By Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ in Culture
Friday, November 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm
|~ alapoet ~|
|Toke of the Town editor Steve Elliott celebrating three years of high points and big hits|
Three years ago today -- actually, three years ago tonight, at 7:08 p.m. Pacific time -- my THC-stained fingers hit the "Post" button for the first-ever story on Toke of the Town.
"The good thing about a free marketplace of ideas is," I wrote, in the first sentence ever to appear on this site, "despite the best efforts of prohibitionists and their fear-mongering propaganda, the truth eventually prevails."
More than 3,600 stories later -- and with hundreds of joints, medibles, and bongloads littering my path -- I'm still loving this gig, and judging by pageviews, so are close to half a million of you every month.
Toke didn't just happen. If it hadn't been for what was then called Village Voice Media's then-social media talent scout, John Boitnott, spotting my personal blog Reality Catcher making the front page of what was then social news-sharing site Digg, I wouldn't have had the chance, starting early in 2009, to write "Chronic City." That was a twice-weekly cannabis column for S.F. Weekly's online blog, "The Snitch."
And if it hadn't been for Boitnoitt and Bill Jensen, then in charge of VVM's web presence worldwide, that well-received column would not have opened the door for Toke of the Town about six months later.
I still clearly remember the three-way call between Boitnott, Jensen and myself that resulted in this website coming to life. John admirably presented to Bill the case for my being editor of the thing, and Jensen bravely agreed to give me the chance.
"Just get me pageviews," was Jensen's only directive. Well, that definitely happened, and here we still are.
I didn't mention it to readers at the time, back when Toke fired up in 2009, but I was facing some significant health challenges. In fact, I'd just undergone the second of three intestinal surgeries when the site started, and was wearing an ileostomy bag (which, thankfully, I was able to get rid of, after a few months).
High Points and Big Hits From Our Third Year
|Steve Elliott ~alapoet~|
One doesn't work in the cannabis journalism business without happening across lots of memorable stories -- so memorable, in fact, that they even overcome that short-term memory challenge with which we're supposed to be faced. Wait, what was I talking about?
It's almost impossible to predict what will click with an online audience. For instance, one of the biggest hits of December 2011, the first month of Toke's third year online, was a story about my Xmas present from my 86-year-old mother in Alabama -- a weed piggy bank. "Thanks for the assistance in financial planning, Mom!" I wrote.
The one got more than 13,000 views from StumbleUpon alone, which certainly made Mom happy.
Another story that gots lots of exposure that month was 'Sweden Legalizes Cannabis' Story Is Just A Hoax, which debunked some misinformation coming from the site JustePaste.It, which had claimed "Sweden legalizes and regulates cannabis." The original, inaccurate story had already gone viral on the Web, so good thing the debunking story did, as well.
One of the biggest stories of January 2012 was Marijuana Improves Mental Sharpness In Middle-Aged Men: Study, which detailed new scientific evidence that, far from causing any damage, smoking cannabis actually appears to improve cognitive functioning among middle-aged men. British researchers looked at a large sample of 8,992 who "used drugs," mostly marijuana, at age 42 and then again at age 50. Surprise, surprise! Those who used illegal drugs did just as well -- or slightly better! -- than the chaps who had never "used drugs" at all.
Another January story which reached a lot of readers was Why Snoop Dogg's Marijuana Bust Is No Joke by Toke's popular Northern California Correspondent, Jack Rikess. Jack spoke from the personal experience of having been on the road (in his former life as a stand-up comedian) and seeing those unwelcome reds, blues and yellows in his rearview mirror.
Also popular, for understandable reasons, was Pot Smoking Not Linked To Breathing Problems; May Help Lungs, which detailed a 20-year study finding no decline in lung function for occasional cannabis smokers. In fact, the study found that lung function, for most marijuana smokers, improves over time. One researcher speculated that might come from the practice of "deep-lunging" hits to maximize their intoxicating effects.
Former health education teacher, nurse, and NYPD cop Ron Marczyk's "Worth Repeating" column is always popular with Toke readers, but he really shined in January, garnering more than 12,000-plus StumbleUpon views and 1,500 Facebook shares for his excellent piece Worth Repeating: Marijuana Treats Anxiety and Depression.
The salutary benefits of medical marijuana continued to be revealed in a February story, Medical Marijuana Reduces Suicides: Study, which got almost 6,000 Stumbles and more than 400 Facebook shares. The study, "High On Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide," used state-level data to estimate the effect of legalizing medical marijuana on suicide rates. It was found that passage of a medicinal cannabis law is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males.
