over 21 buy up to an ounce of pot for recreational purposes; non-residents are restricted to a quarter ounce. But they gotta smoke it here. Dunno about the edible versions of recreational weed. Can the authorities detect cannabis infused in a dozen cookies?
The Colorado tourism agency is not yet convinced that promoting pot tourism is a good idea. Ski resorts claim they’ll be herb-free. Most of them are on U.S. Forest Service land where federal prohibition applies to the possession or use of marijuana. And flying with grass (even medical marijuana) is prohibited by the Transportation Security Administration.
And then there’s the banking problem. Since pot is still illegal under federal law, banks are hesitant to accept deposits of revenues generated at the retail boo shops.
Commercially speaking, the pot business is booming. Shop owners expected a gigantic surge of customers on opening day, but the lines (and the sales) haven’t diminished in the ensuing week. An estimated 10,000 people bought Maryjane on the first day of legal sales; since then, another 90,000 or more have made purchases.
Some shops have sold out, and many are anticipating a shortfall within days or weeks. That’s because virtually all of the shops operated as medical marijuana dispensaries until January 1—and as such, they were required to grow what they sold. Commercial growing didn’t become legal until January 1. At the moment legal sale of recreational mj began, then, supplies were comparatively limited.
“In the short term,” the Denver Post estimates, “stores will be able to restock with mini-harvests of the plants and with inventory transferred from medical to recreational purposes. But it will take until March or April before shops will have a full harvest of plants grown solely for recreational sale.”
So it ain’t all carefree giggles here in the “high” country. But it is historic. And the history goes back 76 years.
IN 1937, FEDERAL PROHIBITION OF MARIJUANA was formally inaugurated here in Denver when agents knocked on an apartment door at 17th and Lawrence and arrested its occupant, Samuel Caldwell, a 58-year-old widower. He was scarcely Mr. Innocent: he had already served two stints behind bars. This time, he was accused of selling weed to a man named Moses Baca, who ratted Caldwell out when police questioned him because he’d tried to kill his wife. He’d been high on Maryjane at the time, he said.
The agents found three pounds of grass in Caldwell’s apartment, reported the Denver Post recently in its extended coverage of the legalization. Two days after his arrest, he was tried and sentenced to four years in prison. It was so historic an occasion that the nation’s leading anti-marijuana crusader, Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger, came to Denver to watch the trial.
In sentencing Caldwell, federal judge J. Foster Symes felt obliged to sermonize: “I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics,” he intoned from the bench, “—I have no sympathies with those who sell this weed.”
Even as he spoke, federal agents were arresting two more men on marijuana charges. Since then, an estimated 26 million persons have been busted for mj sins.
NEWS COVERAGE of the Opening Day of Legal Recreational Weed was extensive. Television’s network news reported on the event. So did England’s Guardian and The Times of India. Mobs of reporters outnumbered customers at many locations. Some expected cannabis chaos, but everyone was surprised at the complete lack of disturbance or disorderliness. The people in the long lines outside retail pot shops were quiet and convivial—in a word, mellow. One shop operator kept people happy in the line outside his place by bringing in a food truck to satisfy the needs of his customers’ bellies before they could attend to their other needs.
Those who expected impatient and therefore unruly throngs of reefer-puffing devotees should have known better. Colorado has been selling medical marijuana since 2000: the infrastructure has been in place and functioning smoothly for a comparatively long time. Still, some shop operators hired security guards, and some of those were armed.
Previously, medical mj shops didn’t have armed guards because store owners feared that federal officials would be leery of mixing guns and weed. But the prospect of mobs of Maryjane users convinced many owners to take precautions. Probably, as it turned out, unnecessary. Pot buyers are no longer criminals and don’t require to be met with a show of law and order force.
Inside the pot shops, weed wares were on display—canisters of different brands of grass lined the shelves. And when customers made their choices, attendants measured out the product and weighed it on scales next to cash registers. One store pre-packaged products (including edibles) in order to speed up the process.
