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Fentanyl Involved in Half of All Fatal Overdoses: Here Are the States Most at Risk

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 18:36
The super-powerful synthetic opioid is cheap… and deadly.

First it was pain pills driving the opioid overdose epidemic, then it was heroin. Now, it's the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Last year, fentanyl was implicated in roughly half of all overdose deaths, and there is no sign that the problem is abating.

The drug is inexpensive and easy to manufacture and smuggle. It comes from chemical factories in China and makes its way to the U.S. either through online purchases shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and other private carriers; smuggled in bulk through ports; or shipped to Mexico in either final or precursor form, where it is then diluted with fillers, marketed as heroin or other illicit drugs, and then smuggled into the U.S.

Fentanyl is about a hundred times more powerful than morphine. A quantity the size of a match head would kill most drug users. It's been around since the 1980s—the "China White synthetic heroin" overdose clusters in the late 1980s were actually fentanyl—but has really come onto the scene in the last five years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl took off in 2013, driving what the agency calls the "third wave" of the opioid epidemic, after prescription pain pills and heroin. In 2012, fentanyl was involved in only 6 percent of the 41,000 fatal drug overdoses that year, but it was involved in half of the 72,000 overdose deaths last year. In raw numbers, that's a jump in fentanyl overdose deaths from about 2,500 deaths in 2012 to a whopping 36,000 deaths last year—a more than tenfold increase.

But those deaths aren't spread evenly across the country. The percentage of fatal ODs involving fentanyl is only in the teens on the West Coast and in the intermountain West, a far cry from the situation on the East Coast and Appalachia. In six states, fentanyl is implicated in more than 60 percent of all overdose deaths. Here they are in rank order:

  1. Massachusetts, 85 percent

  2. New Hampshire, 83 percent

  3. Maine, 66 percent

  4. Rhode Island, 65 percent

  5. Ohio, 64 percent

  6. Maryland, 60 percent

It appears that New England is the epicenter of the fentanyl death crisis, but its impact is also being strongly felt in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. In addition to the six states above, the following states also report fentanyl being involved in more than half of all fatal overdoses: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as Washington, D.C.

While drug users everywhere need to be keenly aware of the possibility of fentanyl-contaminated illicit drugs (and even counterfeit pain pills), it is clear that addicts in Boston or Bangor face a greater threat than those in Bakersfield or Boise. Still, everyone involved in using illicit powders should be taking steps to protect themselves. Two of the most effective street-level interventions are having the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone on hand and resorting to drug testing via the use of fentanyl test strips, which can quickly and easily alert users to the presence of the drug.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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This Amazonian Psychedelic May Ease Severe Depression

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 09:04
A new study may offer hope for sufferers of depression.

“Leon” is a young Brazilian man who has long struggled with depression. He keeps an anonymous blog, in Portuguese, where he describes the challenge of living with a mental illness that affects some 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Leon is among the roughly 30 percent of those patients with treatment-resistant depression. Available antidepressant drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors do not alleviate his depressed mood, fatigue, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

new study may offer hope for Leon and others like him. 

Our team of Brazilian scientists has conducted the first randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of ayahuasca – a psychedelic drink made of Amazonian plants. The results, recently published in the journal Psychological Medicine, suggest that ayahuasca can work for hard-to-treat depression

The ‘vine of the spirits’

Ayahuasca, a word from the indigenous Quechua language, means “the vine of the spirits.” People in the Amazonian region of Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have for centuries used ayahuasca for therapeutic and spiritual purposes.

The medicinal beverage’s properties come from two plants. Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine that twists its way up to the treetops and across river banks of the Amazon basin, is boiled together with Psychotria viridis, a shrub whose leaves contain the pyschoactive molecule DMT

Starting in the 1930s, Brazilian religions were founded around the use of ayahuasca as a sacrament. By the 1980s, the ayahuasca ritual had spread to cities across Brazil and the world

Ayahuasca first became legal for religious use in Brazil in 1987, after the country’s federal drug agency concluded that “religious group members” had seen “remarkable” benefits from taking it. Some people who drink ayahuasca describe feeling at peace with themselves, God and the universe.

For our study, which took place at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, researchers recruited 218 patients with depression. Twenty-nine of them were selected to participate because they had treatment-resistant depression and no history of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, which ayahuasca use may aggravate

These 29 people were randomly assigned to undergo a single treatment session, in which they were given either ayahuasca or a placebo substance to drink. The placebo was a brownish liquid, bitter and sour to the taste, made of water, yeast, citric acid and caramel colorant. Zinc sulphate mimicked two well-known side effects of ayahuasca, nausea and vomiting.

The sessions took place in a hospital, though we designed the space like a quiet and comfortable living room. 

The acute effects of ayahuasca – which include dream-like visions, vomiting and intense introspection – last for about four hours. During this period, participants listened to two curated playlists, one featuring instrumental music and another with songs sung in Portuguese.

Patients were monitored by two team members, who provided assistance to those experiencing anxiety during this intense emotional and physical experience.

One day after the treatment session, we observed significant improvements in 50 percent of all patients, including reduced anxiety and improved mood. 

A week later, 64 percent of the patients who had received ayahuasca still felt that their depression had eased. Just 27 percent of those in the placebo group showed such effects. 

Building on past evidence

Our findings support a 2015 Brazilian clinical trial on the potential of ayahuasca as an antidepressant. 

That study, led by Dr. Jaime Hallak of the University of São Paulo, likewise found that a single ayahuasca session had a fast-onset antidepressant effect. All 17 participants reported that depression symptoms diminished in the first hours after ayahuasca ingestion. The effect lasted 21 days.

This study received significant attention from scientists. Its promising conclusions were limited, however, because there was no control group of patients who received a placebo drug.

In clinical trials for depression, up to 45 percent of patients who take a placebo may report significant benefits. The placebo effect for depression is so strong that some scientists have questioned whether antidepressants really work.

Dr. Hallak and other researchers from the 2015 University of São Paulo study were part of our follow-up clinical trial.

Religion turned science

These two studies, while preliminary, contribute to a growing body of evidence that psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca, LSD and mushrooms can help people with difficult-to-treat depression.

But because these substances are illegal in many countries, including the United States, their therapeutic value has been difficult to test. Even in Brazil, using ayahuasca as an antidepressant remains a fringe, informal enterprise.

Leon, the Brazilian blogger, discovered the drug doing internet research. “Desperate” to find solutions for his intractable condition, Leon decided to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony at a Santo Daime church in Rio de Janeiro, one of several Brazilian religions that use ayahuasca as a sacrament. 

The church does not track its membership, but the União do Vegetal, a similar faith, has approximately 19,000 membersworldwide. 

These religious organizations are among many groups across the Americas that harvest indigenous traditions around natural psychedelics. They believe psychoactive plants like ayahuasca, peyote or psilocybin open people’s minds to metaphysical realms and deeply meaningful experiences. 

This spiritual knowledge is now being translated into the language of science, as researchers in Brazil, the United StatesCanada and beyond begin rigorous medical evaluations of these substances. 

The healing power of the psychedelic experience

Leon’s blog provides an excellent description of his ayahuasca experience

At times, he conjured visions – dream-like scenarios that offered rare insight into the relationships in his life. At other times, Leon experienced “a feeling of ecstasy and a deep sensation of a manifesting inner spirituality.”

We believe that these effects are critical to why ayahuasca works.

Participants in our study responded to the Hallucinogen Rating Scale, which helps translate these ineffable experiences into numbers. Participants who took ayahuasca scored significantly higher on that questionnaire than those who drank a placebo. 

Those who described the most abundant visual, auditory and physical effects during their ayahuasca trip had the most prominent depression reduction benefits seven days later.

Ayahuasca is not a panacea. Such experiences may prove too physically and emotionally challenging for some people to use it regularly as treatment. We have also observed regular ayahuasca users who still suffer from depression.

But, as our study demonstrates, this Amazonian sacred plant has the potential to be used safely and effectively to treat even the hardest to treat depression.

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Oh, Canada! Marijuana Is Now Legal in Great White North

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 16:43
Canada becomes the second country and the first G7 member to free the weed.

As of Wednesday, October 17, marijuana is legal in Canada. Our northern neighbor becomes the second country to fully legalize weed (after Uruguay led the way in 2013), and the first major industrial power to do so.

While the Liberal-dominated federal parliament passed the C-45 legalization bill earlier this year, October 17 marks the beginning of legal marijuana sales and commerce. Under Canada's federal legalization, there will now be an overarching national regulatory framework, but each province establishes its own system of licensing and regulating marijuana businesses.

Like liquor laws in the U.S., Canada's provincial marijuana laws will have some variation. In some provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia, licensed producers will store their product in government-regulated warehouses, then ship it to retail pot outlets and online customers. Others, such as Newfoundland, will have growers ship directly to stores or to customers through the mail. Ontario, the country's most populous province, will at first only have mail deliveries because the new Conservative provincial government rejected a plan for state-owned stores in favor of privately held shops. Ontario doesn't expect to have any licensed pot shops open for business until April.

