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The Assassination of Fred Hampton, Surveillance of Civil Rights Leaders, and Harassment of Black Lives Matter Just Business as Usual for Law Enforcement

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 15:34
Click here for reuse options! The criminalization of drug use is an easy excuse to surveil and control populations.

On this day 49 years ago, Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party of Self-Defense State chairman, was drugged and assassinated by the Chicago Police Department (with the assistance of the FBI). Just another day of law enforcement doing its job.  

In the United States, the role of law enforcement is to maintain “law and order” first and foremost. Moreover, law enforcement, especially the FBI, has historically played a major role in stifling social movements that seek to disrupt or dramatically alter the social order of the US.

From the violent strike-breaking and union-busting of the late 19th and early 20th century, to the surveillance of anti-war and civil rights leaders during the Vietnam era, to the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members and other political prisoners that continues to this day, US law enforcement does an especially good job of quelling the dissidence of oppressed peoples, no matter how peaceful the leader.  

Take Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lauded today as the shining example of peace, equality and the “proper” way to protest, MLK was targeted and jailed by local police and surveilled by the FBI from December 1955 until his assassination in 1968.

The US government doesn’t take well to unrest, and the creation of laws and their ultimate enforcement are the prime means of subduing any agitation. The war on drugs is a prime example of this, as described in this infamous quote by Nixon aide John Ehrlichman:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” 

The criminalization of drug use is an easy excuse to surveil and control populations. In the effort to restore and maintain law and order, blacks and Latinos are policed, arrested, incarcerated and criminalized at disproportionate rates for drug use and sales, despite the fact that white people sell and use drugs at the same, if not slightly higher, rate.  

The collateral consequences of this mass criminalization include the destruction of families, disenfranchisement rates that mirror those of the Jim Crow-era, school-to-prison pipelines, the creation and perpetuation of an economic and social caste system, and modern day slavery. Targeted traffic stops, violent SWAT raids and incessant racialized searches, known as stop-and-frisk, in search of drugs are daily reminders that the drug war is the justification to create a police state of black and Latino communities in order to maintain and control these populations.

The mass policing and criminalization does not stop at local law enforcement. Just as the FBI labeled the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations and leaders “black extremist groups” and surveilled and infiltrated their ranks, the FBI’s creation of the category “black identity extremist” (following the emergence of groups like Black Lives Matter and celebrities like Colin Kaepernick who speak out and protest against police brutality and mass criminalization), is just history repeating itself.  

Moreover, the Trump administration is doing all in its power to be harsher on enforcing our racist drug laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement of $12 million grant funding for state and local law enforcement in an effort to combat the opioid crisis, money that could be better used to increase access to evidence-based treatment, illustrates the longstanding truth: maintaining law and order comes before saving lives.

Today, as we remember the life of an electrifying liberator, let us not forget the truth of his death. Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago Police Department as he lay in bed drugged and unconscious next to the pregnant mother of his child. The FBI, with use of an informant, coordinated this attack. His death was an act of police brutality. His death was government-sanctioned murder. His death was an assassination. Most of all, his death was law enforcement doing its job.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

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As Kratom Use Surges, Some States Enact Bans

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:48
An estimated 3 million to 5 million people are using kratom and reporting positive results, but some states are bringing down the ban hammer.

CARRBORO, N.C. — On a sunny November afternoon in this quiet college community, a steady stream of customers walks through the doors of a local cafe called Oasis for a cup of an increasingly popular herbal beverage. The menu offers coffee, black tea, beer, wine and pastries, but nearly everyone opts for a $5 mug of kratom (pronounced KRAY-dum).

A powder ground from the leaves of an indigenous Southeast Asian tree related to the coffee plant, kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) offers pain relief and mood enhancement, similar to prescription painkillers.

Advocates say the substance, which does not depress the respiratory system and therefore presents little to no overdose risk, could help reduce the nation’s reliance on highly addictive and often deadly prescription painkillers. Some addiction experts also argue the plant could be used as an alternative to methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol in medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction.

Used for centuries to fight fatigue, pain and anxiety in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Thailand, kratom was rarely taken in the United States until recently.

Now, with growing concerns about the dangers of prescription painkillers, an estimated 3 million to 5 million people are using kratom and reporting positive results, based on information from retailers. But worries that the unregulated plant product could be abused for its mild euphoric qualities and users could become addicted are spurring federal officials to issue public health warnings — and a handful of states and cities to impose bans.

