Romeo and Juliet – A Story About Wanting What We Can’t Have

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After watching the documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter I came to a fairly superficial conclusion. I initially chose to watch this HBO mini-series for potential legal analysis. I plan to address those concerns in a later blog entry. Oddly, from a legal standpoint, this case is quite interesting. There wasn’t any previous case precedence in Massachusetts state history. Making this case one that explores uncharted waters.  However, my observations are not about the legal facts of the case.

Conrad Roy III and Michelle Carter were two Massachusetts teens who had a highly toxic and co-dependent relationship. Both suffering from various forms of mental illness. Carter lived in a quasi-fantasyland. Blurring the line between romantic comedies and dramas with her relationship with Roy. Drawing parallels between their relationship and the ebbs-and-flows of numerous works of fiction. Even drifting down the perverse road of suicidal ideation. Hence, here aggressive attempts to coax Roy into killing himself. Carter almost took glee in the concept of the attention she would receive in the climatic event that Roy or Roy and herself had committed suicide. Her vision of being showered in attention was almost like a linear plot twist in play. The act of Roy killing himself was the divine Deus ex Machina to free him from the deepest depth of depression. Having the potential to satisfy the psychological pathology of both teens.

In one text message string, Carter details the romanticized depiction of the climatic end of Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet. As we all, know both of the star-crossed teens end up dying in the end. Lying dead, right next to one another in the ultimate display of catharsis. Demonstrating to the quarreling families how petty their disputes truly were. It would be quite likely Carter saw some highly embellished similarities between the protagonists of the play and her relationship. Upon the documentary reviewing this string of text messages, my mind began to wander. I started to realize that the story of Romeo and Juliet if we strip all the emotional entrapment of romance is nothing more than an extended narrative detailing the Forbidden Fruit Effect. This phenomenon is also known as the Paradox of Temptation. Essentially, we desire what we cannot have.

This has economized instances of prohibited commodities. This principle is not confined merely to the illicit drug trade. During the cigar boom of the late-1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. demand for Cuban cigars skyrocket. To the extent that there was a major slump in quality. The one centralized tobacco producer for Cuba had to resort to using green tobacco and inferior quality control procedures to keep up with demand. It should be noted that the United States has had a trade embargo with Cuban since 1962. It’s hard to believe that much of the mystique of Cuban cigars to Americans isn’t influenced by them is a restricted product. We have seen a similar phenomenon with the legalization of recreational marijuana. What has been referred to as the “Green Rush”. A surge of sales for a product that has been legal and demonized in America for decades, that is now finally legal. To the naïve Cannabis user, the mystery behind its pharmacologic effects is enough of a draw to purchase Marijuana-related products. Would this romanticized image exist to the same capacity if Marijuana use was as ubiquitous as drinking beer? Most likely not. Most of the buzz and hype is levitating around pot because we have treated it as an unholy and deplorable vice for so long. Has only recently become fashionable (in the mainstream sense).

The story of Romeo and Juliet is if reduced to its most base level, a story about wanting what you can’t have. Due to the fact we steeped the narrative in a cloak of riveting romanticism, we forget that this isn’t purely a love store. Would Juliet be as appealing to Romeo if she was a member of a rival family? Couldn’t the same be said for Romeo? Granted, most of these pointed questions are a mix of a priori reasoning and loose conjecture. However, considering the flaws of human nature and the unfortunate fact we are attracted to what we can’t have. Analogous to a moth witlessly fly towards a flame. This seems to be an enduring characteristic of the human condition. Doesn’t matter whether it is two lustful teenagers in the Shakespearean-era or a 1920s Flapper enjoying an illicit gin-and-tonic. We want what we can’t have. Getting beyond the compelling drama of the vibrant and rebellious love affair between two teens, what are we left with? An engaging allegory fixated on desire. The drawbacks of pursuing everything we desire to possess.

Bootleggers and Baptists Part XII: Dual-Role Actors on Both Sides of Proposition 205 (Arizona, 2016)

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Back in 2016, election cycle Proposition 205 (Arizona) sought to establish a regulated market for recreational Marijuana. The measure failed to pass by a slim margin. Expounding upon the strategic flaws of the ballot question has already been thoroughly exhausted by local commentators.  What truly is interesting in retrospectively analyzing this failed legalization campaign was the coalition building. These strategic alliances were forged on both sides of the aisle.  Everyone from puritanical prohibitionists to cannabis aficionados teamed up with orthogonal allies to hedge their bets on achieving their desired policy outcome. Naturally the formulation of such coalitions invariable leads to Bootlegger and Baptists policy dynamics. By the very nature of regulations and policy decisions, someone stands to gain and someone stands to lose. Government action is never neutral. Even inadvertently a policy can provide a downstream benefit to an invested interest group. Sometimes these concentrated benefits are nontangible. Such as a positive public image or gaining notoriety. As the great moral philosopher, Adam Smith reminds social incentives to present us with powerful motives.

