Monday, October 06, 2014

Murkowski (The Elder) Throws Kitchen Sink Into Editorial Against Marijuana Initiative

I've been hoping to get time to tease out the arguments for and against the Marijuana Initiative and go through what each side has to say.  But Frank Murkowski's commentary in today's paper was so lame, I couldn't help jumping in.

I'll just go through it as I would with a student's paper - line by line to test what it says.  I'm fairly critical, but that doesn't mean I support or oppose the proposal.  Here I'm just evaluating the argument, which seems like a kitchen sink approach.  That is, throwing in everything he can think off why people should vote no.   I'm putting Murkowski's words in blue so it's clear what he's written and what I or others I quote have written.

Alaskans should just say no to ‘Big Marijuana’
   Everyone has something to say on the marijuana issue, it’s just that not everyone has said it yet.
What exactly is that supposed to mean?  The opening sentence should tell us what the argument is about.  This sentence could be said about anything.  Just cross out marijuana and put in any word you want.  It would work just as well opening an essay for the marijuana initiative.  It doesn't affect the argument one way or the other.
For the life of me I can’t understand the rush to legalize marijuana in our state, as Ballot Measure 2 would do.
"For the life of me I can't understand" - Yes, that was always a problem for Murkowski - understanding people whose view of the world was different from his.  This may sound snarky, but I mean it seriously.  As governor, he didn't engage with those who opposed his agenda.  He had a majority in both houses.  What's to discuss?  We're right, you're wrong.  He alienated enough people in his own party that Sarah Palin beat him in the primary. 

"the rush to legalize" - I don't know what rush he's talking about.  Marijuana was legal in Alaska when I arrived in 1977.  It's been almost 40 years for us to go from individuals being able to grow a few plants and smoke them at home to making it so someone besides gardeners can legally get marijuana.  That doesn't seem like a rush to legalize.
It reminds me of the herd mentality of the lemmings stampeding off the cliff with little thought to the consequences.
About the lemmings.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a whole webpage on how the story of lemmings committing suicide is a myth.  Murkowski should know better.  Lemmings are arctic animals after all.   And Murkowski was governor of Alaska, so the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported to him.  If he's so uninformed on this one, how many other myths does this editorial have?  Here's part of the ADFG debunking:
"It's a complete urban legend," said state wildlife biologist Thomas McDonough. "I think it blew out of proportion based on a Disney documentary in the '50s, and that brought it to the mainstream."

. . .   According to a 1983 investigation by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer Brian Vallee, the lemming scenes were faked. The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers. The epic "lemming migration" was staged using careful editing, tight camera angles and a few dozen lemmings running on snow covered lazy-Susan style turntable.
Oh dear.  Debunking the lemming myth and the Disney myth in one paragraph.   I'm sure that Governor Parnell will have them remove this page because the science doesn't support his policy.  [Coincidentally, while I watched a bit of Jeopardy with my mom tonight after I wrote this, but before posting, one of the questions was about the faking of the Disney movie about what arctic animal committing suicide.]
   The fact that Colorado and Washington state have recently legalized marijuana should give us pause to consider the impacts. We should wait and see how those efforts unfold. There is no incentive to be among the first.
It's not unreasonable to wait and see how their models work.  But the sky hasn't fallen in those states.  How long should we let them test it before we jump in?  Five years?  Ten?  Twenty?   I suspect there may actually be some incentives to getting there first.  We get the experience and a head start, and we get extra tourists probably.  We'd be ahead of the pack.