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have banned kratom, along with at least three cities — Denver, San Diego and Sarasota, Florida. Legislation was considered last year in at least six other states — Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina.

Animal studies have shown that kratom use may lead to addiction. But user surveys indicate that although the herb can be habit-forming, withdrawal symptoms are no worse than those encountered when quitting coffee, sugar or certain herbal supplements. Withdrawal symptoms, which typically last three to four days, include muscle aches, cravings, a runny nose, restlessness and mood swings.

The Drug Enforcement Administration last year said it intended to classify the herbal supplement as an illegal Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, LSD and marijuana. But after public demonstrations, letters from Congress and a petition with more than 142,000 signatures, the agency put the proposal on hold.

Last month, Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb issued a public health warning, citing 36 deaths in which kratom was present, but not necessarily the cause. About 50,000 Americans die of drug overdoses each year. In addition, the FDA, which has been seizing imports of kratom at U.S. ports since 2013, stepped up import enforcement.

The agency also cited a 10-fold increase in kratom-related calls to poison centers between 2010 and 2015 — from 26 calls to 263, out of roughly 2.2 million calls a year. And Gottlieb warned about the unknown risks of using kratom to treat opioid addiction, saying he fears some kratom may have been laced with opioids, and that the FDA needs to conduct more study on the plant’s potential benefits.

In response, the American Kratom Association, a Colorado-based advocacy and lobbying organization, issued its own analysis of FDA data on adverse drug events, calling the kratom numbers “incredibly insignificant in the broader context” of drug-related deaths and adverse reactions.

All Kinds

At Oasis, no one seems concerned about the hubbub in Washington. Owner Robert Roskind says the controversy has only improved business by focusing attention on what he says is still a little-known plant with huge benefits and few drawbacks. “Except for the rare upset stomach or lightheadedness, it has helped nearly everyone,” he said. “And it’s cheap. I have about 300 customers and most come here several times a week. Some buy take-home packages.”

With subdued lighting, soft music and mystical artwork, Oasis has a peaceful vibe. Customers are happy to talk about their reasons for taking kratom, and they vary widely.

A group of University of North Carolina students from nearby Chapel Hill sit on floor pillows in a corner, reading and working on laptops. Kratom sharpens their focus when they need to study for an exam, one student said. “It’s like coffee without the jitters.”

A 27-year-old tattooed chef from Brooklyn said he started drinking kratom to relieve withdrawal symptoms after he decided to quit heroin on his own three months ago. A conservatively dressed 22-year-old fraternity brother said kratom has helped him stop binge drinking.

A woman in her 40s, recovering from brain cancer therapy, says it relieves her anxiety and improves her sense of well-being. Two women who work with preschoolers say it lowers their stress level. And a 29-year-old construction worker says it keeps his fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain and fatigue, at bay so he can get up and work every day.

Even among the diverse crowd here at Oasis, Bob Whyte, a well-dressed 80-year-old businessman from Chapel Hill stands out. A self-described straight-laced “boy scout,” he said he’s been drinking kratom three times a day to relieve severe back pain from failed surgery.

“I’d been taking tramadol and hydrocodone consistently for two years when I found out about kratom,” he said. Whyte said his doctors didn’t want him to keep taking the highly addictive prescription painkillers, and they had no objections when he told them he was switching to kratom.

At first, Whyte said he was a little fearful about trying the plant-based medicine. Roskind gave him a kratom brownie and suggested he eat half of it at home.

“I picked a day when I wouldn’t be driving and sat on the front porch and had half a brownie. I waited a half-hour and felt fine, so I had the other half. That’s when I had a little happy moment there on the porch,” he said sheepishly.

Since that July morning, Whyte said he’s figured out what dose is best for him — enough to bring his pain down to a tolerable level without feeling drowsy. Now he says he’s telling everyone he knows about kratom.

Research Needed

Despite rave reviews from kratom users, most physicians and researchers argue that research using human clinical trials is needed to accurately determine the leaf powder’s potential harms and benefits. They also insist that oversight of commercial sales of the plant is needed to ensure consumers are getting high-quality, uncontaminated products.

But scientists and other stakeholders differ about whether sales of the plant should be curtailed in the meantime.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine argued in comments to the DEA last year that the whole botanical product, like the powder sold at Oasis, should be made illegal to prevent people with addictions from trying to use it to recover. Since three FDA-approved medications exist that have proven safe and effective, using kratom to treat opioid addiction presents an unnecessary risk for people with addictions, the group said.

