I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

Recent experiences with the media have inspired me to share what I’ve learned about communication in general and media interaction in particular. Last week a few of us were contacted, via NORML Ireland, by a freelance reporter called Michael Sheils Mcnamee. Michael wrote his piece titled ‘I found that nothing worked, except cannabis’: Who are Ireland’s marijuana users?and it was published 22/11/15 on thejournal.ie, the Irish news website. To date, 24/11/15, the article has had  ‘47,377 Views’ and has generated 97 comments - incidentally, the vast majority, and by that I mean 99.8% of all opinions stated, agreed with the necessity and desirability of decriminalisation leading to full legalisation. I thought the response was very encouraging.

When I read the piece on-line I was impressed by the measured, non-judgemental pace of the story. When I read back the statements I’d given to Michael I was grateful that he’d appeared to have approached the project sympathetically - when I’d made some of the comments reported I was stressed and anxious and I probably made some comments I wouldn’t normally have made, and in this I’ve got to thank Michael for his discretion if I did, then again, I might not have done. It’s difficult to recall your exact words and the order you put them in when you’re talking in a windy carpark waiting to pick your wife up from the leisure centre.. It struck me then, that if David Quinn, the journalist responsible for The Independent opinion piece 'We cannot decriminalise drugs without having a proper debate first', had interviewed me over the phone, I might have got a much rougher ride and be left roaring into the wind about context and selective quoting and being able to do exactly zilch about it after it’s been published. ‘Who are Ireland’s marijuana users?’ generates 47,377 views - ‘I Was Misquoted In An Article Two Days Ago’, I’m guessing, might attract 3 views - the author and two people who misread it as ‘Mosquitoed’.

So I looked up some basic do’s and don’ts for interacting with the media. Most of it is common sense, but all too often common sense can fly out the window if, and when, you are under pressure to talk about something. Especially something that you know a lot about, think a lot about and are generally accepted for in your circle of social contacts. The adrenaline is flowing and you are taking logic leaps assuming the journalist knows dot 1 about the subject you are being asked about. He might, he might not but he’s asking for quick easy soundbites that can be fed to a reader via enlarged, coloured text or highlighted in boxes. These are what drives the story.

So here is a rough breakdown of what I’ve found.

  1. Contact. If you are contacted by a journalist and left a message it is a good idea to get back to them as soon as possible. If negative copy is about to be run against you, the lines, ‘wasn’t available for comment’, and, ‘Didn’t reply to journalists…..’, can be used. Your viewpoint won’t get a hearing if it’s not submitted. If the journalist wants a quote from you about something you are involved in or knowledgeable about they will probably be on a deadline to produce copy and are often grateful for a speedy response. If they have your contribution early and solid they might come back to you for follow-up points and clarifications if other contributors don’t submit on time. The deadline is a whip to the journalists back and it doesn’t hurt to be aware of that.

  2. Identity. Who are you? Before saying anything to a journalist or reporter you must have it clear in your head. Are you speaking on behalf of an organisation or are you speaking in a personal capacity, as you, yourself? This is vitally important and you must tell the journalist at the earliest opportunity who you are speaking for. Ideally ‘gotcha’ questions aimed at an individual can be answered with, ‘As an individual I think…..’. If you’re speaking on behalf of an organisation and have permission to do so, then you’ll be repeating little mission statements and policy stances.

  3. Veracity. Tell the truth. I’m tempted to just leave that there as is but the concept goes deeper than that. Point 3: Tell the truth. As you know it. After all, eleventy-twelve per cents of people know that dihydrogen monoxide is a deadly government cover-up. If you quote statistics and make claims you will be asked for your sources - what paper was written by whom and which peer-reviewed journal published it and how many times has the proposition been tested and who funded the original study and research. As cannabis decriminalisation gains traction there will be more and more research done and more and more journalists and reporters looking for copy about both it and the lives of, the people that the research benefits or enhances. Basic fact-checking is a journalists bread and butter - if you lie, misrepresent or exaggerate you will be found out. Our modern lives are valued by our reputations - if you compromise your reputation in any way then input by you into the public arena, in the future, will be suspect.

