Love, Drugs and the Law

The mystical process of consciousness is driven by chemical reactions, and the institutions of law is a byproduct.

This is a fun article on the science of LSD. It makes me regret that I didn’t pay more attention in chemistry class…

Puff the Mutant Dragon

In August of 1951, a strange epidemic struck the sleepy little town of Pont-Saint-Esprit in France. Over the course of a single day, hundreds of people lost their minds.

A little boy tried to strangle his grandmother. A man realized he was an airplane then jumped out a window and broke his legs. Another man tried to drown himself to destroy the snakes that were eating him from inside. Within hours, the nearest asylum was overflowing with lunatics — men, women, children, all of them gripped by some strange madness, shrieking, laughing, gibbering, weeping hysterically. They cried that they were being tormented by demons, they were burning alive, their brains had turned to lead, they were sprouting flowers from their stomachs. It wasn’t long before the asylum ran out of straitjackets. Most of the victims eventually recovered their sanity, but not before five people had died.

The culprit behind the…

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Magic Mushrooms and You

This article was tweeted by founder and director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Rick Doblin. It discusses one of my favorite subjects: psilocybin and the personality. The article notes that there has been a revival in psychedelic research thanks to Dr. Doblin and MAPS’s efforts in advocating for sensible drug policy reforms, like a science-based government policy with regards to mind-altering substances. I will do my best to post more of these kind of articles to help in their fight to bring psychedelics into the mainstream, which is a debate in of itself. Please, discuss in the comments below on your thoughts about the renaissance in psychedelic science!

Burning Man: This Virgin’s Totally Rhombus Adventure!

“Veil, would you like a baked sweet potato?” Not a second later my friend and fellow virgin, Caleb, handed me a very warm baked sweet potato wrapped in aluminum foil. A lovely lady had cooked them in the embers of what was left of the Man, the principal structure that burns on Saturday night of Burning Man, and had gifted a bunch to our intrepid group of explorers. It was one of my favorite moments because it poignantly embodied what I had experienced during my trip at Burning Man: nourishment and intention.

The Temple

My picture of the Temple

It had been several hours since the Man collapsed in what was a pyro-technicolor spectacular. We saw Wall Street immolate to the ground, rode a disco merry-go-round on the second floor of a bus that basked us with golden light and gorgeous beats, and we had come back by the the large field of embers in the center of Black Rock City to admire the fire, the people, and each other. As our pod nestled by the flames I realized I was hungry and wished I had brought another bag of malt vinegar and sea salt potato chips. In an instant, Caleb asked his serendipitous question and I was soon noshing on what was probably the best baked sweet potato I ever had. “The playa provides,” so the saying goes. I understand that now. It’s deeper than just getting food or a drink when you want one; it provides what you have been needing since before you came to the desert.

The Man

The Man, pre-burn

The intention for my maiden voyage was a simple prayer to God: “Give me what I need, let me give what others need, and let me give what You need.” It seemed like a vague intention at first, but it manifested into nourishment for the people I interacted with, camped with, cried with, laughed with. It manifested into nourishment for myself and my faith. I let go negative thought patterns at the Temple, where people come to let go whatever it is that needs to burn in their soul. The ephemeral became visceral when the Temple itself was immolated on the somber last night of Burning Man. It seemed like everyone had something they needed to burn and let go, and it was a beautiful thing to experience together.

Burner Bros.

Myself and my burner buddies, Evan & Caleb

I went into Burning Man as a jaded second year law student and the left side of my brain was an incubus on it’s right compatriot. I came out of the desert like a blossoming cactus, succulent and rooted. Since coming back to the Extended Playa of school, work and the daily grind, I have started drawing again after many years and have picked up the practice of hooping. I feel nourished enough to embrace more of the magic in my day to day life, and have continued trying to treat everyone as I would as if I was back at Black Rock City: with radical love and acceptance.

SSDP Love

A dear friend sends out her love to those in her life.

I hope this helps explain a little what Burning Man is about and helps dissuade notions that it is just a hippie, drug-infused orgy, which it’s not (though you could probably still find a theme camp that is into that). As some wise burner once said, “If it’s just a big party, then why is there a temple in the middle of it?”