Marijuana consumers will pay a federal tax of $1 per gram or 10 percent, whichever is higher, with the federal government keeping one-fourth of those revenues and returning the rest to the provinces. The provinces can also tax marijuana sales, and consumers will have to pay local sales taxes on top of that.

Wednesday's roll-out of the legal pot system isn't exactly starting with a bang. Only about 100 pot shops will be open across the country of 37 million, and only one in the entire province of British Columbia. Many, many more will be coming as the provinces finalize regulatory approaches and potential operators get their permitting in order.

There won't be any edibles for sale for now; marijuana-infused foods and concentrates are expected to be available sometime next year. In the meantime, what's on offer will be buds, capsules, tinctures, and seeds.

That Canada has now legalized marijuana is a very big deal, American marijuana and drug reform groups say.

“Canada’s move to legalize marijuana is a historic rebuke to the disastrous global war on drugs, which has ruined millions of lives,” said Hannah Hetzer, global marijuana policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Many countries are searching for innovative approaches to drug policy that emphasize health and rights, rather than repression. By taking this bold and principled step, Canada will likely become an inspiration for many other countries,” she said.

“The legalization of marijuana in Canada, and the likely changes we will see on drug policy in Mexico under its new government, make the United States federal government's prohibition on marijuana even more untenable. It's long past time for Congress and the administration to take action on this issue,” Hetzer concluded.

"Canada is setting a strong example for how to end marijuana prohibition at the national level and replace it with a system of regulated production and sales that is largely governed at the local level," said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The Canadian model is rather similar to what many envision for the U.S., and in many ways it mirrors what is happening here, as states have taken the lead in regulating commercial cannabis activity," Hawkins continued. "The big difference—and it is a critical difference—is the blessing provincial governments have received from their federal government. It is time for Congress to step up and take similar action to harmonize our nation's state and federal marijuana policies."

Indeed, Canada's full federal legalization is going to provide an edge for Canadian marijuana companies and researchers compared to the U.S. Even though nine states, including California (which has more people than Canada), the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized weed, the continuing federal prohibition on marijuana and its continuing classification as a Schedule I drug continue to create a significant hurdle for U.S. pot businesses and research efforts.

America's loss could be Canada's gain, Hawkins said.

"As just the second country and the first G7 nation to end marijuana prohibition, Canada has positioned itself as a global leader for cannabis business and development. As the U.S. continues to face federal roadblocks to cannabis-related medical research, Canada could very well become the world leader in discovering new cannabis-based medicines. The country has already begun to experience some of the economic benefits that come with being one of the first nations to establish a legal marijuana market for adult use. It won't be long before it begins to see the public health and safety benefits that stem from replacing an illegal market with a regulated one," he explained.

"Canada is going to generate significant revenue, create all sorts of jobs and business opportunities, and become the world leader for cannabis-related research and development," Hawkins continued. "Hopefully Congress will take notice quickly and that competitive American spirit will kick in sooner rather than later."

We'll see about that after the next elections. In the meantime, Canada is going to take that competitive advantage and run with it. And Mexico's president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is making noises about legalizing marijuana south of the border. Wouldn't it be ironic if the United States turned out to be the last country in North America to free the weed?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

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How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 23:26
In South Dakota, testing positive for drugs is a felony.

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the non-profit news organization South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for non-violent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 other states have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law—one that is sending hundreds of people to prison—is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They’re coming to us in corrections and we’re thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Ironically, the state is sending these women to prison for long enough to disrupt their lives and child-rearing situations, but not long enough to actually take advantage of drug treatment programs already in place in the state prison system. A meth-centered treatment program in use in the men's prisons takes 15 months to complete, but the women going to prison for meth possession—internal or otherwise—average sentences of only eight months.

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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Here Are 10 Economic Sectors Impacted by Legal Marijuana

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 14:36
The spread of legalization is sending ripples through the economy.

Marijuana legalization continues to spread. It's already legal for adults in nine states (including California, the nation's most populous), and medical marijuana is legal in 30. Canada goes legal next Wednesday, and we could see two more medical marijuana states, Utah and Missouri, and two more legalization states, Michigan and North Dakota, on Election Day. And New Jersey is on the path to legalizing it via this legislature by year's end—if all goes well.

The biggest impact of marijuana legalization has to be in the criminal justice system, where hundreds of thousands of people who would have been arrested for pot possession were not arrested, and will not be arrested. But marijuana is also now a big legal business, with recent research reports estimating the industry will reach the $20 billion mark by 2025.

And legal marijuana is having a disruptive impact on any number of economic sectors, from advertising to farming to booze, and more. Public and private investment in new forms of ingestible marijuana is up, marijuana startups are popping up everywhere, and financing for pot companies more than doubled last year. Meanwhile, more traditional industries, including medicine, banking, agriculture, and others, are beginning to incorporate marijuana into their products and business strategies.

There’s also been a large uptick in public and private investment in new, safer forms of ingestible marijuana, while cannabis startups—focused on everything from therapeutic applications to cultivation techniques—are also cropping up. Financing to cannabis companies more than doubled in 2017.

The good folks at the market analysis and intelligence firm CB Insights have taken a close look at where the impact of marijuana legalization is most likely to be felt. Below are 10 economic sectors CB Insights identifies as being altered by legal weed.

1. Health Care. Marijuana is revolutionizing the way some ailments are treated, from forms of epilepsy to chronic pain—and beyond. The FDA recently approved the use of CBD to treat two forms of epilepsy. States that have legalized medical marijuana report falling rates of opioid prescriptions. Marijuana's cannabinoids, CBD in particular, are drawing increasing attention from researchers, as they examine its potential for treating other conditions, including neuropsychiatric disorders, anxiety, and cancer. And CBD is just one of more than a hundred cannabinoids contained in the plant, leaving plenty more exploring to do for researchers seeking medical applications for the plant.

2. Pharmaceuticals. With the spread of legal medical marijuana and its use to treat pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions, the pharmaceutical industry is likely to take a big hit—as much as $4 billion a year, according to a University of Georgia study. That's why a number of pharmaceutical companies are moving to incorporate marijuana into their strategies. Just in the past month, Sandoz Canada became the first major pharmaceutical company to affiliate with a marijuana producer. And then there are firms such as GW Pharmaceutical, which recently made history when the FDA approved its full-plant prescription drug Epidiolex.

3. Wellness & Beauty. With the spread of legalization, marijuana is becoming more openly integrated into consumer products, especially those focused on health and beauty, with CBD oil in particular attracting a lot of attention. Its proponents claim it offers relief from pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as possessing anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. It's making its way into beauty and makeup products as well, including mascara and lip balms. CBD oil also has potential applications for athletes and people looking to boost workout performance. Lord Jones, for example, makes a popular body lotion to soothe "sore muscles, joint pain, and skin conditions."

4. Packaging. Who knew? Marijuana legalization has been big business for the packaging industry. Packaging for pot products is highly regulated, typically with requirements for tamper-proofing, resealable odor-resistant bags, and opacity. The multitude of different marijuana products, with differing packaging requirements for different products, has also contributed to the rush of new companies entering the market, including manufacturers of innovative packaging products, such as tins, slide boxes, joint tubes, tamper-proof tincture bottles, and more.

5. Banking. Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the big nationwide banks that dominate the industry won't touch pot industry money. That's creating an opportunity for smaller, localized banks and credit unions to bridge the gap, and more than 400 local banks and credit unions have taken on marijuana-related clients—a number that has more than tripled since 2014. California even toyed with the idea of creating its own state-chartered bank to handle pot cash. That bill died, but if legalization spreads further without the federal government making room for pot banking, a state marijuana bank could become a reality.

6. Agriculture. The non-psychoactive variety of marijuana known as hemp is threatening to alter the landscape of the agriculture industry. It only requires half as much land as cotton to produce a ton of finished textiles, and hemp's applications are seemingly endless. It can be used for clothing, durable textiles, rope, side panels in automobiles, building, and much, much more. Right now, the biggest market for hemp growers is CBD oil products, but that is going to change.

7. Billboard Advertising. Legal pot has been a real boon to the billboard industry, in part because state laws limit signage at retail locations and in part because marijuana gets excluded from paid advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In Los Angeles, MedMen pioneered the use of mobile billboards, employing trucks wrapped in advertising to drive around the city. Billboards are old school, but they are relatively inexpensive, and they get a lot of eyeballs. The industry couldn't be happier with legal pot.

8. Food. Marijuana edibles are a big and growing business, too. Californians spent $180 million on marijuana-infused food and drinks last year, accounting for 10 percent of all pot sales in the state. That figure was up to 18 percent by early this year. It's not just California, either: in Colorado, edible sales tripled from 2014 to 2016, while in Washington state, edible sales jumped 121 percent in 2016. Companies such as Colorado-based Dixie Elixirs are leading the way with product lines that include truffles, chocolate bars, mints, juices and many more, but expect plenty of competitors for this lucrative market to emerge.