Another February story which made a powerful point to lots of viewers was 100 Die From Tylenol Overdose Each Year. Marijuana = Zero. Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) can destroy your liver, even when taken at the recommended dosages, after months or years or use. After taking from eight to 24 extra-strength Tylenol at once, acute liver toxicity sets in. One hundred people die from acetaminophen overdoses every year in the United States. About half of these are intentional (suicides), and the other half are accidents, often by people who don't realize Tylenol is added to almost every prescription pain pill.
The unstoppable Ron Marczyk in February hit big for the second month in a row with Worth Repeating: Marijuana and the Psychology of Optimal Experience. "As counterintuitive as it sounds, the 'high' or 'feel good' buzz from marijuana is an actual 'therapeutic effect' that heals the brain, produces homeostasis and prevents many neurodegenerative conditions," Ron wrote.
One of March's biggest stories was Five Things You May 'Know' About Marijuana That Aren't True, which examined certain "cultural perceptions" around cannabis that are just plain wrong. Unfortunately, many members of the general public still subscribe to beliefs about marijuana that have been scientifically disproven for years or even for decades.
|Dumb As A Blog|
British police proved they can be just as dumb as their American counterparts in another popular March story, Brit Police Claim Odor Of Cannabis Plants Causes Cancer. After a "drugs factory" what a local newspaper chose to call a pot patch) was raided, local yokel police passed on a dire admonition to a wide-eyed public: The odor of cannabis supposedly had "carcinogenic properties." "Of course, that's complete horse shit, and anybody who'd believe it either hasn't looked into the subject or is a damn fool... or likely both of the above, in the case of most police officers," I offered. (Under intense public ridicule, the hapless cops apologized for their ridiculous claim just a few days later.)
Bad news from Canada got a lot of views in March with Canada Passes Harsh Mandatory Sentences For Marijuana. The Harper Conservatives passed the controversial Bill C-10, the so-called omnibus crime bill or "Safe Streets and Communities Act," which includes harsh mandatory minimums for minor marijuana offenses and makes it more difficult to get a pardon.
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske stuck his foot in his mouth in April when trying to respond to a petition sent to the White House supporting the legalization of industrial hemp (Drug Czar Claims Hemp Fiber Contains THC). In his "response," Gil revealed either a stunning ignorance about hemp, or a shocking propensity to tell a whopper. The amount of THC found in industrial hemp -- even in the flowers -- is so minute as to be meaningless, since the trichomes contain a preponderance of CBD instead.
A Marijuana Bud A Day Keeps The Stroke Away featured a TV news report on the work of Dr. Dave Allen, who said that marijuana is a better alternative than aspirin to reduce the likelihood and severity of strokes. "Eating a bud a day will keep the stroke away," Dr. Allen said. "No other medicine made by man can help in this manner."
Less than a week after federal agents raided the cannabis training center, Richard Lee Quits After Pot Raid; Turning Over Oaksterdam reached more than 7,000 Stumble shares. Lee, 49, decided after 20 years it was time for others to take over.
The online activist organization Anonymous' announcement of Phase 1 of OpCannabis -- its effort to educate the public and work on behalf of cannabis legalization worldwide -- got shared almost 10,000 times on Facebook, as well as garnering more than 1,400 StumbleUpon views and 550 Tweets.
The incredible Ron Marczyk for the third month in a row, reached thousands of readers with Worth Repeating: Meet Your Marijuana Brain Module. Marczyk explained, in the piece, that medical marijuana treats so many human illnesses so well due to its stimulation of the body's own endocannabinoid system (ECS). "Together, there is nothing more natural than medical marijuana and how it works in the human body," former health teacher Marczyk wrote.
The biggest story of April, and one of the biggest for 2012, was Auto Insurance Site Says Marijuana Users Are Safer Drivers. A 20-year study concluded that cannabis smokers may actually be getting a bad rap, and that they may actually have fewer accidents than other drivers. The auto insurance site which performed the study said it "seeks to dispel the thought that 'driving while stoned' is dangerous." The story got more than 15,000 Facebook shares, 445 Tweets, and 2,700 Stumbles.
