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This Groundbreaking Art Show Is Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 14:21
Art can be a powerful tool for social change.

A groundbreaking exhibit challenging the criminal justice system will be opening on August 24 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas. Walls Turned Sideways is a group show with more than 40 artists. The exhibit is curated by Risa Puleo, who splits her time between New York, Texas and Europe. She attended Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies Program and has a master’s in art history from Hunter College.

Walls Turned Sideways features work by artists from across the nation that addresses the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the prison-industrial complex. According to its catalogue, which includes powerful essays from participating artists, the show represents the full range of contemporary art production made in the studio and the social realm. The exhibition includes artworks that take social justice issues as a subject matter, and positions the prison and court systems as structures for dismantling through institutional critique.

I was invited to show my work by its curator. For many years I have tried to create a link between the art world and the drug war, trying to show the reason for the escalation of mass incarceration through my art. In 2006 I started a group called Artists against the Drug War styled after artist Leon Golub’s protest against the Vietnam War and his involvement with the group Artists and Writers Protest. It was the first such group to take a public stand against the war in the late ’60s.

Art as a social weapon has been around for quite a while. Artist Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists used their work in the early 1920s as a tool for the oppressed against their oppressors. They expressed their opinions and got their message across to the literate and the illiterate alike and earned worldwide recognition. In April 1937, the world learned the shocking truth about the Nazi Luftwaffe’s bombing of Guernica, Spain—a civilian target. Pablo Picasso responded with his great anti-war painting, “Guernica.”

I was influenced by Picasso and the Mexican muralists, and it is the reason my art matured into becoming a vehicle of political protest. This was because in 1985 I was sentenced to 15-years-to-life for a first-time nonviolent offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State, which mandated mandatory minimum sentencing policies that eventually destroyed the criminal justice system in the United States. It was in prison I discovered my political awareness. One night in 1988 I picked up a mirror and looked into it and saw an individual that was going to spend the most productive years of his life in a 6'x9' cage. I then painted this image and titled it “self-portrait, 15 to Life,” a work that depicts the atrocity of imprisonment. It will be displayed in this show. This powerful piece first exhibited in 1994 at the Whitney Museum of American Art as the centerpiece for artists Mike Kelley’s installation “Pay for Your Pleasures.” Roberta Smith, art critic at the New York Times, praised “15 to Life” as an “ode to art as a mystical, transgressive act that is both frightening and liberating, releasing uncontrollable emotions of all kinds.” The painting got me tremendous publicity, which led to Governor George Pataki granting me executive clemency in 1996. In 2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo granted me a full pardon, making me the first individual in New York State to receive bought clemency and a pardon.

The work on display in this current show will prove that art can be a powerful tool for social change. Also exhibiting is Dread Scott, an American artist whose work focuses on the experience of African Americans. His first major work, “What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” (1989), was at the center of controversy regarding the desecration of the American flag. It’s my hope that this exhibit will open the hearts and minds of people and make them aware of the 2.3 million individuals who are suffering behind bars in the United States.

What: Walls Turned Sideways

Where: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston: Brown Foundation Gallery

5216 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77006 Phone: 713.284.8250

When: Opening Reception: Friday, August 24, 2018 | 6:30–9PM

On View: August 25, 2018 - January 6, 2019; free to the public

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

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Ridiculous Anti-Drug Law Protecting the 'Unborn' May Finally Be Overturned

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 14:39
Advocates are hoping a campaign aimed at changing public opinion can do what the courts have so far failed to do: kill the law.

For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.

The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.

Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.

Loertscher was by no means alone—hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law—and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.

At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.

"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there’s even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail—whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.

Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its website.

Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.

"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFights292 explains on its website.

"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292.

For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.

"This law only harms women and children," she said.

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

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Here's How the Catholic Church Came to Oppose Birth Control

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 19:34
Although Catholic moral theology has consistently condemned contraception, it has not always been the church battleground that it is today.

July marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s strict prohibition against artificial contraception, issued in the aftermath of the development of the birth control pill. At the time, the decision shocked many Catholic priests and laypeople. Conservative Catholics, however, praised the pope for what they saw as a confirmation of traditional teachings.

As a scholar specializing in both the history of the Catholic Church and gender studies, I can attest that for almost 2,000 years, the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception has been one of constant change and development.

And although Catholic moral theology has consistently condemned contraception, it has not always been the church battleground that it is today.

Early church practice

The first Christians knew about contraception and likely practiced it. Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman texts, for example, discuss well-known contraceptive practices, ranging from the withdrawal method to the use of crocodile dung, dates and honey to block or kill semen.

Indeed, while Judeo-Christian scripture encourages humans to “be fruitful and multiply,” nothing in Scripture explicitly prohibits contraception.

When the first Christian theologians condemned contraception, they did so not on the basis of religion but in a give-and-take with cultural practices and social pressures. Early opposition to contraception was often a reaction to the threat of heretic groups, such as the Gnostics and Manichees. And before the 20th century, theologians assumed that those who practiced contraception were “fornicators” and “prostitutes.”

The purpose of marriage, they believed, was producing offspring. While sex within marriage was not itself considered a sin, pleasure in sex was. The fourth-century Christian theologian Augustine characterized the sexual act between spouses as immoral self-indulgence if the couple tried to prevent conception.

Not a church priority

The church, however, had little to say about contraception for many centuries. For example, after the decline of the Roman Empire, the church did little to explicitly prohibit contraception, teach against it, or stop it, though people undoubtedly practiced it.

Most penitence manuals from the Middle Ages, which directed priests what types of sins to ask parishioners about, did not even mention contraception.

It was only in 1588 that Pope Sixtus V took the strongest conservative stance against contraception in Catholic history. With his papal bull “Effraenatam,” he ordered all church and civil penalties for homicide to be brought against those who practiced contraception.

However, both church and civil authorities refused to enforce his orders, and laypeople virtually ignored them. In fact, three years after Sixtus’s death, the next pope repealed most of the sanctions and told Christians to treat “Effraenatam” “as if it had never been issued.”

By the mid-17th century, some church leaders even admitted couples might have legitimate reasons to limit family size to better provide for the children they already had.

Birth control becomes more visible

By the 19th century, scientific knowledge about the human reproductive system advanced, and contraceptive technologies improved. New discussions were needed.

Victorian-era sensibilities, however, deterred most Catholic clergy from preaching on issues of sex and contraception.

When an 1886 penitential manual instructed confessors to ask parishioners explicitly whether they practiced contraception and to refuse absolution for sins unless they stopped, “the order was virtually ignored.”

By the 20th century, Christians in some of the most heavily Catholic countries in the world, such as France and Brazil, were among the most prodigious users of artificial contraception, leading to dramatic decline in family size.

As a consequence of this increasing availability and use of contraceptives by Catholics, church teaching on birth control – which had always been there – began to become a visible priority. The papacy decided to bring the dialogue about contraception out of scholarly theological discussionsbetween clergy into ordinary exchanges between Catholic couples and their priests.

Regarding his frank 1930 pronouncement on birth control, “Casti Connubii,” Pope Pius XI declared that contraception was inherently evil and any spouse practicing any act of contraception “violates the law of God and nature” and was “stained by a great and mortal flaw.”

Condoms, diaphragms, the rhythm method and even the withdrawal method were forbidden. Only abstinence was permissible to prevent conception. Priests were to teach this so clearly and so often that no Catholic could claim ignorance of the Church’s prohibition of contraception. Many theologians presumed this to be an “infallible statement” and taught it thus to Catholic laypersons for decades. Other theologians saw it as binding but “subject to future reconsideration.”

In 1951, the church modified its stance again. Without overturning “Casti Connubii’s” prohibition of artificial birth control, Pius XI’s successor, Pius XII, deviated from its intent. He approved the rhythm method for couples who had “morally valid reasons for avoiding procreation,”defining such situations quite broadly.

The pill and the church

By the early 1950s, however, options for artificial contraception were growing, including the pill. Devout Catholics wanted explicit permission to use them.

Church leaders confronted the issue head-on, expressing a variety of viewpoints.

In light of these new contraceptive technologies and developing scientific knowledge about when and how conception occurs, some leaders believed the church could not know God’s will on this issue and should stop pretending that it did, as Dutch Bishop William Bekkers said outright on national television in 1963.

Even Paul VI admitted his confusion. In an interview with an Italian journalist in 1965, he stated,

“The world asks what we think and we find ourselves trying to give an answer. But what answer? We can’t keep silent. And yet to speak is a real problem. But what? The Church has never in her history confronted such a problem.”