One of the more predictable opponents of legalization would be manufactures of prescription painkillers. Insys Therapeutic donated $500,000.00 to the 2016 opposition campaign in Arizona. Insys is a well-known producer of opioid-based medications. Their true motivations are somewhat puzzling.  Medical Marijuana was legalized back in 2010 which would have been a golden opportunity time for funding opposition. This could potentially be a strategic form of revenge. A thinly veiled attempt at settling a score with the Marijuana dispensaries that cost them business.  Why? Because the medical dispensaries would be among the first economic actors to enter the recreational market. It would take much in the way of resources to make a transition to selling both medical and recreational cannabis. In theory, this institutional form of retaliation would provide the benefit of instinct satisfaction to upper management within Insys. This theory assumes little to no economic benefit from this action.

An alternate theory could be Insys does finically benefit from keeping recreational Marijuana illegal. This move could signify a circuitous acknowledgment of the black-market for prescription painkillers. Whether big pharma wants to admit or not, recreational users do make up a portion of their profits. Their main customers need to operate as mid-level distribution. Either through an unscrupulous physician prescribing opioid narcotics to recreational users or through patients reselling the medications on the secondary market. Through going attacking recreational Marijuana they can protect their indirect profits made through the demand on the illicit secondary market.  Opioids are already in competition with alcohol, tobacco, kratom, Salvia Divinorum, and potentially marijuana. By eliminating a whole category of legal and accessible options they gain a slightly larger share of the quasi-legal American intoxicant market.

The question becomes whether this specific economic agent is a Bootlegger or a Baptist. They are unquestionably both. The company possesses some sort of murky incentive for keeping recreational marijuana illegal. Making them a Bootlegger. They assume the role Baptist when publicly justifying their generous donation to the counter-campaign. Citing the danger of marijuana to children. Also, expounding upon the dangers of ingesting substances that do not have FDA approval. All of these are arguments are laughable when you think about the pharmacological risks of the products Insys manufactures. Regardless, assuming good faith on the part of the firm, it is still a moral argument. Which may or may not be factually accurate. For this reason, they are a Dual-Role Actor.

In this scenario, there is another Dual-Role Actor that is on the other side of the fence. That would be the media. Numerous publications pick-up with this story and ran with it. Function as a Baptist through exposing the callous self-interest of pharmaceutical companies. This provides the appearance of a moral crusader who is attempting to reveal how big business attempts to manipulate the system. However, this public service is not done out of pure altruism. Media organizations are frequently willing to dispense with accuracy to be the first outlet to break a news story. Editors often do not focus on important stories but rather those that captivate their viewers/readers. Making news outlets more of a vehicle for entertainment than obtaining information. The best means of gaining and retaining viewership in an age where mainstream media is currently on life support is through sowing outrage.  Exploiting the public’s salient bias against corporations is a great means of generating click-bait worthy headlines.  Utilizing this tactic becomes much more imperative when your industry is presently clinging to life on a shoddy ventilator. The Schumpeterian gales are presently gusting. The creative destruction of alternative media is drawing many viewers away from FOX News and CNN.

Gonzales V. Raich- Medical Marijuana and Federalism

close up photo of kush on glass container
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When medical marijuana was first legalized back in 1996 it presented a bit of a conflict for law enforcement. Even though Marijuana could be prescribed for medical purposes in California, it was still a banned substance under federal law.  Twenty-four years later Cannabis remains prohibited under federal law remaining a Schedule I drug.  Under this classification, a drug is deemed as having no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Even though medical Marijuana is presently legal in 33 states. The conflict between state law and federal law in the sphere of regulating Cannabis has created a plethora of issues. Among these issues have been inconsistent rulings on the behalf of the Supreme Court. At times striking verdicts that circumvented state authority and gave deference to the jurisdiction of the federal government. At best, these rules are Constitutionally questionable.


One particularly noteworthy example of this confusion of jurisdiction transpired on August 15th, 2002. Angel Raich and Diane Monson, two card-carrying medical Marijuana patients, were subjected to a raid by the DEA and the local sheriff’s office. Despite the fact their Marijuana consumption and cultivation were legal under state law “..federal agents seized and destroyed all six of … Cannabis plants..” on the property. Unfortunately for the respondents, the Supreme Court did not rule in favor of their case, Gonzales V. Raich (2005). The court found that congressional authority under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801) superseded the Compassionate Care Act passed at the state level. Why would the court side with federal authorities on this matter? This incorrect judgment by the Supreme Court is possibly rooted in a misapplication of the Commerce Clause. This clause on the Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate intrastate trade. It is perplexing that the Supreme Court would find the parameters of this congressional function to be so malleable that it could be extended to a medical plant cultivated solely for personal use. Effectively allowing federal agencies under the egis of congressional law to interfere with the affairs of California.


