As you may know by now, in a tragic act of insane violence, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was targeted for assassination, but survived the point-blank gunshot allegedly fired by Jared Lee Loughner, a 22-year-old man whose rambling internet paranoia calls his sanity into question. Loughner also allegedly fired into the crowd, killing a 9-year-old girl (born on 9/11/2001, incidentally), a federal Circuit Court judge, a Giffords staffer, and three others, and wounding several more. All of us at NORML are shocked and saddened by the event and our condolences go out to all the friends, family, and colleagues of the victims who are suffering so much at this time.
Much is being made of Sarah Palin’s imfamous “Take Back the 20″ website, where 20 representatives were “targeted” with bullseyes, including Giffords, because they voted for the Obama Health Care Bill yet serve in districts won by McCain/Palin in 2008. In announcing the map, Palin had tweeted “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’” and in covering the results of the election, she tweeted, “Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)”. Also, Gifford’s opponent, Jesse Kelly, held an event advertised as “Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” (By the way, not a typo in missing the periods after “November” or “office”.) Others in response say Loughner was just a fringe crazy person whose actions cannot be blamed on inflamed political rhetoric using firearms and battle allusions.
But while “insane loner psycho just lost it” or “violent rhetoric leads to violence” works for most people as an explanation for Loughner’s actions, for some there has to be better scapegoat. Whoever had “less than 24 hours” in the “when will they blame this on marijuana” pool just won:
His exact motivation was not clear, but a former classmate described Loughner as a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world.
High school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, said Loughner seemed to be “floating through life” and “doing his own thing.”
“Sometimes religion was brought up or drugs. He smoked pot, I don’t know how regularly. And he wasn’t too keen on religion from what I could tell,” Wiens said.
And on Huffington Post, we find comments like this in response to the news:
Looks like my neighbors kid. He wears long black rain coats, I’ve seen him strung out on the grass, carries a 357 magnum in hand outside of his house….walks with an attitude, rumors have it that he has been in court for drug possesion.….don’t you love this world. Sad, sad and sad.
“another endorsement for the medical marijuana lobby I am sure.”
If Loughner at age 22 is a pot smoker all that tells us is he is a fairly typical 22-year-old male. Among young adults, 31% will use cannabis at least once this year – almost one in three! 12.4% of people that age will use cannabis at least twice a week. And that’s all young adults, male and female, aged 18-25. If we drill-down to just 22-and-23-year-old males, 56% have tried marijuana, 30% will use marijuana this year, 18% will use this month, and 6% will use marijuana almost every day. (All data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which doesn’t identify data for only 22-year-olds.)
Now, Loughner does sound like the kind of person who should not be smoking pot. It’s never a good idea for people with mental illness like schizophrenia to use cannabis. However, locking up mentally healthy adults who use cannabis in Arizona didn’t stop Loughner from smoking pot, did it? In fact, it may have made it easier for him to do so, as he could acquire it from anonymous dealers who don’t care if he’s mentally disturbed instead of being forced to enter a secure dispensary with video cameras and licensed clerks who could be trained to spot mental illness and offer treatment resources paid for by marijuana profits (much like the lotto bars here in Oregon train bartenders to spot problem gamblers, require all such bars to offer gambling addiction literature, and all treatment is free for those who need it.) Unfortunately, Rep. Giffords opposes decriminalization of marijuana for fear of the violent Mexican drug organizations. In the last Congress she sponsored a resolution supporting the Merida Initiative to send more money and guns to Mexico to fight the cartels.
The part that really disturbs me is that just last year, Arizona Gov. Brewer signed a law that allows adults 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, joining Alaska and Vermont as the only states where any citizen can be legally packing heat in public at a political rally without any sort of registration or training to do so. Had Loughner been approached by a police officer and that pistol was found in his pocket, legally there would have been nothing the police could have done.
But if Loughner had a joint in his pocket, police could have arrested him and he may have faced six-to-eighteen months in jail. If Loughner had been pulled over driving to the rally and a piss test revealed he had smoked a joint last week, he’d be placed into mandatory 24-hour custody and faced six months in jail.