At the same time, they recommended that what appears to be the plant’s primary active ingredients, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, should remain legal so they can be researched for their pain relief and addiction treatment potential.

Oliver Grundmann, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, has surveyed kratom users and found that very few report becoming addicted and most use it to treat chronic pain, mental health conditions and drug addiction.

“I’m questioning whether we are doing any good by banning kratom,” Grundmann said. If states and the federal government make kratom illegal, he said, it would not only slow the progress of research, but it would also leave many kratom users no choice but to switch back to painkillers or heroin. 

 

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How to Save Lives in the 'Overdose Capital of America'

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:31
A new documentary streaming on Netflix is a window into what it’s like to be on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

Heroin(e) is a powerful film that follows the stories of three women in Huntington, West Virginia, who are battling the opioid crisis on its front lines. Drug addiction is so common in Huntington, the “overdose capital of America,” that it’s weaved into the fabric of everyday life. In one scene, paramedics work to revive an overdose victim at a convenience store while people step around the commotion and move along the checkout line as if nothing is happening.

Fire Chief Jan Rader is the first responder who carries not only the film, but also the weight of the crisis in her community as she works to save as many people as possible and get addicts into long-term recovery. Judge Patricia Keller is part mother-hen, part school principal, doling out encouragement and discipline with equal compassion. Necia Freeman, a volunteer with a local church group, drives around at night providing food, shelter and help to those teetering on the edge.

Opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, having killed 64,000 Americans in 2016, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. President Trump had promised to designate the crisis a “national emergency,” which would have prompted more federal dollars to help. Instead, he recently declared it a “public health emergency,” to the consternation of his critics.

I spoke with filmmaker Elaine McMillon Sheldon, who co-produced Heroin(e) with the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Chief Jan Rader about the growing epidemic, treatment options and making the film.

Titi Yu: Chief Rader, what did you think about the president’s announcement and how do you think it will affect your work as a first responder?

Jan Rader: Well, I guess we will see. In my mind it’s a good first step and I hope it’s backed up with more to come. Certainly opening up telemedicine in the rural communities is a help, because we do have a lack of providers. Bringing in [federal grant funds to target those with opioid addictions, part of Trump’s declaration] is going to help that, but it’s going to take further steps to deal with this epidemic.

TY: From your perspective, what does that look like? Is it more money?

JR: It’s such a complex issue. We’ll just take probably anything. But in our area, the No. 1 issue is that we have a bottleneck at detox. In Cabell County, with a population of 96,000 people, we only have eight detox beds. That’s important, because people have to go into detox before they go into recovery.

The other problem is that the eight detox beds we do have are not medically assisted, and we desperately need them to be. It’s almost inhumane because if they don’t die from detoxing off of opiates, they wish they were dead. So if we had medically assisted detox we’d have a lot more people willing to detox and get into long-term care.

Elaine McMillon Sheldon: And also Naloxone right, Jan?

JR: Oh yes, we use any and all Naloxone donations that we get. That’s where I would hope that Big Pharma would step up to the plate. You have to be alive in order to get into long-term care. Naloxone’s key to keeping people alive.

TY: So tell me more about Naloxone; what does it do?

JR: Opioids latch onto receptors in the brain that actually suppress the respiratory system. And if you stop breathing, or you’re not breathing sufficiently for five to six minutes, then you’re brain dead. Then the heart stops working. It’s critical to get to people as quickly as possible when they overdose. What Naloxone does is it knocks the opiate off those receptors so they start breathing again. That is key, and sometimes [people] wake up instantaneously.

TY: How expensive is Naloxone?

JR: You know, my department is quite poor. So for me to carry Narcan [the brand name for Naloxone], I have to accept donations. If we don’t have Narcan, we provide rescue breathing until Cabell County EMS arrives. For a nasal dose, you’re talking about $50 a dose. We had Evzio [a naloxone auto-injector], and those are [as much as $4,500] a box and there are two doses in the box.

The good thing about our area is that not only did our health department start applying [for] grants so first responders can carry Naloxone, but they were also handing out free Naloxone to friends and families of those suffering from substance use disorder. Over 1,100 lives have been saved without intervention from first responders. For parents with an adult child that’s suffering from substance abuse disorder, they at least can sleep a little better at night knowing that they have a reversal drug to give to their own child if they overdose. So I think we need to continue to supply as much Naloxone to the general public as we possibly can.

TY: So Elaine, what prompted you to want to make this film?

