All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

For Christmas, How About an End to the War on Marijuana?

Photo by സ്വാമി.  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Photo by സ്വാമി. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

You’ve seen the headlines. So Have I. For example, a November 23 story in my local paper (the Gainesville, Florida Sun) : “Gainesville man charged with murder for Sunday shooting in dispute over marijuana deal.”

It wasn’t a huge marijuana deal. It was a $180 sale. The seller apparently shot a buyer who tried to drive off without paying.

Other common headlines of the “police blotter” variety include people put in handcuffs and hauled off to jail for buying, selling, or possessing a common plant. Then over in the medical section, we’ll see that some kid ended up in the hospital or even dead after — the claim seems dubious, but I guess it’s possible — smoking marijuana laced with fentanyl.

What we don’t see are headlines about people shooting each other over, getting arrested for, or dying from buying a blister pack of pain reliever or a bottle of night-time cold medicine at Walgreens. Or, for that matter, paying $180 for those things.

Over the course of nearly a century, the war on marijuana — based from the start on myth, hype, and intentionally cultivated moral panic — has put millions of Americans in jail or in their graves over a medically valuable and recreationally pleasant plant that’s been used throughout human history and that’s safer than tobacco, alcohol, and most over the counter medications.

Some US states have taken steps toward a ceasefire, legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, but it still remains illegal at the federal level despite the occasional introduction of bills to change that.

The latest such offering comes from US Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC), who introduced the States Reform Act on November 15. It would federally decriminalize marijuana, clear the federal prisons of “criminals” whose only “crimes” involved the plant, and make interstate commerce in it legal.

The bill isn’t perfect — it includes a federal excise tax, and subjects the plant to the same regulatory regime as alcohol — but it’s a giant step in the right direction. There just aren’t any good arguments for keeping marijuana less legal than aspirin, tomatoes, and fidget spinners.

Congress tends to move in slow motion when it moves at all, but this bill could and should be the exception.

For Christmas, there’s little I’d like more than an end to the headlines about deaths, arrests, and hospitalizations over marijuana. Congress should pass the SRA and put it on President Biden’s desk before Santa comes to town.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION HISTORY

Rittenhouse Verdict: Justice, But Not Joy

Blogtrepreneur, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Blogtrepreneur. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

On November 19, a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on various charges related to the shootings of three people (two fatally) during an August night of “unrest” (that is, a protest turned riot) in Kenosha.

I expected to see, and did see, a diverse set of reactions to the verdict on my (also diverse) social media feeds. The reactions broke down into three overall groupings.

Group 1: Rittenhouse was a hero who stood forth to protect private property and was entirely justified in shooting three evil-doers who assaulted him with intent to kill, or at least do grievous bodily harm, to him. His acquittal is an affirmation of truth, justice, and the American way.

Group 2:  Rittenhouse was a white supremacist slime-ball who showed up wanting to shoot people and ended up manufacturing reasons to do so. His acquittal is proof that truth and justice don’t matter, and that “the American way” is really just a tradition of legal privilege and protection for white right-wingers.

Group 3: Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old who made an unwise decision (as 17-year-olds will do) to show up to a riot, but who nonetheless had the right to act in self-defense when others made the even more unwise decision to violently assault him.

I’m in Group 3.

I didn’t and don’t know Kyle Rittenhouse’s full state of mind at any point in the incident. Presumably no one but Rittenhouse himself does.  But the available evidence indicates that he defended himself in the face of plausible threats of death or grievous bodily harm.

That’s not what a jury of 12 concluded in acquitting him. What the jury (and anyone who paid attention to the trial) concluded was that the prosecution didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s a difference.

Group 4 (which includes all sensible members of the other three) says “I don’t like ANY of this.”

I hate that police shot Jacob Blake. That’s not a judgment of whether or not the police HAD to shoot him. Whether they had to or not, it wasn’t a good thing.

I hate that the protests over the shooting turned into a riot. The violence and destruction didn’t cause Jacob Blake to magically become un-shot nor did it make his shooting any more, or any less, justifiable.

I hate that a 17-year-old made the unwise decision to show up to a riot.  I’m glad he survived the experience, and hope he learned something from it, but all in all I’d rather have never heard his name.

I hate that grandstanding prosecutor Thomas Binger decided to interrupt the lives of Kyle Rittenhouse and 12 jurors, forcing them to sit through his incompetent delivery of an incredibly weak case.

The “not guilty” verdict seems just, but it really just makes the best of a terrible, and at multiple points avoidable, situation.

If there’s any good  takeaway from this incident at all, it’s the possibility that lives will be saved as future protesters pause for careful thought and consideration before attacking armed opponents who haven’t attacked them.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION HISTORY

When Giving Thanks, Don’t Forget Your Local Paper

Photo by Joanna Bourne. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Photo by Joanna Bourne. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I usually take a little time to think about who and what I’m thankful for and express my. That seems to be the point, after all. This year, for various reasons, my thoughts and appreciation turn toward journalists, newspapers, and other news media.

Sometimes the people and institutions we rely on to keep us informed get a bad rap, and sometimes they deserve it.

When the Washington Post and New York Times act more as stenographers for the political class than reporters of the facts, we all lose.

When trusted (by their particular partisan audiences, anyway) sources of information like Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow who pretend to seriousness but then answer  defamation suits with the “Alex Jones” defense — that they’re just entertainers whose statements are hyperbole and should never be relied on as factually  accurate — they embarrass an honorable and worthy profession. Even mere “opinion journalists” (like myself) should operate from a respect for fact and truth.

But the Post, the Times, Fox/Carlson, and MSNBC/Maddow aren’t the institutions and journalists I’m thinking of in expressing thanks.

I’m thinking — of course! — of whistle-blower journalists like Julian Assange and foreign correspondents like Danny Fenster, cooling their heels in cells for bringing us the truth. And of the many journalists killed, accidentally or purposely, “in the line of duty” while covering wars and investigating crimes.

More than that, though, I’m thinking of America’s local and community newspapers, the dailies and weeklies scattered across the country which continue to do the job of keeping us informed and bringing us together (or at least facilitating our arguments). And, of course, the fine people who write and edit those publications.

Yes, I’m biased: I got my start in “hard,” just the facts, ma’am journalism more than 40 years ago,  writing club notices for publication  in my hometown daily, the Lebanon, Missouri Daily Record. I moved on to my junior high, high school, and college papers, long before eventually finding my perch in opinion/advocacy journalism.

If you know how your local high school athletes are making out, or which local church is hosting an ice cream social, or which local hero had a birthday or went to the hospital, thank your local paper. If you know what your neighbors think about a pending bond issue or local scandal, thank that paper’s letters editor.

America’s local dailies and weeklies are supposedly dying. At the very least, many have moved entirely online or cut down the size and frequency of their print editions.

That’s sad. We need them, and we should appreciate them. They’re a key ingredient in the glue that holds us together, part of the mix that constitutes what Thomas Paine called “so celestial an article as freedom.” Discussing our problems may not solve them, but not discussing them certainly won’t. A free press is still largely where the productive substance of such discussions happens.

This Thanksgiving, please spare a moment of thanks (and perhaps a subscription check!) for your local newspaper of choice.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION HISTORY