Arizona: If you look Mexican, we need to see your papers. If you’re smoking pot, we need to throw you in jail. But if you want to take a concealed gun to a political rally, we don’t need to see any papers and we won’t throw you in jail.
UPDATE: In reading the comments my article has generated, I may not have written those last three paragraphs in such a clear manner. I’ve got 2nd Amendment fans and right-wingers angrily denouncing my leftie gun-control ways, which is amusing, because gun regulations are one area where I and my leftie brethren part ways. I’m from Idaho. I first shot a .22 rifle at age 8, knocking down cans and bottles with my dad. I took hunter safety at age 12, though I don’t really enjoy hunting. I served Idaho and America in the National Guard and have fired (and enjoyed firing) fully automatic M-16′s and M-60′s
I do question the wisdom of no training or permit requirements for a concealed weapon in public but that wasn’t the point. The point was to highlight the absurdity of a state that trusts its citizens to carry around hidden handguns at the shopping center and political rally being so terrified of its citizens carrying marijuana they have to imprison them for mere possession.
UPDATE II: Maybe I spoke too soon about Loughner’s marijuana use as self-medication for mental illness… maybe it was the only thing keeping him sane. This just in from Mother Jones:
In October 2008, Tierney was living in Phoenix, and Loughner came to visit. They went to see a Mars Volta concert with friends, and Tierney was surprised when Loughner said he had quit partying “completely.” Loughner, according to Tierney, said, “I’m going to lead a more healthy lifestyle, not smoke cigarettes or pot anymore, and I’m going to start working out.” Tierney was happy for his friend: “I said, ‘Dude, that’s awesome.’ And the next time I saw him he was 10 pounds lighter.” Tierney never saw Loughner smoke marijuana again, and he was surprised at media reports that Loughner had been rejected from the military in 2009 for failing a drug test: “He was clean, clean. I saw him after that continuously. He would not do it.”
After Loughner apparently gave up drugs and booze, “his theories got worse,” Tierney says. “After he quit, he was just off the wall.” And Loughner started to drift away from his group of friends about a year ago.
It’s well known that there is a connection between marijuana use and schizophrenia but it is commonly thought that much of this can be attributed to people who are experiencing symptoms of mental illness who then self-medicate with cannabis. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper and more accessible than mental health care treatment in this country.
UPDATE III: Now TIME Magazine is reporting that Loughner failed out of the military processing station for admitting to being a regular marijuana user, yet completely passed his drug screening.
But instead of marking the beginning of Private Loughner’s military career, the visit to the processing station quickly aborted it, ending abruptly at Question 17i on DD Form 2807-1. That question — part of the medical history required by the military before someone is allowed to enlist — asked if Loughner had ever “used illegal drugs or abused prescription drugs.” An Army official says Loughner admitted he was a regular marijuana user. With that, the official says, the young man’s military career went up in smoke.(See the link between marijuana and schizophrenia.)
Indeed, Army officials say Loughner passed a urinalysis designed to detect drug use. “He didn’t fail a drug test — he admitted to excessive drug use,” an Army official says. The confession was so clear that the military had no choice. “He admitted that he smoked marijuana to such an extent that we said, ‘No, thank you.’ We’re not going to accept a habitual drug abuser into the Army.” “It’s bizarre,” another official says. “I certainly wouldn’t go through the whole process only to say, ‘Hey, I’ve been smoking marijuana for the past couple of years.’ “
As I responded to the LA Weekly Blog’s coverage of this story:
In the 1940s when hardly anyone but jazz musicians smoked pot, the rate of schizophrenia was about 1% of the US population.
In 1979, the peak of marijuana use in America, the rate of schizophrenia was about 1% of the US population.
In 2011 when we have fifteen states that recognize the medical use of marijuana, the rate of schizophrenia is about 1% of the US population.
Also, we have a mentally ill man saying he was a regular marijuana user but a MEPS urinalysis, which could detect marijuana use in a regular marijuana user for anywhere from seven to ninety days, came up clean. Perhaps he was lying to the recruiter. Maybe it’s a “let’s waste the government’s time” ruse to go all the way through to that point and then force them to reject him for something as innocuous as pot use. Why else would you open up about your marijuana use if you wanted to really get into the Army, especially if you know you’re going to pee clean?