9. Alcohol. For alcohol companies, marijuana is a competitor, but it could also be a solution for declining global sales. Beer, wine, and spirits companies are looking to expand their offerings through marijuana-infused beverages. Constellation Brands (Corona Beer) just invested $4 billion in Canada's Canopy Growth Company, while British spirits maker Diageo (Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and Baileys) has been holding talks with at least three other Canadian pot producers. Also, various cannabis beverage companies are looking to rival beer, and beer companies are taking note, partnering with pot businesses to create special brews.

10. Law. While marijuana legalization means less work for prosecutors and defense attorneys, it also means more work for attorneys who specialize in the intricacies of state marijuana laws. The National Cannabis Bar Association, founded in 2015, now has 400 members, and law firms are shifting their practices to focus on the industry. With tight, closely written regulatory regimes, state marijuana laws are fertile ground for attorneys who can help businesses navigate the hurdles.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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'Go Be a N----- Somewhere Else': ACLU Files Lawsuit Citing San Francisco Police's Documented History of Vile Racism

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 13:42
The city by the bay has been a hotbed of illegal race-based policing. This is just the latest example.

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a heavily populated, racially mixed neighborhood in the heart of one of America's iconic progressive cities. Yet when the San Francisco Police Department and the DEA targeted the neighborhood to crack down on drug dealing between 2013 and 2015 as part of "Operation Safe Schools," the only people they managed to roll up were black.

When 37 black defendants—and no defendants of any other race—got hauled away, nobody noticed. That is until the defendants started showing up looking for federal public defenders. The federal public defenders noticed, and they began making noise about racial disparities and selective enforcement of the drug laws.

Their charges only grew louder with the posting in 2015 of undercover police surveillance video to YouTube revealing a police officer muttering "fucking BMs," police code for black males, as he monitored a group of young men on the street. The video also apparently showed an undercover informant turning down drugs being offered by an Asian woman to instead buy drugs from a black woman.

In January 2017, 12 of those charged in the operation won a discovery motion from a judge who found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement" in their arrests. Instead of allowing the proceedings to continue so a full accounting of police conduct could occur, prosecutors instead dropped the charges.

At the time, the presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, made clear that while he was granting the dismissals because they were in the best interest of the defendants, he was concerned that doing so would prevent the allegations of police bias from being aired.

"These are serious issues, serious allegations regarding claims of discriminatory enforcement patterns," Chen said. "I think the defendants in this case have raised a very substantial prima facie case that, at the very least, raises some serious questions that would warrant a response and a full airing of the issues."

Now, a year and a half later, the ACLU of Northern California on Thursday filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of six of those rolled up in the busts. The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were targeted because of their race and cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users to bolster its case. That survey found racial diversity among Tenderloin drug sellers. About half were black, but 20 percent were Latino and 17 percent were white.

The lawsuit is "an opportunity to hold the actors in the San Francisco Police Department and the city itself accountable for the police department’s longstanding practices of engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement," said ACLU attorney Novella Coleman, who is representing the plaintiffs.

It's also about financial relief for the plaintiffs, Coleman allowed. "The court will determine how to monetize that," she said.

Not an Anomaly

Racially biased policing is nothing new in San Francisco. In fact, as Ezekiel Edwards, director of the national ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, pointed out in a post announcing the lawsuit, the city has the dubious honor of setting precedent for the idea that law enforcement targeting people based on their race is unconstitutional. In an 1886 case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city attempted to deny laundry permits to Chinese people while granting them to non-Chinese. Such an action could only be explained by the city's "hostility to the race and nationality" of the applicants, a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the evidence that the city's penchant for targeting non-whites for harsher treatment remains intact just keeps piling up. Numerous studies in the past few years have documented racially biased policing practices, including a 2002 ACLU report on SFPD racial profiling and a city-commissioned study by a national expert on biased policing.

Those studies uncovered a range of bias-related problems and made concrete recommendations for reform. Those were ignored. As the rotten policing practices festered, more reports detailing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system came out in 2013 and 2015.

Then, in 2015, as "Operation Safe Schools" was winding down, SFPD was hit by a new scandal when officers were caught exchanging racist text messages. Some used the N-word, others referenced cross burnings. Officers were caught calling black residents "savages," "wild animals," and "barbarians," and one officer told his sergeant "All n------ must fucking hang." Another officer sent a text with an image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose above the caption "Go be a n----- somewhere else."

That finally got the attention of city fathers—as well as the Obama-era Justice Department. The city district attorney convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement that documented SFPD's history of racially disparate enforcement and concluded that it was "in urgent need of important reforms." In 2016, the Justice Department weighed in with its own report finding that the department still engaged in racially biased policing, especially around traffic stops and police use of deadly force.

It's Not Just San Francisco

The ACLU's Edwards concisely makes the case that San Francisco is no exception when it comes to racially biased policing:

“Unequal treatment by race is commonplace among police departments large and small in cities across a range of ideological leanings. This is the reason for the racial profiling lawsuits filed in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maricopa County, Arizona. This is the motivation, prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for Justice Department consent decrees seeking to end racially discriminatory police practices in Seattle; Los Angeles County; New Orleans; Baltimore; Newark; East Haven, Connecticut; and Ferguson, Missouri. This is why the ACLU has found racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests across the country, in drug possession arrests more broadly, in stops and frisks in Boston, in seatbelt enforcement in Florida, and in arrests for low-level offenses in Minneapolis.”

When will things ever change?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Here Are the 10 Most Popular Ways to Consume Marijuana

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 13:56
Smoking and vaping dominate the market.

The stereotypical picture of marijuana consumption is someone toking up buds in a joint or bong, but as weed comes out from the shadows and into the legal marketplace, entrepreneurs are busily concocting all sorts of pot products. From vape pens to concentrates to edibles, drinks, tinctures, and even creams and topical lotions, marijuana is now available in myriad forms.

But what's the most popular? Here, we turn to the good folks at BDS Analytics, a company that prides itself on providing "data-driven insights, market intelligence, and complete consumer understanding" of the marijuana industry. BDS has just released its list of the Top 10 ways people are consuming cannabis in 2018, based on results from its proprietary GreenEdge™ Retail Sales Tracking database, which gathered data from California, Colorado, and Oregon from the first half of the year.

The biggest takeaway is that despite all the hoopla about the multitude of new marijuana products, people still overwhelmingly favor inhaling their weed, either as smoke from buds or via vaping. Sales of buds, pre-rolled joints, vape cartridges, and disposable vapes accounted for around $1.8 billion in sales, with another $200 million coming in sales of concentrates, which are typically also inhaled. And it was buds (flowers) that made up more than half of that figure.

Edible and tincture products that made it into the Top 10 only accounted for about $200 million in sales or about 10 percent of the total pot market in those three states. While edibles and other cannabis concoctions may be the wave of the future, as of now, bud is still the king.

Here are BDS Analytics' Top 10 pot products, based on total retail sales:

1. Flower: This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We all had joints, bowls, and bongs long before we could easily buy weed-infused kombuchas. Good old flower was there first, and it remains on top. Sales: $1.1 billion.

2. Vape cartridges: This category only looks at vapes and vape-accessories that come with cannabis and are sold in dispensaries—not the pot-free vaporizers you can buy online. And they are extremely popular—rising all the way to No. 2 in our list. Sales: $476 million.

3. Pre-rolled joints: Forms of inhalation claim all of the top 3 ways people take their weed. Pre-rolls include plain flower and those that are “infused” with concentrates. To keep things simple, we just looked at the broad joint category, including infused. Sales: $185.5 million.

4. Gummies: People who like eating their ganja are especially fond of the sweet and sour and chewy treats. Way to represent, gummies! Sales: $135 million.

5. Dropper: Bet you didn’t guess droppers would round-out the top 5, did you? Not long ago, they didn’t. But droppers’ popularity has been spiking for several years, and now they represent one of the most popular forms of cannabis consumption: fill the dropper with a dose, squirt it into your mouth, and savor the flavors, which often involve things like tropical fruits and berries (along with cannabis). Sales: $68 million.

6. Shatter: This stiff, glass-like form of concentrate, which often gets inhaled after it is heated on a dab rig, was a popular form of concentrate from the beginning—in fact, when Colorado first began legal adult-use sales in 2014 it was the second most popular kind of concentrate in the state for the year, behind wax. Back then, vape was a minor category. But now, shatter is second only to vape in the concentrates race to supremacy. Sales: $64 million.

7. Wax: It’s a bit of a sibling rivalry, the jockeying for second place that takes place between shatter and wax, which is pliable compared to stiff shatter. The two routinely trade the No. 2 spot, among concentrates. Sales: $63 million.

8. Live Resin: … Sales: $61 million.

9. Disposable vapes: As we know, vape pens are extraordinarily popular with cannabis consumers, and most people buy cartridges (No. 2 on this list) which they fit into their pens when the previous cartridge’s oil is all gone. But some vape pens come pre-filled with cannabis oil and are tossed when the oil runs out—no option for just plugging a new cartridge of oil into the pen. Sales: $56 million.

