Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Mental Health

More legal mumbo-jumbo on medical marijuana

Medical marijuana

Really, you have to wonder what these judges were smoking.

Here, read for yourself (quick version for those with short attention spans), courtesy of Times staff writer Maura Dolan:

California cities may not ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but the operations may sell only weed that is grown on site, an appeals court ruled in an Orange County case.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge Court of Appeal panel in Santa Ana was the first in the state to prohibit cities from enacting zoning restrictions that effectively ban all marijuana dispensaries. The court was also the first to rule that dispensaries must grow the marijuana they sell, a requirement that would force most of them out of business.

To which I say: Dudes, what?

You can't bar dispensaries but you can require them to grow their own, right at the store?

Will this also mean that pharmacies can only sell Viagra if they make it on site? That markets have to become wineries or breweries to sell Chardonnay and Bud Light? Is Trader Joe's going to have to slaughter the cows and pigs right there in the store? What about Starbucks?  It’s gonna be tough growing all that coffee in the little shops.

OK, not perfect analogies perhaps. But really, how does this ruling bring clarity to an issue that seriously needs some? As the story says:

The Lake Forest decision added to a stack of rulings that have befuddled local governments and was unlikely to add much clarity.

One appeals court upheld the right of cities to use zoning laws to prohibit dispensaries. Another said city regulations that allow any medical marijuana violate federal law. A federal judge this week threw out a lawsuit to prevent the federal government from shutting down dispensaries.

And it's not even about political ideology. Two of the three judges were Republican appointees, the other a Democratic appointee. 

The real problem here is -- to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's famous line in "A Few Good Men" -- "We can't handle the truth."

Both sides on this issue are trying to achieve something without actually admitting it. Many supporters of medical marijuana, for example, are really advocates for legalizing marijuana, period. And cities that enact ordinances such as Lake Forest's may say they're trying to regulate the industry, but in fact they're trying to shut down legal businesses that they don't want.

For example, from Dolan's story:

Jeffrey Dunn, a lawyer who represented Lake Forest, said the court's requirement that dispensaries sell pot grown only on site would shut down most storefront operations.

"I don't see how you can grow in a tiny, rented space enough pot for over 1,000 customers," Dunn said.

Exactly. You can't. 

Except, the sale of medical marijuana is legal. Californians voted for it. Californians want it. Laws restricting it won't change that.

[For the record: OK, yes, that is incorrect.  The sale of marijuana is not legal in California.  Rather, I should have said that Proposition 215, which Californians passed in 1996, allows people, with a doctor's permission, to grow, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes.]

The real solution, of course, is simple: Just legalize marijuana. 

But if we can't do that, we should at least stop with these silly ordinances, which only spawn equally silly court rulings.


The vernacular landscape of medical marijuana

Will Santa Monica call off Christmas in the park?

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Los Angeles Times


Does the Miramonte case argue for cameras in the classroom?

The allegations of sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School have brought with them some predictable online chatter about whether it might be smart to place video cameras in classrooms as a deterrent to molestation and for evidence if it occurs anyway.

The debate about cameras in the classroom comes up from time to time -- a number of schools in England have them -- not just because of concerns about crime but as a way to evaluate teachers' work. After all, some underperforming teachers will put on their best act when the principal comes in to watch. There are stories of teachers who spend more time regaling their students with personal stories than actually teaching, and knowing that any segment of their teaching time might be viewed could be an incentive to stay on task. Taping would allow school districts to send excerpts anywhere in the world for experts to analyze and share their thoughts.

Right now, of course, this is a nonstarter for financial reasons. The state needs the money to put more teachers in classrooms before it can remotely worry about installing cameras to watch them. But every argument for recording the classroom has a strong argument to counter it. True, we're at the point of placing cameras on street corners, but is there no place for privacy? Is every whispered interchange between students in the back of the classroom then fodder for examination, investigation and action?

PHOTOS: Sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary

Molesters might be deterred from crimes in the classroom, but they'd just look for places without surveillance. And while awareness of cameras in the classroom might prod a certain amount of conscientious behavior among teachers, it could also detract from instruction by making them nervous, stiff and more conscious of the need to look good on tape than the need to connect with students.

Is it time for the camera debate to return?


Salvaging Miramonte's year

Daum: Tiger Moms vs. 'Bébé' moms

'Obamacare' insurance exchanges: Let's get going

--Karin Klein

Photo: A newly posted teacher leads her students out for recess at Miramonte Elementary school. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Teenagers and sleep: Another thing parents do wrong

alcohol abusecdccenters for disease controlcircadian rhythmmayo clinicsleepsmokingteenteen depressionteenagertobacco use


It's a new school year, so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is fretting about ... flu? Alcohol abuse? Nope, this time the agency is worried about lack of sleep among teenagers. About 70% aren't getting the recommended minimum of eight hours on school nights, the CDC reports, and students who don't sleep enough are more likely to be depressed, to drink sugared soda, to smoke cigarettes and so forth.