Amid all the festivities, downsides were noted.
EVEN WEED ADVOCATES warn that cannabis users can face serious consequences. Nothing in the state law controls how employers and landlords might react. Employers can fire employees for on-the-job use and, even, for using it away from work if the residual effects are detectable. Landlords can evict tenants. And mj use can impact government benefits or a child custody case.
And there are health concerns. Because marijuana has been outlawed for so long, it has been subject to very little up-to-date scientific research. Few can say, with authority, what the long range effects of pot smoking might be.
Some say, with some authority, that driving while high is not safe. Concentration is difficult; physical coordination is iffy; it’s hard to judge distances, speeds, or identifying sounds.
Just as smoking ordinary cigarettes can damage the smoker’s lungs, so can blasting a roach. According to a Mayo Clinic report, saith the Denver Post, “marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke and [therefore] has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract. Marijuana smoke is commonly inhaled deeper and held longer in the lungs than is tobacco smoke, increasing the lungs’ exposure to carcinogens.”
Some weed devotees opt for edibles to avoid infecting their lungs. And there’s the ever-present risk of dependency.
The Colorado Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation reports that as the state’s laws on marijuana loosened for medical use, it has seen an increase in admissions of adults seeking treatment for pot addiction.
But according to several dissident voices raised during the celebration, the real danger lies in weed use by young people. And the youth of the world are always eager to do what adults around them are doing; it won’t be long before teenagers are showing up at treatment centers. In fact, that’s been going on for years.
Generally speaking, the pot danger is the same danger that stalks adolescents who drink alcohol: their brains have not yet fully developed, and while the development is going on, it’s risky to mess with ingesting mind altering substances. And brain development can continue until a person is in his/her mid-twenties.
The American Medical Association warns that “heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ.” A study in New Zealand in 2012 showed that long-term users of mj dropped an average of 8 IQ points.
Performance in school is often affected by marijuana use—particularly if it becomes habitual, a highly likely outcome with adolescents, who are typically more “troubled” by life than adults and therefore enthusiastically welcome the kind of respite to be found in grass.
A counseling psychologist at a family therapy center says pot use is associated with motivation, attention and learning—and failure at school. Young boo blasters “get lower grades, are more likely to drop out, and have lower salaries and job success,” said the psychologist.
Using pot, she continued, also increases the rates at which people engage in risky behaviors such as unplanned sexual activity and the concurrent use of other drugs or intoxicants—all temptations that face teenagers frequently.
And pot use can disguise other abnormal behaviors, preventing them from being identified—anxiety disorders, for instance, and ADHD. Maryjane provides ADHD sufferers with short-term release from their condition, but if they begin to use it daily—and what ADHD sufferer would not?—“it is no longer calming,” said the pyschologist, “—they can become paranoid.”
Much of the paranoia about pot being expressed by medical and psychological professionals sounds familiar: it’s the kind of scare tactic that has been deployed against weed since the beginning of our cultural fear of it. Still, medical science is somewhat more sophisticated these days than it was a couple generations ago. We’d be foolish to disregard everything said about grass that is negative.
Once legal pot use has been in place for a while, scientists will have more evidence to evaluate. And legalizing of marijuana is certain to spread to other states. Washington has already legalized the stuff. Other states can’t be far behind. So there will be much more evidence in a few short years.
Locally, a member of a group that hopes to get the law legalizing pot repealed thinks repeal is inevitable. “In the end, we’ll win,” says Bob Doyle, “but we have to have an education process first.”
National polls reveal a growing percentage of the population that favors legalizing marijuana. But not everyone endorses its legalization.
Ruth Marcus, a columnist in the Washington Post Writers Group, doesn’t think our society will be better off with another legal mind-altering substance in use. “In particular,” she goes on, “our kids will not be better off with another mind-altering legal substance. ... [And] the more widely available marijuana becomes, the more minors will use it. If college seniors [who are generally over 21] in fraternities can legally buy pot, more freshmen and sophomores will be smoking more of it.”