Yet more great news about cannabis hit in May with the story Study Confirms: Marijuana Helps With Multiple Sclerosis. Researchers at the University of California San Diego found that smoking marijuana cuts spasticity and pain that's resistant to conventional treatments in patients with MS, although it does impact cognitive function.
|Global Ganja Report|
The continuing parade of positive studies regarding the medicinal effects of cannabis are perhaps starting to have a major impact on popular support for the herb, as shown by the May story Poll Shows 74% of Americans Support Medical Marijuana. The national poll revealed the unpopularity of the Obama Administration's interference in medical marijuana states. Only 15 percent of voters nationwide expressed support for using federal resources to arrest and prosecute those who are acting in compliance with their state medical marijuana laws.
June saw the story Soap Shown To Cause Positive Marijuana Tests For Newborns causing lots of concern; false positives for innocent new mothers have resulted, in some states such as Alabama, in their being jailed.
The unjust muzzling of Robert Platshorn, the longest serving marijuana prisoner in U.S. history, also came to light in June with the story Feds Move To Silence Platshorn, Derail The Silver Tour. When he got out of prison five years ago, Platshorn didn't take the easy way out and opt for a quiet retirement; instead, he took up the cause of medical marijuana, launching The Silver Tour to bring the good news about cannabis to senior citizens. Now the federal government is trying to silence him, ordering travel restrictions and forbidding him to associate with fellow Silver director, federal medical marijuana patient Irv Rosenfeld.
Northern California Correspondent Jack Rikess attracted lots of eyeballs with his June piece Emerald Triangle: The Feds Are In Charge, People Are Hurting, which examined the federal crackdown and its impact on NorCal growers.
|MFS - The Other News|
A macabre story from the United Arab Emirates, Two Men Sentenced To Death For 3/4 Ounce Marijuana, shook up a lot of readers in June. A 19-year-old Syrian and a 21-year-old British man were sentenced to death in the U.A.E. for allegedly selling marijuana to an undercover policeman. The Briton's mother collapsed outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced, whereupon the Syrian's mother tried to comfort her.
Readers were definitely excited in late June about the story Chicago Decriminalizes Marijuana With Overwhelming 43-2 Vote. The Chicago City council's measure was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the third-largest city in the U.S. can now issue a written citation for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, rather than making an arrest. People who are caught with under half an ounce are now subject to fines between $250 and $500, instead of being taken to jail. The story got more than 16,000 Facebook shares, 460 tweets, and 1,400 Stumbles.
|Steve Elliott ~alapoet~|
An even bigger hit in June was Hey Man, Check Out My 1970s Weed Rolling Paper Collection, which got 39,000(!) Stumbles. When I was amassing my collection in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I knew it would come in handy someday! (I mean for something besides rolling joints, man.)
All those rolling papers would have come in handy in Moscow: Russian City Mistakenly Plants Field Of Marijuana Instead Of Grass was another June bit of silliness that proved popular with Toke readers.
How Marijuana Affects Memory: It's Not The Neurons was the first big hit of July. It turns out getting mice stoned can result in important scientific discoveries. Research published in Cell magazine revealed how marijuana impairs working memory, the short-term memory we use to hold on to and process thoughts.
Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, with her platform of full legalization for marijuana, proved to be quite popular with Toke readers, as the exclusive interview 'They Should Not Be Allowed To Impede Access To Marijuana' was shared almost 3,000 times on Facebook and got more than 1,300 Stumbles.
Readers were equally pumped about legalization intiatives. The story Marijuana Legalization Makes Oregon Ballot got shared more than 1,900 times on Facebook; unfortunately, the initiative itself failed in Oregon (although measures passed in Colorado and Washington).
Web giant Google's butt-insky ways were revealed in the July story Yikes: Google Wants To Help With The War On Drugs?!, which took the behemoth to task for putting itself into the fight to disrupt global drug cartels with a two-day summit in Los Angeles.
Medical Marijuana Access Point Has Drive-Thru Window brought world attention to Washington state's Sonshine Organics, which also features a rockin' marijuana farmer's market twice a month in Olympia.
The parade of positive findings about cannabis continued with the July story Marijuana Linked To Better Brain Function In Bipolar Patients. Results from a new study indicated that bipolar patients with a history of marijuana use have better neurocognitive function than those who had never indulged. The story proved popular on both Facebook (with 2,600 shares) and StumbleUpon (with 3,100 Stumbles).