This is the moment to pull out the usual observation that correlation does not imply causality. In other words, lack of sleep isn't necessarily causing depression and tobacco use. It could well be, for example, that depressed youngsters have a harder time sleeping. In fact, that's probably the more likely scenario.

That said, teenagers don't get much sleep and most parents, looking at their own kids, will say it's a problem. There's a visible difference between a well-rested adolescent and the grumpy character who slouches around after a late night and catches every cold and flu bug traveling around campus.

The CDC hasn't been offering much in the way of solutions so far, but lack of sleep isn't usually the teenager's idea of fun. Adults place so many demands on them -- do more homework or the students in India will take away your future job, get involved in the school play, community service and at least two athletic teams or a good college won't consider you worth a glance -- that sleep takes a lower priority in everyone's eyes. I remember a coworker who said that while she was in high school, her mother made her stay up until 1:30 a.m. every day for extra study, telling her that teenagers don't need more than five hours of sleep.

Then, of course, there's evidence that teenagers' internal clocks work differently than the scheduling demands we place on them. Their circadian rhythms are telling them to start winding down at 11 p.m., according to the Mayo Clinic, while school starts at about 7:30 a.m.

Of course, their computer time is often a big time chunk out of the day, but before we get too smug about their ridiculous social networking habits, let's remember that prior generations tended to spend that extra time staring vapidly at a TV set each evening.

Authorities are good at making parents aware of all the items they must provide for their children -- healthy, tasty, home-cooked meals with lots of vegetables; family dinnertime with stimulating conversation; involvement in school events for kids and parents alike; academic support; and now sleep. They just haven't gotten very good yet and telling parents how to fit it all in.

Besides, as most parents know, sleep is like the adolescent version of potty training. There are some things you just can't force a kid to do; toddlers and teenagers have more than a little in common.


Sleepless in Glendale

No Child Left Behind: Is it being left behind?

Flash! Facebook causes teen drinking! (Until you read the fine print)

--Karin Klein

Photo: Kyle Gosselin talks to a friend on his cellphone while working on a computer in an upstairs study at his home. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Anthony Weiner scandal: Leave the poor guy alone

Anthony Weiner Anthony Weiner's scandal should have simmered down after he checked into rehab, but his not-so-trusty confidante Ginger Lee stirred the pot Wednesday by telling the media he'd asked her to lie for him.

It makes you want scold Weiner for being such a jerk. And you can imagine how the skeptics reacted, the ones like the Washington Post's Ruth Marcu who think his stint in rehab is a quick-fix PR stunt to clean up his image. "[Weiner's] episode underscores how rehab has become an all-purpose laundromat for irresponsible behavior, an infuriatingly easy substitute for accepting blame and living with consequences," she wrote.

And it's true: We've seen this face of shame, described (and illustrated) in a New York Times City Room post by Andy Newman and Elissa Gootman, so many times before.

But are the media being too hard on Weiner? It might start to look that way, said the Daily Beast's Eric Alterman: "Weiner may have solved everybody's problem with his 'treatment' gambit. It makes those who continue to milk the story look like heartless vultures for harassing a sick man (with a pregnant wife)." And yet, people continue to brush off a pattern of behavior associated with addiction.

Is it unfair to roll our eyes at a guy with genuine problem? That's the case Susan Cheever made on The Fix, an addiction and recovery website. Here's an excerpt from an excellent article that describes the psychology of addiction:

This seemingly irrational behavior on the part of very rational men and women is at the heart of addiction -- and at the heart of the case of onetime rising star Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman whose bizarre twitter escapades have made world wide news. [...]

[F]or those whose behavior appears both compulsive and inexplicable, where the risks far outweigh the benefits, a diagnosis of sex addiction is a good bet. [...]

Men who are unable to control their sexual urges at any cost need help, just like drug addicts and alcoholics.

Meghan Daum also showed some sensitivity and understanding for the disgraced politician in her Thursday Op-Ed article. In it, she wonders "whether his penchant for erotic self-portraiture reveals not confidence or excessive vanity but an ingrained self-loathing." This guy could be seriously screwed up.

When you consider the context for Weiner's indiscretions -- the slam-book-cum-mosh pit that is Twitter, the way Facebook has turned exhibitionism into "sharing" and voyeurism into a pastime as quotidian as checking the weather forecast -- one thing seems clear: Weiner was using social networking less as a means of communication than as a mirror. Apparently unable to rely on his own judgment when gazing at his reflection, he sought outside appraisers who were guaranteed to issue the approval he couldn't muster for himself.

And, of course, you can't forget the possibility that a "Type T" personality could be at the root of his troubles. It's hard to like someone like Weiner, but given all that could be wrong, it's also hard to see him crucified.

[Update: Bowing to pressure from his own party, Rep. Anthony Weiner plans to resign today, according to Democratic sources. He told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday.]


Weiner's fate

Poll: Should Anthony Weiner resign?