But he's right that if we wait, we might be able to avoid their problems.  But then, Alaskans don't usually care how they do it Outside anyway.  We Alaskans don't let the ugliness and traffic of Los Angeles, for example, keep us from repeating the strip malls, environmental degradation, and general paving of paradise.
   Should the proposal become law, would it be beneficial to our citizenry, our youths and the quality of life? What will be the impact on rural Alaskans? These are just a few of the many unanswered questions before Alaskans as we prepare to vote.
He's throwing out the questions with the implication that the outcomes will be bad, but not with any factual answers.  Rural Alaskans have the right to make their villages dry and they'll be able to do the same with marijuana.  But even though bringing in marijuana is illegal now, my understanding is that you can get it in most every village.  How will legalizing and regulating it make it worse? 
Why is the effort being initiated in Alaska? It is simply because Alaska is a cheap place to run an initiative campaign. It also has a very young population. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to potential harm from long-term pot use, and this experiment is not worth risking their futures. 
I'm sure the cost of doing an initiative in Alaska is one of the reasons.  And the young population is also a good reason - young folks are more likely to vote for it than older folks.  As are our many libertarians. And Alaska has a long tradition of marijuana being legal, so it seems like there are a lot of reasons.  If it were just the small population they could have done it in Wyoming which is closer to Washington and Colorado and not as expensive as Alaska. By the way, did you notice he said 'pot' this time?  It looks like he was being careful to say marijuana throughout, but pot slipped in here.  He says marijuana eight times.

The part about children and teens does follow from the sentence about Alaska being a young state.  But it doesn't follow the logic of it being cheaper to do an initiative here.

He raises the theme of Reefer Madness and the impact on the kids.  Will it be different from the impact of alcohol on kids?    The National Institute on Drug abuse says (as of January 2014) that kids in the lower middle/high school grades use marijuana more than they get drunk, but in 12th grade that changes.  Specifically:
Marijuana use by adolescents declined from the late 1990s until the mid-to-late 2000s, but has been on the increase since then. In 2013, 7.0 percent of 8th graders, 18.0 percent of 10th graders, and 22.7 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month, up from 5.8 percent, 13.8 percent, and 19.4 percent in 2008. Daily use has also increased; 6.5 percent of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5 percent in the mid-2000s. .  .
In 2013, 3.5 percent of 8th graders, 12.8 percent of 10th graders, and 26 percent of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month, continuing a downward trend from previous years.
It seems the standard for alcohol (getting drunk) was higher than the standard for marijuana (used marijuana) so maybe a higher number used alcohol, but didn't get drunk.  What's interesting is that they say use of the illegal drug was increasing while use of the legal drug was decreasing.   Murkowski only raises the specter of something terrible without supporting it with facts.

    Where is the Outside money coming from in support of this ballot initiative? The Marijuana Policy Project of Washington, D.C., and the Drug Policy Alliance of New York have supplied the bulk of the funding. Don’t be fooled this is big business.

Evil Outside money.  It's good to see Murkowski and Begich agreeing on an issue.   Outside money shouldn't buy Alaska elections.  Unless, of course, the Outside money is supporting my candidates and my issues.

When did Murkowski become opposed to big business?  Before Parnell, he was the oil companies' best friend.  This is a real turn around in his values.  By the way, illegal marijuana distribution is also big business.  He seems to prefer illegal big business to legal big business.
 I believe the ballot process is flawed. If enough money can be raised outside the state to hire people to gather signatures, any issue can get on the ballot. The process circumvents the responsibility of legislators. Had the issue originated in our state Legislature, it would have failed overwhelmingly because every legislator would have to vote on the issue. The ballot initiative process allows any elected official to simply take a walk and avoid being held accountable. This is simply wrong. Alaskans need to know from each of their elected representatives, from the Legislature to the governor and the federal delegation, whether they support or oppose this important ballot measure. They need to respond with a simple yes or no answer.
Now he's arguing against referendums and initiatives.  "This is simply wrong."  Well, I recently pointed out that initiatives and referendums are part of the state constitution.  So now he's saying the Alaska constitution is wrong.  