Temple Burn

The Temple Burn

The Joy of Impact

One of the goals in my life is to help people. I have been thoroughly blessed and I feel like the only way to give thanks is to do something about it. This is why I am in law school, it’s the reason for my ambition. I want to give back and uplift those who need it because where would we be without those who advocate for us? I would not be enjoying my freedoms as a gay Chicano without activists like Harvey Milk and Cesar Chavez. The success of social justice activism depends on what the current generation contributes to what has been accomplished thus far.
During the grind of my first year in law school I did not forget my goal. In fact, it was the goal itself that was causing much distress. The rigor of law school keeps you focused on your studies, your life, yourself, with little room for anything else. Praise be to God I can manage my time quite well and still live a fulfilling lifestyle. But, being kept so busy and having to study all the time choked out any feeling that my academic studies were going to result in making an impact on anyone’s life except my own. After tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, hundreds of hours of study, and an innumerable amount of stress, who or what was benefitting? Certainly, I was enjoying my experience, but it felt hollow and shallow because my goal of helping people was not being achieved.
Then I started working at Sensible Colorado, a non-profit organization that advocates for sensible drug policies in Colorado. I was ready to get down and dirty with policy and the law after being kept sterile in an academic bubble. One assignment literally had to do with something “dirty”: used needles. The Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) provides services, such as clean needle exchanges, for drug addicts to keep them from contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. Several of their program participants were being arrested for violating a statute that prohibited possession or use of injection devices, such as needles. The research and report I made delineating the state and local statutory exemptions on needle exchange programs helped the HRAC in stopping the arrests of their program participants and letting them keep the one thing that is helping them stay alive: a clean needle.
After my boss told me I did a good job and that HRAC appreciated and benefitted from my work, I finally felt like I was accomplishing my goal of helping people. In retrospect, I realized all the study and work during my first year gave me the foundation to do things like this, and that it wasn’t for mere vanity and ambition. Sure, it’s great to lobby your public officials or work on campaigns, but directly helping people and making their quality of life better, if only a little, is unequaled in its impact.
Politicians and causes come and go, but human suffering and pain is constant. No election cycle, candidate, or policy will ever improve peoples’ lives unless the people themselves take care of one another out free-will and choice. What I do and how I relate to those around me in the community makes a bigger statement than my policy positions. I hope to keep this in mind as I continue in my second year of law school and prevent some of the despondency of the academic life by volunteering more often while I am in school, as a gentle reminder of why I am here and what I am doing.

Poll: Colorado Pot Amendment Could Pass — And Hurt Obama

CO voters to President Obama: Wake Up, Mr. Choomgang!

Amendment 64 is turning out to be a top priority for many Colorado voters this year and with it’s status as a battleground state, it would behoove both candidates to adopt more sensible drug policies if they expect to win the state.

Tip #2 Just Breathe

Breathing. We do it all the time. But, do you really breathe? I mean, really, really breathe? Notice how you are breathing right now. It’s probably short in and out breaths that barely expand your ribcage. Now, take nice full breaths, it doesn’t have to be deep, but full. Try doing your inhales and exhales for 5 seconds each. Notice anything?

I know my mind feels more calm when I breathe in and out fully. More oxygen flows to the brain and body, your heart rate slows down, and the frenetic underpinnings of thought subside. Whenever I find myself on the verge of freaking out, I remind myself to breathe, and it quells the exuberant emotion I feel at the time and allows me the space to work through it without feeling like I want to take a power drill to my temple, Pi-style. My mental processes can get very chaotic a lot of the time, and I struggle a lot with depression, anxiety, and negative thoughts. Breathing helps me sort it all out so that I can take proactive steps in having a more stable and loving mind frame. A good full breath gives you pause to think about how you feel and where the thought or emotion is coming from and why. Instead of automatically giving into the emotion, you can examine it and discover the reason behind it and determine if it’s something that is harmful or helpful and take the appropriate actions to deal with it. It’s that moment when the little voice in your head says, “It’s going to be ok.”

So, don’t forget to breathe! You could die if you do!

¡Basta!