10. Chocolate bars: Rounding-out the Top 10 we have another edible. Chocolate bars were the No. 1 way of eating weed back when adult-use sales were first made legal; in Colorado, during 2014, chocolate bars grabbed 20 percent of the edibles market, compared to 17 percent for gummies. But trends have changed dramatically. Still, chocolate squeaked into the Top 10. Sweet! Sales: $39 million.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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This Ohio Ballot Proposal Would Be a Major Step in Rolling Back the Disastrous War on Drugs

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 10:28
The state criminal justice and Republican political establishments are opposed. Imagine that.

Progressive voters in battleground Ohio will have one more reason to head to the polls next month. Not only do they have a chance to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion and reelect U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, but they also will have the opportunity to enact a dramatic sentencing reform that will keep thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison and help inmates currently serving time for drug possession get back into their communities sooner.

Issue 1, the smartly named Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment, would:

·         Reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanor crimes, except for drug possession or trafficking offenses currently categorized as first-, second- or third-degree felonies;

·         Prohibit jail sentences for drug possession until an individual’s third offense within 24 months;

·         Allow inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to reduce their sentences up to 25 percent for completing rehabilitative, work or educational programming;

·         Apply cost savings from reduced prison expenses to drug treatment programs and crime victim services.

That’s right, passage of Issue 1 would effectively defelonize drug possession in the Buckeye State. At least 16 states have already taken similar steps to ratchet down the drug war, including California, New York, and neighboring Pennsylvania. And now, thanks to local grassroots organizing backed by some big outside money, Ohio could be next.

It could use the help. The state’s prison population has hovered around 50,000 for nearly two decades after rising dramatically during the height of drug war repression in the 1980s and 1990s, and nearly a quarter of inmates are doing time for drug offenses. Unsurprisingly, Ohio suffers the same sort of racial disparities as the rest of the country, with blacks more than five times as likely to be imprisoned as whites, and Latinos nearly twice as likely. The state’s resort to mass incarceration costs it around $2 billion a year in corrections costs.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a coalition of 20 community organizations, faith institutions, labor unions, and policy groups across the state, and its Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities campaign. Its aim is to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system and increase access to drug treatment.  

Issue 1 would “invest in proven treatment for addiction instead of more spending on bloated prisons,” explained campaign manager Amanda Hoyt.

While the initiative is homegrown, the funding for it is coming mainly from a handful of out-of-state philanthropists. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has kicked in $1 million, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz’s Open Philanthropy Project ponied up another $1 million. George Soros’s Open Society Policy Center provided $1.5 million, while California businessman Nicholas Pritzker and his wife Susan added another $60,000. Of the $4.8 million raised by the campaign, all but $19,000 came from out of state.

“Relying on incarceration to solve addiction and the conditions that drive lower-level crimes actually doesn’t make communities safer, and it results in huge expenses to taxpayers with devastating impact to individuals, families, and entire communities,” said Ana Zamora, criminal justice manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in a statement.

Issue 1 will “put taxpayer dollars to better use by reducing reliance on prisons to address certain non-violent offenses, including drug use and possession,” Zamora added.

The opposition to Issue 1 isn’t nearly as deep-pocketed, but it represents much of the state’s criminal justice and Republican political establishment. No opposition political action committees have reported donations, but groups such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Common Pleas Judges’ Association, the Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police have all come out against Issue 1.

And while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has endorsed Issue 1, current Republican Gov. John Kasich, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, all the Republicans running for statewide office, and the state Republican Party itself have all announced their opposition.

“Unfortunately, Issue 1 is a one-sided proposal that will weaken the tools available to our elected representatives, county prosecutors, and judges to make and enforce laws. It will eliminate important incentives to encourage drug treatment for the addicted, and allow the drug dealers who prey on addiction to freely roam the streets,” said former secretary of state Ken Blackwell in rhetoric typical of the opposition.

Other opponents resorted to hyperbolic “sends the wrong message” arguments. “The message to children is that these drugs are not dangerous; the message to drug dealers is that doing business in Ohio is low-risk,” warned Louis Tobin, executive director of the prosecutors’ association, and Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, in their official argument against Issue 1.

It must be noted that Issue 1 defelonizes only drug possession—not drug distribution.

There has been no polling to determine what kind of support the measure has. Will an energized Democratic base carry the day for Democrats and Issue 1 in a closely divided state on Election Day? That remains to be seen, but all those millions in campaign funds should help buy plenty of TV ads and influence voters in these final weeks. Stay tuned.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Look Who's Got the Antidote to Trump's Prescription for Global Drug War

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 10:19
The former heads of state behind the Global Commission on Drugs, that's who.

Even as U.S. President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a "failed" repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

While Trump spoke in New York City, the Global Commission on Drug Policy chose to launch its report, Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs, with a press conference in Mexico City, capital of a nation frequently scapegoated by Trump for America's drug crises, but which has itself suffered mightily from the demons unleashed by drug prohibition. The county's death toll in a decade of heightened prohibition-related cartel and government violence now exceeds 200,000—the kind of figure associated more with festering civil wars than with law enforcement problems.

One of Mexico's former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo, is a member of the commission, established in 2011 by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, along with former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. The group also includes notable global figures, such as Richard Branson and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as American political names such as former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

"A demand for drugs exists, and if it is not satisfied through legal ways, then it will be satisfied by the illegal market," said commission chair and former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss. "Prohibition has allowed criminal organizations to control the whole chain of drugs. Every region in the world suffers from violence induced by turf wars over production areas and transit routes, from corruption and connivance of state institutions, and from the laundering of drug money, which damages the legal economy and the functioning of democratic institutions."

In the report, the commission calls on policymakers to open local and national participatory processes to shape the reforms and collect evidence on the legal regulation of drugs. That's something incoming Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already begun with his town hall meetings on violence and his proposal of amnesty for non-violent traffickers and drug crop farmers.

"This report provides a coherent account of what the legal regulation of drugs can look like in a real-life context, based on scientific evidence and current regulatory frameworks for legal substances," said Dreifuss. "It draws particular attention to the risks associated with over-commercialization and the need to learn from mistakes in regulating alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids."

The global leaders also call for the renegotiation of the international treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Not only do they encourage a repressive approach to the drug question where drug users and low-level dealers face stiff prison sentences, they are also increasingly out of touch with social and political realities. Uruguay, Canada, and nine American states have legalized marijuana in contravention of the treaties, and Bolivia does not acknowledge coca's inclusion in their drug schedules.

"The international drug control system has failed to achieve its own objectives in terms of the supply in and demand for drugs," said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. "It needs to adapt quickly to the reality that an increasing number of states are calling for or have implemented reforms which are incompatible with the framework it established. The gap which has developed between the expectations created by that framework and the reality on the ground needs to be faced up to. A new system is urgently needed which will support countries to implement effective drug policies."

American drug reformers applauded the commission's call for a new approach.

"The war on drugs has been an abject failure that has had devastating consequences throughout the world," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Amidst this backdrop, it is heartening to see experienced world leaders boldly step forward with innovative, forward-looking proposals that are grounded in human rights, health, and development."

In a world where Donald Trump's drug war photo-op at the UN gets the press, it's easy to forget that when it comes to drug policy, the global prohibitionist consensus has already crumbled. The commission's report is a salutary reminder that better ways exist—if we can muster the political muscle to implement them.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

 

 

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Trump’s Terrible, No Good Plan to Gin Up a Worldwide Drug War

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 09:36
He's at the U.N. to try to grab control of global drug policy.

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he's going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on "The World Drug Problem," and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, "The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to "participate in a group photo" with the president.

"The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already "collaborating" with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them—China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore—are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions—perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump's Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration's hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document "is not open for discussion."

In Trump's Global Call to Action, states agree to develop "action plans" based on a "four-pronged strategy" of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago—not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for "a drug-free world." That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN's political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation—language strikingly reminiscent of Trump's current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words "harm reduction" didn't make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present.

Trump's Global Call also reverts to the sort of "eliminationist" language regarding drug cultivation that many countries have been moving away from. The strategy wants to "reduce" drug demand, but "cut off the supply" of drugs by "stopping" their production. Such language implies the resort to repressive eradication measures aimed at poor peasants in the developing world, a policy that has failed for decade after decade.

Drug policy advocates are raising the alarm over the administration's moves.

"This Global Call to Action is a unilateral move orchestrated by the U.S. government that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular UN processes of negotiation and consensus. This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Holding the event at the UN provides a "veneer of multilateralism and global accord, but these trappings of multilateralism should not be mistaken for a new-found global drug policy consensus," the International Drug Policy Consortium declared. "Far from an effort at achieving mutual understanding and genuine consensus, it is an instance of heavy-handed U.S. 'with us or against us' diplomacy."