There were others, however, such as Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the body that promotes and defends Catholic doctrine – who disagreed. Among those adamantly convinced of the truth of the prohibitions was the Jesuit John Ford, perhaps the most influential U.S. Catholic moralist of the last century. Although no Scripture mentioned contraception, Ford believed the church’s teachings were grounded in divine revelation and therefore not to be questioned.

The question was left for consideration by the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, held between 1963 to 1966. This commission by an overwhelming majority – a reported 80 percent – recommended the church expand its teaching to accept artificial contraception.

That was not at all unusual. The Catholic Church had changed its stance on many controversial issues over the centuries, such as slavery, usury and Galileo’s theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. Minority opinion, however, feared that to suggest the church had been wrong these last decades would be to admit the church had been lacking in direction by the Holy Spirit.

‘Humanae Vitae’ ignored

Paul VI eventually sided with this minority view and issued “Humanae Vitae,” prohibiting all forms of artificial birth control. His decision, many argue, was not about contraception per se but the preservation of church authority. An outcry ensued from both priests and laypeople. One lay member of the commission commented,

“It was as if they had found some old unpublished encyclical from the 1920s in a drawer somewhere in the Vatican, dusted it off, and handed it out.”

Much has changed in the Catholic Church since 1968. Today, priests make it a pastoral priority to encourage sexual pleasure between spouses. While prohibitions on birth control continue, many pastors discuss the reasons a couple might want to use artificial contraception, from protecting one partner against a sexually transmitted disease to limiting family size for the good of the family or the planet.

Despite the changes in the church’s attitudes about sex, the prohibitions of “Humanae Vitae” remain. Millions of Catholics around the world, however, have simply chosen to ignore them.

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A Michigan Cop Jailed This 80-Year-Old Grandma Over Her Expired Medical Marijuana Card

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 14:28
Police officers have discretion. It's a shame this one didn't use it.

A Clare County, Michigan, sheriff's deputy arrested an 80-year-old grandmother for small-time pot possession after going to her home on an unrelated matter and smelling weed. The grandma, Delores Saltzman, is a medical marijuana patient whose card had expired. She spent a night in jail and had to deal with a court case because the deputy's zero-tolerance approach to marijuana precluded a sensible resolution to the matter.

As local TV station Fox 17 reported, on the evening of June 13, Deputy Ashley Gruno knocked on Saltzman's door. She was trying to find Saltzman's granddaughter to return a lost phone and ID. Things went haywire when Deputy Gruno smelled marijuana from the front porch.

The deputy asked who the marijuana belonged to, and Saltzman explained it was hers and that she was a medical marijuana patient. Deputy Gruno then searched the house, seizing several pipes, four joints, and a purple jar with a small amount of marijuana. Saltzman said the total amount of marijuana seized was less than an eighth of an ounce.

Deputy Gruno then handcuffed Saltzman, place her in a patrol car, and took her to jail, where the arthritic grandmother spent a long night.

"That's ridiculous what they do to people, they don't need to make you that cold," she said. "Old Arthur was screaming at me"—a reference to arthritis, her son Mark clarified. Saltzman also suffers from diverticulitis and muscle and bone aches.

Saltzman and her son credit marijuana with saving her life. It helped her appetite when she was sick, helped her heal after surgeries, and eases her pain from health conditions, they said.

"After I smoke, I go down to a one, pain-wise," she said. "Before I smoke, I would say I'm an eight right now. Marijuana saved my life because I had a bad bleed about four years ago, and Mark took care of me," she explained, adding that when doctors prescribed her opioids, she suffered stomach pains and vomiting.

Saltzman said she went public with her story in the hope it will help others. "That's what I want people to do: Don't be ashamed of something that's going to make you feel better."

The deputy was overzealous, said Mark Saltzman. "I just thought it was absolutely ridiculous to put her through this like that. They could have just given her a ticket, and just show us your card later. Reapply for your [medical marijuana] card, show us this, and then drop the charges."

Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis largely agreed with Saltzman. While she said a possession of marijuana charge was justified because of the expired card, she added: "However, our goal is to ensure that individuals who utilize medical marijuana are doing so legally. As such, Mrs. Saltzman was encouraged to obtain her medical marijuana card and if she did so, the case would be dismissed. She did obtain her medical marijuana card, and the case was dismissed."

Clare County Sheriff John Wilson didn't comment on whether his deputy should have arrested Saltzman and said he agreed with the prosecutor's decision to dismiss the case after she renewed her medical marijuana card, but stuck to his guns on Saltzman's criminality: "This person was illegally in possession of marijuana," he said.

Michigan will vote on legalizing marijuana in November. If advocates had managed to get it on the ballot in 2016, Saltzman and others like her would not have been subject to arrest. She is calling on her fellow Michiganders to vote to legalize it.

"I'm hoping that we all learn a lesson from this and that we make amends, and people will get out and vote for it," Saltzman said. "We are the ones that have to stand up. We are the people, and we just have to fight for our rights."

Until they do fight—and win—Deputy Gruno and her peers can be counted on to continue to mindlessly enforce mindless marijuana prohibition laws.

Watch Saltzman tell her story here:

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

 

 

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Watch: Armed Mexican Drug Cartel Convoy Occupies Mountain Highway with Police Nowhere in Sight

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 23:29
This is what Mexico is up against, and helps explain why the country’s incoming president wants to go in a different direction.

In what clearly looks to be a drug cartel show of strength, a video circulating this week on Mexican social media shows a convoy of dozens of vehicles and scores of uniformed and heavily armed men stopped on a mountain highway in the state of Jalisco. They appear totally unconcerned about presenting an armed challenge to the Mexican state, and with good reason—there is no sign of a police or military presence anywhere.

The video, which first popped up on messaging services such as WhatsApp before being picked up by Mexican news websites, appears to show members of what is now arguably the most powerful drug cartel in the county, the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel). The CJNG first formed in 2009 but has risen to preeminence in the country's bloody cartel landscape in the wake of the capture and extradition to the United States of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the long-running Sinaloa Cartel, which has since splintered in his absence.

In the video, the suspected cartel member who filmed the footage and a companion talk about the cartel and show other men wearing shirts bearing the CJNG initials. The scores of gunmen, many wearing military-style uniforms and helmets, others wearing pasamontañas (balaclavas), are relaxed and jovial as they casually stroll along the federal highway. Accordion-tinged music blares from car radios.

"Cartel Jalisco," one masked gunman says, pointing to himself. "We're just here on patrol," says another. The videographer describes one group of five men as "los guapos del cartel" (the good-looking guys of the cartel).

The release of the video came just days after federal officials announced they had arrested a local CJNG leader in the disappearance of three Italian citizens in January, leaving some to speculate that the video was a response to the state's actions and was intended to demonstrate the group's power.

The CJNG now controls large chunks of western and central Mexico, especially mountainous regions like the Sierra de Nayarit, where the video was allegedly filmed. It is currently engaged in turf wars with rival drug factions in several states and announced just last week that it is going after la plaza (the franchise—control of the local drug trade) in the state of Morelos.

Beyond the day-to-day brutality of its involvement in the country's drug wars, which left a record 29,000 dead last year and more than 200,000 dead since the federal government deployed the military against the cartels to bring peace and security in 2006, the CJNG is also responsible for notorious acts of violence this year, including the kidnapping, torture, and murder of three Guadalajara film students and the attempted assassination of Jalisco Labor Secretary Luis Carlos Najera.

Responding to the video, Jalisco Interior Secretary Roberto Lopez Lara said authorities were attempting to authenticate it, but moved to reassure residents. "The state has the security of all residents of Jalisco under control," he said.

The video tells a different story. It's a story all too familiar to Mexicans, who have by now endured more than a decade of drug prohibition-related violence, corruption, and impunity. That's why President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is talking about doing something entirely different: ending the drug war.

Here's the video:

:

 

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

 

 

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Does Microdosing Psychedelics Have Any Medical Benefits?

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 12:12
Some groundbreaking research begins to look for answers.

Microdosing psychedelics has been a thing for a while now. It is the practice of ingesting drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (the stuff that puts the magic in magic mushrooms) in amounts too small to create a psychedelic experience in a bid to improve focus and creativity, boost mood, or quell anxiety.

Microdosing has developed a laudatory literature—see Ayelet Waldman's 2017 A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life and Michael Pollan's 2018 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence—but next to no serious scientific study.

