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The Overrated Importance of Being "On Message"

by FRED GARDNER

High up in Cyberspace there’s a chat room conducted by the Alliance of Reform Organizations for activists seeking to change U.S. drug policy. Last week the ARO list posted a long letter by a woman named Whitney Taylor. I recalled meeting her in 2000 when she was working in Sacramento for the Drug Policy Alliance on the Prop 36 campaign, an admirable effort to provide treatment instead of incarceration for certain drug-law violators.

Taylor is currently in Boston running the campaign for a marijuana-decriminalization initiative that will be on the ballot in 2008. Her “Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy” is a creation of the Marijuana Policy Project, which will spend more than $1 million promoting the initiative. Some local activists object to a provision that would let cops piss-test drivers and establish guilt based on the presence of marijuana metabolites. Taylor doesn’t want these activists showing their ambivalence in public.

Taylor’s message to the ARO list cites some conventional wisdom that seems untrue. “Anyone who has been involved in a successful campaign,” she asserts, “knows how crucial consistent messaging and strategy is; having everyone following his or her own script and impulses can be fatal.” Taylor writes that she will allow “the two local people that were having issues” to participate in the campaign if they meet four conditions, including “agree that CSMP speaks on behalf of the campaign and defer all press to the campaign. The campaign should speak with one voice that’s on message.”

Why? The campaign for Prop 215 in California was positively cacophonous. 215 was a harder sell than all the subsequent medical marijuana initiatives -more radical up against the 60-year inertia of Total Prohibition plus opposition from Clinton, Dole, Lungren, Davis, Boxer, Feinstein, C. Everett Koop, and 57 of 58 California DAs- yet it passed by a 56-44 margin with 5.2 million votes. One Prop 215 advocate was Whitney’s erstwhile boss Bill Zimmerman (recently in the news as auteur of the “General Betrayus” ad for MoveOn) who, from the Santa Monica office of his public-relations firm, sought to reassure the cop-worshipping public that if Prop 215 passed, law enforcement could still arrest and prosecute people for growing, distributing, and using marijuana; a doctor’s approval would only afford a possible defense in court, argued Zimmerman. He made three ads featuring respectable medical professionals in white smocks. Meanwhile, Dennis Peron’s San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club provided the media lurid footage of pot-smokers enjoying themselves in a setting that didn’t resemble a hospital ward or a pharmacy. Add the voices of individual advocates up and down the state arguing “Yes on 215” in their own communities from their own perspectives. That campaign was the opposite of “one voice that’s on message.”

Logically, it seems advantageous for any given campaign to speak in varied voices and make various arguments (which people will respond to for various reasons). Why are the professional campaign managers so uptight about deviations from their special sound bites of choice? My theory is… they’re trying to justify their own s—ries and extend the control of the funders.

Monoculture is a bad idea, an imposition on nature, in politics as in farming.

The IACM Meets in Cologne

The International Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine met Oct. 5-6 in Cologne. The recurring theme: THC is not the only biologically active cannabinoid and cannabinoids are not the only active components of the plant. Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, reviewed the evidence that cannabidiol (CBD), might be neuroprotective and effective in treating inflammation, diabetes, and sleep problems. Ethan Russo of GW Pharmaceuticals listed seven terpenoids and two flavonoids the effects of which he has begun to identify. Details in the upcoming O’Shaughnessy’s.

Harry Dent Threw Me in the Briar Patch

Harry Dent died last week, an official in the Nixon White House who is credited with devising the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy.” In the winter of 1967-68 I was a private and Dent a captain (or maybe a major) in an Army Reserve unit that drilled at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. The unit had once been commanded by Strom Thurmond and there was an outsized photo of ol’ Strom on the wall as you entered. Dent wore his dress greens and gave a current events talk at every drill. He had bright red hair and a pro-war point of view. After one talk I asked why the flag outside the armory wasn’t at half mast -the president said the nation was mourning for Martin Luther King. They took it down. I was assigned permanent KP, which I enjoyed –big pile of pots, purposeful companions, arms in hot water, don’t have to listen to any bullshit …

FRED GARDNER can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

 

 

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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