The world need not leave global drug policy to the tender mercies of Donald Trump. In fact, it would be better off listening to one of the men who will address the Monday meeting: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As president of Portugal, Guterres oversaw that country's groundbreaking decriminalization of drug use and possession in 2001.

Or it could listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of the former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. On Monday, the same day that Trump attempts to cement a repressive alliance, the commission is launching its new report, “Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs,” which calls for reforming the prohibition-based global drug control system and examines how responsible regulation can take control of currently illegal drug markets.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy. From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law," warned Hetzer. "Governments should be very wary of signing on to this document and showing up for the photo op at Trump’s event."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

 

 

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Here's Why New Jersey Could Be the Next State to Legalize Weed

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 14:32
The governor and the legislature are just about ready to roll.

Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will have a chance to legalize marijuana on Election Day, but lawmakers in New Jersey could beat them to the punch. After much back-and-forth all year long, legislators have finally crafted a bill to legalize marijuana.

The bill, building on an earlier proposal by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), is now being reviewed by the office of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned on a platform that included marijuana legalization. Only minor changes are expected to come from the governor's office, and then the legislature should be ready to move.

Murphy had talked about legalizing weed in his first hundred days in office. That didn't happen. Legislative leaders then talked about doing it before the end of this month. That's unlikely to happen, given the need for hearings and the fact that the bill hasn't officially been filed yet. But now legislators are talking about getting it done by the end of next month.

While the bill hasn't yet been filed, New Jersey Advance Media has obtained a draft. Here's what the measure will include:

·         The legalization of the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and over, but not home cultivation.

·         The creation of a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

·         The creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to craft rules and regulations based on the foundations in the bill. The five-member body appointed by the governor would also provide oversight for the industry.

·         No ceiling on the number of potential licenses granted. That would be up to the commission.

·         A 10 percent tax on marijuana sales, which would be among the lowest in the country.  Earlier versions had taxes rising to 15 percent or 25 percent over time, but not this one—although there are reports that Gov. Murphy wants a higher tax, so this could change.

·         Marijuana lounges would be permitted. Businesses with a marijuana retail license could apply to have a consumption space, but they would have to get local as well as state approval to do so.

·         Marijuana delivery services would be allowed. If a business has a retail marijuana license, it could get permission from the state to deliver to customers.

·         Creation of an office of business development for women, minorities, and disabled veterans, with 25 percent of all licenses set aside for these groups. Depending on negotiations, that 25 percent could revert to being a goal instead of a mandate.

·         Creation of micro-licenses aimed at allowing smaller businesses to get in the game. The bill calls for at least 10 percent of licenses to be micro-licenses.

·         Targeted support for areas with high unemployment. Any town with an unemployment rate that ranks in the top 10 percent in the state would be considered a "social impact zone." The bill sets a goal of awarding 25 percent of all licenses to applicants who have lived in such a zone for at least three years.

·         Expungement of past convictions has yet to be finalized. Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) has been working on that issue and says expungement language will be in the final version of the bill.

Except for any changes coming from the governor's office, this is what legalization is going to look like in New Jersey. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) says he has the votes to pass the bill and is looking to get it done next month. Assembly Speaker Chris Coughlin (D-Middlesex) is also onboard. Will New Jersey get it done fast enough to beat Michigan and North Dakota, where voters will decide on November 6? Stay tuned.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

 

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Reefer Madness: Republicans Are Playing Dirty in Their Bid to Stop this Red State Marijuana Law

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 23:09
North Dakota's GOP-led Health Department comes up with a wildly dishonest cost estimate, and its GOP legislators approve it.

As North Dakotans prepare to head to the polls in November to vote on the Proposition 3 marijuana legalization initiative, they rely on their state government to come up with an estimate of what it will cost taxpayers. It's not just this initiative—state law mandates that voters be informed of the potential budgetary impacts of any measure on the ballot.

But for voters to accurately assess the cost of a measure, the cost estimates must reflect reality. That's not the case with the cost report issued last week by the state's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and approved in a party-line vote over the objections of Democratic lawmakers.

The OMB report put the cost of implementing the marijuana measure at $6.7 million, but two-thirds of that figure is to pay for a program not mandated in the initiative. OMB said it would take $2.2 million in clerical costs to expunge some 18,000 marijuana arrest records, as the initiative requires, but that it would also cost $4.4 million for a youth education campaign that the state Health Department argued would be necessary and the salaries of two full-time employees to run it for the next four years.

The Health Department may think such a campaign is necessary, but the initiative itself does not require—or even mention—any such campaign, and to include the Health Department's wish list in the measure's fiscal impact statement is just plain dishonest. That didn't stop Republican lawmakers from voting to approve it.

Democrats tried to stop them. House Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) offered an amendment to approve the fiscal impact statement but omit the Health Department’s figures, with other costs to be determined.

"This does not lead to a $6.7 million fiscal impact. It’s a $2.2 million fiscal impact, with more that’s likely to happen but it cannot be determined," Mock said. "It will cost more than $2.2 million. We just don’t know how much."

The amendment failed on a 10-5 party line vote. The Legislative Management Committee then approved by the same margin a motion by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) to accept the fiscal impact statement with the Health Department's cost estimate included.

Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) told the Bismarck Tribune after the vote that the fiscal impact statement as passed amounted to a lie.

"There seems to be a disagreement among this committee about what we want versus what the language in the measure actually says," Oban said. "I think there was universal agreement, probably around this table, about wanting, if Measure 3 passed, an education campaign from the health department about the impacts of marijuana, especially on youth, for prevention purposes. But the measure does not require that. To me, it is lying to claim that Measure 3 required that because it didn’t."

One Republican lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden), defended including the Health Department costs on rather dubious grounds.

"Until the measures are passed, and the Legislature and all the agencies can dig in and put an actual cost on it, I think our job has been simply to approve something that somebody said might cost this," Klein told the Tribune.

The Health Department argued that because it has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of North Dakotans, the educational campaign would be warranted, but again, it is not mandated in the initiative itself, and the Health Department doesn't exactly have a great record when it comes to marijuana measures.

As North Dakota columnist and political blogger Rob Port pointed out in a column laying into the shady cost estimates, the Health Department was way, way off in its estimate of the costs of the successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative there.

"What people should keep in mind is that two years ago when the health department presented their information on what they estimated to be the cost of medical marijuana if it passed they said $8.7 million," he quoted one lawmaker as telling him after the vote. "For fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, their actual cost was $363,000."

That inflated figure didn't stop voters from approving medical marijuana in 2016. Perhaps the inflated figure this year won't stop voters from approving marijuana legalization in 2018, but it would be better if North Dakota Republicans could just be honest about the costs.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

 

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Will Denver Be the First Place in America to Legalize Magic Mushrooms?

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 23:10
The Mile High City could get even higher next year.

Denver could essentially legalize psychedelic mushrooms by next spring if a group of local activists has its way. But they have a few hurdles to overcome first.

This week, members of Denver for Psilocybin handed in to city officials a pair of municipal initiatives aimed at removing penalties for possessing and consuming the fungi, which contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. That's the first step in a process that could see the issue put before voters in the May 2019 local election.

One measure, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, reflects the activists' maximum program; the other, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Enforcement Deprioritization Initiative, is a less ambitious backstop.

Both initiatives would make enforcement of laws against magic mushrooms a low law enforcement priority by adopting language that would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psychoactive mushrooms." Under both initiatives, the sale of magic mushrooms would remain illegal.

The initiatives differ in two important respects. The broader one allows for the "personal possessions, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms; the backstop version only allows for possession and use, not propagation. And the broader version contains no limits on possession, while the backstop would limit possession to two ounces.

Kevin Matthews, campaign manager for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword he hoped the broader measure would pass muster with both city officials and voters, but that allowing propagation may be a bridge too far.

"It’s a natural right. It’s a human right. This one is our Hail Mary victory shot," Matthews said. "It’s more a matter of public opinion," he said of the two-pronged approach. "Are people ready to accept that people are already propagating?"

The Denver City Council now has a week to schedule a comment and review hearing led by Council Executive Director Leon Mason and Assistant City Attorney Troy Bratton. While the hearing is open to the public, there is no opportunity for public comment.

If the council approves, the initiatives then go to the Denver Election Division, which will have three days to decide whether to accept or reject them. Denver for Psilocybin had earlier versions of the initiatives rejected by the Elections Division but hopes it has addressed those issues with the new versions. If approved by the Elections Division, the group will then have to come up with some 5,000 valid voter signatures by January to qualify for the May ballot. They are confident that if they can get the measures on the ballot, they can win.

"I am extremely optimistic. I think we’re gonna win. I think we’re going to pass this thing," he says. Even if voters don't side with the group, "simply getting on the ballot will be a victory."

Denver isn't the only place where moves to legalize or decriminalize magic mushrooms are afoot, but it may be the first place voters get a chance to weigh in. In Oregon, activists aiming at 2020 are working on an initiative that would legalize and regulate the therapeutic use of psilocybin, while just to the south, the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative campaign tried to get their measure on the 2018 ballot, but came up short on signatures. They will be back.