Until now. In findings first presented at the June Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague (and to be published as three separate research papers later this year), University of Toronto researchers offered fascinating insights into the how, why, and results of using small amounts of psychedelics for therapeutic effects.

In a research announcement, cognitive neuroscientist and study co-author Thomas Anderson said his interest in the topic was sparked when he reviewed the scientific literature and found plenty of anecdotal reports but a lack of scientific research on the practice.

"There’s currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for post-traumatic stress disorder and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," said Anderson. "There hasn’t been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn’t have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions—who is doing this and what are they doing?"

Anderson and a team of researchers decided to do something no one had done before: ask the users themselves about their experiences. The researchers identified microdosing communities on Reddit and other social media forums and sent them an anonymous online survey asking about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey generated 1,390 initial responses, with 909 respondents answering all questions. Two-thirds of the respondents were either current or past microdosers.

"We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson said.

What they found was that microdosers reported positive effects, including improved focus and productivity, better connection with others, and reductions in migraines. Quantitatively, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosers on scales measuring negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude.

Microdosers did report some drawbacks to the practice, but those were related more to the illegal status of psychedelics than to the practice itself.

"The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," says Anderson. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you’re buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else."

The survey did help clarify the frequency of microdosing—most respondents reported using every three days, while a smaller group did it once a week—and just what constituted a microdose.

"Typical doses aren’t well established," said Anderson. "We think it’s about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried mushrooms. Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data."

But accurate dosing was another problem area: "With microdoses, there should be no ‘trip’ and no hallucinations. The idea is to enhance something about one’s daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally ‘trip’ by taking too much or not taking enough," Anderson said.

"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I’m really excited about what these results can offer future research," he explained. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based, randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."

Eventually, the science will catch up to the practice. In the meantime, microdosers are going to microdose. Anderson has a scholarly caution for them: "We wouldn’t suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Ehrlich’s reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."

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

 

 

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Rising Suicide Rates in Mexico Expose the Mental Health Toll of Living With Extreme, Chronic Violence

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 06:16
From murders to suicides

Mexico has suffered one of the world’s highest murder rates for over a decade, a consequence of the government’s aggressive, 12-year-long battle against drug trafficking organizations and other criminal groups, which has led lethal violence to escalate across the country.

Almost 30,000 Mexicans were murdered in 2017. May 2018 was Mexico’s most violent month in 20 years, with an average of 90 killings a day, according to the Mexican secretary of the interior.

Prominent victims of Mexico’s conflict include 136 politicians and political operatives assassinated while campaigning for the July 2018 general election, 43 student teachers who disappeared in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero in 2014 and the eight Mexican journalists killed so far this year.

In places where the violence has been highly concentrated, residents have spent the past decade taking precautions, coping with fear and processing tragedy.

Now, new data from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua reveals the dangerous mental health toll of living with extreme, chronic violence: suicides.

From murders to suicides

Violence researchers like myself once considered Chihuahua, which shares a border with Texas, to be a Mexican success story in decreasing lethal violence.

Its biggest city, Ciudad Juárez, which sits just across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, used to be one of the world’s most dangerous places. Its 2010 murder rate of 229 killings per 100,000 people was 14 times higher than the Latin American average and 38 times the global homicide rate. An average of 70 Ciudad Juárez residents were killed every week.

By 2015, thanks in large part to a pioneering public-private anti-violence initiative called Todos Somos Juárez, or We Are All Juárez, the city’s murder rate had dropped to 32 murders per 100,000 residents.

These days, violence is slowly rising again. Depending on the year, Juárez ranks among Mexico’s most dangerous cities.

But even when homicides were dropping in Juárez, suicides were steadily rising.

A recent survey by the Autonomous University of Juárez City and the Centro Familiar de Integración y Crecimiento, a group that helps grieving families, found that 33 city residents over the age of 18 attempt suicide every day. Another 43 Juárez residents daily will think about suicide without attempting the act.

The city’s 2017 suicide rate, 8.9 per 100,000, was nearly twice what it was in 2010. Last year, nearly 12,000 people – 1.3 percent of Juárez’s total population – tried to kill themselves.

Juárez’s mental health crisis reflects a state-wide trend. According to government data from 2016, Chihuahua state had the highest and fastest-growing suicide rate in Mexico.

In 2010, fewer than 7 of every 100,000 people in the state committed suicide. By 2015, the figure had reached 11.4. Last year, Chihuahua saw 12.3 suicides per 100,000 residents.

That’s more than twice the Mexican national average and just shy of the United States’ alarming rate of 13.8 suicides per 100,000 people.

Young people in Chihuahua struggle the most. Among residents aged 15 to 29, approximately 16 in every 100,000 will commit suicide – double the national average for that age group.

The trauma of living with chronic violence

Why are so many in Chihuahua driven to take their own lives?

Local researchers believe that chronic exposure to traumatic events causes the kind of severe mental distress that can lead to suicidal behavior.

Last year, the Autonomous University of Juárez City conducted research with 315 students on campus. It found that living in one of the world’s most violent cities had triggered paranoid thoughts.

Few of the students interviewed had been victims of Juárez’s brutal violence. But all had heard about kidnapped women, beheadings and other crimes – some equally gruesome – from friends and family or on the news. As a result, they had an unshakable feeling that their lives were in danger.

Researchers also conducted a similar study on student mental health in 2014. It determined that 35 percent of students struggled with depression and almost 38 percent reported anxiety. Nearly one-third showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, including always feeling on guard, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating.

Surveys by the World Health Organization and the International Consortium of Psychiatric Epidemiology across nine developing countries, including Mexico, estimate the average rate of PTSD at 2.3 percent. Anxiety affects about 6 percent of respondents.

Research on high school students in Ciudad Juárez has likewise found a higher-than-usual incidence of depression, paranoia and PTSD.

Ciudad Juárez sits just across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas. Scanzon/Wikimedia, CC BY War as a suicide risk factor

These results are consistent with mental health surveys in other conflict zones.

A 2011 study of people displaced during Colombia’s civil war found evidence of PTSD in 88 percent of participants. Forty percent suffered from depression.

Researchers interviewed 1,011 students in Afghanistan in 2006, five years into the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Almost a quarter had flashbacks and anxiety, both signs of PTSD.

Such results have contributed to the World Health Organization’s classification of disaster, war and conflict as suicide risk factors.

Mexico’s public health emergency

Research on the mental health impacts of Mexico’s drug war is in very early stages.

I cannot conclude with certainty that chronic violence in Ciudad Juárez is driving the sharp uptick in suicides in Chihuahua state.

But Chihuahua’s suicide crisis may well indicate a simmering public health emergency in other Mexican states with high murder rates, including Michoacan and Guerrero – not to mention in neighboring countries like El Salvador and Honduras that remain far more violent than Mexico.

With 2018 on track to be another year of record murders in Mexico and president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador taking office in December, this the moment for Mexico to begin grappling with the hidden, longer-term costs of its bloody drug war.

Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California San Diego

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Here's Why Marijuana Will Play a Major Role in the Next Two National Elections

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 11:24
Advice to politicians: “If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you.”

Last week, the San Jose Convention Center hosted the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) 2018 Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. More than 7,000 marijuana industry players and hopefuls crammed into exhibition halls and conference rooms for the three-day confab, located squarely in the heart of the world's largest legal marijuana market—California.

The variety of stuff on display was mind-boggling: Armored cars, safes, "California compliant" marijuana delivery vans, multi-thousand-dollar extraction devices of gleaming metal and shining glass, lighting systems, cooling systems, myriad forms of packaging, business management systems, POS systems, cannabis industry talent headhunters, greenhouses, modular grow fixtures, insurance companies, law firms, real estate firms, and yes, vegan CBD gummies. And much, much more—with nary a tie-dye in sight.

But while for most attendees, the expo was all about business, the legal marijuana business still has to ponder the specter of federal marijuana prohibition actually being enforced, and even at the state level—where the industry can make money—it is still constrained by the annoying fact that adult use marijuana is only legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. One panel of experienced marijuana watchers zoomed in on politics of pot law reform to try to divine what the near future holds, not so much for the industry, but in terms of consolidating the political victories that have already seen marijuana move from the back alleys to, well, shiny big city convention centers.

The discussion among panelists NCIA director of governmental relations Mike Correia; Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, covered a variety of topics and sketched the outlines of what pot politics could look like and achieve between now and the 2020 elections.