EMS: You can’t live in West Virginia and not know that this problem has been impacting us for many years. Today, because of the headlines, everybody knows what’s going on here. But we’ve been experiencing this crisis since the ’90s, with the pill mill and then with heroin. I grew up in Logan, West Virginia, where right down the street a so-called doctor from another state set up shop in a cinder block building with no furniture, and had a woman just sitting there with a full bag of prescriptions, handing them out, day after day.

So this is part of growing up here. You knew it was happening. Once I got to high school and then college, it started taking classmates from me. We started seeing more people either dying or imprisoned for felonies such as robberies, to get drugs. Some of my friends have had their children taken away from them and put in the foster-care system. I didn’t want to speak about this subject for a long time because the majority of the media focuses on the bleak and dire circumstances of an addict. I don’t have it in me to put that kind of suffering on screen. I wanted to produce something that would hopefully guide us forward.

When I met Jan, Patricia and Necia, I found them very inspiring. They make Huntington a part of the West Virginia that we should be proud of, a leader in the state. The film was a chance to not only highlight the women doing this work but also what the average citizen can do to help save a person’s life or to help make change. I think we need more stories like these today.

TY: There was a scene where Jan says she’s worried about how the younger medics are dealing with the increase in the number of deaths they see every day. I imagine there are moments that must have had a profound impact on you as well.

EMS: I was really conflicted about that. I talked to Jan quite a bit about all the ethical choices around filming someone hitting rock bottom. That is not something we took lightly, and honestly it was quite difficult for me. And if it wasn’t for us focusing our efforts on the first responders including Jan, I don’t know that I could have done that. But I was filming people who were helping save a life and that gave me the motivation to keep on filming. What I’ve seen is nothing compared to what first responders have to deal with day in and day out.

TY: Can you tell us a bit more about the court-appointed drug rehab program?

JR: Judge Keller, who by trade is a family court judge, is an amazing person. She doesn’t get paid to do drug court; she just does it on her own, pro bono. She really cares about individuals and she’s not willing to give up on people when they screw up. I can’t speak for her, but we have had many conversations on her goals. I look for Judge Keller to do wonderful things as a family-court judge, because if we treat one person, the triggers are still there in the family. But if you treat the whole family, then you really tackle it from a holistic point of view — you’re doing away with the triggers. A lot of people are unsuccessful in long-term treatment because they get better and then they go right back into the same household with the same family members nagging them or not understanding. There’s so much collateral damage and family members need counseling and treatment also, whether they’re using or not. I looked at some models in New England where they do a home health-care model with addiction counseling. They treat people in their homes with their family units and it’s quite successful.

EMS: When we talk about addiction, I think one of things for me is the tremendous brain drain from the state. Young people leave every day and our death rate is higher than our birth rate. But what scares me is that we have such a high population of young people who are addicted. Once they do get clean, it’s really hard for them to return home. I’ve been making a film about four guys going through recovery and the ones that return to the same environment they left didn’t do well.

TY: Jan, in a very emotional scene, you thanked Mickey, an addict, for teaching you more than he would ever know. What did you mean by that and how has doing this work changed your life?

JR: I was very blessed; I grew up in with a family who loved me and provided for me. I never had to want for anything. We weren’t rich, but we always had food in our bellies and clothing and things like that. I was never beaten or mistreated and my parents always gave back to their community. So starting out as a first responder — and I’m an old medic and I went to nursing school — I was never taught anything about what addiction truly is. And there was a lot of ignorance surrounding substance use disorder.

But Mickey in particular — he’s such a nice guy. My education has come through dealing with the Mickeys of the world and dealing with those with substance use disorder. It’s like there has to be a better way. Why are we treating people poorly? Why are we not embracing them and trying to lift them up? And Mickey, I had him as an overdose case multiple times and he was a very belligerent user. He would get very angry when we would catch him using. And that’s how I knew him. I’d get an overdose call, and when I see Mickey’s address, I would think, “Oh this is gonna be a doozy.”

[Phone rings in the background] We have an overdose right now, just so you know.