Magic mushrooms remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But so was marijuana when Coloradans voted to legalize it in 2012. And here we are.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

 

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The Marijuana Market Is Heating Up — But Many of Its Workers Are Getting Left Out in the Cold

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:10
A new report shows what it's like to work in the burgeoning industry.

Legal marijuana is a growth industry. Medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and full-on legalization in nine, with more states set to join the green revolution this fall. New Jersey could become the next legalization state sometime in the next few weeks, and Election Day could see two more medical marijuana states (Utah and Missouri) and two more legalization states (Michigan and North Dakota).

In a new analysis of legal pot's jobs and pay scales, the marijuana head-hunting firm Vangst, which describes itself as the "Monster.com of the cannabis industry," reports that pot is hot. The company says it expects employment in the industry to more than double next year and that salaries at licensed pot businesses are up 18 percent this year.

But pot businesses are, after all, businesses, and they have some of the same issues as any other privately-held businesses. More than one-fifth of the 1,200 firms surveyed for this report offer no employee benefits at all and more than half offer no medical, dental, and vision insurance. Those industry workers most likely to get such benefits are those in the most lucrative jobs.

Marijuana businesses also replicate wage and salary differentials common in other industries. Managers and some skilled positions can take home well north of a hundred grand a year, while hourly workers, such as trimmers and budtenders, get paid proletarian wages.

The Vangst survey isn't exhaustive—it doesn't cover some mid-level jobs at grow and extraction operations or dispensaries, nor does it cover jobs that don't directly touch on marijuana, such as publicists, accountants, and marketers—but it does provide at least a partial glimpse at the pot jobs market.

But if you're looking for work in the legal pot industry, here's what to expect for various positions :

Cultivation director: Oversees all cultivation operations to ensure the production of compliant and high-quality cannabis. Establishes all standard operating procedures, nutrient and harvest schedules, integrated pest management programs, hiring, training, and personnel management. Responsible for ensuring the highest levels of plant health, potency, and production.

Low: $47,000

Average: $88,000

High: $140,000

Top: $250,500

Extraction director: Oversees all cannabis extraction and refinement operations. This includes facility design, laboratory setup, standard operating procedure development, regulatory compliance, hiring, training, and personnel management. Responsible for ensuring all cannabis extracted products are produced safely, efficiently, and consistently.

Low: $47,000

Average: $72,000

High: $135,000

Top: $191,000

Compliance manager: Ensures local, state, and federal compliance with all laws and regulations. Implements a company-wide program, which includes seed-to-sale tracking and internal compliance audits. Anticipates and tracks pending and current laws and regulations. Creates new policies and procedures as necessary and ensures the staff has an understanding of all compliance requirements.

Low: $45,000

Average: $62,500

High: $81,750

Top: $149,000

Outside sales representative: Focuses on sales strategies and account management to build value in the marketplace. An Outside Sales Representative develops relationships into new accounts in order to meet sales goals and manages existing accounts using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. They enhance product branding and increase sales through the training and education of retail partners and customers.

Low: $28,000

Average: $58,800

High: $73,500

Top: $150,000

Dispensary manager: Oversee day-to-day operations of a medical or recreational cannabis retail location. Create standard operating procedures, develop inventory processes, and ensure dispensary is fully compliant with all state and federal regulations. Responsible for hiring, training, and managing all dispensary staff.

Low: $41,500

Average: $56,250

High: $65,400

Top: $98,000

Budtender (per hour): Provides excellent customer service to all patients and customers in medical and recreational dispensaries. Uses point of sale system and other technology to ensure all cannabis product sales are properly tracked. Provides information to customers on product choices, consumption methods, compliance, and safety. Remains up to date on all cannabis regulations to ensure compliance within the dispensary.

Low: $12

Average: $13.25

High: $14

Top: $16

Trimmer (per hour): Manicures and prepares all harvested flower product to be sold in medical and recreational cannabis retail locations.

Low: $11.50

Average: $12.25

High: $13

Top: $14.50

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

 

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Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Are Getting Deadlier

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 05:04
It may seem absurd to fight disease with viruses, but bacteriophages could be the fix for a growing problem

The world's most frightening infections aren't carried by plague-infested rats, rabid dogs, or chimps with Ebola. They're transmitted by "superbugs" -- disease-causing bacteria that can't be killed by antibiotics.

This year, superbugs will kill about 700,000 people, including 23,000 Americans. That toll will increase exponentially in the coming years as ever-evolving bacteria develop resistance to more and more antibiotics. Even hand sanitizers are struggling against certain microbes. By 2050, superbugs could kill 10 million people annually.

Fortunately, it's possible to avert this grim future. "Bacteriophages" — viruses that infect only bacteria — can destroy antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The U.S. government, however, isn't doing enough to facilitate the development of these viruses. That needs to change.

Antibiotics don't work as well as they used to. From 2012 to 2014, the share of bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics rose from 5 percent to 11 percent, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Why the spike? For years, doctors doled out antibiotics willy-nilly. Even today, up to half of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary or used ineffectively.

Whenever antibiotics are used, some mutant bacteria survive. But the more an antibiotic is used, the more rapidly bacteria become resistant, reducing the effectiveness of the drug.

New treatments for superbugs are needed, but there have been no major novel antibiotic developments since the 1960s. That's largely because pharmaceutical companies are abandoning antibiotic research. It's time-consuming and expensive to bring a new drug to market — it takes about ten years and $2.9 billion, on average. So companies develop drugs that will make as much money as possible. Since drugs for chronic diseases make people life-long subscribers, and antibiotics are "one and done," developers opt to make the former. Moreover, growing antibiotic resistance reduces the effective lifespan of new drugs, further limiting profits.

That's why researchers must look beyond antibiotics and devote more resources to novel treatments — like bacteriophage therapy. Our planet is home to trillions and trillions of bacteriophages — phages for short — making them the most abundant biological form in the world. Each phage evolves to attack a specific bacterium.

If a patient has a bacterial infection, she could take a cocktail of many phages in the hope that some will target the infection. The treatment can be modified with different phages if the first cocktail does not work. And phages very rarely produce side effects.

It may seem absurd to fight disease with viruses. But phages are already working wonders in some parts of the world. Doctors in the Republic of Georgia and Poland have used them for decades. One Texas woman with a debilitating infection recently decided to fly 6,500 miles to Georgia to try phage therapy. Within weeks, she made a full recovery.

Despite such successes, phage research is underfunded. The National Institutes of Health only spent $473 million on antibiotic resistance research last fiscal year, according to a Politico report. And just a third of it went to phage therapy.

That's chump change. Just look at how generously the government funds other health initiatives. Since 2004, the government has funneled $1.6 billion into bioterrorism defense research every year, even though there haven't been any notable bioterror attacks.

Even if there were a smallpox attack, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it would only infect tens of thousands. By comparison, we know that millions of people will die from superbugs unless better treatments reach the market.

The government isn't merely skimping on research funding. It's also making it difficult for private companies and non-profits to develop phage therapies. Phages aren't a static chemical compound — they quickly evolve just like the mutating bacteria, giving them a huge edge over antibiotics. Even when a bacteria develops resistance to the phage, new phages can be found or existing phages can evolve to become effective again.

But this advantage also makes phages difficult to evaluate in a traditional clinical trial setting. Right now, the FDA only approves phages for use on a case-by-case basis.

To take full advantage of its potential, phage therapy needs its own separate FDA approval track.

Superbugs are becoming more and more deadly — and traditional antibiotics alone can't stop them. Phages may be the secret weapon; they're proven to be safe and effective.

It's time for the government to realize the best way to defeat killer bacteria may be to give people harmless viruses.

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Nevada Nightmare: Being Jailed for Traffic Tickets Became a Death Sentence for This Texas Woman

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 09:43
Kelly Coltrain was detoxing when she was put in Mineral County Jail last year. She died after deputies denied her medical care.

Texas resident Kelly Coltrain, 27, had just finished visiting Reno and Lake Tahoe for a family reunion to celebrate her grandmother's 75th birthday when she was pulled over for speeding outside Hawthorne, Nevada, on July 19, 2017. She was booked into the Mineral County jail because of outstanding traffic tickets. She told jailers she was dependent on opioids, had a history of seizures related to withdrawals, and needed to go to the hospital. She never got there.

For three days, Coltrain remained in her cell, eating little, spending most of her time in bed in the fetal position, and asking for help. Despite being in a video-monitored cell where her discomfort was evident, sheriff's deputies ignored her requests for medical attention. Instead, even as her condition worsened, the deputies' only response was to hand her a mop and tell her to clean up her own vomit in her cell.