Federal Legislation

DPA attorney Forman pointed to three pieces of federal marijuana legislation:

  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, S. 3032, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with five Republican and four Democratic cosponsors. The bill would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not apply to people acting in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal.

  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, S. 3174, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

  • The Marijuana Justice Act, S. 1689, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by a virtual who’s who of Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for marijuana commerce.

While both the Schumer bill and the Booker bill would decriminalize marijuana, the STATES Act, which would only apply in places it's already legal, is more likely to gain traction, said Forman, a position seconded by Correia.

"The STATES Act is most likely to move," said Correia, who spends his days haunting the corridors of power on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for the industry. "Congress is incremental."

Movement could come faster if Democrats take the House or Senate, he said. "Maybe the Democrats will be more aggressive," Correia suggested, drawing a comparison with movement on gay and lesbian issues in recent years.

Not so fast, said Hudak, noting that key congressional committee chairs have bottled up marijuana bills so far. "Until both parties stop putting in foes of reform in leadership positions, there will be no progress," he said. "And it's not just the GOP." (Here's looking at you, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who represents the world's largest legal pot market but who remains deeply rooted in last century's prohibitionist ideology.)

There is no reason for Democrats to put enemies of reform in leadership positions, Hudak said. "Cannabis is already a Democratic core value."

"Marijuana legalization could pass Congress right now," Correia argued, "but it doesn't get any hearings; it doesn't get any votes."

If Congress Fails to Act

DPA's Forman explained that while it is now clear that states have the right to not criminalize marijuana and not enforce federal prohibition, a hostile Justice Department could still potentially wreak havoc.

"What is untested in the courts is whether federal preemption could block regulation," she said. In other words, it's possible that the Justice Department could blow up states' ability to tax and regulate the industry.

Forman noted that medical marijuana states are currently protected from Justice Department interference by the repeated passage of amendments to spending bills blocking the DOJ from using its funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal.

"We need the same for adult use," she said.

Without legislation protecting marijuana, "the executive branch can do things, it could be more aggressive," said Hudak. But he added that doing so would have a price. "That could affect the department's working relationship with the states," he warned.

Correia thought Justice Department meddling was unlikely, despite Jeff Sessions' druthers. "It makes zero sense politically to interfere," he argued, pointing to marijuana's popularity in opinion polls.

Hudak pointed out a possible flip side to a hostile executive power. "A reform-minded president could do a lot," he said, perhaps thinking of the Obama administration's Cole memo laying out how federal prosecutors would lay off legal marijuana in the states. Despite Sessions having nullified the Cole memo, it still seems to be largely the law of the land.

The 2018 Midterms

"This is an exciting year for cannabis policy politics," said Hudak, pointing to the example of Texas, where progressive Democratic challenger and legalization advocate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is closing in on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

"Beto is getting close to Cruz, and the whole time, he's screaming about his support for cannabis reform. That's transformational," he said. "Politicians lag behind; they've been terrified of this issue. Now it's politically beneficial. If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you."

It's still an uphill battle in Texas, though. Cruz is leading O'Rourke by 8.4 points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But that's only half as much as Cruz's 16-point victory in his 2012 Senate race, and O'Rourke has three more months to move up. And just today, a new Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz leading only 41% to 39%, well within the poll’s margin of error.

According to Correia, trying to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill has led to lessons learned: "We see no point in trying to work with the GOP any longer," he said. "We'll be giving money to challengers in competitive races. The Democrats are thinking about this; they will run on marijuana."

The 2020 Election

It looks like marijuana is going to be a popular issue in 2020—or at least the people thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination seem to think so.

"Potential Democratic candidates are getting their names on big pot bills," Forman noted.

Marijuana is also likely to be on state ballots in 2020, and that will be good for Democrats, said Hudak.

"There will be more initiatives, and those drive Democratic turnout," he argued. "In 2012, Democrats in Colorado voted for cannabis—and for president, too. Democratic politicians are seeing this."

But Correia said the current president could be a wild card here (as in so many other places): "Trump might just decide to steal the issue, to take it off the table."

Given that Trump has signaled support for the STATES Act, and given Trump's willingness to adopt any position if he thinks it brings him political gain, that's not impossible. And it would take some immeasurable oomph out of Democratic sails.

The Next States to Legalize

Michigan will vote on a legalization initiative in November, and there will be efforts in Arizona and Ohio in 2020, the panelists said. But grassroots initiatives could also bubble up in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, both of which saw serious efforts this year that will almost certainly not make the November ballot but do lay the groundwork for the next cycle.

Vermont became the first state to free the weed via the legislative process (although it does not allow retail sales), but Correia sketched out how the next couple of years could see Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island fall in line behind it. By the time November 2020 rolls around, most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states could be legal, with Illinois and Michigan creating a major toehold in the heart of the Midwest.

When it comes to marijuana policy and ending pot prohibition, it looks to be a very interesting and fruitful next couple of years.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a provider of financial support for Drug Reporter.

  

 

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Watch: Jeff Sessions Acknowledges States Have the Right to Set Their Own Marijuana Policies

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 14:05
States' rights—not just for racists anymore.

Even as he defended federal marijuana prohibition, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday conceded that states have the right to pass their own marijuana laws.

Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana legalization, has moved to rescind Obama-era guidance to prosecutors that gave some protection to state-legal marijuana operations, but the reality on the ground is that even when given a green light by the Justice Department to go after state-legal marijuana, federal prosecutors in those states are largely leaving it alone.

Sessions has also been left isolated by President Trump, who has signaled support for legislation that would end federal marijuana prohibition.

On Thursday, Sessions was in Massachusetts, where voters in 2016 approved marijuana legalization and where sales in pot shops are expected to begin sometime this year. A reporter asked Sessions about the federal stance on marijuana amid legalization in Massachusetts.

"We'll enforce the federal law; the federal law remains the law of the land," he replied. "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

After the press conference, a Department of Justice spokesperson told MassLive.com the comments did not represent a shift for Sessions. This is true: Sessions remains committed to federal marijuana prohibition, but he can't seem to get his U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana is legal to do anything about it. And now, he's at least admitting that states have the right to craft their own pot laws.

Here's the video:

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

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This Texas Man Has Been Behind Bars for 4 Years As He Continues to Await Trial in War on Drugs

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 09:29
Click here for reuse options! It remains to be seen how soon Marvin Guy, who was never granted bail, will go to trial.

After four years in jail, Marvin Louis Guy—the Kileen, Texas man who is facing capital murder charges for killing a narcotics officer during a no-knock drug raid in 2014—has yet to go to trial. But it isn’t because Guy’s main attorney, Carlos Garcia, hasn’t been trying to pin down a trial date. Last week on July 19—when Guy, Garcia and the prosecution met with Judge John Gauntt in a courtroom in Bell County, Texas for a status hearing—Garcia stressed that he was ready to go to trial.   

“We’re ready,” Garcia told Judge Gauntt. “We’ve been ready. We’re ready to go. Give us a date.” But no trial date was set, although another status hearing has been set for Thursday, August 9.

Guy is facing one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder for an incident that occurred on the morning of May 9, 2014, when he shot and killed narcotics officer Charles Dinwiddie. The prosecutors in the case include Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza and Bell County Assistant District Attorney Fred Burns, who are seeking the death penalty. And to those who believe that Guy never should have been arrested in the first place—including journalist Radley Balko—the case epitomizes everything that is wrong with the War on Drugs. 

Guy doesn’t deny that he shot and killed Dinwiddie, but his version of the events differs wildly from how the prosecution sees it. When a SWAT team raided Guy’s home in Kileen at around 5:30 a.m., they were operating on a tip from an informant who had claimed that he was selling bags of cocaine. Guy, who grabbed his gun and opened fire during the no-knock raid, has asserted that he had no idea the men invading his home were law enforcement officers—he thought he was being robbed. And the evidence strongly suggests that Guy did, in fact, believe he was acting in self-defense.

No bags of cocaine were found in Guy’s home. Nor were any other drugs—not even marijuana. The only thing officers found was a glass pipe and a grinder, which indicates that Guy was, at worst, a recreational drug user and not a drug dealer. And that’s exactly how Balko sees it.

After Guy’s arrest, Balko—who has been a vehement critic of the War on Drugs and wrote the 2013 book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces”—asserted that between his arrest and the May 9, 2014 SWAT raid, Guy was getting a very raw deal.