You guessed it -- Ron Marczyk lengthened his incredible winning streak by another month in July with Worth Repeating: Big Pharma Takeover Of Med Marijuana In 2013. Marczyk discussed the growing body of evidence which indicates the federal government could shut down the medical marijuana industry, handing over the profits to Big Pharma by letting them offer synthetic versions of cannabinoids instead of organic, herbal cannabis.
Marijuana Doesn't Belong On Schedule I, an infographic, was the first big hit of August. The erroneous and nonsensical federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug doesn't just defy all scientific evidence; it's emblematic of all that's insane with marijuana policy in the U.S.
Michigan patient Barb Brisson's personal story, Here's Why We Fight For Medical Marijuana, touched readers in August with the touching account of how Barb was able to reconnect with her grandson after switching from harsh, addictive pharmaceuticals to organic, natural cannabis.
Toke contributor Sharon Letts had a hit with Jury Nullification Works (Kind Of) In Medical Marijuana Case in August. Sharon told the story of a two-year, $20,000 trial which resulted in a hung jury for Orange County "Pro 215" collective Executive Director Jason Andrews
|Trail of blood on Phyllis Loquasto's stairs after her beloved dog "Duke" was shot by WayneNET Task Force officers|
Team Vendetta Takes Down Drug Task Force Site, chronicling the continuing efforts of the Anonymous online activist collective Team Vendetta against the War On Marijuana, resonated with readers in September. After police held a 75-year-old woman at gunpoint and killed her dog, the disgusting, terroristic tactics of wanna-be Rambos on local drug task forces left almost everyone sickened, and spurred Team Vendetta to action. They took down the website of the Wayne County Narcotics Enforcement Team, posting online the personal information of the top three men in charge.
When a widely respected federal judge calls for marijuana legalization, it makes headlines and attracts readers. The story Federal Judge Calls For Marijuana Legalization did exactly that, garnering 3,800 Facebook shares, 8,400 Stumbles and 200 Tweets as it detailed Judge Richard A. Posner's support for legalization.
As editor of Toke of the Town, I'm no stranger to controversy, since I have no problem speaking my mind and don't particularly care if I piss folks off. That, predictably, is what happened with the September story Elliott Recommends Pregnant Mothers Smoke Marijuana, which included a video excerpt from my speech at Hempstalk 2012, a cannabis legalization rally in Portland. The scientific research tells us that toking mothers have babies that are just as healthy, with birth weights just as normal, as babies born of non-toking mothers; science also tells us that these infants have lower mortality rates than babies born of mothers who didn't do any "drugs" at all.
|Gma Maggic 420|
|Maggie Slighte had an auspicious Toke debut with her well-received piece on Euphoria.|
When cannabis activist Maggie Slighte, also known as Gma Maggic 420, made her Toke of the Town writing debut in September, she did so in a big way. Maggie's article Medical Marijuana: What's Wrong With Euphoria, Anyway? connected strongly with readers, being shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times and getting more than 2,200 StumbleUpon shares. Slighte's thesis was that if the worst "side effect" of medical marijuana is euphoria, then we as citizens have the right to the pursuit of happiness -- and that always gets a big thumbs up from us!
October's first smash hit story came from none other than the estimable Mr. Ron Marczyk with Worth Repeating: A Marijuana Debate Question For Gov. Romney. Marczyk dared to ask the Governor: "Would you support your wife's decision to use medical marijuana if prescribed by her physician and she believed it would help treat her medical condition?" No response, of course, from the timorous Governor.
The power of social media to effect positive change was highlighted by the story Facebook Protest Results In Removal Of Anti-Marijuana Billboard. An Oregon anti-legalization billboard depicting a stereotypical "drug addict" which read "What is good about marijuana? Nothing," came down after protesters organized on Facebook and vented their unhappiness to both the anti-drug group responsible for the message, and the billboard company renting them the space.
|Michael Safiotti -- in jail for marijuana -- died after jail workers served him oatmeal containing dairy products, then refused to help him when he had an allergic reaction|
The Drug War has many human tragedies, and among the saddest we saw this year was the story Marijuana Inmate With Allergy Dies After Being Given Oatmeal. Michael Saffioti, 22, had, upon his mother's advice, turned himself in to the police after missing a court date, but he was dead after just one night in the Snohomish County Jail in Washington state.
