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Nevada Marijuana Grower Questioned for His Connection to Trump Fixer Michael Cohen

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 02:11
The grower has been caught in the probe into brand fraud and campaign-violence

A licensed marijuana grower in Nevada named Semyon "Sam" Shtayner is under scrutiny for his ties to Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney and fixer. Local officials in Henderson, Nev., recently questioned Shtayner, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Shtayner informed officials that Cohen did not have any involvement with his marijuana enterprise, but did say that Cohen and his family had loaned him some money to help buy taxi medallions.

Cohen “absolutely and unequivocally has no connection to my Marijuana Facilities,” Shtayner wrote in a statement.

The genesis of their relationship began when Shtayner and Cohen's father-in-law both immigrated from Ukraine and settled in New York, where they both worked in the taxi business.

Shtayner provided a legal statement to city officials explaining his financial relationship with Cohen. According to records reviewed by the Journal, Shtayner borrowed as much as $6 million from Cohen in 2014 and 2015. Shtayner claimed he invested in the pot business because of the downturn of the taxi industry.

Shtayner's connection with Cohen aroused the FBI after the bureau raided Cohen's office and home in earlier April and found records pertaining to Shtayner.  The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI specifically sought documents relating to Shtayner and his wife.

Investigators have been probing Cohen for possible bank fraud and campaign-finance violations.  Cohen has denied any wrongdoing at this point.

Shtayner appears to have satisfied officials in Henderson, who told the Journal. “Staff are no longer looking into anything further related to Mr. Shtayner unless new information is brought to our attention."

Cannabis in Nevada became legal for recreational use on January 1, 2017, having been legalized by ballot initiative in 2016. Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, issued a memo earlier this year that proposed  a federal marijuana crackdown in states that had legalized the substance. States that have legalized pot immediately protested these efforts, resulting in Trump conceding on the issue.

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Drunk on Genocide: How the Nazis Celebrated Murdering Jews

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 01:12
The role of alcohol in the Nazi genocide of European Jews deserves greater attention.

It was noon in early 1942 as Johann Grüner approached the ‘German House’ in the Polish town of Nowy Targ for lunch. As a mid-level Nazi bureaucrat in occupied Poland, he enjoyed the privileges of power and the opportunity for career advancement that came with duty in the East. The German House, a mix of cultural centre, restaurant and pub, was one of the privileges enjoyed by the occupiers. As he entered the building, he could hear a boisterous celebration within. At the front door, a clearly inebriated Gestapo official passed by, a beer coaster with the number 1,000 written in red pinned to his blouse. Addressing Grüner, the policeman drunkenly bragged: ‘Man, today I am celebrating my 1,000th execution!’

At first glance, the incident at the German House might appear to be a grotesque aberration involving a single depraved Nazi killer. However, such ‘celebrations’ were widespread in the occupied Eastern territories as members of the notorious Schutzstaffel (SS) and the German police routinely engaged in celebratory rituals after mass killings. In fact, among the perpetrators of genocide, heavy drinking was common at the killing sites, in pubs and on bases throughout Poland and the Soviet Union. In another horrific example, a group of policemen charged with the cremation of some 800 Jewish corpses used the occasion to tap a keg. In this case, one of the men, named Müller, had the ‘honour’ of setting fire to ‘his Jews’ as he and his colleagues sat around the fire drinking beer. In a similar case, a Jewish woman recalled the aftermath of a killing operation at Przemyśl in Poland: ‘I smelled the odour of burning bodies and saw a group of Gestapo men who sat by the fire, singing and drinking.’ For these Gestapo men, ‘victory celebrations’ proved to be the order of the day, and followed every killing action or ‘liberation from the Jews’.

The role of alcohol in the Nazi genocide of European Jews deserves greater attention. While numerous studies from the social sciences have demonstrated the link between drinking and acts of homicide and sexual violence, the connection between mass murder and alcohol is under-researched. Among the Nazi perpetrators, alcohol served several roles: it incentivised and rewarded murder, promoted disinhibition to facilitate killing, and acted as a coping mechanism. In the field of Holocaust Studies, explanations of perpetrator motivation embrace a variety of instrumental and affective factors ranging from ‘ordinary men’ guided by peer pressure, obedience to authority and personal ambition, to ‘willing executioners’ imbued with anti-Semitism and racial hatred; however, alcohol consumption facilitated acts of murder and atrocity whether by ordinary men or true believers.

In the early 2000s, Father Patrick Desbois used ‘ballistic research’ to find spent firearm cartridges in order to chart where SS and police death squads had massacred entire Jewish communities in Ukraine. Contrary to popular belief, he found that many of these killing sites were ‘in the middle of towns, in full view and with the knowledge of everyone’. Not only were these massacres conducted in public spaces, but non-Jewish Ukrainian witnesses often remembered the killers’ use of alcohol.

As a girl, Hanna Senikova observed a mass execution by the SS and policemen in her hometown of Romanivka. After the arrival of the Germans, her aunt had been forced to cook for the perpetrators who ordered a banquet in advance of the massacre. Interviewed by Desbois in his book The Holocaust by Bullets (2008), Senikova recalled:

They wanted to eat nothing but large pieces of meat … Then some of them shot the Jews while others ate and drank. Then, those who had eaten went to shoot the Jews again while those who had been shooting them before came to eat … They were drinking, singing. They were drunk. They were shooting at the same time. One could see little arms and legs coming out of the edge of the pit.

In a similar example, Wilhelm Westerheide, a Nazi regional commissar in Ukraine, participated in a two-week massacre of an estimated 15,000 Jews. During the shootings, Westerheide and his accomplices ‘caroused at a banquet table with a few German women … drinking, and eating amid the bloodshed’, while music played in the background during a surreal killing party described by Wendy Lower in Hitler’s Furies (2013). In this case, the perpetrators’ use of alcohol provided a means for establishing camaraderie and lowering inhibitions as they proceeded with their gruesome task.

While death squads celebrated among their victims’ graves in the field, local bars and restaurants also served as sites for celebrating acts of mass murder, where heavy drinking was often accompanied by songs that emphasised Nazi masculine ideals of hardness, camaraderie and violence. In a bar in the Polish town of Wejherowo, one witness overheard a group of SS men ‘who had obviously just come from a shooting’ discussing how ‘The damned brains [of the victims] just squirted everywhere.’ Similarly, Marianna Kazmierczak, then a 17-year-old Polish girl working at a restaurant in Zakrzewo, testified that SS men routinely gathered there to drink beer and schnapps, and to celebrate after mass killings in the fall of 1939. In testimony quoted in War, Pacification, and Mass Murder, 1939 (2014) by Jürgen Matthäus, Jochen Böhler and Klaus-Michael Mallmann, she remarked:

Finally, they were half-drunk, and the mood was very merry, as if they were intoxicated. They sang and danced … Such drinking bouts were repeated after every mass shooting … sometimes several times a week. The drinking bouts went on into the late hours.

Ultimately, singing and drinking were ritual acts of celebration, and served as mechanisms for promoting male bonding and identification with the group and its genocidal charter. In such cases, alcohol was in parts a reward for murder, a lubricant for male bonding, and a means for coping.

After their transfer to Warsaw in January 1942, members of Police Battalion 61 established a bar outside the Jewish ghetto. The ‘Krochmalna’ bar not only provided a place for off-duty policemen to engage in ‘drinking orgies’, but also as a site of celebration and male competition with respect to murder. Individual policemen competed for number of Jews killed and bragged about their ‘scores’. These policemen were not alone as the men from other units also kept track of their kills. A former policeman with Police Battalion 9 testified after the war: ‘I also know that several [men] kept exact count of the number of people they had shot. They also bragged amongst themselves about the numbers.’ In the case of Police Battalion 61, the bar’s front door served as the unit’s tally board, with an estimated 500 notches arrayed in groups of five, designating the number of Jews murdered by its patrons. During a postwar investigation of the unit’s activities in Warsaw, one state prosecutor commented that ‘victory celebrations’ were a customary part of the unit’s ritual after mass executions.

The linkage between alcohol, atrocity and celebratory ritual was not unique to the Eastern Front. During the Rwandan genocide, the French journalist Jean Hatzfeld interviewed Hutu perpetrators, and noted in his book Machete Season (2003) the importance of local cabarets (bars) as social gathering sites and places for planning, organising and celebrating violence against the moderate Hutu and Tutsi victims. One Hutu perpetrator observed:

[The killers] went around together. You saw that they shared and shared alike with field work and drink at the cabaret. During the genocide I know that gang went out cutting from the first day to the last.

Another female witness described the distribution of the plundered possessions of the victims and the nightly celebrations: ‘The men sang, everyone drank, the women changed dresses three times in an evening. It was noisier than weddings, it was drunken revelling every day.’ At least for these men and some women, the killing field and the bar became sites for group socialisation and celebration in the wake of mass murder.

While intoxication was not a prerequisite for genocide, it is clear that alcohol and drinking rituals were an important element in the celebration of genocidal massacre in the Nazi East – whether taken in shots from a table laden with smoked sausage and vodka, swilled from a bottle at the edge of a ditch, or consumed in post-execution beer parties. The SS man celebrating his 1,000th killing was not only intoxicated at his party, but in a real sense drunk with the act of murder itself.

Edward B Westermann

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Missouri Cops Are Ripping Off School Kids and Making Joke of State Law by Keeping Seized Drug Money for Themselves

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 13:07
The Trump Justice Department makes it possible.

Responding to myriad tales of abuses, like many other states, Missouri has reformed its asset forfeiture laws to require a criminal conviction before cash or property is seized and, in a bid to prevent "policing for profit," to require that money seized by state law enforcement agencies goes solely to the state's schools.