  4. Relax! Paradoxically given all that’s gone before! Ask the journalist if you can have time to think about their questions and how long. Ask  the journalist to read back any ‘nugget’ quotes they might have marked and you can ask them for a brief rundown of how you’re being presented. This gives you an opportunity to see if you’ve missed anything you might like to say.

I hope this is helpful. As always please use the comments below. Thanks! SW

Posted on November 25, 2015 .

SAFETY FIRST, SAFETY SECOND AND SAFETY THIRD - A SURVIVAL GUIDE

So - there you are. You've done the dishes and put the kettle on for a cuppa. You're thinking about dinner and whether you should defrost something from the freezer and then you hear a knock on the door. 'Not expecting anybody', you think as you open the door with a welcoming smile on your face to see four or five strangers on your doorstep. 'Good afternoon', the big guy in front says, as the other people push past you into your home, 'I am Garda Sergeant Outraged and I am here with a warrant to search this house, any electronic devices (phones) and any vehicles or people I find on the premises. I have been given reason to believe that, contrary to Section 5 and Section 27, as amended by Section 6 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1984, of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 you may have, unlawfully in your possession a controlled drug, to wit, Cannabis. Here is the warrant, you may read it but not touch it'. The blood leaves your head and your heartbeat accelerates as your adrenal glands ramp up production of the 'fight-or-flight' hormone, adrenaline. The pupils in your eyes dilate, you feel nauseous and you start trembling. You can neither fight nor flee as you hear strangers in your home opening cupboards and drawers. At this point you are at your most vulnerable. What should you do?

The first thing you should do is REMAIN CALM. Ignore the noise and bluster, close your eyes and ears and take a slow deep breath or two - in through the nose, out through the mouth. Try to calm yourself. Sit down, if you can, somewhere comfortable. REMEMBER - even if the guards haven't informed you of any legal 'rights' you may have, they represent a LEGALLY HOSTILE ENTITY. You've all seen the telly, "Anything you may say will be taken down and used in evidence AGAINST you" and the key word there is 'AGAINST'. They will NEVER introduce any evidence to help you, that is the job of the solicitor you will engage. They will say that they're, 'Not out to hang you' or, 'This isn't so bad you know', these are meaningless statements designed to make them appear 'fair' or 'harmless' - they are not, so put NO FAITH in what they say at all. They are interested in what YOU have to say - what they say is designed to put you off your guard and to open you up.

REMAIN CALM. BE POLITE. Younger guards will be hyped-up and hair-trigger. Their working culture is almost unique in that it seamlessly carries over into their non-work life. They regard you as a filthy degenerate who represents an existential threat to all that they hold dear. They don't understand 'drugs'. To a certain extent they understand other 'crimes' but they do not understand 'drugs' and what they don't understand they FEAR. Fit young men from a predominantly male bonding culture will respond to internalised fear with aggression and hostility and if it spills over, into violence.

REMAIN CALM. BE POLITE. COMMUNICATE. This is an extremely important stage of the proceedings, communication. Unless you have had legal training you are in a MINEFIELD of possibly self-incriminating statements. Confirm your name and address when asked - they have it anyway. They will ask you if you have any cannabis on the premises. If you have a small amount very well hidden and you fancy your chances then say no. If you don't think like a criminal and have it laying around say yes and tell them where to find it - they will find it anyway and they won't stop searching even after you've told them where it is. They will ask you where you obtained the cannabis and how much you paid for it. Tell them in a clear voice, 'I can make no statement absent legal advice'. They will laugh and joke about this or tell you that you MUST answer their questions. They will try to appear friendly and sympathetic - this is to get you opened up and TALKING. ANY communication with them is fraught with legal danger. If they persist in questioning you, say, 'no comment'. If a different officer questions you use the statement above about legal advice before reverting to 'no comment'.