In a May 16, 2014 article for the Washington Post, Balko asserted, “The fact that the police didn’t find any drugs in the house suggests that Marvin Louis Guy didn’t know he was shooting at cops. Drug dealer or no, unless he had a death wish, it’s unlikely that a guy would knowingly fire at police officers when he had nothing in the house that was particularly incriminating.” 

A similar incident took place in Burleson County, Texas on December 19, 2013, but with a very different outcome in court. That day, a SWAT team carried out a no-knock raid on the home of Henry Magee after an informant claimed that he had a large marijuana-growing operation. Magee shot and killed one of the officers, Adam Sowders—and like Guy, Magee asserted that he thought he was being robbed, had no idea he was shooting at law enforcement officers and believed he was acting in self-defense.

Magee was facing the possibility of capital murder charges, but a grand jury decided that he legitimately believed he was acting in self-defense—and Magee was not indicted. The Magee case, in fact, was mentioned in 2014 in a Change.org petition asking prosecutors to “please drop the capital murder and attempted murder charges against Marvin Louis Guy.” The petition pointed out that Guy thought he “was defending his wife and home, just as Magee believed he was doing.” 

There is an important difference between the Magee and Guy cases, however: Magee is white, while Guy is African-American. And given the long history of abuses that people of color have suffered with Texas’ judicial system, it’s hard not to notice that in two very similar cases, the white man walked free while the African-American man has spent four years in jail awaiting trial and still might end up on Texas’ death row.

Guy and Magee are hardly the only Americans who have faced the possibility of prison or the death penalty after shooting narcotics officers during militarized no-knock drug raids. There have been many others, from Ryan Frederick in Virginia to Christina Korbe in Pennsylvania to Cory Maye in Mississippi. Frederick, Korbe and Maye all maintained that they believed they were acting in self-defense, but that didn’t keep them out of prison.

Korbe was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges—a plea bargain she decided was preferable to the life-without-parole sentence prosecutors originally wanted—while Frederick received a ten-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Balko believes Frederick’s sentence was totally unjust; in a March 18, 2008 article for Reason, he commented, “Ryan Frederick is merely the latest citizen to be put in the impossible position of being awakened from sleep, then having to determine in a matter of seconds if the men breaking into his home are police or criminal intruders.”

Maye—who, like Guy, is African-American—actually went to Death Row because of an incident that occurred in Prentiss, Mississippi around 11 p.m. on December 26, 2001, when narcotics officers targeted two sides of a duplex for a no-knock drug raid. Maye lived on one side of the duplex, while his neighbor, Jamie Smith, lived on the other side; Smith was the one suspected of selling large amounts of marijuana, but both sides of the duplex were raided—and Maye, believing he was being robbed, fired three shots. 

Officer Ron W. Jones was shot and killed, and even though no drugs were found on Maye’s side of the duplex, Maye was convicted of first-degree murder by a predominantly white jury and sentenced to death by lethal injection. But in 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court decided that Maye was entitled to a new trial; Maye pled guilty to manslaughter, was given a new sentence of ten years in prison with time already served, and released from prison on July 18, 2011.

But Maye never should have been prosecuted in the first place—nor should Korbe or Frederick have been. All of them were railroaded just as Texas prosecutors are still trying to railroad Guy now. And when it comes to militarized no-knock drug raids, there is an appalling double standard at work: narcotics officers who kill, injure or maim innocent people are seldom prosecuted when they screw up, but anyone who shoots an officer during those raids is likely to face murder or manslaughter charges.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, police often act with impunity, while the burden of proof is firmly on those they harm. The examples of narcotics officers screwing up and raiding the wrong home are numerous, and journalist Abby Martin (formerly of RT America and now hosting “The Empire Files”) put it perfectly when she asserted that the War on Drugs operates in a “two-tiered justice system that shelters police from accountability time and again.”

Take, for example, the 2014 case in which a SWAT team in Habersham County, Georgia conducted a botched drug raid on the home of Alecia Phonesavanh and severely insured her toddler, Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, by setting off a flash-bang grenade. No drugs were found in the home, the person they were looking for wasn’t even living there, and the grenade blew a hole in the toddler’s face and chest. But despite all that, a grand jury decided not to charge any of the officers.

Narcotics officers who recklessly throw a grenade in a toddler’s crime are given every benefit of the doubt, while Guy must fight a long, had battle to avoid death by lethal injection.

It remains to be seen how soon Guy, who was never granted bail, will go to trial. But even if all charges against him were dropped today, he has already, in effect, served a four-year sentence. And like so many Americans caught up in the War on Drugs, Marvin Louis Guy knows all too well what it means to be guilty until proven innocent.

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New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions—At Least Until Fall

Wed, 07/25/2018 - 15:23
Could this be the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition in the Garden State?

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that.

In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority. "I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune—one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills,S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it’s a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it’s not regulated, it's not taxed. So I’ll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that’s a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I’m all in. I think the Assembly speaker ... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

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

 

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There’s a Surprising Obstacle to Ending Marijuana Prohibition in New Jersey

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 14:26
One politician is standing directly in the way.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on, among other things, a promise to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office. That didn't happen. It may not happen at all this year, and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) is one major reason why.

Marijuana legalization advocates led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) filed a pair of bills this session, S 2702 and S 2703 that provide lawmakers a framework for legalization, but opposition from the likes of Rice has blunted forward momentum so far.

Rice represents part of Newark, a district more than half black, and is the head of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. He is also a major anti-marijuana legalization advocate, with an array of arguments from the depths of Reefer Madness.

He most recently made headlines last week with his hyperventilating warning that if pot is legalized, Garden Staters will be faced with the prospect of—gasp!—"sex toys and oils with marijuana," and it could be happening right in his face.

"If in fact we legalize recreational marijuana, right across the street from my office they’re going to put up stores," Rice told NJTV. "They want to call them dispensaries, but they’re going to be stores that do retail selling cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toys and oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."

It's not clear why Rice thinks "kids" will be able to get marijuana products. When marijuana is legalized, it is only ever legalized for adults—not kids.

He also made a muddled attempt to deploy the discredited gateway theory that marijuana use leads to hard drug use, arguing that, "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people who've never used any type of drugs goes up substantially in terms of drug use." Say what?

Oddly enough, Rice recognizes the devastating impact that racially biased marijuana law enforcement has on the state's minority communities—the New Jersey ACLU reported last year that between 2000 and 2013, black residents were arrested at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups used weed at similar rates—but says the answer is decriminalization, not legalization.

He has even filed a bill this year that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams, but that would also enable the state to force some marijuana users into drug treatment. And his logic in supporting decriminalization over legalization is something else.  

"I still want to deter people from doing something that’s bad for them," Rice explained to Gothamist back in April. "If you get too high, you die from it. It kills you directly if it's too potent."

Of course, there is no known case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose, but forget that for just a moment and ponder Rice's logic: Marijuana can kill you, so let's decriminalize it.

In that same Gothamist interview, Rice unleashed a Gish gallop of problems he claimed would be unleashed by legal (but not decriminalized?) marijuana: Babies born with THC in their brains, businesses desperate for workers who could pass drug tests, people cashing in food stamps to score weed, drug cartels getting in the legal pot businesses, an army of drug addicts as pot smokers escalate to harder drugs, and devastated inner cities, among other looming calamities.

Rice also took his anti-legalization views to Washington, D.C.—on April 20th of all days—along with Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark's Paradise Baptist Church and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy to join up with the pot prohibitionist Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) at a press conference to blunt legalization moves.

The senator was in typical form there, warning that people already go hungry to buy drugs and that those numbers will only increase if it's easier to access legal marijuana. Rice also raised the specter of lethal violence if white college students from outside Newark come into the city in search of drugs or if blacks from the city go to white suburban towns to buy legal weed.

"Somebody's going to get killed," he said.

Rice has been in the state Senate since 1986, has won reelection easily in his heavily Democratic district, and didn't even face a primary challenger this year. He may be progressive on some issues, but on other issues, he displays the same reactionary tendencies he has displayed around marijuana. He was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against bills legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012. It may be time for District 28 voters to start looking for a senator from this century.

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

 

 

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Here's How Canadian Boomers Got Into Pot

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 08:03
Many baby boomers believed marijuana use could usher in a new era of experience, enlightenment and joy. Half a century ago, this was utterly new to most Canadians.

The legalization of marijuana in Canada comes almost a century after the drug was first declared an illegal substance in 1923, but pot didn’t explode in popularity until the 1960s when a group of rebellious people began promoting it a shortcut to peace and enlightenment.