Somebody needs to tell the cops. As Kansas City TV station KMBC reported, state and local law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the past three years, but only some $340,000 has actually made it to the schools. That's a measly 2% of the seized cash.

That's because the cops, with the help of the Trump Justice Department, are doing an end run around the state law. Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, which was suspended late in the Obama administration but reinstated last year by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, state and local law enforcement agencies can hand their cash-laden cases over to federal prosecutors instead of turning them in to local district attorneys. And when they do, the reporting agency gets to keep 80% of the seized cash, with the Justice Department getting the rest.

The scheme subverts state law not only by diverting much-needed funding for schools to police agencies, but also by allowing state and local cops to seize cash and goods under the federal law, which does not require a criminal conviction first. In this manner, Missouri's cops are not only ripping off the schools, they are also giving a big middle finger to the state's democratically elected representatives who passed the asset forfeiture reform law.

The cops like things just as they are.

"We can immediately put that back in our tool belt if you will,” said Major Derek McCollum, the head of the Kansas City Police Department's Asset Forfeiture Squad. The money buys "computer type equipment, covert surveillance type equipment," McCollum told KMBC, adding that he didn't feel like law enforcement was taking money from the schools.

The Missouri School Board Association begs to differ.

“Absolutely, the constitution says it is,” said association attorney Susan Goldammer of the forfeiture money. "We still have school districts that don't have air conditioning or have concerns about asbestos. We've got many, many school buildings in the state that are way more than 100 years old,” she added.

Instead of turning forfeitures over to the state's school system, the state Highway Patrol spent $70,000 on new weapons. And in Phelps County, which sits astride the east-west throughway Interstate 44 and which profited the most from asset forfeiture, the sheriff spends the money on the department's buildings—not school buildings.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) is working on a partial fix. He has authored House Bill 1501, under which only cases involving more than $50,000 could be handed over to the feds. (He had originally pegged the figure at $100,000, but has now halved it after "pushback from law enforcement.")

Dogan told KMBC that cases over $50,000 account for about 20% of asset forfeiture cases statewide and that he believes many smaller seizures are from innocent victims or involve rights violations.

"We can eliminate that incentive for them to just take money or take property,” Dogan said. "The government seizes their money and says, ‘we think you're a suspected drug dealer.' The government never produces any drugs, never charges you with a crime and then you have to spend more than they've actually seized trying to get your property back. That's unfair."

The $100,000 version of Dogan's bill is currently stalled in the legislature. Facing law enforcement opposition, the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee voted in February to postpone action on it, and the bill has no hearings scheduled and is not on the House calendar.

Perhaps he can get the $50,000 version moving. In the meantime, Missouri's cops continue to perversely profit from prohibition, while the state's schools are out of luck.



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Four White Louisiana Officers Choked This Young Black Man to Death in a Low-Level Drug Bust

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 12:32
If past experience is any guide, don't hold your breath waiting for justice.

New Orleans resident Keeven Robinson, 22, died after being arrested by Jefferson Parish narcotics officers last week. Police originally tried to blame his death on asthma, but now the Jefferson Parish coroner is telling a very different tale.

At a press conference Monday, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich laid out what initial autopsy results revealed: "Our initial autopsy findings reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck," he said. "These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia. We are confident that at the end of our process, this is going to be the cause of death.  Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide."

Cvitanovich was quick to point out that when he said "homicide," he did not mean in the legal sense, but in the sense that Robinson died as a result of the actions of others.

According to the sheriff's office, four undercover narcotics deputies, whom Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not name but identified as white, were surveilling Robinson, a black man, as part of a drug-dealing investigation and followed him to a gas station on Jefferson Highway late last Thursday morning.

When Robinson noticed the agents, who wore badges, approaching him, he attempted to drive off, but jumped from his car about a block away after running into two sheriff's vehicles. The officers pursued Robinson in a foot chase as he leaped over fences before catching him in the backyard of a residence.

Again, according to the sheriff's office, the deputies then struggled with Robinson, who was carrying what they suspected to be heroin, before they managed to handcuff him. At that point, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to Ochsner Medical Center nearby, but died there.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies do not wear body cams.

Robinson was not armed, though Sheriff Lopinto said a gun was found in his car.

Lopinto originally said investigators were looking into whether Robinson's history of asthma contributed to his death, but his family immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared the officers had either beaten or strangled him to death.

And the coroner's report is proving them correct. Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was pleased the coroner's office issued a ruling on Robinson's death so quickly and that "there was no cover up."

But Spiller was speaking prematurely. The investigation into the killing of Keeven Robinson is just getting started, and the inevitable finding that no one is criminally responsible is still months away. Call me cynical, or call me a student of what happens when police kill people.

In this case, an unarmed black drug suspect was choked to death by four white officers. They're now on desk duty, while Robinson is in the ground. Who wants to bet on any of them being charged with a crime?



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One of the World's Most Prestigious Medical Journals Just Called for Legalizing All Drugs

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 11:15
Drug policy should be based on evidence, and the evidence calls for an end to drug prohibition, the British Medical Journal says.

Embracing a harm reduction and public health perspective, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals has released a signed editorial calling for the legalization, taxation, and regulation of currently illegal drugs.

In an editorial last Thursday entitled Drugs Should Be Legalized, Regulated, and Taxed, Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, notes that under drug prohibition, the global trade "fuels organized crime and human misery," and asks, "Why should it not instead fund public services?"

Citing an opinion piece in the same issue of the BMJ from British members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP, formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse, Godlee notes that in the United Kingdom (as in the United States) "vast sums are spent prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities" while that money would be much better "spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection." Under legalization, "revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers," she writes.

Godlee notes that the global drug prohibition consensus is fraying around the edges, and points to the example of Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. There, drug use remains in line with levels in other European countries, but the harms associated with drug use under prohibition have decreased dramatically, particularly in terms of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of injection drug-related infectious disease.

Godlee also points to the Netherlands, the United States, and soon, Canada, where "regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues."

Again returning to the opinion piece by Reed and Whitehouse, Godlee writes that "when law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalized, we have to listen." Ditto for when doctors speak up, she adds, noting that just last month, the Royal College of Physicians came out in favor of drug decriminalization, joining the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Pubic Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform.

"This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad," Godlee concludes. "It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime…The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard."

Unfortunately for the BMJ and the other public health advocates, as in the United States, the political class in the United Kingdom isn't yet on board with evidence-based best practices on drug policy. But this editorial loosens another brick in the wall—on both sides of the Atlantic.



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Trump’s New Drug Pricing Plan is Just Another 'Nonsensical' Scam Designed to Blame Foreigners

Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:10
Click here for reuse options! He calls it “American patients first,” and takes aim at what he calls “foreign freeloading.”

Trump promised to rein in drug prices. It was his only sensible campaign promise.

But the plan he announced Friday does little but add another battering ram to his ongoing economic war against America’s allies.

He calls it “American patients first,” and takes aim at what he calls “foreign freeloading.” The plan will pressure foreign countries to relax their drug price controls.

America’s trading partners “need to pay more because they’re using socialist price controls, market access controls, to get unfair pricing,” said Alex Azar, Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, who, perhaps not incidentally, was a former top executive at the drug maker Eli Lilly and Company.

By this tortured logic, if other nations allow drug companies to charge whatever they want, U.S. drug companies will then lower prices in the United States.

This is nonsensical. It would just mean more profits for U.S. drug companies. (Revealingly, the stock prices of U.S. pharmaceutical companies rose after Trump announced his plan.) 

While it’s true that Americans spend far moreon medications per person than do citizens in any other rich country – even though Americans are no healthier – that’s not because other nations freeload on American drug companies’ research.

Big Pharma in America spends more on advertising and marketing than it does on research – often tens of millions to promote a single drug.

The U.S. government supplies much of the research Big Pharma relies on through the National Institutes of Health. This is a form of corporate welfare that no other industry receives. 

American drug companies also spend hundreds of millions lobbying the government. Last year alone, their lobbying tab came to $171.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s more than oil and gas, insurance, or any other American industry. It’s more than the formidable lobbying expenditures of America’s military contractors. Big Pharma spends tens of millions more on campaign expenditures.

They spend so much on politics in order to avoid price controls, as exist in most other nations, and other government attempts to constrain their formidable profits.

For example, in 2003, Big Pharma got a U.S. law prohibiting the government from using its considerable bargaining clout under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate lower drug prices. Other nations with big healthcare plans routinely negotiate lower drug prices.

During his campaign Trump promised to reverse this law. But the plan he revealed Friday doesn’t touch it. Trump’s plan seeks only to make it easier for private health insurers to negotiate better deals for Medicare beneficiaries.  

In reality, private health insurers don’t have anywhere near the clout of Medicare and Medicaid – which was the whole point of Big Pharma’s getting Congress to ban such negotiations in the first place.

In the last few years, U.S. drug companies have also blocked Americans from getting low-cost prescription drug from Canada, using the absurd argument that Americans can’t rely on the safety of drugs coming from our northern neighbor – whose standards are at least as high as ours.

Trump’s new plan doesn’t change this, either.  

To put all this another way, when Americans buy drugs in the United States, they really buy a package of advertising, marketing, and political influence-peddling. Consumers in other nations don’t pay these costs. Which explains a big part of why drug prices are lower abroad. Trump’s so-called plan to lower drug prices disregards this reality.

Trump’s plan nibbles at the monopoly power of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, but doesn’t deal with the central fact that their patents are supposed to run only twenty years but they’ve developed a host of strategies to keep patents going beyond then.