People very rarely inform on others for cannabis use. A person might act out of malicious intent and inform on you for reasons of their own but the vast majority of information needed to identify cannabis users comes from other cannabis users MOBILE PHONES. We form a network! Look at the contacts list in your phone, especially 'most called' or 'most texted', and ask yourself how many of those contacts use cannabis? There is a very good chance that the gardaí are at your door because your name was on the phone of somebody they've interacted with before. They will tell you that you have been informed on and that they cannot get a search warrant without having had a complaint. This is disinformation and is designed to sow fear and distrust amongst what the gardaí regard as criminal groupings. They may drop subtle hints about who it might have been, who's responsible for your predicament - PAY NO HEED.

A recent technological development that is helping the gardaí enormously is the issuing of post codes. A name and number will be taken from your phone then cross-referred to the post code databanks. Professional criminals, of course, have methods of defeating this activity but the vast majority of us non-criminals do not. Practically nobody uses a PIN or password to unlock their phone because most people don't lock their phone. If you are in the happy position of having a PIN or password protected phone DO NOT give the gardaí the PIN or password. Tell them you will turn over your locked phone to your solicitor. The gardaí are after two things here: they want your contacts list and they don't want you wiping the phones memory. A friend has a phone that is locked by fingerprint - this is excellent.

At the station you will be questioned again. You should be offered a solicitor. They may tell you that there isn't one available until morning but that if you make a statement you will be released. DO NOT GIVE IN. Go into your cell and get your head down - try to sleep. You will usually find that the uniformed gardaí are sympathetic to your plight. Your heart and soul will drink in this sympathy after the horrendous time you've had and truly, these uniformed officers are sympathetic - after all, they've never had the face kicked off them by somebody who's overdosed on cannabis have they? So be soothed by the sympathy but say NOTHING about your particular situation. The law is a very strange animal that has very little to do with justice. Metaphorically, pack up all your legal woes and hand them over to your solicitor.

I'm going to finish this post on a personal note. A lot of people don't bother having a landline these days because they have a mobile phone. If this is the case in your household you should consider having a second phone with a different network provider. If, for whatever reason, say, 3 goes down and you have an emergency you have your second phone on Vodaphone and the chances are it will be active. If you have this second phone, and if it has a sound record function and if you can turn it on and hoy it under the sofa you will be able to challenge the version of events that the gardaí will wish to present because, believe me, when you read the statement they will furnish your solicitor it'll read like a poor piece of badly written fiction and you will not be able to challenge their version of events because they will have sworn, on pain of perjury, that there version of events is correct. This is unchallengeable UNLESS you have some genuinely independent corroborating evidence. If your house has a cctv security system turn it on.

I'm going to leave this here. If you've read this far thank you very much. Please use the comments below to say anything you like about what you've read. Share your knowledge and experiences with others. Together we are strong. Peace, Out.

 

Posted on November 8, 2015 .

Ireland To Harm Reduce And Rehabilitate Possessors Of Small Amounts Of Illegal Drugs!

How different would the headlines of the newspapers be if they simply reflected the truth of the exercise the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality have recently undertaken? Worldwide headlines have been screaming that Ireland intends to decriminalise the possession of drugs. Congratulations have been pouring in from all kinds of people and organisations both at home and abroad. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD is seeing his public profile escalating enormously, especially amongst the young, no such thing as bad publicity. Everyone's winning, right? Right? Well, and here's a spoiler alert, in short, no. Everybody is not winning. This report has nothing to do with cannabis or cannabis users.

November 5th 2015 saw the release, by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of a report: Report of the Committee on a Harm Reducing and Rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. This can be seen here. The Committee were considering possible responses to gangland crime and violence in parts of Dublin.  They discovered two things:

1: There was no Minister of State with special cross-departmental responsibility for Drugs and Alcohol Policy. This was rectified and Minister for State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was given the responsibility for this function on 15th June 2015.