Kelly Coltrain sits in a cell at the Mineral County Jail in Hawthorne. She died about an hour after her jailer asked her to mop her vomit from the floor. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff)

She was dead less than an hour later—although it would take deputies another six hours to notice and another six hours after that before they summoned medical personnel. An investigation into her death was completed last week. It found that her jailers violated multiple policies by denying her medical care after she told them she was dependent on drugs and suffered seizures during withdrawals. The state investigators also found evidence the sheriff's office may have violated state laws barring the inhumane treatment of prisoners and official oppression and asked the Mineral County District Attorney to consider criminal charges. Instead, Mineral County handed the case off to neighboring Lyons County District Attorney Stephen Rye, who declined to press charges.

"The review of the case, in our opinion, did not establish any willful or malicious acts by jail staff that would justify the filing of charges under the requirements of the statute," Rye said.

Now, as first reported by USA Today, Coltrain's family is seeking justice via a wrongful death suit filed last week. The suit accuses the sheriff's office of ignoring her life-threatening medical condition despite knowing she was in withdrawal and had a history of seizures.

Sgt. Jim Holland asks Kelly Coltrain to mop her cell. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff's Office)

"(Jail staff) knew Kelly Coltrain had lain for days at the jail, in bed, buried beneath blankets, vomiting multiple times, refusing meals, trembling, shaking, and rarely moving," lawyers Terri Keyser-Cooper and Kerry Doyle wrote in the lawsuit. "Defendants knew Kelly Coltrain was in medical distress. Kelly Coltrain’s medical condition was treatable and her death preventable," the lawyers wrote. "If Ms. Coltrain had received timely and appropriate medical care, she would not have died. Kelly Coltrain suffered a protracted, extensive, painful, unnecessary death as a result of defendants’ failures."

Keyser-Cooper, who has spent decades bringing successful civil rights lawsuits against northern Nevada law enforcement agencies, told USA Today said the Coltrain case was "the worst I have ever seen in 33 years. I've never seen anything like this." 

According to the state investigation, after she was arrested, Coltrain initially refused to answer questions about her medical history and family, but once she realized she would not be able to bail out, she told Sgt. Jim Holland she was addicted and had a history of seizures when going through withdrawals. The report found that Holland didn't follow a jail policy that requires that prisoners with seizure histories be cleared by a doctor before being held, and neither did jail staff monitor her vitals, as medical protocols required for prisoners undergoing withdrawals. In fact, the small jail in the county of 4,000 had no on-site medical care, instead taking prisoners to the hospital across the street for medical treatments and prescriptions.

The same evening she was jailed, Coltrain told night deputy Ray Gulcynski she needed to go to the hospital immediately for medication, but Gulcynski ignored the jail's medical care policy, telling Coltrain she couldn't go unless he decided her life was at risk.

"Unfortunately, since you're DT'ing (referring to the detoxification process), I'm not going to take you over to the hospital right now just to get your fix," Deputy Ray Gulcynski told Coltrain, according to the investigation report. "That's not the way detention works, unfortunately. You are incarcerated with us, so… you don't get to go to the hospital when you want. When we feel that your life is at risk… then you will go."

For the next three days, Coltrain lay in her cell, eating and drinking little and spending most of her time under the blankets in the fetal position. Early on July 22, she began vomiting, trembling, and "making short, convulsive movements," the report found. About 5 p.m. that day, Sgt. Holland brought her dinner and tried to get her to eat a few bites, which she did. He then brought her a new set of jail clothing to replace her soiled garments, along with a mop. Holland told her to mop the vomit from the floor.

According to the investigative report, Coltrain just sat there until Holland returned a few minutes later and asked her again to mop. Jail video showed her then trying to mop the floor as she sat on her bed, trembling and stopping frequently to rest. Holland thought she was being lazy.

"Sgt. Holland advised he thought Coltrain was just 'lazy' and that she just didn't want to stand up to clean the floor," the report said. "Sgt. Holland advised he just wanted the floor to be cleaned and he didn't care how it got done, just that it got cleaned up."

Less than an hour later, Coltrain was dead. Jail video showed her lying in the fetal position when she goes into a seizure. Her body goes rigid and her legs stiffen. While lying on her stomach, her face rises toward the back wall and her arm stretches out, hanging off the bed. Her head falls back to the mattress, she appears to go into a series of convulsions, then stops moving—forever.

That was 6:26 p.m. Her body lied there untouched until 12:30 a.m. the following day when Deputy Gulcynski comes to move her to a different cell and finds her unmoving. He nudges her leg with the tip of his boot, and when she doesn't respond, he looks at her face, touches her arm, and quickly leaves.

Deputy Ray Gulcynski tapping Kelly Coltrain with his boot and finding her unresponsive. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff's Office)

The investigation found that Gulcynski notified his superiors that Coltrain looked dead and was cold. He re-entered the cell to check her pulse before leaving again. No one called paramedics. Instead, her body was left in the cell until a forensic technician arrived at 5:48 a.m. to begin investigating the death.

The Washoe County Medical Examiner, who handled the case for resource-poor Mineral County, ruled Coltrain's death accidental and caused by "complications of drug use." Toxicology reports showed heroin in her system.

But the state investigator, Detective Damon Earl, said in his report that had the jailers followed department policies already in place, Coltrain's death may have been preventable.

"There were a limited number of times where Coltrain had actual contact with the staff," Earl wrote. "This may be significant because had more contact been made with Coltrain, indicators of Kelly's medical condition may have been observed. These indicators may have alerted staff therefore prompting medical attention to be rendered to Coltrain."

While the civil suit says that both Holland and Gulcynski were subject to departmental discipline over the incident, Holland instead retired early—and got a going away present from the Mineral County Commission. In June, the commission voted unanimously to spend $17,853 to buy Holland an additional year toward his service. That let him retire with a higher annual pension and more health care benefits than if it had been denied.

The county commission had the money to give its negligent jail guard a nice little gift. Let's hope the commissioners and the good citizens of Mineral County are already budgeting to account for the payout they will most likely be making once Kelly Coltrain's family gets its day in court.

Family attorney Keyser-Cooper said Coltrain was a "successful student, a friendly outgoing girl, and an exceptionally talented soccer player," who was dear to her family. She had developed depression and addiction after a knee injury as a teenager in Las Vegas. While the family seeks compensatory damages, what it really wants, Keyser-Cooper said, is for conditions at the jail to improve. The family will not settle the suit without that, he added.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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Billionaire Drug Executive Who Helped Fuel Opioid Crisis Now Plans To Make Millions Selling Treatment For Opioid Addiction

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 07:58
Click here for reuse options! Richard Sackler has secured a patent for a drug to treat people for addiction to his own painkillers.

On Friday, the Financial Times reported that billionaire pharmaceutical tycoon Richard Sackler has secured a patent for a new drug to treat opioid addiction.

The drug, a reformulation of buprenorphine, is essentially just a milder opioid that can blunt the symptoms of withdrawal while a person is being weaned off — competing variants of which are already generating nearly $900 million in U.S. sales.

Sackler's family also happens to own Purdue Pharma, the company that first developed OxyContin — a powerful narcotic painkiller that has been blamed for spurring the epidemic of opioid addiction that has decimated communities all across America.

In other words, Sackler made millions off of sales of a drug that caused a massive public health crisis — and now he stands to make millions more by selling the public a solution.

Purdue, one of several drug companies that made a decades-long push for liberal prescription of opioids, is currently facing a mountain of lawsuits. Prosecutors in several states allege Purdue was aware of the risk of addiction and overdose, but deceived doctors and patients and downplayed the risks to increase their sales — a charge the company denies. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey directly names several members of the Sackler family as defendants.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that up to 12 percent of patients prescribed an opioid develop an abuse disorder, and as many as 6 percent eventually switch to heroin. More than 115 people a day are now killed by opioid overdoses.

Rural areas have been especially impacted, with an astonishing 74 percent of farmers reporting they or someone they know is suffering from or has been affected by opioid addiction.

While increased availability of addiction treatment is a good thing, it is not a solution to the epidemic. Opioids remain a necessary tool to treat severe pain from surgery, cancer, and other serious conditions, but they must be used judiciously, and alternative therapies must be made available — particularly in lower-income rural areas where people are at higher risk.

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These 4 Red-Leaning States Have Big Marijuana Decisions to Make This November

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 14:21
Two will vote on marijuana legalization; two on medical marijuana.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana since 2012, but all of those states have been in the West or the Northeast. This year, with marijuana legalization on the ballot in Michigan as well as North Dakota, legal weed could make a heartland breakthrough.

Similarly, medical marijuana’s rise to acceptance continues, and this year, Missouri and Utah look set to join the ranks.

Two of these states—Missouri and North Dakota—also have incumbent Democratic senators up for reelection in tough campaigns this fall. Whether voters motivated by marijuana could help Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp retain their seats remains to be seen, but pot at the polls will generate interest among more liberal voters.

We could see New Jersey move quickly and legalize weed via the legislature sometime in the next two months, but barring that, it looks like we'll see at least one, and quite possibly two, new marijuana legalization states come election day and, most likely, two more medical marijuana states.