One is to make often insignificant changes in their patented drugs that are enough to trigger new patents and thereby prevent pharmacists from substituting cheaper generic versions.

Before its patent expired on Namenda, its widely used drug to treat Alzheimer’s, Forest Labs announced it would stop selling the existing tablet form of in favor of new extended-release capsules called Namenda XR. Even though Namenda XR was just a reformulated version of the tablet, the introduction prevented generic versions from being introduced.  

Other nations don’t allow drug patents to be extended on such flimsy grounds. Trump’s plan doesn’t touch this ploy.

Another tactic used by U.S. drug companies has been to sue generics to prevent them from selling their cheaper versions, then settle the cases by paying the generics to delay introducing those cheaper versions.

Such “pay-for-delay” agreements are illegal in other nations, but antitrust enforcement hasn’t laid a finger on them in America – and Trump doesn’t mention them although they cost Americans an estimated $3.5 billiona year.

Even after their patents have expired, U.S. drug companies continue to aggressively advertise their brands so patients will ask their doctors for them instead of the generic versions. Many doctors comply.

Other nations don’t allow direct advertising of prescription drugs – another reason why prices are lower there and higher here. Trump’s plan is silent on this, too. (Trump suggests drug advertisers should be required to post the prices of their drugs, which they’re already expert at obscuring.)

If Trump were serious about lowering drug prices he’d have to take on the U.S. drug manufacturers.

But Trump doesn’t want to take on Big Pharma. As has been typical for him, rather than confronting the moneyed interests in America he chooses mainly to blame foreigners. 


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Enjoy Rudy Giuliani's Screw-Ups as Trump's Lawyer, But He's Still Horrible on Marijuana

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 14:49
While the man may be a buffoon, his views on drugs and crime are no laughing matter.

Who isn't enjoying Rudy Giuliani's performance as an endearingly bumbling personal attorney for President Trump? After all, in the few days he has been in the position, he's managed to come up with multiple stories about the president, his porn stars, and his fixers, none of which reflect favorably on Team Trump. He's unintentionally been doing his incompetent best to help implode the Trump White House, and for that, he deserves our thanks.

But although Giuliani's zany antics are entertaining and—one hopes—damaging even further the credibility-challenged president, let's take a moment to remember what a true reactionary the former New York City mayor really is, especially when it comes to drugs and crime.

Giuliani made his political bones as a federal prosecutor and grandstanded his record of drug prosecutions into a successful mayoral bid in 1993, becoming the first Republican mayor of the liberal metropolis in 20 years. Under his leadership, New York City became the marijuana possession arrest capital of the world.

Under his predecessors, Democrats Ed Koch and David Dinkins, small-time pot busts had numbered in the hundreds or low thousands each year, but under Giuliani, those busts went through the roof. The city hit 10,000 pot possession arrests in 1996, nearly 20,000 in 1997, and more than 30,000 in 1998 and 1999, before peaking at more than 50,000 in 2000. They declined slightly in 2001, Giuliani's last year in office, as the NYPD found other things to worry about after the September 11 attacks that year.

Then and to this day, the vast majority of people arrested for small-time pot possession were non-white. Minorities accounted for more than 80% of pot busts then, and even now, while pot possession arrests are way down (under 20,000 a year under Bill de Blasio), black and brown people accounted for 86% of those busts in 2017.

In an especially cruel twist, Giuliani's and the NYPD's mass marijuana arrest campaign came years after the state actually decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot. What would typically happen is that the cops would roust someone, demand that he empty his pockets, and then arrest him for public possession of marijuana, which was not decriminalized. To make his campaign work, Giuliani had to subvert the spirit of the decriminalization law. He had no problem doing so.

The "tough on crime" mayor's campaign of pot possession arrests was part of a broader anti-crime offensive that went under the rubric "broken windows." That strategy emphasizes going after visible signs of criminality, even if the crimes are minor, as a means of increasing order and thus improving quality of life. That meant going after trivial offenses, such as pot possession, public urination, or public drinking and locking up large numbers of offenders, again, most of them non-white.

Another part of Giuliani's anti-crime, anti-drug strategy was "stop and frisk," the NYPD's aggressive targeting of primarily young people of color for suspicionless stops and searches. Giuliani and then Police Commissioner William Bratton pioneered the strategy, stopping about 90,000 people in his last year in office. The practice ballooned under his successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, peaking at 685,000 stop and frisks in 2011. Some 88% of those subject to the abusive practice were totally innocent, and 87% of them were black and brown.

It took a federal court to end the practice, with District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruling it unconstitutional in 2013. By last year, Giuliani's stop and frisk legacy was on its last legs, with only 10,000 such stops reported in the city. Again, though, 90% of them were aimed at black and brown people, even though two-thirds of those stopped were innocent of any crime.

Giuliani has been out of office since 2002, but the intervening years show no sign he has brought his views on marijuana or policing into the 21st century. When running one of his failed presidential campaigns in 2007, he refused to endorse the use of medical marijuana, claiming it was a stalking horse for legalization—and that people would be better off with pain medications!

"I believe the effort to try and make marijuana available for medical uses is really a way to legalize it. There's no reason for it," he said at a New Hampshire town hall. "You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana," he said. "We'd be much better off telling people the truth. Marijuana adds nothing to the array of legal medications and prescription medications that are available for pain relief."

Years after that, Giuliani remained immune to the facts and science about marijuana. In 2014, in the early stages of yet another failed presidential campaign, he drew on his prosecutorial expertise to explain why he opposed legalizing marijuana.

 "It can deteriorate your brain. I used to be a narcotics prosecutor," he said.

Giuliani hasn't been talking about marijuana much lately, but his stances are increasingly out of step even with the Republican Party. Former House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has dramatically switched course on marijuana legalization, and Giuliani's new boss, the titular head of the party, has signaled that he won't go after marijuana in states where it is legal.

But Trump's words notwithstanding, both Giuliani, his own personal lawyer, and Jeff Sessions, his man at the Justice Department, are still old-school pot prohibitionists. Rudy may be doing the rest of us some favors with his stumbling efforts to defend the president from himself, but his malign position on pot remains bad news indeed.



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Illinois Cop's Warning: If You Legalize Weed, We'll Have to Kill Our Drug Dogs

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:14
The stench of desperation is in the air.

As the state legislature ponders a bill that could make Illinois the 10th state to legalize marijuana, law enforcement is getting nervous. Old anti-marijuana shibboleths have lost their potency, but the Macon County Sheriff's Office has a brand new reason not to free the weed: They will have to kill their drug dogs.

As the Daily Pantagraph reported in an article about what happens to marijuana-sniffing drug dogs in states where it is legal, the dogs typically are trained to detect a number of drugs and it is difficult to retrain them not to alert on marijuana. Other states that have legalized it have either retired their pot-sensitive dogs, tried to retrain them, or used them to search for large, illicit amounts of marijuana.

But Chad Larner, training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, scoffed at the notion of retraining, saying it would be "extreme abuse" to try to do so, and "Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized."

That claim is a ridiculous "red herring," Illinois NORML executive director Dan Linn told the Pantagraph. "The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal ... all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic,” he said.

Other Illinois drug dog cops contacted by the Pantagraph largely agreed with Linn.  They said retired drug dogs "typically live with their handlers" and they "dismissed the idea that any would be euthanized because of retirement." 

The Macon County sheriff doesn't go as far as his drug dog trainer, but he is a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization because…drug dogs.

"The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you're going to have to replace all of your dogs,” said Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett. "So to me, it’s a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it’s a giant step backwards for law enforcements and the residents of the community."

Sheriff Buffett isn't just any sheriff. He's the son of Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and he's used his family wealth both to finance law enforcement spending in the county and to basically buy his way into the sheriff's office. Earlier this year, he announced that his Howard G. Buffett Foundation was donating $1.4 million to the county to pay for everything from new records systems to new guns and ballistic vests.  He was appointed to his position by retiring Sheriff Thomas Schneider last September and will serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.

Buffett also financed drug dogs across the state. His foundation paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support drug dog units in 33 Illinois counties. No wonder he and his employees are doing the 2018 version of the classic National Lampoon cover:



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NYC Mayor de Blasio Endorses Safe Injection Sites Plan—Despite DEA Claiming They're Illegal

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 17:17
The city joins a handful of other major localities in the country by pushing for safe injection sites.

Just a day after close to a hundred community activists, reform advocates, and local elected officials took to the streets outside New York City's City Hall Wednesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) move on a long-delayed feasibility study on safe injection sites, the mayor has moved.

On Thursday evening, the mayor's office announced de Blasio's support for a plan to open four of the sites, which the office refers to as Overdose Prevention Centers, a year from now, after a period of consultation with stakeholders.

"After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction," de Blasio said in a statement.

Safe injection sites (SISs)—or safe injection facilities or supervised injection facilities or supervised consumption sites or overdose prevention centers—allow drug users to inject (or sometimes inhale) their own drugs under medical supervision. They typically also have a social services component that aims to assist drug users in finding drug treatment and other services.

Operating in around 90 cities in Europe, Australia, and Canada, they are a proven harm reduction intervention. Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown they reduce public disorder; increase access to treatment, reduce the risk of HIV, Hep C, and bacterial infections; reduce drug overdose deaths; and reduce medical costs thanks to a reduction in disease and overdose, while at the same time increasing access to cost-saving preventive health care. What SISs don't do, the studies have found, is increase crime, injection drug use, or the initiation of new drug users.