2: That there appeared to be a link between organised and violent crime and the sale, supply and use of drugs. In fact, drugs appeared to be the main source of income for these Dublin-based organised crime groups.  In response to this the Committee decided to send a delegation to visit the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Portugal and to engage with Portuguese authorities on their approach to drug addiction adopted there in 2001. On their return to Ireland the delegation proposed that the Committee investigate the adoption of a similar model to the Portuguese framework.

So, boiled down, what have we got? We've got a Committee that was looking into Dublin gangland criminal behaviour and violence. They were told that a lot of these problems concerned the sale, supply and use of the drugs that comprised their largest source of income. Portugal had done something to try and disconnect violent crime from drugs so they sent a small party to find out what they'd done. They found that Portuguese authorities had instigated a system whereby socially problematic drug users would no longer be assigned to the Justice Department for punitive measures but would first, within 72hrs of being apprehended by a law enforcement official, have to go before a Commission for Addiction Dissuasion. They came away from this fact-finding mission with some excellent points of view concerning the burden of criminal conviction on the young, the decrease in HIV/AIDS cases, (...'dropped dramatically'), and that the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction had decreased. What they didn't bring back was the concept of 'socially problematic drug users' and without this concept underpinning the whole we have a very different recommendation than that which is gracing the front pages, op-eds and comment sections of the press both traditional and digital.

Nowhere in this report are the words 'decriminalisation' or 'legalisation' used. At the launch of the report, which I attended as a NORML Ireland representative, the Chairman of the Delegation repeatedly warned not to use the terms 'decriminalisation' or 'legalisation' as they were meaningless in the context of this report. People reading the papers and seeing the threshhold allowances that are 'allowed' in Portugal, thinking that they're going to be OK carrying 25g of herbal cannabis for personal use are going to be in for an almighty shock - not least because the report appears to recommend the prosecution of people carrying more than an undefined 'small' amount as a dealer. My in-box was full this morning with messages from people saying, 'Can I come out now?' and the answer is, for your own safety, a resounding NO.

This is how it appears to me - what this report is actually aiming for. The present Minister of State for New Communities, Culture, Equality and Drugs Strategy wants heroin addicts and other problematic drug users off the streets of Dublin where they represent an eyesore, a potential public health menace, a perceived criminal atmosphere and a visible reminder of the failure of the State to provide for some of it's sickest inhabitants. He's a young minister with, presumably, a long career in politics to look forward to, he's not sure he will survive the next election cycle so he wants to leave a legacy behind him of supervised injection sites where problematic drug users will have access to clean needles, medical expertise, education and counseling. What he definitely does NOT want are gardaí standing outside the supervised injection sites saying, 'You're nicked, you're nicked, where did you get this? Who did this come from? Etc', and to this end he does want those gardaí to have to say, 'You've got 72 hours to report to a Commission for Addiction Dissuasion, now, get inside and shoot up because I'm not allowed to take your drugs off you unless you've got loads, or less than loads, or something'.

So. To go through the basics of the report:

RECOMMENDATIONS

1: Small amounts of prohibited drugs - a civil/administrative option to be offered rather than the usual draconian criminal justice response.

2: An Garda Síochána to have sole responsibility as to whether or not this civil/administrative option is offered.

3: If An Garda Síochána decide you merit the offer of the civil/administrative option that the infrastructure concerning harm reduction and rehabilitation be properly resourced and fit for purpose.

4: That users of the civil/administrative option be treated like unwell human beings and citizens rather than criminals and the scum of society.

5: Education, education, education for those that need it and those that might need it.

6: I'll just put this up verbatim because no matter how many times I read it I can't quite grasp a meaning. 'The Committee recommends that research be undertaken to ensure that the adoption of any alternative approach be appropriate in an Irish context' << I kinda, kinda, get it.

7: Tucked away right at the end, the single most useful recommendation in the entire report '..enactment of legislation in relation to Spent Convictions be prioritised.'