Here we go:

Michigan

Michigan is poised to become marijuana legalization's Midwest breakout state. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative, Proposal 1, for the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the possession up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as allowing for the personal cultivation of up to 12 plants and the fruits of that harvest. It also creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. The measure would give cities and counties the option of allowing pot businesses or not.

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. A February poll had support for legalization in Michigan at 57 percent, while a March poll came in at 61 percent. The most recent poll, from May, had support holding steady at 61 percent. Those are the kinds of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Missouri

Missouri voters will be able to choose from not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana measures when they go to the polls in November. Two are constitutional amendments; one is a statutory initiative that could more easily be modified by the legislature.

Amendment 2, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they see fit. Registered patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at 4 percent.

Amendment 3, sponsored by Find the Cures, would let doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients who have any of a specific list of qualifying conditions (while regulators would be able to add more conditions in the future). The retail sales tax on medical marijuana would be set at the much higher rate of 15 percent. Funds would be used to support research with the aim of developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Proposition C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, also outlines a list of specific conditions that would qualify patients to legally use medical cannabis. Sales would be taxed at 2 percent.

An August poll conducted by TJP strategies had support for amending the state constitution to allow medical marijuana at 54 percent.

That there are three separate measures on the ballot could lead to some confusion. If multiple ballot measures on the same topic pass, the one with the most votes generally prevails. But because in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory measure, if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the amendments, but at least one of them passes, it could be up to the state's court system to figure out which goes into effect.

While there is nothing stopping voters from voting "yes" on all three measures, there are also concerns that the multiplicity of options could result in splitting the pro-medical marijuana vote, with some voting "yes" on only one measure and "no" on the others. In this election, when it comes to medical marijuana, Missouri may have too much of a good thing.

North Dakota

The winds of change are blowing across the northern prairies. Just two years ago, North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, and this year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

This is a radical initiative. It would legalize all forms of marijuana for adults by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state's controlled substance schedules, and it sets no limits on the amount of marijuana people could possess or how many plants they grow. It also provides for the automatic expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.

And it does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales, nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

North Dakota is a deep red state—Donald Trump got more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in 2016—but the only poll done so far has the initiative leading. The June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

That's good but not great news for Legalize ND. Yes, the initiative is leading, but the conventional wisdom among initiative and referendum watchers is that campaigns should be starting off with at least 60 percent support—the assumption being that inevitable organized opposition is going to eat away at support levels in the final weeks of the campaign.

Utah

Sponsored by the Utah Patients Coalition, the medical marijuana statutory initiative, Proposition 2, has qualified for the November ballot. The bottom-up effort comes after the state legislature has refused to advance meaningful medical marijuana legislation.

Under the measure, people who suffer from one of a list of designated qualifying medical conditions could receive a medical marijuana card with a physician's recommendation. That would entitle them to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or any amount of a marijuana product with up to 10 grams of THC. Patients could not grow their own unless they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. And the patients cannot smoke marijuana.

The measure has received opposition from the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), but even church members don't appear to be heading the leadership on this one. A Utah Policy poll released Tuesday has support for the measure at 64 percent. Among Mormons, the church's active opposition has swayed only "very active" church members, who now narrowly oppose the measure. But "somewhat active" and "former" Mormons both overwhelmingly support it. It looks like medical marijuana is coming to the Land of Deseret.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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Why Is Trump Ramping Up His Unwieldy War on Weed?

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 04:05
Trump’s new “marijuana task force” is a big step backward for America

Earlier this week, it was revealed that President Donald Trump has created a Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, one in which various federal agencies that oversee marijuana policy work together to find ways to prevent Americans from having access to the drug. According to a summary of a meeting held between the White House and nine government departments in July, "the prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate" and needs to be countered with "the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends."

Set aside the irony of government officials denouncing the pro-marijuana legalization arguments as "partial, one-sided, and inaccurate" while making it clear that they're only interested in data that will support their anti-legalization position, there is a deeper issue here: Trump is ramping up his unwieldy war on weed.

"It's a big step towards the prohibitionist status quo that we were in prior to the [President Barack] Obama years," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Salon. "It's not a step back [in the sense that] we're not behind where we were in the 1930s, but we're moving closer to where we were in the 1930s."

Strekal went on the contrast Trump's policies on marijuana with those of his predecessor.

"It's important to note that, even during the Obama years, the rhetoric and policy guidance that was coming out of the administration's Department of Justice was not necessarily pro-marijuana," Strekal explained. "They more took a neutral stance and allowed, after tension that happened in the early years of the Obama administration where they were conducting raids of medical dispensaries and shutting down access for patients to get safe and legal marijuana, they put forward the Cole memo, which best can be categorized as an uneasy detente between the federal and state policy guidelines."

The Cole memorandum was a policy drafted by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole under Obama that effectively told states which had legalized marijuana that they could do so without federal interference as long as they abided by certain rules, such as making sure the drug stayed out of the hands of children and keeping it out of states where it is still illegal. By revoking the Cole memorandum, Sessions gave federal prosecutors carte blanche to decide for themselves whether they would respect the wishes of states that had decided to legalize the substance.

"Clearly, under the Department of Justice under the leadership of Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration at large, have many leaders who are still suffering from 'Reefer Madness' prohibitionist era rhetoric," Strekal told Salon. "Even coming out and publicly spreading things that are patently false is going to possibly curb the momentum that we have seen play out through the states and the explosion of public support that we have. Marijuana policy should not be characterized as a partisan issue, and unfortunately under a Republican administration, if they choose to make support for reform become a partisan issue, then it's going to hurt them politically."

He then pivoted the kinds of enforcement actions that one might expect to be taken to curb marijuana use.

"It could be a wide range of things," Strekal explained. "In my view it is unlikely that the DOJ [Department of Justice], or DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] specifically, commits to a widespread 'crackdown,' but it would be much more like what the Heritage Foundation called for in 2017... a twelve point plan for how the Trump Department of Justice can shutdown marijuana in America. And largely the DOJ has followed many of those steps, and the biggest enforcement action component of that would be targeted RICO suits against some of the largest companies in the industry. This is the same tool they use to take down organized crime, because in the eyes of the federal government, every single marijuana company — regardless of the fact that it's state legal — is operating in clear violation of federal law."

The Trump administration's attitude toward marijuana legalization stands in contrast with national Democrats, who have indicated they plan to take up federal decriminalization if they take back the Senate this fall.

What the Trump administration is doing is blatantly trying to impose the conservative social values of administration members like Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of legalization, on the rest of the country. This is not merely a step back for people who support marijuana legalization. It is also a giant step back for the concept that America is a nation of individuals making individual choices, rather than one in which Big Brother tells us which choices we should and should not make.

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This 'Breaking Bad' Candy Shaped Like the Show's Blue Meth Is a Really Bad Idea

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 13:49
The sugary tribute to Walter White is raising eyebrows.

A shop in Provo, Utah—of all places—has been outed for selling packages of rock candy marketed as the infamous "Blue Sky" methamphetamine cooked up by chemistry teacher turned meth maker Walter White in the hit TV series "Breaking Bad."

The series, which aired for five seasons on AMC, told the story of White, an Albuquerque high school teacher who turned his talents to the lucrative task of manufacturing meth after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The item spoofs the nearly pure blue meth White cooked up in the show, complete with the "Breaking Bad" logo and an image of White as his clandestine alter ego Heisenberg superimposed over a glass beaker.

The rock candy was on sale at the FYE (For Your Entertainment) shop in Provo but apparently is no longer. It was also for sale on the store’s website, but as of today, "this item is currently not available," the website says.

“Ever want to own a street-legal package of Heisenberg’s infamous 'Blue Sky' product? Now you can with Breaking Bad Blue Sky Rock Candy Crystals, a package of deliciously addicting blueberry-flavored rock candy,” reads the product description on the FYE site.

It is still available on eBay, but only at the collector's price of $24.50 a bag. (It was going for $4.99 on the FYE site.)  Amazon and other websites sell blue rock candy without the methy marketing, and recipes for "Breaking Bad" rock candy are also all over the Internet.

Selling meth-marketed candy broke bad for FYE this past week when one of their customers took notice and then took umbrage. Customer Parker Twede posted a photo of the package to his Instagram page (he made his page profile private on Wednesday, so the rock candy pic is no longer available there).

“Just when I thought I had seen it all. Seriously?” Twede captioned the photo.

Twede was also happy to talk to local media about his concerns, racking up at least two interviews with Salt Lake City TV stations.

“It’s presented in a little baggie at the checkout, at children's eye level,” Twede told KSL-TV. “Frankly, it appalled me that this product even exists. It’s really irresponsible to the millions of people suffering from this terrible drug,” Twede added. “I am not easily offended, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this.”

Not everyone was as bent out of shape as Twede. Others interviewed by the TV station described the candy as "hilarious" and "funny."

Breaking Bad Blue Sky Rock Candy Crystals—not for everyone, especially the humor-impaired. But they could make a nice Halloween surprise for that special someone.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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