My Anthony Weiner apology, in his own words

Most commented: Our readers' Weiner obsession

The psychology of Weiner's scandal and what it says about us

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) pauses during a news conference in New York after acknowledging inappropriate online communications with women. Credit: Jin Lee / Bloomberg

Mirror, mirror: Who's the healthiest county of us all?

air qualitydel norte countyhealthhigh school graduationlife expectancylife spanlos angeles countymarin countymortalityobesityorange countyrankingssurvivalunemployment

Orange County is the healthiest county in the Southland; Los Angeles comes in at a mediocre 26th and San Bernardino an abysmal 45th. If you're a fan of rankings, you'll love the new county-by-county health scores from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Its statistics go far beyond the maps recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, ranking each county on a wide range of health-related demographics--mortality rates, quality of life, high school graduation rates (yes, education correlates to lifespan), unemployment, obesity and air quality.

Marin County, which already came out looking good on the CDC's ratings of exercise and obesity rates, ranks No. 1 in California, while Del Norte County comes in last. (A couple of counties weren't ranked.) Bay Area counties tended to do well; the most rural counties were pooled at the bottom.

Not that you should make decisions about your next house based on these; they're simply a demographic snapshot. While some aspects of a healthy life can't be controlled by individuals -- such as smog -- exercise and education are more a matter of individual choice. As a society, we tend to overrate ratings.


Physical activity: Angelenos are lazier than you'd think. But why?

--Karin Klein

Media: Is it fair for the media to exploit Charlie Sheen?

Nicholas-Kristof "If there's a symbol of everything wrong with television news, it's the focus on Charlie Sheen," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday morning. Indeed, there are bigger issues that should take precedent, but judging from the many commercial spots during Sunday's Academy Awards for Tuesday's "20/20" ("I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen.") the actor is good for business.

Which brings up another question about news judgment: Is it fair to interview Sheen if he doesn't have the mental capacity, as his behavior suggests, to know what he's doing right now? From Time.com:

His recent ranting behavior has led viewers to question whether the actor was still on drugs and denying addiction. Or whether he was exhibiting manic symptoms of bipolar disorder. Or some combination of the two. Sheen's negative drug test suggests that addiction is unlikely to be his only problem.

Audiences love a public fall, but this isn't Christina Aguilera getting busted for public intoxication; it isn't even Martha Stewart going to a white-collar prison. It's a man flying off the rails, a man with young children who desperately needs help. And I don't think he should be exploited for ratings. (Unless that show is "Intervention.")

UPDATE: I just came across this wonderful roundup of Opinion pieces on Poynter about the media's coverage of Sheen: Media acting as enablers with excessive coverage of "Two and a Half Men"star Charlie Sheen.


Charlie Sheen, working-class hero

Lindsay Lohan, you're no Farrah Fawcett

Is there room for Hipstamatic in photojournalism?

Is the Washington Post trying to put one over on readers?

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Gun control: New York does it better

Jared Loughner Could the Tucson shooting rampage been avoided had Arizona made it harder for would-be gun owners to get a pistol permit? Maybe. Robert Spitzer, political scientist and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," joined Terry Gross for Thursday's episode of NPR's "Fresh Air" to explain.

"Mental health information is gathered on a state-by-state basis, and state practices vary widely. So in the state of Arizona, [accused killer] Jared Loughner didn't need to get a permit at all to get a handgun, and the only real requirement he had to fulfill was the federal requirement of a background check through the federal provision enacted as the Brady Law back in 1993. His name was not already on a list in the federal data bank, so his name was not rejected for the handgun purchase he made last November. Even though it was clear that he had mental problems, nobody in his family or the college where he has been attending had actually taken formal steps, nor the local police, to actually get a judge to actually say, 'This man is mentally incompetent and should undergo treatment.'"

Now, if Loughner lived in New York, there's a very good chance he wouldn't have been able buy a gun, legally at least. Spitzer continued:

"I would also make the comparison between a state like Arizona and a state like New York state. In New York state, when citizens apply for a pistol permit in order to then purchase a handgun legally, the state of New York asks for quite a bit more information. They ask for four character references, and the permit applicant needs to go before a local judge and say, 'This is why I would like to have a handgun,' before they can get the OK to do it. And in that more lengthy and detailed process, including the process of interviewing and consulting with character references; had Mr. Loughner lived in New York state, it's abundantly clear he would not have been able to get a permit."

That certainly seems like a more responsible approach. One flaw, however, is that if you make it too hard for people to get a gun, they may just take their exasperated selves to the black market, where it's not only easy to buy a weapon, but it's possible to have the barrel of the gun cut up (like one might take a razor blade to their fingertips) so that the weapon and the bullets become untraceable. Or they could just buy a used gun at a gun show.


The 11th Commandment: Thou shalt bring guns to church

Gun regulation: A better memorial for Tucson victims

In editorial cartoons, the weapons depicted just get bigger and more powerful

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Arizona massacre suspect Jared Lee Loughner. Credit: HO / AFP/Getty Images



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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