Not everyone is interested in using it.
“What’s the attraction of getting high?” one person asked, rhetorically. “There are other ways to achieve an altered state of consciousness. I can achieve that just by holding my wife’s hand.”
As for me, I tried pot several times a few eons ago when I was young and knew everything, and even with that dubious condition, I decided I liked my unpotted consciousness better, addled though it may seem to the casual observer.
But we shouldn’t leave cannabis Colorado without Zonker and Zipper, Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury potheads who set out some months ago to start a grow in the grass-friendly state.
The Bud Boys, as usual, are just a little off kilter—but not without satiric clout.
THE YEAR’S BIG NEWSSTORIES
The Week magazine’s year-end issue featured, as usual—as it does every issue—a full-color, painted editorial cartoon, this time, by Howard McWilliams, who caricatures the actors in the year’s big newsstories: Bronco Bama politically sick in bed, attended Pope Francis with visitors bringing flowers—Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani—and Texas Senator Ted Cruz about to perform a prostate exam by shoving his fingers up the Prez’s rectum, a telling deployment of a visual metaphor. In the distance, a tonguey Miley Cyrus, Toronto’s scapegrace major Rob Ford, Obamacare’s slipshod administrator of Health and Services, Secretary Kathleen Sebelilus, and whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Casting a rolling eye over last year’s editorial cartoon crop, we’ve posted cartoons on most of the year’s biggest newsstories, an array we preface with the purely philosophical observation that the year’s biggest events did not necessarily translate themselves into the biggest newsstories. Twerking Miley Cyrus attracted more sustained serious journalism than, say, the typhoon killing thousands in the Philippines or the slaughter of Muslim Brothers in Egypt. But some of the nation’s news promulgators still managed to focus on significant events rather than the ruffles and flourishes of pop culture.
In our first exhibit just at the corner of your eye, the electronic prying of NSA, a secret project of alarming magnitude, attracted the attention of nearly every journalist in the country—and every editoonist. At the upper left, Bob Gorrell employs an enduring symbol from popular culture to make a horrific point: the NSA’s Orwellian surveillance of phone and other communication records may make us safer, but Linus’ security blanket ends in a noose—ergo, we may hang ourselves with our obsessive preoccupation about security. Nicely done (even if Gorrell is flying in the face of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s dislike of his iconic characters being used in political cartoons).
Next around the clock, gadfly Ted Rall offers his always-unique take on the sins of the NSA, piling up his indictment, panel by panel, in the most effective use of the comic strip format. Dave Horsey turns to the other confounding aspect of the event—whistle-blower Edward Snowden—for which Horsey resorts to a facsimile of the Where’s Waldo puzzle to dramatize Snowden’s flight from so-called justice. For the Boston Marathon tragedy, Zionist cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen (expatriate Brooklynite) offers a commendably humanist reaction in his Dry Bones comic strip, which has been running in Israel since 1973 (online since 2005).
The NSA fiasco may well be the most important event of the year, and we surrender to that seeming inevitability with the next two cartoons. I’m including Paul Combs not only because he captures a truth about Snowden’s situation in Russia but because the drawing is so luxuriously appealing. Below that, R.J. Matson gives us a perfect visual metaphor for what NSA—with the connivance of Congress—is doing, coupled to a speech balloon brimming with double meaning.
The government shutdown engineered by the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm may not be the second most important event of the year, but Tom Toles shows us in our next display just how effective the GOP’s strategy was—a vivid image of unintended consequences if ever there was one. The ongoing tragedy of the Syrian civil war is doubtless the second most important event of the year (after the NSA expose), and here, next on the clock, Bob Gorrell helps us remember how Prez Obama and the ever-attendant Congress handled that episode, offering a bombshell of an image. But Obama’s next step, taking the bomb out of the hands of Congress and postponing military action, is proving at least as effective as invading Syria might have been in getting chemical weapons out of the hands of the Syrian madman.