Yet no such sites operate in the United States. Pushes are underway in several cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle, but all have faced challenges ranging from moralism and NIMBYism to the fact that they would appear to violate federal law. Just this week, DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson said they violate the Controlled Substances Act and are "subject to being prosecuted." Given the proclivities of the Trump administration, that is probably not a threat to be taken lightly.

Still, the cities are willing to push on the issue, the American Medical Association has endorsed the notion, and legislatures in a number of states are pondering bills to allow them. And now, with the country's largest city coming on board, momentum for the sites is only growing stronger.

In New York City, where the SIF NYC Campaign, a coalition of dozens of community, drug reform, public health, medical, and religious groups, has been pressuring the administration to act for months, the mayor's announcement was greeted with relief.

"Mayor de Blasio’s embrace of safer consumption spaces is a critical step forward in preventing overdose deaths in New York City. We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization, and improving public health," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly."

That will take some political acumen in dealing with city district attorneys and the state Health Department, which answers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom de Blasio's relations are strained at best. It will also take some political fortitude in taking on the Sessions Justice Department and the DEA.

De Blasio's announcement marks the successful culmination of the campaign to bring the city on board with safe injection sites as a harm reduction and overdose prevention measure, but it's just the beginning of the fight to actually get them up and running.



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Legal Marijuana Runs Right Over Maine's Obstructionist Tea Party Governor

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 14:00
The legislature voted to override the veto.

Paul LePage, Maine's irascible Tea Party Republican governor, is no friend of marijuana. He opposed the state's successful 2016 marijuana legalization initiative, and, once it won, vetoed the legislature's bill to implement the will of the voters. That was last year.

That left the state with pot possession and personal cultivation legal, but no way to buy or sell legal marijuana. This year, the legislature once again passed a bill to implement the initiative's taxed and regulated sales provisions, LD 1719. It even incorporated some of LePage's previous criticisms, resulting in a bill more restrictive than what voters approved.

Again, LePage vetoed the bill. But this time, the legislature had had enough. On Wednesday, the House voted 109-39 and the Senate voted 28-6 to override LePage's veto, poking a thumb in the governor's eye and setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved it.

The bill creates the rules for licensing and regulating marijuana producers, processors, and retail establishments and sets the tax rates for adult-use marijuana. But as a sop to LePage and other foes, it does not allow for social use, meaning buyers will be limited to using it at home (if the landlord agrees), and lawmakers also halved the number of plants people can grow, from six to three.

While the bill doesn't cap the number of cultivation licenses or the amount of weed that can be grown in the state, creating fears that a glut of pot will drive out all but the most deep-pocketed growers, it does contain a provision granting business licenses only to Maine residents for the first three years.

Pot shops aren't going to pop up overnight, either. Now that the bill has become law, state regulators will have to develop rules and regulations for the industry, which in turn will have to be approved by the legislature. It may be the spring of 2019 before Mainers can finally walk into a shop and buy their legal weed.

Still, the veto override is a major step on Maine's path to legal taxed and regulated marijuana sales.

"After a long and unnecessary delay, the decision by Maine voters to regulate marijuana for adults will finally be respected," said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project and campaign director for the 2016 Maine legalization ballot initiative campaign. "While this bill is imperfect, its overall effect is implementation of the legalization policy that Maine voters approved at the ballot box a year and a half ago."

Maine was one of four states where voters passed legalization initiatives in 2016, and it will be the last of the four to get sales up and running. California and Nevada have already implemented their programs, and Massachusetts should see retail sales begin next month.

"With his veto overridden, the governor should cease his obstructionist tactics so that Maine does not fall further behind Massachusetts in establishing a system for legal and regulated marijuana sales," Schweich added.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have so far legalized marijuana for adults. While at least 20 states will or have considered legalization bills this year, the most likely prospect for the next legal marijuana state is Michigan, where voters will have their say in November. In the meantime, Maine will be busy getting its pot shop regulations ship-shape and waving goodbye to Gov. LePage in the rearview mirror.

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The Feds Can Indict Marijuana Users for Buying Guns Even in States Where Pot Is Legalized

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 13:25
Just one way using even legal marijuana makes you a second-class citizen.

Less than a month ago, AlterNet published "4 Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second-Class Citizen," which enumerated some of the reasons marijuana legalization by itself is not sufficient to guarantee the rights of pot smokers. One of those reasons was the inability of marijuana users to own or purchase guns.

Under federal law, enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), all gun purchasers must fill out Form 4473, which asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

Last year, and just to make sure stoners got the message, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

The article noted that pot smokers who want to legally purchase a weapon would have to lie on Form 4473, but that they were unlikely to be caught and prosecuted.

That has changed. The U.S. attorney in Maine has now indicted two men on federal firearms charges for allegedly lying about their marijuana use on the gun purchase form.

Donald Henderson, 33, of Winthrop, was indicted for alleged false statements while buying a pistol from a local gun shop in February 2017 and again while purchasing another pistol the following month. The indictment alleges he checked the box saying he was not a marijuana user when he in fact was.

And Richard Quattrone, 48, of Augusta, was also indicted for lying on a federal firearms license in March 2017. The indictment says he purchased a pistol from the same local gun shop as Henderson and checked the box saying he was not a user of marijuana or controlled substances when he was in fact "an unlawful user of marijuana."

The federal prosecutors in Maine are on firm legal ground—the law is quite clear—but the question now becomes whether a political backlash can rein them in. That's what happened when law enforcement officials in some states tried to order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

The Jeff Sessions Justice Department, where ATF resides, is unlikely to be as swayed by angry public opinion as state officials in legal marijuana states, and that suggests that people who use marijuana need to really think twice before filling out that Form 4473. If they tell the truth, they will be barred from purchasing a gun; if they lie, they could be charged with a federal criminal offense and sent to prison.

If you're a pot smoker and really, really want to buy a gun, you may want to stick to gun shows and private purchases, but you are still potentially liable for federal prosecution if you get caught with it and the local U.S. attorney wants to score a coup.

This is one more reason marijuana legalization is only half the battle.



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The Deadliest Drug in America At the Heart of Trump's VA Nominee Scandal

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 02:18
For the first time in a while, pundits and politicians were talking about the drug that kills more people than any other each year in the U.S.

I’m talking about alcohol, which upstaged opioid abuse in news coverage recently, but only after Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson withdrew his name for consideration to head Veterans Affairs, in part because of allegations that he has abused alcohol. Jackson has denied any problem with alcohol.

This provides an opportune time to discuss the seriousness of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol contributes to 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, more than double the number of people, 42,000, killed by heroin and opioid prescription drug overdose in 2016. Excessive drinking accounted for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults.

In addition, more than 66.7 million Americans reported binge drinking in the past month in 2015, according to a report by the surgeon general.

As someone who has studied alcohol use disorder for over 15 years and who has treated thousands of patients who have it, I think it’s a major, yet often poorly understood, public health problem.

A social lubricant

Alcohol can be a quick and easy way to get into the spirit of a celebration. And it feels good. After two glasses of wine, the brain is activated through complex neurobiochemical processes that naturally release dopamine, a neurotransmitter of great importance.

When the dopamine molecule locks on to its receptor located on the surface of a neuron, or basic brain cell, a “buzz” occurs. It is often desirably anticipated before the second glass is empty.There are those, however, who drink right past the buzz into intoxication and, often, into trouble. For them, the brain starts releasing the same enjoyable dopamine, no different than what happens in the casual drinker’s, but it doesn’t stop there. A compulsion to binge drink can result.

Binge drinking, defined as drinking five or more drinks for men and four for women on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days, is a medical condition that victimizes the comparative malfunction of the pleasure circuits in the brain.

The three stages of addiction

The alcohol addiction process involves a three-stage cycle: binge-intoxication, withdrawal-negative affect, and preoccupation-anticipation.

It begins in the neurons, the basic type of brain cell. The brain has an estimated 86 billion of these cells, which communicate through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

Neurons can organize in clusters and form networks in order to perform specific functions such as thinking, learning, emotions and memory. The addiction cycle disrupts the normal function of some of these networks in three areas of the brain – the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

The disruptions do several things that contribute to continued drinking. They enable drinking-associated triggers, or cues, which lead to seeking alcohol. They also reduce the sensitivity of the brain systems, causing a diminished experience of pleasure or reward, and heighten activation of brain stress systems. Last, they reduce function of brain executive control systems, the part of the brain that typically helps make decisions and regulate one’s actions, emotions and impulses.

These networks are critical for human survival. Unfortunately for the binge drinker, they become “hijacked,” and the bingeing continues even after the harmful effects have begun.

Because binge drinkers’ brains feel intense pleasure from alcohol, there is a powerful motivation to binge drink again and again. What may begin as social binge drinking at parties for recreation can cause progressive neuro-adaptive changes in brain structure and function. The brain is no longer well enough to function normally. Continued partying can transition into a chronic and uncontrollable daily pattern of alcohol use. These maladaptive neurological changes can persist long after the alcohol use stops.

Your brain on alcohol

During the binge-intoxication stage, the basal ganglia rewards the drinker with pleasurable effects, releasing dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for the rewarding effects of alcohol and creating the desire for more.

With continued bingeing, the “habit circuity” is repeatedly activated in another part of the basal ganglia called the dorsal striatum. It contributes to the compulsive seeking of more alcohol. This explains the craving that is triggered when a binge drinker is driving by a favorite bar and can’t resist pulling in, even after a promise to go directly home after work.

During the withdrawal-negative affect stage, there is a break from drinking. Because the reward circuit has a diminished ability to deliver a dopamine reward, there is far less pleasure with natural, safe experiences such as food and sex, compared to alcohol.