Concerned about the new use of this drug, in 1969, the Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs visited coffee shops and universities to talk to young people about marijuana use.

One student told them marijuana reveals “a greater sense of the universe.” He enthused that “things you never noticed… now jump out … and every event becomes suddenly deep.” Another touted that cannabis could be the “catalyst to the great Epiphany.”

One participant promised “fantastic benefits” from smoking marijuana and said that it could lead to “a much better way of living.”

In short, many baby boomers believed marijuana use could usher in a new era of experience, enlightenment and joy. Half a century ago, this was utterly new to most Canadians.

Cannabis convictions soar

Convictions for cannabis went from 60 in 1965 to 6,292 in 1970. By the spring of 1970, the Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs suggested that somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5 million Canadians had used marijuana.

A survey of Toronto adults in 1971 showed that 8.4 per cent had used cannabis in the previous year, with higher rates among young people. Thirty per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 said they had tried the drug, while only 10 per cent of people aged 25 to 35 had smoked marijuana. From 1968 to 1972, marijuana use at Toronto high schools tripled.

Read more: How pot-smoking became illegal in Canada

What made this new generation of young people reject the hard-drinking ways of their elders in favour of a new drug? Part of marijuana’s appeal was its illicit status — it allowed baby boomers to reject the rules of the “establishment” and the habits of their parents.

Timothy Leary addresses a crowd of hippies at the ‘Human Be-In’ that he helped organize in 1967. Leary told the crowd to ‘Turn on, Tune in and Drop out.’ (AP Photo/Bob Klein)

It was believed marijuana would open them to new experiences, while alcohol diminished awareness. As the LSD guru, Timothy Leary, put it in his Politics of Ecstasy, alcohol consumption brought about the “State of Emotional Stupor” while marijuana would lead to “The State of Sensory Awareness.”

Marijuana users were well aware that their parents already took a wide array of legal and prescription drugs. They were often highly critical of prescription drugs like barbiturates and tranquillizers. They believed these drugs numbed people to the injustices and inadequacies of North American society.

Promises of enlightenment

By contrast, marijuana promised to open a path to enlightenment. Many baby boomers were interested in Eastern religions and transcendent experiences. As Charles Reich put it in his Greening of America, an ode to the new generation, “using marijuana is more like what happens when a person with fuzzy vision puts on glasses.”

Reich explained that marijuana enabled people to hear new sounds in music and to visualize the world in new ways. It would allow them to understand time differently, thereby releasing them from the unrelenting demands of a capitalist society.

Read more: The truth about cannabis on Canadian campuses

Other marijuana users were influenced by the popular culture of the day to try the drug. The Beatles were getting “high with a little help” from their friends. Janis Joplin spent all her money on drugs in “Mary Jane.” Bob Dylan intoned: “Everybody must get stoned.”

The Beatles psychedelic animated movie ‘Yellow Submarine’ from 1968.

Drug use was also glorified in movies. The Beatles psychedelic cartoon Yellow Submarine premiered in 1968, while the countercultural classic Easy Rider came out the following year. It featured Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper driving their motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans, smoking dope, taking LSD, visiting a commune and raising the ire of the establishment.

Finding a ‘groove’ Protesters stage a demonstration in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood in the 1960s. Michel Lambeth/Library and Archives Canada, CC BY

From the Mariposa music festival to the coffee shops of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, marijuana wafted through the air of the late 1960s. Headshops were a vital part of the street life in countercultural communities like Vancouver’s Kitsilano. Stores like the Polevault in Vancouver featured coloured lights beaming through parachutes on the ceiling, while chairs, cushions and ashtrays invited people to stay and “groove.” Countercultural newspapers like the Georgia Straight (Vancouver), Harbinger (Toronto) and Octopus (Ottawa) glamourized marijuana in their pages.

Marijuana proponents did not persuade the Royal Commission that marijuana would usher in a new era of enlightenment. But the Commissioners were persuaded that the costs of marijuana prohibition were too high, both for individuals and the state. They recommended the laws against the prohibition of marijuana be repealed.

This did not happen, as Marcel Martel explains in his book Not this Time. Jean Chretien’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana in 2003 also failed.

Finally, more than 50 years after the “Summer of Love”, cannabis will be legalized in Canada, although the dream of marijuana’s potential to create a new society has largely passed.

Catherine Carstairs, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why Does the New York State Department of Health Want to Legalize Marijuana?

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 21:05
It’s just issued a report that provides the answers.

Acknowledging that his previous opposition to marijuana legalization was being undercut by popular opinion and the spread of legalization in nearby states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January called for an assessment of the possible impact of legalizing the herb in the state. The state Health Department was charged with the task.

It reviewed the possible health, public health, public safety, criminal justice, economic, and educational impacts of shifting from pot prohibition to a system allowing for the legal, regulated production, distribution, and use of marijuana. To do so, the department examined the experience of legalization in other states as well as conducted an extensive analysis of the peer-reviewed literature on the subject. It also consulted with other state agencies and experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use disorders, public safety, transportation, and economics to help come up with a comprehensive review.

Last week, the Health Department released its report. Here is its bottom line:

“The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation.”

In other words: Just legalize it.

So, how did the Health Department support this conclusion? The report's executive summary lays out its findings in the realms of health, the criminal justice system, economic impact, and the impact of legalization in nearby states. (Click on the summary for a full explanation of the logic behind the bullet points below.)

Health

  • Regulating marijuana reduces risk and improves quality control and consumer protection.

  • Marijuana may reduce opioid deaths and opioid prescribing.

  • Marijuana has intrinsic health benefits and risks.

  • Marijuana can have effects on mental health.

  • Regulation leads to little or no increase in adult use, and there is little evidence that regulation leads to an increase in use by youth.

  • Regulating marijuana may lead to a reduction in the use of synthetic cannabinoids/novel psychoactive substances.

Criminal Justice

  • Marijuana prohibition results in the disproportionate criminalization of racial and ethnic minority groups.

  • Incarceration has a negative impact on families and communities.

  • Research is varied on the impact of regulated marijuana on motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Economics

  • Regulating marijuana will create jobs.

  • Market size and potential State revenues. The department estimated annual state marijuana sales revenues at between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion, with estimated state and local tax revenues at somewhere between $248 million and $677 million, depending on sales and tax rates.

  • Marijuana regulation could generate long-term cost savings.

Impact of Legalization in Surrounding Jurisdictions

  • Consumers are likely to cross borders to obtain marijuana, committing a federal felony in the process.

  • Legalization of marijuana causes a sharp increase in marijuana possession arrests in border counties of neighboring states.

  • Legalization in neighboring jurisdictions raises the likelihood of revenue flowing from New York into those jurisdictions.

In its conclusion, the report called for harm reduction principles to be an integral part of legalization and pointed out that legalization would allow regulation (which prohibition prevents) for "quality control and consumer protection." It also emphasized that tax revenues could "support community reinvestment" and that legalization would "reduce disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of racial and ethnic minority communities."

That last point is a fundamental social justice issue. As the report notes, in the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people have been arrested just for pot possession in the state, the vast majority of them young people of color.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been advocating for marijuana legalization in the state (and elsewhere) for years, pronounced itself pleased with the report's conclusions and urged Albany to get moving. A legalization bill, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.3040), is currently under consideration by the legislature and should be acted on, the group said.

"We are pleased that the governor and the State Department of Health have fully studied the existing evidence and accurately concluded that legalizing marijuana for adult use is the right choice for New York. Marijuana prohibition has devastated our communities, saddled hundreds of thousands with criminal records, acted as an easily accessible tool for racially biased policing, and stunted the opportunities for entire generations of mostly New Yorkers of color," said DPA policy coordinator Chris Alexander.

"Now that the report has been released and its conclusions presented, we are hopeful that the Governor and the Legislature can fully shift to examining the 'how' and move on from the 'if.' Any movement to legalize marijuana must also include broad record clearing provisions, must create a diverse and inclusive industry, and guarantee significant community reinvestment to repair the harm that has been done. We look forward to engaging with the governor’s office and the legislature on the ways to best move New York forward."

Will Albany act to make New York the next state to free the weed? It wouldn't take an act of political courage: Some 62 percent of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal for adults over 21, and more than 60 percent support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.

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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This Bold Plan to Fight Opioid Overdoses Could Save Lives — But Some Conservatives Think It's 'Immoral'

Tue, 07/17/2018 - 14:08
That's what the Dutch do, and it's working.