“The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death. He jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” –Octavio Paz

Six years of war and 70,000 dead. 70,000 bodies that will rise from their graves in Mexico on Judgment Day and bellow out with unified rage at the senseless colonial policies foisted upon their community by the holy “drug-warriors” of the United States federal government, claiming to save lives while at once eradicating them. We forgot our history, we let things repeat, and now, the Inquisition is back in the New World with a new agenda to dominate the people of Latin America: the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Most observers would find the lack of outcry by the Latino/a community baffling. With so much carnage and violence, someone somewhere should have become pissed off enough to do something about it. And some people do, and most of them are killed. Thus, the cycle keeps reinforcing its cruel circle with each person who dare speak out, but is snuffed out by bullets that probably came from North of the Border. Mexico’s history is riddled with death, hence Octavio Paz’s quote. From the conquistadors decimating the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the Mexican Revolution in which 1 million Mexicans died within a single decade (1910-1920), our culture knows death pretty well. We even have a holiday for it: Dia de Los Muertos. It’s not because we do not appreciate life as much as other cultures. In fact, it may be a sign that we appreciate life more since we embrace death as part of that process. I know I try to live my life like as if I might die tomorrow, or even the next minute, not out of schizoid paranoia, but to keep things in perspective.

Despite the embedded nature of death in our community and the inherent risk of speaking out against the narco-violence, we have a duty, as Latino/as who reside in the United States, to help shape the lives of our friends and family who still live South of the Border. Our families brought us here to lead better lives, and now it is time to give back. Politicians of all stripes are desperate for our vote, but not for our voice. We need to ensure our voices are listened to before we hand our votes over. If the leaders of Latin America are demanding a shift in drug policies, then why are we not joining the chorus of enlightened voices? I think they know what is better for their people than the Washington Consensus, who only seek to keep their firm power grip on the region, innocents be damned. But, as with most consensus, all you need is a little dissent to change things.

The Olympic Dream

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I could have been one of these dudes holding up his gold medal.

I remember having a strong desire when I was in elementary school to become an Olympic swimmer. It was sparked by a tour of the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, my hometown (way before the advent of Michael Phelps). The house in which I lived my formative years was a mere 15 minute walk from the facility. The desire was so strong that I would fantasize about eating in the cafeteria, bunking with other athletes, travelling the world. I was, still am, a pretty badass swimmer. I think I probably could have done something Olympian by now if I had really pursued that dream. So, why didn’t I chase it?

Usually, I do not entertain thoughts about abandoned childhood dreams. They were typically outrageous things like making a music album with Mary J. Blige as my mentor or being a secret agent spy kid. But, this dream was something that could have been and was not so ridiculous. Maybe it’s the global consciousness shared through the Olympic Games, or the heat, but when I remember this childhood dream, it bothers me. Why did I not go for the gold? How did I wind up as a jaded 2L law student staring at a screen feeling like he must post a blog about this? How can an aspiration morph into something completely different without taking notice?

I would hate to be so cliché and utterly cynical by thinking it is “just life” and having to deal with the “real world.” My mother was awesome by encouraging me to pursue things that were not necessarily of utility in the “real” world, like swimming lessons and pottery, but after a few years of passionate study and work, I drop it all together. I was worried that it was because I lacked either focus or an ability to follow through, but I think it’s because I get bored.

Whenever I find something that deeply interests me, I tend to dive right in and saturate myself in it. I had an obsession with Queen Elizabeth I and read as many books as I could and watched as many docs or movies about her. The current leader fetish is Margaret Thatcher. I also had quite a prolific period of drawing, mainly in charcoal. All of these pursuits have a common denominator: my interest waned after a year or two.

I do not think it’s because of growing up or having to take on more responsibility that caused me to change my dreams. It was just boredom. Sure, I love swimming and traveling, but when I think about it, being a star athlete seems a bit dull for my taste. I would be oppressed from all the handling and restrictions on how I can live my life. Spontaneity seems to die and deviancy is shunned. I love to draw too, but I would feel useless if I just drew things for a living. Sometimes I do wish I was passionate about a subject enough to create something out of it, like a career, but experts are just people who know more about one thing and less about others. It seems the only interest that has stuck around is my love for politics, policy, and communication.

I am hoping that this blog is a big step towards discovering and fulfilling what my passions really are because surely I have more creative drive than what the left side of my brain likes to think. Maybe I will pick up charcoal drawing again and see if it sticks this time, or some other whack-a-doo art project that I will enjoy. Meryl Streep, as Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady, said nowadays people want to be something, instead of doing something. Well, I AM already, and I feel like what I am doing now is Olympian in its own right: living and loving God, myself, and others. So, whatever endeavors I take on whether it’s investing more into my blog, becoming a lawyer, or an ambitious art project, it can be Olympic if I want it to, even without receiving a gold medal on a podium at the end.