During abstinence from alcohol, stress neurotransmitters such as corticotropin-releasing factor and dynorphin are released. These powerful neurochemicals cause negative emotional states associated with alcohol withdrawal. This drives the drinker back to alcohol to gain relief and attempt to reestablish the rewards of intoxication.

After a period of abstinence from alcohol, which may last only hours, the drinker enters the preoccupation-anticipation stage. This involves the prefrontal cortex, where executive decisions are made about whether or not to override the strong urges to drink. This part of the brain functions with a “go system” and “stop system.”

When the go circuits stimulate the habit-response system of the dorsal striatum, the drinker becomes impulsive and seeks a drink, perhaps even subconsciously. The stop system can inhibit the activity of the go system and is important especially in preventing relapse.

Brain imaging studies show that binge drinking can disrupt the function in both the go and stop circuits. This interferes with proper decision-making and behavioral inhibition. The drinker is both impulsive and compulsive.

An illness that can be treated

Scientific evidence shows that this disorder can be treated.

The FDA has approved three medications for treatment that should be offered whenever appropriate. There is well-supported scientific evidence that behavioral therapies can be effective treatment. This includes recovery support services, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Most importantly, it is important to know that alcohol use disorder is a brain disorder causing a chronic illness. It is no different from diabetes, asthma or hypertension. When comprehensive, continuing care is provided, the recovery results improve, and the binge drinker has the hope of remaining sober as long as lifelong treatment and maintenance of sobriety become a dedicated lifestyle choice.

Jamie Smolen, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Florida

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

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New York Times Feature Seriously Ponders Whether We Should Let People Addicted to Drugs Die

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 10:10
The piece asks how many "second chances" are deserved.

Over the weekend, as the journalism world fiercely debated whether it’s OK to make fun of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the New York Times—without stirring much controversy—asked if doctors should let people die if they’re addicted to drugs.

“Injecting Drugs Can Ruin a Heart. How Many Second Chances Should a User Get?” the headline of a large feature piece wonders. The article details the frustrations doctors face dealing with the fallout from the opioid crisis. That includes having patients doing drugs in the hospital, a phenomenon one doctor likens to “trying to do a liver transplant on someone who’s drinking a fifth of vodka on the stretcher.”

People who inject drugs are susceptible to blood infections, which can lead to endocarditis, a catastrophic condition that requires a surgeon to patch a heart back together with one or more artificial valves. The procedures are expensive, and doctors or hospitals are not happy to do them on repeat for people who continue to do drugs. So the piece seems to ask, in all earnestness, whether it makes sense to deny people with a deadly condition treatment if they seem likely to relapse.

The piece centers around 28- year-old Jerika Whitefield, a Tennessee mother who lands in the hospital half-dead from endocarditis after injecting meth. “Her whispered appeal to a skeptical nurse: “Please don’t let me die. I promise, I won’t ever do it again.”’ The article goes on to explain that doctors tell her this would be the last time they would operate on her if she keeps shooting up. Her step-father recalls that one doctor admitted he would not try very hard to save her life. “He said once someone’s been shooting up, you go through all this money and surgery and they go right back to shooting up again, so it’s not worth it,” Mr. Mignogna recalled. “I was just dumbfounded,” the article notes.

Whitefield gets a redemption narrative. She appears to have stopped doing illegal drugs, even as she continues to suffer from the serious health complications of endocarditis and the anxiety of being treated like a pariah by the medical establishment. Others, who are nameless in the piece, aren’t as lucky.

“A little over a year ago, [Dr. Pollard] replaced a heart valve in a 25-year-old man who had injected drugs, only to see him return a few months later. Now two valves, including the new one, were badly infected, and his urine tested positive for illicit drugs. Dr. Pollard declined to operate a second time, and the patient died at a hospice. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he said.

It’s not entirely clear if the doctor opted out of operating on the 25-year-old man because he thought he was too sick to make it through the procedure, or if he chose to let him die because he assumed he’d keep doing drugs. It’s also not clear if Jerika Whitefield’s doctors really meant to follow through on their threat not to operate on her in the future or if the warning was a tactic to scare her straight. But the idea that medical professionals should refuse to treat a patient who fails to curb their addiction is highly questionable.

Dr. Jana Burson runs a MAT (medically assisted treatment) clinic in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where she administers buprenorphine and methadone to over 500 patients. She sees the struggles people go through to kick their addictions and she doesn’t think medical professionals should treat people battling addiction any differently than other patients.

“I think it’s a horrible idea,” Dr. Burson tells Raw Story. “Same as refusing to prescribe insulin for a diabetic who may not follow her diet. I don’t think we want to start down that road. Could we refuse to treat emphysema in patients who are still smoking? Where would it end?”

Widney Brown, Managing Director at the Drug Policy Alliance, points out how irrational it is to deny people treatment as some sort of tough love approach to addiction, when there policies that work to help people.

“The simplest point is that if we had comprehensive harm reduction practices for people who inject drugs—like sterile needle exchanges and safe consumption sites—they wouldn’t be getting heart infections. With harm reduction, you reduce the risk of complications.”

Also, why single out people who use drugs? “People engage in risky behavior all the time. Everytime you get in a car, you put on a seat belt and have an air bag (which is harm reduction) because driving is risky. Yet we stigmatize drug use as the kind of risk where we don’t want to allow people access to what can reduce harm. We’re more into stigmatizing this group of people rather than help them figure out how to not have bad health outcomes as a result of drug use.”

Brown, who previously worked for the medical ethics organization Physicians for Human Rights in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Syria, says physicians shouldn’t be arbiters of morality.  “They’re there to heal. At a minimum do no harm, at a maximum help people live in the best way. They’re not the ones who should be deciding that this person is not worthy of medical treatment because of what they do.” In war zones, doctors are ethically bound to treat people based on need, not based on whose side they’re on, Brown says. “If an enemy is shot up, they’re compelled to treat the person who needs it most, not based on whether they’re a good or bad person.”

America’s war on drugs continues to rely on judgmental, punitive approaches, rather than public health strategies—with poor outcomes.  “So you drive people underground, and you’ve got them using drugs in the most dangerous way—at the same time you’re not funding treatment. In that context of doing nothing to ensure people are making good choices about drugs—whether to do them in a safer way or to quit—and then we decide not to save this person’s life because they do drugs?”

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Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Banks' Ongoing Assault on Us Meets the Definition of 'Terrorism'

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 23:13
Click here for reuse options! The terror they inflict on Americans is very real. Various definitions of terrorism have been proposed in recent years, by organizations such as the FBI, the State DepartmentHomeland Security, and the ACLU. Some common threads persist throughout the definitions: violence, injury or death, intimidation, intentionality, multiple targets, political motivation. All the criteria are met by pharmaceutical and oil and financial companies. They have all injured and intimidated the American public, and caused people to die, with intentionality shown by their refusal to acknowledge evidence of their misdeeds, and political motives clear in their lobbying efforts, where among all U.S. industries Big Pharma is #1, Big Oil is #5, and Securities/Investment #8. 

The terror inflicted on Americans is real, and is documented by the facts to follow. 

Big Pharma: Qualifying for Trump's Call for Capital Punishment for Drug Dealers 

In a Time Magazine article a young man named Chad Colwell says "I got prescribed painkillers, Percocet and Oxycontin, and then it just kind of took off from there." Time adds: "Prescriptions gave way to cheaper, stronger alternatives. Why scrounge for a $50 pill of Percocet when a tab of heroin can be had for $5?" About 75% of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin. 

Any questions about Big Pharma's role in violence and death in America have been answered by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Journal of Public Health. Any doubts about Big Pharma's intentions to intimidate the public have been put to rest by the many occasions of outrageous price gouging. And any uncertainty about political pressure is removed by its #1 lobbying ranking

As for malicious intentions, Bernie Sanders noted, "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured." Purdue Pharma knew all about the devastating addictive effects of its painkiller Oxycontin, and even pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the drug’s risk. Now Purdue and other drug companies are facing a lawsuitfor "deceptively marketing opioids" and ignoring the misuse of their drugs. 

No jail for the opioid pushers, though, just slap-on-the-wrist fines that can be made up with a few price increases. But partly as a result of Pharma-related violence, Americans are suffering "deaths of despair"-- death by drugs, alcohol and suicide. Suicide is at its highest level in 30 years

Big Oil: Decades of Terror 

Any doubts about the ecological terror caused by fossil fuel companies have been dispelled by the World Health Organization, the American Lung Association, the United Nations, the Pentagon, cooperating governments, and independent research groups, all of whom agree that human-induced climate change is killing people. 

The oil industry's intentionality and political motives have been demonstrated by their refusal to admit the known truth, starting with Exxon, which has covered up its own climate research for 40 years, and continuing through multi-million dollar lobbying efforts by Amoco, the US Chamber of Commerce, General Motors, Koch Industries, and other corporations in their effort to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol against global warming. 

Big Banks: Leaving Suicidal Former Homeowners Behind 

Any doubts about the violence stemming from the 2008 mortgage crisis have been resolved by studies of recession-caused suicides. Both the British Journal of Psychiatry and the National Institutes of Healthfound definite links between the recession and the rate of suicides. 

As with Big Pharma and Big Oil, intentionality and political motives are evident in the banking industry's lobbying efforts on behalf of deregulation -- leading to the same conditions that threatened American homeowners in 2008. There has also been a surge in the number of non-bank lenders, who are less subject to regulation. 