Below that, Nick Anderson comments on two of the year’s events, comparing them to the detriment of the Froth Estate—our unseemly fascination with Miley Cyrus while hundreds died in sarin gas attacks in Syria. Finally, Bill Day does what many of his colleagues were doing over the last few months since Pope Francis arrived with a new Vatican message of humility and help for the world’s poor: he compares the Pope to Jesus, but in anthropomorphizing the Pope’s staff, Day makes his point with imagery, not just words, as many of the others did.
The country’s rapidly changing attitude about gay marriage—and the Supreme Court’s invalidating the more odious aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (effectively rendering it inoperative and granting same-sex couples full equality under the law)—are next on list of top newsstories of the year. Instead of deploying images that applaud, I’m posting a couple that ridicule the anti-gay crusaders. Joel Pett at the upper left deftly skewers two targets—the rabid anti-gay posture generally and the Court’s belief that corporations are people. The comic strip format permits him to gradually expand on his topic before dropping the bomb on both targets. Cartoonist Sale gives voice to the seldom-mentioned but always present hypocrisy of those who think legalizing same-sex marriage will tragically undermine traditional marriage.
Then we change the subject to the story of the Internal Revenue Service’s persecution of the Tea Party and other wild-eyed right wing-nuts, who sought tax-exempt status even though their proclaimed purpose was advocacy of political causes; the applications of a few liberal organizations were also delayed as the IRS scrutinized. In the midst of this scandal, it was revealed that the Justice Department had snooped on journalists phone records while investigating leaks from the White House. Both of these shocking episodes are dealt with by David Fitzsimmons, who uses a ghostly, satanic Richard Nixon to warn Obama of the folly of attacking the press, a point nearly impossible to make without the image of Nixon as the Devil (assuming one of Nixon’s iconic poses, flashing “V” for Victory).
Another big story of the year erupted over the verdict at the trial of George Zimmerman, who, after killing an African American teenager, got off scotfree. Conservative whites maintained that Zimmerman never should have been charged; blacks and liberals insisted that he got away with murder. Mike Thompson’s supremely ironic comment at the upper left at the elbow of your eye yokes the Zimmerman verdict to the Supreme Court ruling overturning portions of the Voting Rights Act. Thompson’s imagery is perfunctory, but he highlights the bitter irony, giving it emotional as well as intellectual impact. Next, Steve Sack draws attention to the continuing effect of such seemingly racist actions on the lives of African Americans, contrasting the advice given their children by white and by black parents.
And guns were back in the news after the Newtown school shooting at the end of 2012. Despite the horror of the tragedy, the National Rambo Association carried the day, calling for the perpetual protection of Second Amendment rights to the exclusion of all other considerations. Not even modest gun control legislation made its way through Congress; and meanwhile, 10,000-12,000 Americans die every year from gun play so that the right to bear arms will not be infringed. (That number is actually low, according to Slate; if suicides are included, the yearly tally has averaged about 32,000—almost 90 people every day. Every day.) Pat Bagley piles on the ridicule of the NRA position that the right to own guns guarantees freedom; the image he contrives asks bluntly how this miserable bastard can be “free,” crouching fearfully in his basement redoubt, clutching his weapon and surrounded by a lifetime supply of ammunition. Nate Beeler is next with a vivid image of the hysterically extreme opposing opinions on the issue. Mental illness indeed.
The Obamacare roll-out debacle was the big story after NSA spying and the Syrian slaughter. And in our last visual aid, Henry Payne at the upper left proclaims with admirable irony the extent of the stumble, employing the “Mission Accomplished” banner with which GeeDubya prematurely (and erroneously) announced the “end” of the conquest of Iraq to suggest the extent of Obama’s failure. Neatly done. Next, Eric Allie skewers Obama for lying to the American public: the pose evokes Nixon’s iconic posture—and with that, Nixon’s duplicity—adding the telling image of crossed fingers that signal “I’m fibbing.” Another adroitly revealing image.