With Ohio beset by a massive public health around opioid use and overdoses—more than 4,000 Ohioans died of opioid overdoses in 2016—the Cleveland Plain Dealer sent travel editor Susan Glaser to Amsterdam in search of innovative approaches to the problem. While there, she rediscovered Holland's long-standing, radical, and highly effective response to heroin addiction and properly asked whether it might be applied to good effect here.

The difference in drug-related death rates between the two countries is staggering. In the U.S., the drug overdose death rate is 245 per million, nearly twice the rate of its nearest competitor, Sweden, which came in second with 124 per million. But in Holland, the number is a vanishingly small 11 per million. In other words, Americans are more than 20 times more likely to die of drug overdoses than the Dutch.

For Plain Dealer readers, the figures that really hit home are the number of state overdose deaths compared to Holland. Ohio, with just under 12 million people, saw 4,050 drug overdose deaths in 2016; the Netherlands, with 17 million people, saw only 235.

What's the difference? The Dutch government provides free heroin to several score hardcore heroin addicts and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Public health experts there say that in addition to lowering crime rates and improving the quality of life for users, the program is one reason overdose death rates there are so low. And the model could be applied here, said Amsterdam heroin clinic operator Ellen van den Hoogen.

"It's been an enormous success. I think it would work elsewhere," she told Glaser.

It already has. The Dutch program was modeled on a similar effort in Switzerland, which has also proven successful. Germany and Britain have also adopted similar programs.

The Dutch approach is an example of the country's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), the same principle that led the Dutch to pioneer legal access to marijuana in the 1980s. It is also rooted in the notion that, for some, drug addiction is a chronic disorder, not a condition to be "cured," and one that can be treated with supervised drug use under clinical supervision. And the complete cessation of drug use need not be the ultimate goal; rather, the Dutch look for reductions in criminal activity and increases in the health and well-being of the drug users.

"It's not a program that is meant to help you stop," acknowledged van den Hoogen. "It keeps you addicted."

That's not a sentiment sits well with American moralizers, such as George W. Bush's drug czar, John Walters, whom Glaser consulted for the story. He suggested that providing addicts with drugs was immoral and not "real treatment," but he also resorted to lies about what the Dutch are doing.

He claimed the Dutch are "keeping people addicted for the purpose of controlling them" and that the Dutch have created "a colony of state-supported, locked-up addicts."

Actually, the Dutch are dealing with older, hard-core addicts who have repeatedly failed to quit after repeated stints in treatment, including methadone maintenance therapy, and they are neither "controlling them" or locking them up. Instead, the people in the program show up at the clinic twice a day, get their fix, then go about their business. This heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) allows those hardcore users to live less chaotic and more productive lives.

And heroin-assisted treatment is "real treatment," said Peter Blanken, a senior researcher with the Parnassia Addiction Research Centre in Rotterdam. He pointed out that one-quarter of program participants make a "complete recovery," including better health and quitting illegal drugs and excessive drinking. Many others continue to use heroin, but do so with better outcomes, he said.

There is also a real safety benefit to using state-supplied pharmaceutical heroin. It's potent, but it's a known quantity. Users face no risk of adulteration with more dangerous drugs, such as fentanyl, which is deeply implicated in the current U.S. overdose crisis.

In the current political atmosphere in the United States, providing heroin to hard-core addicts is a hard sell indeed. Other, lesser, harm reduction interventions, such as needle exchanges remain controversial, and the country has yet to see its first officially sanctioned safe injection site. And drug decriminalization, which has led to a dramatic reduction in heroin addiction and overdose deaths in Portugal, remains off the table here, too. But with an annual drug overdose death toll of more than 50,000 people a year, it may time to start asking how many more Americans we are willing to sacrifice on the altar of moralistic drug prohibition.

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

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Bulldozed to Death for Growing 10 Marijuana Plants

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 22:21
It’s not marijuana that’s killing people, but marijuana prohibition.

Getting caught growing a few pot plants in Pennsylvania could lead to a criminal charge and a likely sentence of probation, but for a Lehigh Valley man, it was a death sentence. This past Monday, 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a state Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper hunting for two men spotted near a freshly-discovered marijuana grow.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Game Commission bulldozer operator was using the machine to improve access to fields on game lands when he spotted a car well off the road in the brush and called police. Officers from nearby Bernville Borough were first on the scene and quickly found a plot containing 10 growing pot plants.

The cops saw two men emerge from the underbrush and take off running, said Trooper David Boehm, a state police spokesman. "They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants," he said. "It was kind of carved out of the underbrush, which I've never seen underbrush that thick ever. It was crazy how thick it was."

The two men were Longenecker and his long-time friend David Brook Light, 54. Light was quickly taken into custody by the Bernville chief of police, but Longenecker eluded immediate capture. The state police arrived on the scene and ordered one of their helicopters to join the search. The chopper pilot spotted Longenecker in the brush but then lost him. Meanwhile, a state trooper and the bulldozer operator were roaring through the brush looking for him.

"An attempt to hail the other male was unsuccessful," Beohm said in a news release. "The helicopter lost sight of the male and was giving directions to the bulldozer of his last location. The Game Commission employee and a Trooper were on the bulldozer driving through the thick underbrush. The bulldozer stopped in the underbrush. The second male was located under the rear of the bulldozer deceased."

That's right: Confronted with a small-scale illicit marijuana grow on public land, the State Police deployed a helicopter and the on-scene bulldozer and managed to kill their target. But that's not how the cops tried to spin it.

First, Trooper Boehm denied that Longenecker died as a result of a police pursuit. "They were just trying to locate this guy with use of a helicopter," he explained.

Then he suggested that Longenecker may have died of natural causes. "The reason it’s unclear if Longenecker was struck and killed by the bulldozer is that Longenecker, because of his age, could have had a heart attack while fleeing through the dense thicket," Boehm said.

But that attempted diversion was foiled on Tuesday when the preliminary autopsy report came out. That report found that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries after being run over by the bulldozer. A final ruling on the cause of death awaits toxicology tests, but it is clear that he died after being run over by the bulldozer.  

The case has aroused the ire of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has denounced what it calls the excessive use of force by state law enforcement.

"This awful event could have and should have been prevented," said national NORML executive director Erik Altieri. "This tragedy is a direct result of our nation’s draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."

"As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow," said Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightengale. "Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted, Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn’t simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend’s name is. How difficult is that?"

Medical marijuana is already legal in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, and legal marijuana for adults is already permitted in nine states and Washington, D.C. A bill to legalize marijuana in the state failed to advance this year, even though 59% of state residents support freeing the weed.

"As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources," said Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. "These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least."

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

 

 

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Here Are the DEA’s 10 Most Ludicrous Slang Terms for Marijuana

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 17:57
America’s narcs are light-years out of touch.

Those hipsters at the Drug Enforcement Administration are at it again. Each year they come out with a list of Drug Slang Code Words, and now we have the 2018 version in hand. The list is designed to help law enforcement decipher criminal jargon and to crack cases, but it's more likely to make readers crack up.

Some of the entries are common slang of the type seen in newspaper headlines (pot, grass, weed), some are foreign words that mean "marijuana" (maconha, mota, pakalolo), some are based on place names (Acapulco Gold, BC Bud, Jamaican Red, Mexican Brown), and some are simply strain names (Blue Cheese, Girl Scout Cookies, Grand Daddy Purp).

But some are simply ridiculous and appear to lack any actual basis for being included. Here are 10 of the silliest DEA slang terms for weed—and remember, your tax dollars paid for this list.

  1. Airplane. Inexplicable. Urban Dictionary has a listing for the 1980 comic movie classic Airplane, the song Airplanes by rapper b.o.b., actually airplanes, and a sex act too gross to reprint here, but not a mention of marijuana.

  2. Bambalachacha. Really? It shows up in a 2007 entry in Urban Dictionary and a couple of other slang dictionary entries using the exact same phrasing and sentence example, but other than that, nada.

  3. Burritos Verdes. This must be marijuana slang so hip it isn't even on the internet, but if you search for it, you'll find a mouth-watering recipe for "Smothered Slow Cooker Chile Verde Pork Burritos."

  4. Gigglesmoke. This was a term once used for marijuana, but the last time anybody actually heard it was probably at a Louis Armstrong concert in the 1930s.