Legal scholar Randy E. Barnett found that the Supreme Court had misapplied the Commerce Clause in this case. Due to the court’s loose definition of economic activity. It can even be argued that they also misinterpreted the past cases cited in their decision. United States V. Lopez (1995)limits the substantial effects doctrine to intrastate activities that are economic in nature” (P.5). Meaning that Congress would have had the authority to intervene in the matter of medical Marijuana cultivation if it stood to impact the national economy. Here’s where the Supreme Court engages in the aerobatic feat of fitting non-economic activities into the model of economic conduct. Analogous to fit the square block into the proverbial round hole. Through applying the Larger Regulatory Scheme Doctrine the court was able to loosely define  Raich and Monson’s conduct as “economic”. Utilizing what Barnett refers to as a “fungible goods rationale”, essentially inferring that the production of marijuana influences the national supply of the commodity (p.7). Aside from merely grasping at straws with this determination it completely ignores the purpose of the complaints growing marijuana in the first place, relief from chronic medical conditions. In light of the opioid epidemic would it be fair to confiscate legally prescribed Vicodin tablets due to this medication having the potential of being illegally sold on the black market? No. However, Vicodin also isn’t illegal at the federal level. Leaving open possible speculation that this application of law overtly discriminates against medical Marijuana.


The ruling in Gonzales V. Raich demonstrates an inconsistent stance on striking down the use of the Commerce Clause by federal authorities to unjustly meddle in state matters. In the two cases cited by the court United States V. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000) it was held that the Commerce Clause was not applicable due to the non-economic nature of both cases. If an individual were to examine the context of Gonzales V. Raich it would be easy to see that it too is not enforceable under the Commerce Clause. Rather it was an example of gross abuse of power that is not even Constitutional allocated to federal agencies.



United States V. Lopez (1995)


Back in the early 1990s 12th grader, Alfonzo Lopez was charged with bringing a concealed handgun to school. He was initially charged under Texas law and a day later the charges were dropped.  Subsequently was charged by federal authorities for violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.  Lopez was found guilty on federal charges and was sentenced to six months in prison. Federal authorities citing the Commerce Clause as their justification for intervention. The appeal on this case did end up reaching the Supreme Court where it was ruled unconstitutional for Lopez to be charged under the Gun-Free School Zones Act.


Per Oyez it was ruled:

Yes. The possession of a gun in a local school zone is not an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The law is a criminal statute that has nothing to do with “commerce” or any sort of economic activity.


It is profoundly confusing that this case was cited in Gonzales V. Raich, yet the general principle did not seem to transfer to from United States V. Lopez. Much how it is a gargantuan leap to assume that gun possession in a school zone would automatically lead to distribution in intrastate economic activity. It is equally faulty to assume that the production of Marijuana for medical purposes is overly economic. If there is not any concrete evidence that either Monson or Raich had an intent to resell their prescribed Cannabis, then the “economic” argument seems to falter. Similarly, in the Lopez case, the economic argument is at best grasping for straws. Unless there was solid evidence that Lopez was planning to rob a bank after school, it is hard to say that the federal authorities were upholding the stability of intrastate commerce.

United States V. Morrison (2000)


In 1994, two male students attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute ( now known as Virginia Tech) raped a female student. Then in 1995 the female student file a complaint under Virginia Tech’s sexual assault policy. One of the male students was immediately suspended for two semesters and the other was able to go on with impunity. When the student who was punished sought an appeal and his punishment was found to be “excessive” and was “set aside”. The female student did end up unenrolling from Virginia Tech. Then subsequently sued both the school and the two males students under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. A federal law designed to curtail violence targeted at women. It was ruled that utilizing the Commerce Claus to enforce the VAWA was unconstitutional. While abhorrent, violence against women does not disrupt interstate commerce. In terms of delivering justice in this case of disturbing sexual violence that falls upon the commonwealth of Virginia.


It is important to note that Justice Rehnquist who delivered the majority opinion did not tacitly condone the actions of these two men. Rather, he was attempting to uphold the proper application of federalism.

[i]f the allegations here are true, no civilized system of justice could fail to provide [Brzonkala] a remedy for the conduct of…Morrison. But under our federal system, that remedy must be provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and not by the United States.”


The Morrison and Lopez cases only make the ruling in Gonzales V. Raich more dubious. If we can allow the states to regulate non-economic violent crime why cannot we do the same for non-violent drug laws? The lengths the court went to frame Monson and Raich’s cultivation of Marijuana as economic and therefore require federal intervention defies reason.  Also, gives credence to professor Barnett’s stance that this case was a devasting blow to federalism in our legal system. Potentially washing away the gains made in the Lopez and Morrison cases. Who gets hurt by such fallacious judgments by the Supreme Court? Medical Marijuana patients who are grappling with a multitude of various debilitating conditions. However, fortunately, the tide does seem to be turning as far as Marijuana is concerned. After all, years later public opinion has come around for not only medical use of Cannabis but also recreational use. Medical use is presently legal in 33 states and recreational use is legal in 11 states plus Washington D.C. That in of itself could be viewed as a larger long-term win for federalism. The lingering potential for the federal government to usurp functions that should be within the state’s power still exists. Only time can tell if on a later date the federal authorities opt to intervene in the seasoned recreational market of a state like Colorado or Washington.


Also, please see click here to see the story of Angel Raich.