UPDATE IV: Now David Frum (former speech writer for George W. Bush) and Cliff Kincaid (winner of the imaginary Harry J. Anslinger Award for Accuracy in Media) have weighed in on the “Loughner smoked pot” angle. Frum writes in “Did Pot Trigger Giffords Shooting?“:
The connection between marijuana and schizophrenia is both controversial and complicated.
The raw association is strong:
- Schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as non-schizophrenics.
- People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.
…After the Tucson shooting, there may be renewed pressure to control the weapons that committed the crime. But what about the drugs that may have aggravated the killer’s mental disease? The trend these days seems toward a more casual attitude and easier access to those drugs. Among the things we should be discussing in the aftermath of this horror is the accumulating evidence of those drugs’ potential contribution to making some dangerous people even more dangerous than they might otherwise have been.
You might as well note this raw association:
- Teenagers are twice as likely to know who Miley Cyrus is as non-teenagers.
- Adults who know who Miley Cyrus is are more likely to have teenagers as those who don’t.
Actually, now that I think about it, that raw association is more accurate, because there is causal relationship between the teenagers and Miley Cyrus.
Then Frum links and blockquotes from a TIME Magazine summary on marijuana and schizophrenia, picking one part to support his hypothesis and ignoring the bulk of the article that points out, as I did above, the rates of schizophrenia seem to remaining steady, schizophrenia is primarily associated with genetics, and especially the parts of the article that show schizophrenics to sometimes benefit from cannabis use, such as this paragraph:
Their affinity for the drug may be related to a phenomenon recently described in a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry… All participants, not surprisingly, reported feeling happier when they were high, but the mood-lifting effect of marijuana was stronger among smokers with schizophrenia. Unlike people without the disease, schizophrenia patients also reported a reduction in negative feelings after smoking marijuana. “Everyone feels better,” explains lead author Cecile Henquet, an assistant professor of psychology and psychiatry at Maastricht University in Holland. “But [schizophrenia] patients also have less anxiety and are less socially withdrawn.”
We’ll talk in depth about the schizophrenia / cannabis research on tomorrow’s NORML SHOW LIVE with Dr. Mitch Earleywine, and expert on the issue.
Cliff Kincaid, meanwhile, says that the “Soros-funded Dope Lobby in Damage Control Over Shootings“:
Because of the evidence that Loughner was a pothead, and the evidence that marijuana abuse is linked to mental illness, the Soros-funded marijuana lobby is working overtime to try to draw media attention away from his addiction to the drug.
NORML doesn’t receive any funding from George Soros. Not that we’d reject it…
Interestingly, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) had attacked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in the shootings, for opposing decriminalization of marijuana.
That “attack” was publishing, without comment, her letter to a constituent about her views on marijuana legalization, forwarded to us as part of a project we call “Politicians on Pot“, where we have archived hundreds of such letters on marijuana policy from elected officials. Interesting that Mr. Kincaid considers publishing the opinions of government officials an “attack”.
Giffords had said, “There are serious public health costs associated with drug misuse, as well as larger economic and societal costs. For example, marijuana is often cited as a gateway drug that leads to the use of more dangerous narcotics. For these reasons, I do not support decriminalizing marijuana.”
Now she is fighting for her life because of bullets fired from the gun of a certified marijuana addict.
Certified by you, “Dr.” Kincaid? Even if you believe all of your reefer madness, how has prohibition stopped Jared Loughner from being a “certified marijuana addict”? We have some of the strictest marijuana prohibition laws in the Western world, yet we have the highest rates of marijuana use. That Jared Loughner may have used marijuana is no more an argument for what we’re doing now than 11,773 drunk-driving deaths argue for a repeal of the 21st Amendment.
We have people blaming the use of political gun metaphors by powerful people on the right. We have people blaming marijuana legalization efforts by powerful people on the left. We have people blaming easy access to guns. We have people blaming easy access to marijuana.
How about we just stick to blaming a mentally ill young man named Jared Loughner?