  5. Hairy Ones. Somebody was pulling the DEA's leg. This could conceivably be a reference to the pistils on female flowers (or to hippyish pot smokers), but there is no sign of anybody actually using this term with reference to weed. Virtuoso jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin, though, recorded several EPs with studio musicians as the Hairy Ones in the mid-1960s.

  6. Love Nuggets. Buds are sometimes called "nugs," but we don't know who's using this variation. Urban Dictionary defines the term as "a dude's balls, preferably utilized toward a female to entice her" and there was a 2014 campaign in Britain to improve relationships that used the term to mean "everyday acts of love [that] can lead to a happier, healthier and stronger relationship, even more than big gestures like chocolates or expensive holidays.” Neither has anything to do with weed.

  7. Mowing the Lawn. Etymologically, this could be linked to "grass," but there's no evidence of that. Urban Dictionary has a number of entries, but they're all linked to sex. The first entry relates to shaving one's public area, and it goes downhill from there.

  8. Pocket Rocket. This is 1950s truck driver slang for prescription amphetamines. Urban Dictionary has some more recent usages dealing with either erect penises or petite women, but nothing about weed. DEA needs to keep its drugs straight.

  9. Shrimp. Nope. A Google search turns up several YouTube videos about cannabis and shrimp cooking recipes, but Urban Dictionary reports no usage of the term in regard to marijuana. There isa 2009 post, however, that says shrimp is a term for a new drug "stronger than Ecstasy" but whose "primary component is methadone."

  10. Smoochy Woochy Poochy. Do they just make this stuff up? This sounds like an excessively romantic dog, and we can't find anybody actually using this to refer to marijuana.

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

 

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'Overdose Prevention’ Bill Would Actually Increase Overdoses by Driving People Out of Treatment

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 10:42
Drug treatment and recovery groups are lining up against the measure, which strips drug patients of crucial privacy protections.

A bill ostensibly intending to reduce opioid overdoses passed the House last month, but rather than cheering it on, drug treatment and recovery advocates are lining up to block it in the Senate. That's because instead of being aimed at reducing overdoses, the bill is actually a means of removing patient privacy protections from some of the most vulnerable people with opioid problems, including people using methadone-assisted therapy to control their addictions.

And that, advocates say, is likely to increase—not decrease—opioid overdoses by pushing users away from drug treatment out of fear the information they reveal could be used against them. The fear is real: Unlike other medical conditions, drug addiction leaves patients open to criminal prosecution, as well as stigmatization and other negative social consequences if their status as drug treatment or maintenance patients is revealed.

This bill, H.R. 6082, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act, would remove drug treatment patients' ability to control the disclosure of information to health plans, health care providers, and other entities, leaving them with only the lesser privacy protections afforded to all patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

"The confidentiality law is often the only shield between an individual in recovery and the many forms of discrimination that could irreparably damage their lives and future," said Paul Samuels, president and director of the Legal Action Center. "Unfortunately, there is a very real danger of serious negative consequences for people whose history of substance use disorder is disclosed without their explicit consent."

The Legal Action Center is spearheading the effort to block this bill with the Campaign to Protect Patients' Privacy Rights, which counts more than a hundred organizations, including the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, AIDS United, Community Catalyst, Faces and Voices of Recovery, Facing Addiction, Harm Reduction Coalition, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery, and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The current patient privacy protections, known as 42 C.F.R. Part 2 ("Part 2"), were established more than 40 years ago to ensure that people with a substance use disorder (SUD) are not made more vulnerable to discriminatory practices and legal consequences as a result of seeking treatment. The rules prevent treatment providers from disclosing information about a patient’s substance use treatment without patient consent in most circumstances. The bill’s plan to replace Part 2’s confidentiality requirements with HIPAA’s more relaxed standards would not sufficiently protect people seeking and receiving SUD treatment and could expose patients to great harm, the advocates charge.

"They should call this the Taking Away Protections Act," said Jocelyn Woods, head of the National Alliance for Medication-Assisted Recovery. "People will be afraid to go into treatment. I'm getting emails from people who want to leave treatment before this happens. If I were going into a program and they can't tell me my information will be safe, I would think about turning around and walking out," she told the Independent Media Institute.

"Many of us would not have gone to treatment or accepted services if we thought that our information would have been shared with other entities without our permission. We would not have put our careers, reputation or families at risk of stigma and discrimination if we were not assured that information about our substance use disorder was safe and would only be shared with our consent," added Patty McCarthy Metcalf, executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery.

The push for the bill is being led by health information software companies and behavioral health providers, such as Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center, and it prioritizes convenience over patient privacy.

"This is because the behavioral health people see complying with the privacy requirements as a pain in the ass," said Woods. "They're going to have to fix their computer systems to block out any treatment program licensed by the federal government—not just methadone programs—and they don't want to do that. One of the software companies, Netsmart, complained that they don't want to mess with their programming," she said.

"We need Part 2," Woods continued. "It keeps police out of the program. Without it, police can walk right in. They already sit outside methadone clinics and bust people for DUI on the way out. If this passes, they will walk right in. If the police see anyone they think has a warrant or committed a crime, they're gone.”

While the bill has made its way through the House, advocates are hopeful it will stall in the Senate.  

"The House pushed this through because they wanted to look like they were doing something and because the behavioral health people were pushing for it," Woods said, "but my sense is that it's moving slowly in the Senate. We have this crazy president, and there's immigration, and the congressional break, and then campaign season. My hope is we can push this past the elections and a blue wave in November will give us a fighting chance."

But the campaign isn't taking any chances and is mobilized to fight on the Hill in the next few months to block the bill. As Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, warned: "In the midst of the worst opioid epidemic in our nation’s history, we cannot afford to have patients fearful of seeking treatment because they do not have faith that their confidentiality will be protected."

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

 

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Mexico's President-Elect Plans to End the Nation's War on Drugs

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 23:11
The new course marks a dramatic shift from his predecessor.

On July 1, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador—often referred to with the acronymic AMLO—won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO—and Mexico—wants change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations—the so-called cartels—unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as U.S. attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero, has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said last week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and U.S. states are legalizing it, she said. “What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?”

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisers say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We’ll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don’t rule out anything, not even legalization — nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the U.S., but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, non-violent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven’t committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed—to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisers, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I’m not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The U.S.-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking U.S. intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the U.S. on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the U.S. and would like to see the U.S. do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, U.S.-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he’s not going to fight the drug war in the way that it’s been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico, told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

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

 

 

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Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Cocaine Dependency?

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:19
A clinical trial underway right now hopes to find the answer—and more participants.

So far, no one has come up with a pharmacological agent to help people strung out on cocaine get off the marching powder, but researchers are looking at one promising prospect: psilocybin, the chemical that puts the magic in magic mushrooms.

Scientists at the University of Alabama–Birmingham's (UAB) School of Public Health are now conducting a clinical trial to see whether psilocybin can help break cocaine addiction. The trial currently has almost 20 people enrolled, but researchers are looking for more subjects—people who are currently using cocaine and have a strong desire to quit.

"Our goal is to create a tool or drug that provides significantly better outcomes for individuals addicted to cocaine than those that currently exist," said Sara Lappan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Health Behavior.

In the trial, participants receive a dose of psilocybin and are monitored for six hours, about the duration of the experience. Then, the researchers track his or her cocaine use.

"Our idea is that six hours of being under the effects of psilocybin may be as productive as 10 years of traditional therapy," Lappan said.

The researchers theorize that psilocybin works on three levels: the biochemical, the psychological, and the spiritual. In terms of biochemistry, psilocybin disrupts brain receptors thought to reinforce addictive behaviors. Psychologically, the drug is believed to reduce cravings, increase motivation, and increase one's sense of self-efficacy. Spiritually—or transcendentally—psilocybin (along with other psychedelics) is thought to increase both a person's sense of purpose and his or her sense of universal connectedness or oneness.

"If our hypotheses are supported, this has the potential to revolutionize the fields of psychology and psychiatry in terms of how we treat addiction," Lappan said.

But don't run out and start gobbling down magic mushrooms to quit cocaine just yet, the researchers cautioned.

"We aren’t advocating for everyone to go out and do it," said Peter Hendricks, Ph.D., associate professor of health behavior in the School of Public Health at UAB. "What we are saying is that this drug, like every other drug, could have appropriate use in a medical setting. We want to see whether it helps treat cocaine use disorder."

They're not the only ones looking into the secrets of psilocybin. UAB is one of a half-dozen universities studying its potential medicinal benefits. The others are Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, New York University, University of California–San Francisco and Yale.

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

 

 

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