The so-called news media (echoed by trumpeting Pachyderms on all sides) endlessly repeated Obama’s “lie,” and all the snipers conveniently overlooked at least eight Donkey senators (including Mary Landrieu and Mark Udall) and half-a-dozen (at least) House members (including Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi) who said exactly the same thing that Obama said. They escaped; Obama did not.
Payne and Allie are both of the conservative (i.e., ragingly hostile) persuasion, but their imagery is powerful and memorable. Still, as usual, I have the last word.
PolitiFact, a nonpartisan fact-checking operation run out of the Tampa Bay Times, awarded Obama’s oft-repeated utterance the “lie of the year” designation. By clear implication, the Prez was Liar of the Year. The previous year, Mitt Romney won the nod for best mendacity for saying that Jeep was moving its factories to China. Calling the sitting President of the U.S. “liar of the year” is a serious matter, and it deserves more investigation than our pundit news media are capable of giving it. So I’ll try here. (With what many will say is a predictable outcome; but let’s see.)
On the bare face of the facts most often deployed, Obama was clearly lying. But “lying,” almost by definition, involves deliberately telling untruths. Was Obama deliberately lying? His apologists think not. (And I agree. There. The predictable part is over.)
Greg Diamond at Orange County’s “Political Mosh Pit”—Orange Juice Blog—reports that in the Los Angeles Times, columnist David Lazarus “assesses the question of whether President Obama deliberately misled the public about their ability to keep their current health insurance. The verdict: pretty much ‘no’ – and certainly not with intent to deceive. In talking to the public, he didn’t always repeat the qualifications that had been built into the bill at the time that the legislation was passed, but that’s a far cry from lying.
“If you want to see Presidential lying,” Diamond goes on, “I have a long list of lies from the Bush Jr. administration lying around here somewhere – starting with the justification for Iraq War. That was a consequential lie — or series of lies, actually. And if you want to see a recent list of lies, I’m sure I can dig up a long list of accusations leveled by Darrell Issa and others — including some in these very electronic pages. (Fast and Furious and Benghazi, anyone?)”
When Obama said “If you like your medical insurance, you can keep your medical insurance,” he should have added: “provided the insurance company continues to offer it and provided that the insurance offered meets the minimum standards demanded by Obamacare” (which qualification was always in the law and was reported on in the news of the day with reasonable frequency before the law was passed). But Obama didn’t add that. He did early on in more elaborate pitches for the Affordable Care Act; but as time went on, he shortened the pitch and reduced it to a catch phrase, which, abridging the explanation, wasn’t the whole truth.
“So, yes, the president wasn’t as clear as he should have been. You can call him a liar if you want. But I see a clear difference between not offering the full story and making stuff up out of whole cloth.
“I mean, it’s not as if he publicly insisted that so-called death panels would decide people’s medical treatment, or that most small businesses would be crippled by the reform law or that the government is taking over the entire healthcare system.
“That’s what his critics have been saying. Those are some serious lies.”
All of which factoids Nick Anderson reminds us about in his cartoon, next around the clock. Compared to the image of Obama squirting a paltry stream of misrepresentation, the GOP’s endless torrent of falsehood is a virtual flood of lies, all of which are listed in the deluge.
Finally, although joblessness wasn’t any bigger a story this year than for the last five years, I’m concluding this survey with Tom Toles’ wonderfully ironic imagery which, with a single swell foop, captures the GOP’s insouciant ignoring of the facts of life as faced by the less fortunate multitudes who have been decimated by the policies, in both the fiscal and the military conquest realms, of the Republicons, who insisted on invading Afghanistan and Iraq but refused to pay for the campaign. Toles provides a suitably bitter but hilarious note upon which to conclude our Bunny Bonus.
We’ll take up other year-end matters in our next opus before the end of the month. Meanwhile, stay ’tooned.
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