Mickey’s a man who started using at age 8. His mom was getting drunk and high and he had no life. All he knew was getting high until he was 34 years old, when he got clean. He’s super intelligent and funny. He let go of all that anger that he had. They always say that drugs kill your brain cells. Well, I can’t imagine how smart he would be or what he would have been able to accomplish had he not suffered like that as a young boy. He was physically and sexually abused when he was growing up. And it’s just like, “How in the world can he be that resilient?” I can’t imagine that I would have survived that. What an amazing person to go through that. And now he’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s involved in his children’s life, which he had never been before. And Mickey teaches us so much about humanity. I mean, who am I to judge? I didn’t take an oath to judge; I took an oath to save lives. I just saw him the other day, happy as he can be. His wife was just diagnosed with cancer for the second time. They were in recovery together and now they are clean together. It’s just a humbling experience to know people like Mickey.

TY: So I guess the question is, and I think you’ve already answered it in a way, but: How do you stay hopeful?

JB: How dare I say that I’ve had a bad day because I’ve seen three overdoses when somebody lost their child or their sister or their wife or husband. How dare I think I had a bad day, you know what I mean? Now if I have a bad day, somebody else always had a worse day. I know not all first responders look at it that way, but maybe someday they’ll connect the dots and realize, “You know what, I don’t have it so bad,” because I really, truly believe that every one of us is just one bad time of our lives away from addiction.

TY: Elaine, do you have thoughts on that as well? About being hopeful, because despite the bleakness of the topic, you made a very hopeful film.

EMS: I think one of the reasons I was drawn to Jan, and the other women too, is trying to understand how they stay hopeful. And I think we give up on people too easily. What I love about what they’re doing here in Huntington is the belief in a second chance and a third chance. It’s really remarkable to see Jan even on a bad day find purpose in what she’s doing. It’s a lesson on being a good person and a good people within humanity take care of each another.

One of the reasons why I think addiction has taken over so many communities is that we’ve lost each other. We live isolated from each other, and our society is at a point where we feel like we don’t need another. I think seeing a crisis like this shows us how much we really do need one another.

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State Courts Slap Down Cops on Outrageous Over-the-Top Pot Raids

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 12:39
Click here for reuse options! There's this thing called the Fourth Amendment...

With the federal judiciary increasingly the domain of conservative jurists, state courts may not be the first but the last resort for people seeking redress of grievances against the state. And they are stepping up: In two recent rulings, state courts in Florida and Michigan have thrown out marijuana cases because of dangerous, overly aggressive SWAT-style raids.

In the Florida case, a heavily armed SWAT team of Collier County Sheriff's deputies hoping to seize two dozen pot plants growing in the back yard of Juan Falcon's home arrived at his front door at 7am, yelled that they were police, and broke down his door with a battering ram, throwing two flashbang grenades into the home for good measure.

As the state's Second District Court of Appeal noted in its ruling that the search was illegal, police knew they were hitting a family residence with two children in the home, that Falcon had no criminal record, and that he posed no threat of violence.

Florida law allows "knock and announce" searches, where police can forcibly enter a residence when homeowners fail to respond in a timely fashion to their demands to open up. But in a unanimous decision authored by Judge Susan Rothstein-Youakim, the appeals court held that police in this case went too far:

At just past 6:45 a.m. on April 9, 2014, a SWAT unit of at least six heavily armed deputies appeared on the front doorstep of Falcon’s residence to execute a search warrant. Less than an hour earlier, the deputies had all been briefed on the fact that Falcon lived in the residence with his family, which included an adolescent son and a teenage daughter. Notwithstanding the nature of the suspected offense, the deputies had no reason to believe that there were any weapons in the residence or that Falcon was armed and dangerous; his criminal history consisted of one arrest for driving under the influence. The deputies also had no reason to believe that Falcon knew that they were coming, that anyone inside the residence was at risk of harm, or that Falcon or his family might try to escape or destroy evidence.

Not only were the cops overly aggressive given the totality of the circumstances, Rothstein-Youakim concluded, they violated the "knock and announce" law by announcing their presence, but then breaking down the door "with such haste that the occupant does not have a reasonable opportunity to respond."

The court reversed Falcon's conviction for maintaining a marijuana grow house.

In the Michigan case, the state Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion, throwing out the convictions of two Kent County jail guards for possessing marijuana-infused butter after Kent County narcotics agents conducted predawn raids without warrants on their homes. One raid came at 4am and the other at 5:30am.

The Kent County narcs insisted the warrantless raids were proper because they were only doing "knock and talk" interactions with the suspects. Under the state's "knock and talk" law, police can go to someone's home without a warrant and engage them in hopes of turning up suspicious behavior. In these cases, heavily armed police appeared in the middle of the night, demanded entrance to the homes, and the intimidated homeowners and their families consented to the search.