Making it all worse are private developers, who make most of their profits by building fancy homes for the rich. And by avoiding affordable housing. Since the recession, Blackstone and other private equity firms -- with government subsidies -- have been buying up foreclosed houses, holding them till prices appreciate, and in the interim renting them back at exorbitant prices. 

This is leaving more and more Americans out in the cold -- literally. A head of household in the U.S. needs to make $21.21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at HUD standards, much more than the $16.38 they actually earn. Since the recession, the situation has continually worsened. From 2010 to 2016 the number of housing units priced for very low-income families plummeted 60 percent. 

Here's the big picture: Since the 1980s there's been a massive redistribution of wealth from middle-class housing to the investment portfolios of people with an average net worth of $75 million. It's not hard to understand the "deaths of despair" caused by the terror inflicted on people losing their homes.   Click here for reuse options!
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Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 08:21
Click here for reuse options! We are increasingly marketing drugs that essentially "cure" anti-authoritarians.

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by 1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians; and 2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.  

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.  

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.  

Why Mental Health Professionals Diagnose Anti-Authoritarians with Mental Illness

Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance with authorities, even those authorities one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one. 

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.  

In graduate school, I discovered that all it took to be labeled as having “issues with authority” was not kissing up to a director of clinical training whose personality was a combination of Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Howard Cosell. When I was told by some faculty that I had “issues with authority,” I had mixed feelings about being so labeled. On the one hand, I found it amusing, because among the working-class kids I had grown up with, I was considered relatively compliant with authorities. After all, I had done my homework, studied and received good grades. However, while my new “issues with authority” label made me grin because I was now being seen as a “bad boy,” I was also concerned about just what kind of profession I had entered. Specifically, if somebody such as myself was labeled as having “issues with authority,” what were they calling the kids I grew up with who paid attention to many things that they cared about but didn’t care enough about school to comply there? Well, the answer soon became clear.  

Mental Illness Diagnoses for Anti-Authoritarians

A 2009 Psychiatric Times article titled “ADHD & ODD: Confronting the Challenges of Disruptive Behavior” reports that “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), are the most common mental health problem of children and teenagers. ADHD is defined by poor attention and distractibility, poor self-control and impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ODD is defined as a “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior without the more serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder”; and ODD symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” 

Psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading authorities on ADHD, says that those afflicted with ADHD have deficits in what he calls “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of established authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. ODD young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities, also have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior, and so it is extremely common for young people to have a “dual diagnosis” of AHDH and ODD. 

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”? 

Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well. Albert didn't pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However, Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert's problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, “The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.” At age 13, Einstein read Kant's difficult Critique of Pure Reason—because he was interested in it. Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s “unbearable” path of a “practical profession.” After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.” The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.  

By today’s standards, Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would have certainly been diagnosed with one or more disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Alinsky also recalls a time when he was 10 or 11 and his rabbi was tutoring him in Hebrew:

One particular day I read three pages in a row without any errors in pronunciation, and suddenly a penny fell onto the Bible....Then the next day the rabbi turned up and he told me to start reading. And I wouldn’t; I just sat there in silence, refusing to read. He asked me why I was so quiet, and I said, “This time it’s a nickel or nothing.” He threw back his arm and slammed me across the room.

    Many people with severe anxiety and/or depression are also anti-authoritarians. Often a major pain of their lives that fuels their anxiety and/or depression is fear that their contempt for illegitimate authorities will cause them to be financially and socially marginalized, but they fear that compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death. 

    I have also spent a great deal of time with people who had at one time in their lives had thoughts and behavior that were so bizarre they were extremely frightening for their families and even themselves; they were diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses, but have fully recovered and have been, for many years, leading productive lives. Among this population, I have not met one person whom I would not consider a major anti-authoritarian. Once recovered, they have learned to channel their anti-authoritarianism into more constructive political ends, including reforming mental health treatment. 

    Many anti-authoritarians who earlier in their lives were diagnosed with mental illness tell me that once they were labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis, they got caught in a dilemma. Authoritarians, by definition, demand unquestioning obedience, and so any resistance to their diagnosis and treatment created enormous anxiety for authoritarian mental health professionals; and professionals, feeling out of control, labeled them “noncompliant with treatment,” increased the severity of their diagnosis, and jacked up their medications. This was enraging for these anti-authoritarians, sometimes so much so that they reacted in ways that made them appear even more frightening to their families.  

    There are anti-authoritarians who use psychiatric drugs to help them function, but they often reject psychiatric authorities’ explanations for why they have difficulty functioning. So, for example, they may take Adderall (an amphetamine prescribed for ADHD), but they know that their attentional problem is not a result of a biochemical brain imbalance but rather caused by a boring job. And similarly, many anti-authoritarians in highly stressful environments will occasionally take prescribed benzodiazepines such as Xanax even though they believe it would be safer to occasionally use marijuana but can’t because of drug testing on their job. 

    It has been my experience that many anti-authoritarians labeled with psychiatric diagnoses usually don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities. 

    Maintaining the Societal Status Quo

    Americans have been increasingly socialized to equate inattention, anger, anxiety, and immobilizing despair with a medical condition, and to seek medical treatment rather than political remedies. What better way to maintain the status quo than to view inattention, anger, anxiety, and depression as biochemical problems of those who are mentally ill rather than normal reactions to an increasingly authoritarian society?

    The reality is that depression is highly associated with societal and financial pains. One is much more likely to be depressed if one is unemployed, underemployed, on public assistance, or in debt (for documentation, see “400% Rise in Anti-Depressant Pill Use”). And ADHD-labeled kids do pay attention when they are getting paid, or when an activity is novel, interests them, or is chosen by them (documented in my book Commonsense Rebellion). 

    In an earlier dark age, authoritarian monarchies partnered with authoritarian religious institutions. When the world exited from this dark age and entered the Enlightenment, there was a burst of energy. Much of this revitalization had to do with risking skepticism about authoritarian and corrupt institutions and regaining confidence in one’s own mind. We are now in another dark age, only the institutions have changed. Americans desperately need anti-authoritarians to question, challenge, and resist new illegitimate authorities and regain confidence in their own common sense. 

    In every generation there will be authoritarians and anti-authoritarians. While it is unusual in American history for anti-authoritarians to take the kind of effective action that inspires others to successfully revolt, every once in a while a Tom Paine, Crazy Horse or Malcolm X come along. So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”  

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    Marijuana's Midwest Breakthrough: Michigan to Vote on Legalization in November

    Wed, 04/25/2018 - 19:21
    The Wolverine State could be the first to free the weed in the heartland.

    The Midwest could soon see its first state end marijuana prohibition. State officials in Michigan announced Tuesday that a marijuana legalization initiative has enough valid voter signatures to appear on the November ballot. Polls in the state suggest it will win.

    That would be a major breakthrough for legal marijuana. So far, legalization has been limited to West Coast, Rocky Mountain, and New England states, but a victory in Michigan this fall would free the weed in a major Midwest state. Legal marijuana would no longer be limited to the country's fringes, but would have a home in the heartland, and that would lay the groundwork for a more rapid erosion of pot prohibition at the state level.

    There's a chance some other state could beat Michigan to the punch—there are legislative efforts still alive in several states—but legalizing weed at the statehouse has proven to be a frustrating, years-long task. With a ballot initiative, voters accomplish as much (if not more and better) in one fell swoop.

    It's not absolutely official yet—the state Board of Canvassers is set to formally certify the count on Thursday—but the Board of Elections announced Monday that it counted 277,370 valid voter signatures, nearly 10 percent more than the 252,523 required to be approved for the ballot.

    The initiative, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, would:

    • Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use and up to 10 ounces at home.
    • Legalize the cultivation of up to 12 plants, as well as the fruits of the harvest.
    • Tax marijuana sales at a rate of a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level as well as a 6 percent sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
    • Split those revenues with 35 percent going to K-12 education, 35 percent to roads, 15 percent to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities and 15 percent to counties where marijuana businesses are located.
    • Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
    • Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2.5 ounces, but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes.
    • Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the issue, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, including growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
    • Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.

    The initiative was put together by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a combined effort of veteran state activists and the ACLU of Michigan and national drug reform groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. It was built on the back of a 2016 initiative campaign that came up just short on signatures.

    The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November, riding as it does pot's ever-increasing wave of popularity. A February poll had support for legalization in Michigan at 57 percent, while a March poll came in at 61 percent. Those are the kinds of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

    Support for legalization has also seeped into the state Democratic Party, with all four Democratic gubernatorial candidates now behind it. Ditto for the state attorney general race, with both Democrats now embracing legalization.

    No mainstream Republicans have embraced the initiative, but there have been reports that state GOP politicians are now considering passing a legalization bill in the legislature in a bid to blunt voter turnout in what they fear could be a Blue Wave election. They worry that the chance to vote for marijuana could produce an electorate more likely to throw them out of office.

    They may well be right. The day after election day, Michigan could wake up to both legal marijuana and a Democratic majority in the state House and/or Senate. Wouldn't that be something?



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    'Pot Is Over': Cheech & Chong Tell Stephen Colbert They've Moved On -- To More Illicit Substances

    Tue, 04/24/2018 - 06:05
    The legendary stoner duo said marijuana became too mainstream.

    For legendary stoners Cheech & Chong, smoking marijuana was thrilling partly because of the fact that it was illegal and rebellious.

    But as views towards legalized pot have shifted quite dramatically in recent years, and using pot has become more mainstream, the duo has decided it's time to move on from their typical stoner comedies. Instead, they explained, it was time to dive into "edgier territory."