Speaking of horrifying stories, another disheartening tale of senseless police brutality was the biggest story of October. Police Chase Down, Kill 3 Fleeing Dogs In Marijuana Raid got more than 28,000 StumbleUpon shares and more than 780 Facebook shares. James Woods of Detroit was forced into a corner while the cops shot three of his dogs, reportedly as two of the animals ran to get away (the third was caged, and was shot in the face at close range, with a shotgun). Don't you just love cops?
Dr. Jill Stein -- a politician who is quite remarkable in the fact that she actually tells the truth about marijuana -- was the subject of another well-received story in October. 'Marijuana Is Not Dangerous At All' detailed the sensible cannabis positions of the Green Party Presidential nominee.
Sharon Letts connected bigtime with readers in October with the piece Cannabis Cures Cancer: Look At Me, I'm Cancer Free! This is a wonderful and inspiring story of how Sharon beat back breast cancer by ingesting raw cannabis and taking Nternal oil at night. After just a few weeks of this therapy, the mass found in her breast during both a mammogram and a subsequent ultrasound was nowhere to be found.
That brings us full circle back to this month, November 2012, and when we're talking about biggest stories of the year, there were three slam-dunks in that regard. I'm talking, of course, about the passage of "tax and regulate" legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington state, and Massachusetts voters' approval of medical marijuana.
Since Mass. is on the East Coast and has earlier poll closings, the first of these stories to come down the pike on the night of November 6 was Medical Marijuana States Welcome Massachusetts. MA became the 18th medical marijuana state in the U.S., as voters, well, MASSively approved the initiative by 63 percent to 37 percent, unequivocal landslide numbers equalling those of marijuana's previous biggest victory in Michigan.
Marijuana Legalized In Colorado: Voters Flex Their Power was the second huge story of the month (and of the night). The Rocky Mountain High State became the first in the history of the U.S. to legalize marijuana, with 53 percent of voters approving Amendment 64. Under the new law, cannabis will be treated more like alcohol and less like an illegal drug.
It didn't take Washington voters long to join the party. Washington Becomes 2nd State In One Day To Legalize Marijuana detailed how Evergreen State voters approved a plan to tax and regulate marijuana, including a controversial DUI provision that many experts say is unsupported by science in instituting a five nanogram per milliliter (5 ng/ml) cutoff point beyond which you are automatically considered guilty. (Drivers had previously enjoyed the right to defend themselves in court, since law enforcement had previously been required to prove actual impairment.)
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration didn't waste any time before it showed its complete contempt for the democratic process; DEA Says It Will Ignore Marijuana Legalization came out the next day after the vote and got more than 3,800 Facebook shares, 1,200 Stumbles and 275 Tweets.
Prospective marijuana consumers in Washington obviously had lots of questions about the upcoming legalization scheme, although pot won't actually be available in state-licensed stores until at least December 2013. That curiosity made State of Washington Estimates Legal Pot Will Be $12 A Gram another of November's biggest stories.
The inspiring story of a young man in Texas who refuses to bow down before unjust marijuana laws also got a lot of attention this month. Update: Brave Student Won't Cop A Plea In Marijuana Case, as of November 23, had almost 3,000 Facebook shares. Zacahariah Walker, 23, has rejected his state's final offer of 60 days in jail; his case is set to go to court sometime in February 2013.
The buzz around marijuana legalization just keeps the big stories comin', which makes me laugh when I remember some clueless folks claiming I opposed I-502 because it would supposedly somehow be "bad for business." Shit, I opposed that piece of legislation because it sucked, even though doing so was against my own economic interests. Meanwhile, the fact that it passed means that stories like Cops Release Guide: How To Smoke Marijuana Legally In Seattle harvest a big bongload of pagehits.
|Irv Rosenfeld smokes 10 to 12 federal medical marijuana cigarettes a day -- and he has for 30 years, with no ill effects|
The tragic death of four-year-old medical marijuana patient Cash Hyde brought an outpouring of grief and emotion from the MMJ community; the story R.I.P. Cash Hyde: Police Force Way Into Grieving Family's Home provided a focus for that sorrow and for the outrage surrounding the shoddy, classless way in which law enforcement treated the grief-stricken family in their darkest hour.
Finally, and to end the round-up on a very positive note, Irv Rosenfeld got the spotlight in Federal Medical Marijuana Patient Marks 30 Years Of Safe Use. On November 20, Irv celebrated 30 years of receiving 10 to 12 joints a day from the federal government; each month, he gets a tin of 300 government-manufactured ready-rolls from the federal pot farm in Oxford, Mississippi.