WWJC? Who Would Jesus Convict?

        Certainly not drug users, or even drug abusers. In fact, I do not think He would convict anyone, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog. What is in the scope of this blog is a discussion about rethinking what Christ-like drug policies look like. I think it is an important discussion because there are many misconceptions about what a loving drug policy looks like. Instead of pontificating on the intersection of theology and drug policy, I am going to ask questions  about our current system, and how it fails all of us, especially those most vulnerable in our community.

         1. Is it loving to support policies that have used resources to target specific portions of the population who have committed no harm to anyone with their drug use or abuse, except for harm done to self, and is it loving to stigmatize them? Spare the rod and you spoil the child, but use the rod too much and it becomes a form of abuse itself. Spending money on prisons and jails to accommodate people convicted for drug offenses instead of helping and treating them is like a church spending a pretty penny to build a mega church monstrosity, but spending little on feeding, sheltering, EDUCATING, and caring for people; both are built to pack in more people to maximize profit derived from people’s spiritual and corporeal suffering. Drug offenders comprise about a third of the prison population and prisons are overpopulated, which creates atrocious conditions for prisoners. I dare to posit that it is what society has deemed to be scum of the earth, criminals and convicts, who deserve and need the most love. Remember, Jesus Christ was a prisoner too. We all were.

          2. Is it loving to support policies that restrict access to safe, therapeutic medicine that helps a sick person with their ailment? Are you a doctor? Wouldn’t taking toxic, addicting drugs like Prozac and Oxycodone be more damaging and disrespectful to your body, which is a Temple of God, than ingesting a non-toxic, non-addicting medicine like medical cannabis? The US government itself conceded that marijuana has no serious, deleterious effects on the body. All the studies that have been coming out buttress this assertion. Also, THC, the active component in marijuana that gets you “high,” has anti-cancer properties. Imagine the countless suffering that can be prevented if marijuana was not stigmatized as some demon plant that will turn your children into fire-breathing liberals/libertarians (tell them not to and they more than likely will, just like drug prohibition). I digress; it would be foolish and narrow-minded to consider marijuana as the only drug with medicinal potential. Research has shown that other stigmatized drugs like MDMA (pure form of ecstaxy), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and LSD have medicinal value in treating diseases like post-traumatic stress disorder and acute depression.

           3. Is it loving to support policies that create conducive environments for crime, abuse, and suffering? Prohibitionist policies have led to increases in crime, abuse, and suffering. We do not have to look too far to see how prohibitionist policies actually compound the issues we are trying to keep at bay with drug prohibitions: over 50,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006 when they declared their war on drugs; US citizens are becoming alarmingly dependent and addicted to toxic, legal prescription drugs; children are experimenting with unknown and dangerous substances like bath salts. Meanwhile, in states with medical marijuana, prescription addiction rates and drunk-driving rates have decreased, and studies have proven a correlation with drug policy reforms.

We can probably all agree the current system is broken and needs reform. A more loving policy is one that doesn’t need the rod because you can’t beat someone healthy. I hope this makes you rethink what Jesus would do.

University of Denver No Longer “Drug Free”

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The University of Denver Sturm College of Law is no longer a “drug free” school zone! Yesterday, January 31, 2012, was the first day Denver University Law Students for a Sensible Drug Policy convened it’s first chapter meeting. We already have enough interest to have a full board, have tentative plans for an event in March, and have several legal internships set up!

A lot of effort went into the founding of the chapter, and I must give a shout out to Stu Rubinstein, our chapter’s deputy chairperson, for his help in getting the club started and going! Having a co-creator, a collaborator, a co-conspirator, if you will, is more fulfilling and inspiring than taking on an endeavor on one’s own. The term “teamwork” has become cliche and superficial; it does not adequately define the bond between people working with one heart, one mission. The minds differ, but that is what leads to the development of great ideas.

So, whether starting or running a Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter, or other activist endeavors, having a partner or a close group of partners is helpful, beautiful, and very fulfilling. The burden is shared, and going through the trials and tribulations of activism together creates the brightest bonds.

These bright bonds are needed to illuminate the world and light the way to sensible living and sensible policies.