    It all began on Monday night when "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert said he still couldn't stop thinking about the news that former House Speaker and "maple-glazed American" John Boehner had completely changed his tune on marijuana.

    Earlier this month Boehner was appointed to the board of advisors at Acreage Holdings, a multi-state cannabis business that aims to "make cannabis available to any patient who can benefit from safe and reliable access." After serving as a GOP lawmaker who was staunchly opposed to progressive marijuana legislation, he announced that his "thinking on cannabis has evolved."

    "Wow," Colbert said. "In one sentence he came around on three things Republican congressman normally don't: cannabis, evolution, and thinking."

    Colbert explained that he needed to check in with two experts in the field, none other than Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.

    Colbert pointed out that marijuana has essentially became mainstream, and asked if the pair thought that was a good thing.

    "Actually Stephen, we think this news sucks," Marin said. "I mean, pot used to be rebellious."

    Chong chimed in, "Yeah, now crusty old Republicans like John Boehner are into it."

    "Pot's over man!" he added.

    The two said they were not excited about legalization, because it's "boring."

    "The last time I bought weed it was in a store in a strip mall," Marin said.

    "Well where'd you used to buy it?" Colbert asked.

    Marin quipped, "Behind a store in a strip mall."

    Chong announced that the iconic duo was no longer doing stoner comedies. But they reassured Colbert they weren't quitting comedy and were just moving onto "edgier territory stuff, stuff that's still illegal," such as unpasteurized dairy products.

    The two explained they were into other illicit stuff as well, like "importing exotic reptiles," and "taping an distributing football games without the express-written consent of the NFL."

    Watch the full segment below:

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    These Five States Lead the Nation in Marijuana Arrests

    Tue, 04/24/2018 - 02:23
    Click here for reuse options! More than half a million marijuana arrests were made in 2016.

    Texas law enforcement make more annual marijuana arrests than do police in any other state, according to newly reported arrest data compiled by Jon Gettman, associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University.

    Of the nearly 531,000 marijuana arrests reported to the FBI in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, an estimated 12 percent of arrests occurred in Texas. (Marijuana arrest data for the states of Florida, Illinois, and Washington, DC were not reported that year.) Six addition states – Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia – also reported 20,000+ marijuana arrests in 2016. Here is a look at the top 5 states on this list.


    Texas has long been the statewide leader in marijuana arrests and 2016 was no exception. Police made 64,949 cannabis-related arrests that year, 98 percent of which were for simple possession. Under state law, all of these offenders face up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a lifelong criminal record.

    Lawmakers in 2017 introduced legislation seeking to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses, but members of the House of Representative failed to hold a vote on the issue. As a result of this inaction, DA’s in various Texas cities, like Houston and San Antonio, have recently enacted municipal ‘cite-and-release’ programs. Under these local policies, defendants who successfully complete a pre-trial diversion program are shielded from receiving a criminal record.



    As in past years, New York City remains the marijuana arrest capitol of North America. Despite repeated pledges from NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio that he would discourage the NYPD from making low-level pot arrests, city cops nonetheless made over 18,000 marijuana arrests in 2016 – comprising nearly half of the 36,997 total cannabis arrests statewide.

    Ironically, lawmakers in 1977 decriminalized minor marijuana possession offenses – an act that should have halted the majority of these arrests. However, a loophole in the state law continues to allow for police, at their discretion, to bump charges up to a criminal misdemeanor in instances where they say the marijuana was “open to public view.” Repeated legislative attempts in recent years to close this loophole have been unsuccessful.



    Despite growing support among Garden State voters in favor of the outright legalization of cannabis, annual marijuana arrests in New Jersey have skyrocketed in recent years – up some 25 percent since 2014 to total 35,700 in 2016. This spike in marijuana law enforcement occurred under former Governor, and long-time anti-pot zealot, Chris Christie. By contrast, newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize adult marijuana use.

    Since taking office, Gov. Murphy has stood firm on his pledge. In March, he moved forward with regulatory changes to greatly expand patients use of and access to medical cannabis. More recently, during his 2019 budget address, he double-down in his support for regulating the drug as opposed to simply decriminalizing it.

    “I greatly respect those in this chamber who have proposed decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and I thank them for recognizing the importance of doing what's right and just for those who carry criminal records for past possession arrests. But decriminalization alone will not put the corner dealer out of business, it will not help us protect our kids, and it will not end the racial disparities we see,” he said. “If these are our goals – as they must be – then the only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults.”



    Police in the Keystone State made 23,844 arrests for marijuana-related crimes in 2016. Eighty-three percent of those were for simple possession. Nonetheless, there are some signs of progress. In recent years, Philadelphia politicians have moved forward with efforts to aggressively reduce the number of minor marijuana arrests in the city. Specifically, this past February, newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office will cease prosecuting marijuana possession offenses altogether. Other cities, including Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and State College, Pennsylvania have also adopted municipal decriminalization ordinances in recent years. The state’s Democrat Governor, Tom Wolf, is also on the record in support of decriminalization statewide, tweeting last month: “I support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. [We] shouldn’t focus on incarcerating people for [the] possession of small amounts of marijuana.”



    Like in New Jersey, marijuana arrests in the Show Me State have risen significantly in recent years – totaling 22,462 in 2016. Fortunately, many of those facing low level possession charges no longer face the threat of jail time, as per legislation enacted on January 1, 2017. Under the new law, marijuana offenses involving the possession of ten grams or less face a fine, but not incarceration. Those found guilty of possessing greater amounts, however, face up to one year in jail.

    Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013) and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws (Whitman Press, 2015).


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    Marijuana Is Now Expected to Become a $25 Billion Industry by 2025

    Mon, 04/23/2018 - 19:41
    The bud business is getting bigger and bigger.

    The American marijuana industry should hit $25 billion in sales by 2025, according to the latest estimate by the industry analytics firm New Frontier Data. That would put pot in the same league as such well-established industries as radio, video games, children's toys, and the market research industry.

    The research firm released updated data on industry sales projections on Friday as a teaser for its U.S. Cannabis Report: 2018 Industry Outlook, due to be released next month.

    New Frontier estimated the size of the industry this year at $8.3 billion and predicted that the recreational and medical marijuana industry will grow at a compounded annual rate of 14.7 percent, creating a $25 billion market within the next seven years.

    Recreational marijuana will account for the bulk of the increase, New Frontier said. While medical marijuana sales are expected to increase at a compound annual rate of 11.8 percent, recreational sales are projected to go up by 18.4 percent. At those rates, by 2025, the recreational and medical marijuana markets will be the same size.

    "Across the globe, we have seen massive expansion as more than 50 countries are legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis. However, the United States continues to lead the way in cannabis consumption in legal medical and adult use markets. With a number of states expected to advance cannabis legalization measures in the next 24 months, more Americans will be able to access legal cannabis in the years to come," Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, New Frontier Data’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

    Notably, the analysis is based only on growth in those states that have already legalized medical and/or recreational use and does not assume that any other states will do so. That means $25 billion is probably a low-ball figure, given that a number of other states are likely to legalize recreational use before 2025.

    Buds have become big business, indeed, and are destined to get even bigger.



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    Are Psychedelics the Answer to Addiction and Depression?

    Sun, 04/22/2018 - 09:27
    A new generation of research into psilocybin could change how we treat numerous mental health conditions

    Roland Griffiths was trying to meditate – but he couldn’t do it. If he sat there for a few minutes, it felt as through hours were stretching out before him, like a long, slow torture. So he quit. This tall, thin young scientist, who was rapidly rising through the ranks of academic psychology, would not meditate again for twenty years — but when he returned to mindfulness, he became part of unlocking something crucial. Professor Griffiths was going to make a breakthrough — just not for himself, but for all of us.

    I came to Roland Griffiths’ door towards the end of a 40,000-mile journey, from Sydney to Sao Paulo to San Francisco. I set out on this trek to interview the world’s leading experts on what causes depression and anxiety, and what really solves them, because I had been downcast and acutely anxious for much of my life, and the solutions I had been offered up to then hadn’t taken me very far.

    Everywhere I went for my book "Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions," I heard people talking excitedly about the new research into psychedelics that was slowly creaking open. Until the mid-1960s, many reputable scientists had set up clinical trials where they gave these drugs — either plants or synthetic chemicals which induce an altered mental state – to people suffering from depression, alcoholism, and other problems. They had some quite striking early findings – and then, in a cultural panic, the research was slammed shut by the Nixon administration.

    And then came Roland Griffiths.

    * * *

    Professor Griffiths had been a young grad student when he walked away from his attempts at meditation, pissed off. As the years passed, he rose to become a leading Professor of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland, one of the best academic institutions in the world. He rose, he says, by being “certifiably workaholic,” or “pretty close to it.” He became the leading expert in the world on the effects of caffeine, and he was like a personification of his drug: wired, and tightly-wound. He was succeeding on all the measures of success in his world – but he felt like there was a hole in his life. It was, he told me “as though in some respects I was going through the motions of being a scientist and having a career in science.” He found himself thinking back across the decades, to his aborted stab at mindfulness. He started to look to see if there was any scientific evidence for the benefits of mindfulness – but he quickly saw that in his academic world, it was almost heresy to talk about the deep inner self. This was not regarded as real science.

    He went to an ashram – and found that this time, he could meditate after all. “This inner world started to open up — and I started to open up,” he said. The people he was meeting who had been meditating for years seemed — as he observed them — to have a spiritual dimension to their lives that really benefited them in all sorts of ways. They appeared calmer, and happier, and less anxious.