One of the conclusions that the Committee arrived at was that the introduction of an appropriate harm reducing and rehabilitative approach could result in a better relationship between An Garda Síochána and the wider community. For the cannabis community nothing has changed, gardaí in Dublin might welcome this report and, potentially, the load it takes off their resources and manpower but I don't believe it will impact on the gardaí in rural communities at all. The Oireachtas Committee heard that there were on average 40 arrests per day linked to drug possession and use. These all count as 'crimes solved' and while gardaí are arresting people for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use they are not arresting dangerous, violent criminals operating in rural areas. Please don't get me wrong here - I have nothing but the utmost respect for those uniformed men and woman of An Garda Síochána, who police the streets every night protecting the public from people who are driven demented by overdosing on the state-sanctioned drug alcohol. These people have my unqualified admiration and support for the work that they do. What I dislike, and think that from a societal point of view is unhealthy, is the anonymous denunciations that drive plain-clothes officers to do what they do. To exercise their protected status in treating cannabis users on a par with terrorists or peadophiles. Some of these people are so morally outraged about a persons activities as a cannabis consumer that I'm surprised they aren't always off-duty with stress-related illnesses.

I raised the following points and question to the Committee; that the rural gardaí had seen great successes in apprehending herbal cannabis users and 'cottage' producers - people who aren't behaving like profit-driven criminals - they don't move house after every harvest and they don't have the coping mechanisms that career criminals have to help them get over contact with law enforcement professionals - resulting in a great shortage of herbal cannabis on the illicit market. As a result of this vacuum, hashish has appeared to fill it. Hashish is not produced in Ireland, in contrast to herbal cannabis that is. Hashish has to be smuggled into the island of Ireland and therefore gardaí are in fact facilitating the worse crime. Everybody knows that weaponry and hard drugs use these smuggling routes, with hashish usually thrown in as a makeweight. So I asked the committee, what they had brought back with them from Portugal concerning the cultivation of cannabis for personal use? And the answer was? Nothing. No, that will have to be dealt with at a later stage etc etc. Honestly, I can't say it enough, this report has nothing to do with the normalisation of marijuana laws in this country and at best can be seen as advancing the tipping point by giving members of the public the space to think about cannabis and how it might affect them or their families. As a friend of mine said, "I'd much rather find my daughter using cannabis so I could sit down and talk to her about the dangers and drawbacks of it than have to go out and pick up her drunken, comatose body after she's been sexually assaulted from some park somewhere". Amen.

Anyway, if you've read this far - thank you very much. My name is Stephen Whiteley, I live in Mayo on the West coast and am disabled. Working within the 'Rock 'n' Roll' industry for many years I now find myself surprised that something I did with no more thought than making a cup of tea should now be a source of such medical comfort to me. I will post articles on here preaching to the converted and hoping that, after you've done your own research, you'll post on and share. Please use the comments below if you've disagreements or points to raise.

Posted on November 6, 2015 .

Right to consume cannabis?

So this is my first actual blog post, mostly I've just been copying and pasting stuff that I thought might be interesting to the viewership, however many or few they might be.

I've been thinking about rights. I've heard people say that they should have the right to cultivate and consume cannabis, I agree. I've heard people say they have a right to water in Ireland free of charges levied by Irish water. I've heard both refugees and migrants say they have rights, actually scratch that, I've heard many of those who are not refugees but live in the lap of comfort say that refugees and migrants have rights to various things. It dominates the news lately.

I think many of those who speak of rights don't properly understand the concept. Rights are not something you are born with contrary to popular western opinion. Anyone coming from a warzone or who has ever been at the end of a gun will understand what I am saying and I want you to try to understand too if you do not already.

Should you ever find yourself at the end of a gun you will know that you have no intrinsic rights. Your very life will be entirely in the hands of the person who has the power to end it. There's not much point in trying to assert your supposed rights at that stage.