Now he switches to the dual system argument, that if we pass this, we'll be out of sync with the feds:
If Ballot Measure 2 passes, it would establish a dual system. It would be unlawful to buy or sell marijuana under federal law but permissible under state law. Such an inconsistency has the federal government telling us one thing and the state government telling us another. Further, the enforcement of contradictory marijuana regulations would be very difficult for those in law enforcement. I would urge all Alaskans to read the statement from the Alaska Peace Officers Association, which details the difficulties associated with maintaining law and order.
Wow, is Murkowski still a Republican?  After all, "federal overreach" is the most common phrase among Alaska Republicans these days.  Sort of like "uh" among most people.  I thought Parnell's policy was to just ignore or sue the feds if their rules were different from ours.  But Murkowski thinks the state should not contradict the feds.  Interesting.
   It would also make hiring Alaskans for jobs that require drug screening more difficult, and may complicate insurance payouts if an accident happens. Jim Jansen of Lynden Transport and Alaska Marine Lines indicated to me that his businesses require zero tolerance, and he sees legalization as a major headache.
Most businesses also don't allow people to come to work drunk and we manage to make that work.  Testing might be more complicated than testing for alcohol though.  Healthblogger lists time marijuana can be detected in the blood, hair, urine, and saliva.  They also discuss the accuracy of current tests.  I also found a National Drug Court Institute report that says their numbers (ie 30 days detectable in the urine) are commonly accepted, but not necessarily accurate and that there are different factors that would make the length of time to get a negative reading vary from person to person.  I didn't find a publication date, but the most recent date cited in the footnotes was 2004.

So yes, Murkowski is probably correct in saying it will make some things a little more difficult for some businesses.  Every bit of legislation has that impact.  So does alcohol,  driving,  concealed carry, and sex.  For those individual choice items, we've decided the benefits outweigh the risks.  Murkowski doesn't explain how this is different from those issues. 
   Our opponents believe that with access to Outside funds they can buy our votes on Ballot Meaure 2. Let’s tell them that Alaska’s quality of life is not for sale. We have defeated this issue once and we can do it again. Big Marijuana, Big Mistake for Alaska.
Again, Outside money and buying the election.  I'm waiting for his piece on why we shouldn't vote for Dan Sullivan.  Quality of life means many things to many people.  A key aspect of quality of life for many, I think, would be the freedom to make personal choices.  For those who don't like alcohol or can't use it for health reasons, the option to become high on marijuana might give them a better quality of life.  For others, just having the state tell them what they can and can't ingest, lowers their quality of life.  For others, elimination of trees and natural spaces to accommodate the profits of developers lowers the quality of life.  Murkowski hasn't explained what specifically he means by quality of life and how legalizing marijuana lowers it. 

Assuming that Murkowski wrote this himself, I'd say it reflects his statement near the beginning - "For the life of me I can’t understand."  I suspect the reasons for opposing legalizing marijuana are so obvious to Murkowski, that he can't understand why anyone would be for it.  And so he can't articulate arguments that might be meaningful to people who are planning to vote yes.  He can't fill in the details that would support his opinion, because it seems so obvious.  When you only know that you believe, but can't articulate why with convincing arguments, you're in trouble.  It's faith, not science  You don't need facts.    The only factual statement I see in this essay is that someone gave his opinion -
"Jim Jansen of Lynden Transport and Alaska Marine Lines indicated to me that his businesses require zero tolerance, and he sees legalization as a major headache."   
It may be a fact that Jansen said this, but what he said was opinion.  

I realize that this post might make folks think that I'm for legalizing marijuana, but what I've tried to do here is simply look at how Murkowski made his argument.  On those grounds alone, I see no real facts, just lots of opinion.  Now I do realize that facts take up words and the ADN gives writers a limited number of words.  In that case, instead of throwing in every argument, including the kitchen sink, he should have focused on a couple and given us some facts to support his position.   

Here's a pretty good outline for how to write a persuasive essay from  Waterford Union High School.  It might be helpful to folks who need to convince others of something. 

1 comment:

  1. Some people are the way they are because they cannot help it, but for others, it is social. When Frank Murkowski speaks, he wants (verbal! don't touch him!) pats on the back from his supporters. Other people of his political persuasion saw his editorial and sent him emails or saw him later and praised his wisdom. He was using buzzwords and platitudes with a little jabber. Both sides do it, but given my leanings I think that the Republicans are much more likely to do it. I saw a cartoon exaggeration of Senator Begich on the back of a bus in Anchorage last week and I could only sigh. I don't even get mad any more, but I do point out to my children why this is deceptive and to recognize it.

    With the limited amount of space in the editorial, I am surprised that FM didn't post something that was longer with facts if he had any at another website to explain his position.


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