    So Roland started to ask himself some basic questions. What is happening when a person meditates? If you meditate in a dedicated way, for long enough, most people say that they start to experience a spiritual change. Why did meditation make people feel they were being changed in a way that was mystical — and what did that even mean? He stumbled across the psychedelics studies from the 1960s, and it seemed to him that the way people described feeling when they took psychedelics was very similar to the way people described when they were in a state of deep meditation. He began to wonder if they were, in some strange sense, two different ways of approaching the same insight. Could investigating one unlock the secrets of the other?

    So he did something bold. He applied to conduct the very first clinical trial on a psychedelic since the ban a whole generation before. He wanted to give psilocybin, a naturally occurring chemical found inside “magic” mushrooms, to “respectable” citizens who had never used it before, to see if they would have a mystical experience — and to discover what the longer-term consequences, if any, would be.

    “I have to say, frankly, that I was a skeptic,” he told me one afternoon as we drove across Baltimore. When he got the permission to proceed, people were startled. They assumed it was because the regulators thought Roland, with such a solid reputation, could only find that these drugs were harmful.


    So dozens of ordinary professional people were recruited in Maryland. We want you, the advertisements said, to do something unusual.

    * * *

    Mark didn’t know what to expect as he walked into Roland’s lab. It had been decorated to look like a living room in an ordinary home, with a sofa, and soothing pictures on the wall, and a carpet. He was a straight-laced forty-nine-year-old financial consultant who had never taken a psychedelic before; he hadn’t even smoked cannabis.

    He responded because he had become divorced from his wife a few years earlier and become depressed. He had been taking an antidepressant for four months, but it was just making him feel sluggish. Now he was worried about himself. He felt he kept everybody at arm’s length, and never really connected to them.

    This had begun when Mark was ten years old and his father had developed a heart problem — a defect in one of his valves. One day he suddenly started experiencing terrible pain, and as Mark watched him get into the ambulance, he knew instinctively he would never see his father again. In the months and years that followed, Mark’s mother was so lost in her own grief that she couldn’t discuss the death with the boy, and nobody else did, either. “I think I just stuffed it all. I think I just went into denial mode,” Mark told me. It was the beginning of a pattern for him — of hiding, in order to protect himself.


    As he lay on the sofa in the pretend lounge, his anxiety understandably flared. This was to be the first of three sessions in which he was given psilocybin. At the Baptist church he went to, they used to give the teenagers little comic strips about a man who took LSD and thought his face was melting. He couldn’t stop and had to be taken to a psych ward — and never recovered.


    He lay down on the sofa, and when he was comfortable, he was handed a small psilocybin pill to swallow. Then, calmly, he looked at some images of landscapes in a book with his guide through the experience, Dr. Bill Richards, and then Bill placed a blindfold over Mark’s eyes and put some headphones on him, playing gentle music. And within forty-five minutes, Mark started to feel something different. “I could feel my mind getting looser,” he said to me.

    The scientists had explained to him in the long preparation process that calling these drugs “hallucinogens” is a bit of a mistake. A true hallucination involves seeing something that isn’t there and thinking it’s as real as the device on which you’re reading this article — a physical object in the world. That’s actually very rare. It’s more accurate, they said, to call them “psychedelics”—which in Greek means, literally, mind-manifesting. What these drugs do is draw things out of your subconscious and bring them into your conscious mind. So you don’t hallucinate—rather, you will see things in the same way you see them in a dream, except you are conscious; and at any given moment, you will be able to talk to your guide, Bill, and know he is physically present, and know that the things you are seeing as a result of the drug are not physically there.


    “There’s no visual experience of the walls turning or anything like that,” Mark told me. “It’s totally dark. And all you hear is this music as a means of grounding you—and then it’s just internal visualization . . . I would say [it is like] dreaming awake,” except he could remember it all afterward, vividly—“as vividly as anything in my life.”

    * * *

    As he lay back on the sofa, Mark felt he was paddling in a great cool lake. He started wandering up and down, and he could see there were different coves around him, and that there would be inlets from those coves. He sensed intuitively — as you do in a dream—that this lake symbolized all of humankind. All of us empty out into this lake, he thought — all our feelings, all our longings, all our thoughts.

    He decided he was going to explore one of these coves. He hopped from rock to rock, all the way up the stream, and he felt something was calling him to keep going, deeper, deeper. He then reached a sixty-foot waterfall and stood before it in awe. He realized that he could swim up it, and he thought that when he got to the top of the waterfall, he would be wherever he wanted to go in life, and “the answer would be there for me.”


    He told Bill, his guide, what was happening. “Drink it in,” Bill said.

    When Mark reached the top of the waterfall he saw a little fawn in the water, drinking from the stream. It looked at Mark and said “There’s some unfinished business here for you to take care of,” from your childhood. “This is something that you need to take care of if you want to continue to evolve and grow.”


    Now, at the top of this waterfall, Mark felt for the first time in his life that it was safe to approach the grief he had hidden away since he was ten years old. He followed the fawn farther down the river and he found an amphitheater. And there, waiting for Mark, was his dad, as he had been that last time Mark saw him.

    Mark’s father explained that he was going to tell him some things he had wanted to be able to say to him for a long time. First of all, he wanted Mark to know that he was fine. “That he had to leave,” Mark recalls, “and he felt bad about it, but [he said] ‘Mark—you are perfect just the way you are, and you have everything you need.’”

    Mark cried when he heard that, in a way he had never cried for his father before. His father held him, and he said: “Mark, don’t hide. Go seek.”


    Then, later, Mark met another a smiling guide – a man who had come to help him through this journey, he said. He reached inside him, and he began to pull out a great slew of concrete walls. The guide said: “Mark, we need to talk to this part of you.” The guide said to the walls: “You have done an amazing job for Mark. You have protected him. You have created incredible works of art for him—these beautiful walls you created for Mark, these trenches, this scaffolding which has protected Mark for many, many years and got him to this place. We need to make sure you’re okay with taking these [walls] down so you can experience what’s next.”


    “And it was done with such love,” Mark told me. “No judgment.’” And the frightened parts of Mark consented to let his walls come down. And as he did, Mark realized that close by, he could see people he had loved, who had died—his father, and his aunt—applauding him.

    Mark knew then—“this whole journey, everything I had experienced, this whole push, was to say—life is for living. Go out and live. Go out and explore, and enjoy, and just take it all in.” He had an intense sense of the beauty of being alive, of being human—“the magnificence of it, the wisdom of it, it was just overwhelming.”

    And then he began to feel the drug wearing off, and it was “like you were back in your own ego,” as he puts it. He had arrived at Johns Hopkins at nine o’clock, and he left at five thirty. When his girlfriend, Jean picked him up, she asked him how it had gone, and he had no idea what to say.

    * * *

    In the months that followed, Mark found he was able to talk about his father in a way he never had before. He had a strong sense that “the more open I am, and the more revealing I am, the more I’m going to get from anything.” He felt his anxiety had—to a significant degree—been replaced with a sense of wonder. “I felt I was able to be a little bit more human with people,” and he even started to go to ballroom dancing with his girlfriend, something he would have had to be dragged to kicking and screaming before.

       * * *

    Part of the job for Roland — the skeptical scientist who was running this experiment — was to interview everyone who had been given psilocybin, two months after the experience. These people would come in, one by one, and their answer was almost always the same. Routinely, they would say it was “one of the most meaningful [experiences] of my life” and compare it to the birth of a child, or the death of a parent. Mark was typical. “It struck me as kind of wildly implausible at first,” Roland said to me. “My immediate thought was — what kind of life experience did these people have [before the experiment]? But they were high-functioning, mostly professional-level people.”

    Some 80 percent of people like Mark still said, two months later, that it was one of the five most important things that had ever happened to them.

    This was the first of many striking results they found when they gave psylocibin to patients. They tried administering it to long-term smokers who had tried everything to give up. Incredibly, 80 percent of them quit, and remained non-smokers a year later. To give a comparison point: the next most successful tool for quitting smoking, nicotine patches, works for 17 percent of people. This has opened up an array of studies currently looking at whether it can help with other forms of addiction.

    Roland’s work played a key role in re-opening the gates of psychedelic research across the world. I also traveled to interview the scientists who have done this work in Los Angeles, New York, London, Sao Paulo, and Oslo. They have all made startling discoveries. For example, a team working at University College London gave psilocybin to people who had severe depression and hadn’t been helped with any other form of treatment. It was only a small preliminary study without a control group, so we shouldn’t overstate it, but they found that nearly 50 percent of patients saw their depression go away entirely for the three-month period of the trial.


    So what, I wanted to know, is happening here?

     * * *

    Whatever is happening, all the scientists involved warned that people should not lightly decide to try these experiences. If meditation is the beginners’ ski-slope, Dr Bill Richards told me, psychedelics are the Olympic slopes. They should only be tried in carefully monitored circumstances, where you can be monitored by people with deep experience.

    * * *

    I learned that within all this research, there are two smaller findings – ones that I think begin to tell us what is really going on here. They show us the power of these substances – and their limitations. At first glance, they will seem a little strange.

    Here’s the first one. When you take a psychedelic, most people will have a spiritual experience – you get a sense that your ego-walls have been lowered, and you are deeply connected to the people around you, to our whole species, to the natural world, to existence. But it turns out the intensity of the spiritual experience varies from person to person. For some people, it will be incredibly intense; for some people, mild; and some people have no spiritual experience at all. At Johns Hopkins, the team discovered that many of the positive effects correlate very closely with the intensity of the spiritual experience. So if you had a super-charged spiritual experience, you got the benefits very heavily; and if you had no spiritual experience, you didn’t have many positive effects.



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