UPDATE V: Cliff Kincaid responded to our NORML Board Member Paul Kuhn who called Kincaid out for his inaccuracies. Kincaid deflected (I won’t re-print it), so I just had to respond. You can, too: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cliff, I am the person who wrote the article you condemn in your desperate attempt to link Jared Loughner’s insane crime spree and his marijuana use.
You published an article called “Soros-funded Dope Lobby in Damage Control Over Shootings”. In your reply to NORML’s Paul Kuhn, you try to dismiss this inaccuracy by noting that the “dope lobby” is funded by Hefner, Soros, Sperling, and Lewis; therefore, you were accurate. Yet, the only member of the “dope lobby” you cite as engaging in “damage control” is NORML. Aside from Mr. Hefner’s thousands in assistance in the early 1970s, NORML has received no funding from the people you list. Soros, Sperling, and Lewis fund groups in the “dope lobby” like Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Alliance, none of which have referenced the Loughner crimes whatsoever.
So the only logical way anyone can interpret the headline is that the “dope lobby” in “damage control” is “Soros-funded” and you only identify NORML as exhibiting this “damage control”. You’re smart enough to know that… and old enough to remember sentence diagramming. You could have written “Hefner-funded dope lobby…” and it at least would have been accuracy in media, if a bit anachronistic.
Next, we in no way “attacked” Rep. Giffords by posting her views on marijuana legalization. We have a feature called “Politicians on Pot” where we encourage citizens to write their elected officials about marijuana law reform. Those citizens then send to us the replies they receive on official congressional letterhead. We have many politicians, including Rep. Giffords, who continue to support prohibition, and we have some, like Rep. Paul, who support legalization. If posting the views of our elected officials without editorial comment is an “attack”, then every advocacy group posting the views of politicians is attacking. Like, perhaps, NARAL posting reps’ views on abortion or NRA posting reps’ views on gun laws, or, say, Sarah PAC when it posts Rep. Giffords’ support of the Obama Health Care Plan. (Yet we at NORML don’t add editorial comments like gunsight targets and tweets to “RELOAD!”.)
As for “damage control”, I suppose you could look at it that way. When people like you and David Frum, having no understanding of either cannabis or schizophrenia, preach to the public like latter-day Anslingers that cannabis use is the cause of violent psychotic outbreaks, the truth about both cannabis and mental illness is damaged. The piece by Frum you link to links to a fairly objective review from TIME Magazine, yet Frum cherry picks one paragraph and ignores the others that reveal no causal relationship between marijuana use and schizophrenia and even some medical benefit for some schizophrenics.
This afternoon I interviewed psychology professor Dr. Mitch Earleywine, someone who has studied far more about cannabis and mental illness than you and David Frum combined. I encourage you to view the video at http://stash.norml.org/stash-for-wed-jan-12-2001 and get yourself educated on the subject. The facts are that in 1940 when few but jazz musicians used cannabis, about 1% of the population was schizophrenic. In 1979 at the height of marijuana’s popularity, 1% of the population was schizophrenic. Today, guess what, still about 1% of the population is schizophrenic. A look at mental hospital admissions from 1996-2006 in 186 hospitals in the UK found that while cannabis use increased greatly, rates of admissions for psychoses and schizophrenia remained steady.
Besides, what do you want to do about it, make marijuana illegal? Throw people in prison if they grow it? Arrest and drug test the people who smoke it? Have police burst down their doors, shoot their pets, destroy their property, and seize their assets for possessing it? Kick them out of college and suspend their financial aid if we catch them smoking it? Threaten their jobs and child custody if caught with it? Treat them as criminals even if they are using it as medicine? For Cliff, as you know, we’re doing all that now (Arizona’s medical marijuana isn’t in effect yet), we’ve been doing it for forty years, and still Jared Loughner tried to assassinate a Democratic Congressperson.
Fifteen million people will use cannabis this month in America. Science shows them to be less violent, aggressive, and disruptive under the influence and in general, as opposed to the legal drug, alcohol, which is proven to increase violence, aggression, and disruption. If we discover that Loughner enjoyed “Miller Time” as much as “4:20”, will you write about the culpability of alcohol in the shooting?
Let’s stick to blaming crazy people for the crazy things they do. Aren’t you right-wingers always talking about personal responsibility anyway?