My point is this, right are bestowed by those who have the power to bestow them. They are given, you are not born with them, you do not have them unless somebody decides to grant you them. They are bestowed or not by those who govern!

Lets leave aside the rights to water or safety and shelter that many will claim, they are for illustrative purposes only in this particular case however serious they might be to those concerned with them. If we assume that the above is correct, then rights are not automatic, they are a concept and they can only be bestowed by government.

I want my government to bestow upon me the right to cultivate and consume cannabis free from persecution! This brings into focus the question about who has the power, the government or the people? Well the reality is that the people only get a voice every four years and then only very briefly. Even if a cannabis character like Ming is elected he proves ineffectual being only one voice and then he does what any reasonable family man would do seeing how ineffectual he is and goes off to Europe to earn a crust and ensure that his family have the best prospects possible, I would do the same thing in his shoes as things stand.

So now we have no voice! I still want to be heard though as no doubt do you. How shall we be heard?

I have my own opinions in this regard as no doubt do you and I'd like to hear them in the forum, that's what it's for. I can't express my opinions here as they are not approved by the NORML organisation, I'm just a random blogger. I should also point out that before I got all serious like this I I did get quite baked as probably should you before reading this though it's probably a bit late to tell you that now. Peace!

Posted on September 5, 2015 .

Marijuana, REM Sleep, and Dreams

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Marijuana can affect how often you dream by rearranging your sleep cycle.

People who smoke marijuana before bed often struggle to recall their dreams the next morning. Yet, when these individuals stop smoking, they tend to experience more vivid dreams than before.

Marijuana is known to affect various aspects of sleep, including activities that are not involved with dreaming. But there’s a simple reason why marijuana users tend to have less dreams.

This phenomenon can be explained by how marijuana affects the sleep cycle, specifically a stage known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Marijuana and REM Sleep

The brain is most active during REM sleep and most dreaming is thought to occur during this stage. Numerous studies have shown that using marijuana before bed reduces REM sleep. Researchers believe this is why marijuana users report fewer dreams.

During the night, the brain cycles through 4 different stages of sleep, spending the most time in deep sleep (or slow-wave sleep) and REM sleep. The amount of time spent in these two stages is closely related. In fact, studies show that marijuana lengthens the time the brain spends in deep sleep, which leads to less REM sleep.

Ingesting THC or marijuana before bed also appears to reduce the density of rapid eye movements during REM sleep. Interestingly, less REM density has been linked to more restful sleep.

Most studies on marijuana and REM sleep have looked at the effects of THC. However, other compounds in marijuana may interfere with THC’s effect on sleep. For example, CBD has been found to promote wakefulness compared to taking THC alone.

What Happens When Quitting

Regular users of cannabis experience an abnormal increase in REM sleep when use is stopped. This is called the REM rebound effect, which leads to longer and denser periods of REM sleep. The REM rebound explains why cannabis users often experience highly vivid dreaming when trying to quit.

The sleep disturbances that occur during cannabis withdrawal usually begin 24-72 hours after quitting and can persist for up to 6-7 weeks.

Interestingly, the REM rebound is not unique to cannabis use. Other substances that interfere with sleep, such as alcohol and sleep medications, can cause REM rebound too. What’s more, people who are sleep deprived often undergo a rebound in non-REM sleep.

The rebound effect appears to be the body’s way of coping with being deprived of certain stages of sleep.

The Importance of REM Sleep

While healthy people should avoid taking substances that alter their sleep, it’s not clear whether the effect of marijuana on REM sleep is actually harmful. In fact, experts are still not sure why we need REM sleep.

On the other hand, deep sleep is believed to be the most important sleep stage for repairing and restoring the body. Likewise, studies show that when deprived of sleep, the brain prioritizes deep sleep over REM sleep.

While more research is needed, it’s possible that the ability of marijuana to increase deep sleep, even at the expense of REM sleep, might turn out to be a good thing.

Posted on September 1, 2015 .