The jail guards later challenged the legality of those searches, and in a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court agreed the searches were unlawful:

In these cases, the police officers exceeded the scope of the implied license to knock and talk because the officers approached defendants’ respective homes without warrants during the predawn hours; therefore, the officers trespassed on Fourth-Amendment-protected property. And because the officers trespassed while seeking information about defendants’ alleged possession of marijuana butter, they performed searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the wake of that ruling, the trial judge in the case ruled last month that the marijuana-infused butter seized in the raids could not be used as evidence because police had violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

Police conduct thousands of these SWAT-style drug raids each year. In rare cases, the resort to paramilitarized SWAT teams to go after drug suspects in middle of the night raids resembling combat operations may be justified, but in all too many cases, they amount to dangerous overkill. It's a shame that elected officials fail to rein them in, but at least some state courts still uphold the Constitution. 

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Will Citizens Be Able To Grow Their Own Marijuana In New Jersey?

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 11:50
If there's no home cultivation, it's not really legalization.

Since Phil Murphy became governor elect, replacing the nation’s least popular governor in history, Chris Christie, New Jerseyites have been waiting with bated breath to see cannabis become legal. Some out of worry, but most out of pure excitement.

Murphy promised to legalize recreational cannabis within his first 100 days in office. While there was already a bill introduced in January, it has stayed in committee and in Assembly respectively, with Christie’s foot firm on the brakes.

Legislators and advocates are working on drafting a new bill now, as they acknowledge that the older bill needed some tweaking to pass the Legislature.

To answer the above question on home cultivation, the answer is a strong maybe. In the current bill the answer is no, no growing your own, however, that could change with the new bill. Kate Bell from the Marijuana Policy Project says that they are advocating strongly for home grow inclusion and they seem to be making progress with their case, according to NJ.com.

As to the rest of what we know about the existing bill, adults 21 and over will be able to possess up to one ounce of dried cannabis. Only towns that allow recreational sales will stand to benefit from the tax revenue. Best of all, those whose criminal records consist of nonviolent cannabis “crimes” will be eligible to have their records expunged.

Criminal justice is one of Murphy’s main reasons for wanting to dispel of prohibition. He knows the numbers and that black and brown people are arrested and incarcerated at much higher levels than whites, while data shows that people of all races use cannabis at around the same rate.

A new, diverse market is about to open in New Jersey, and diversity is one of the original bill’s points. It calls for women and minorities to be given the chance at licenses to grow or distribute. It’s not all about the weed, it’s about jobs, justice, diversification, infrastructure and the tax revenue that will help in all areas.

And though the original bill doesn’t allow for public usage, there’s a great possibility that legislators have been doing their homework and know that places to consume are a must. Plus, MPP is already on it. New Jersey may have a new kind of social club sooner than later…

 

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Another 6,000 Tainted Massachusetts Drug Cases Get Overturned

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 11:29
That's in addition to another 21,000 earlier this year. Something is rotten in the Bay State.

BOSTON (CN) – Closing out a banner year for overturned drug convictions, the American Civil Liberties Union announced a 25 percent boost Thursday to the number of cases being dismissed by prosecutors over tainted evidence.

“Today we announce that multiple Massachusetts district attorneys are now poised to dismiss thousands of wrongful convictions due to evidence tainted by Sonja Farak,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, addressing reporters from the group’s offices in Boston. “This shameful history of misconduct keeps repeating itself.”

The Thursday morning press conference marks the second blast this year at drug convictions in the commonwealth tainted by laboratory misconduct.

More than 21,000 drug convictions were overturned in April based on their connection to Annie Dookhan, the disgraced Hinton State Laboratory chemist who went to prison after she admitted to having doctored the results about one in six of the criminal drug cases tried in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2012.

While Dookhan’s efforts served to goose her lab work, Farak at the Amherst drug lab pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine she was supposed to be testing.

The ACLU noted in a petition to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this fall that Farak was abusing a pharmacy’s worth of drugs on an almost daily basis from August 2004 until Jan. 18, 2013. During this time she “was under the influence of methamphetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, ketamine, MDMA, MDEA, LSD, cocaine, or other narcotics (or suffering withdrawal from those substances),” the petition said.

Attorneys at the ACLU want the evidence that crossed paths with Farak to meet the same fate as the Dookhan cases. They say the state attempted to conceal the extent of the damage.

“Upon finding out about Ms. Farak’s malfeasance, prosecutors mislead the public about the scope of the scandal,” said Rose. “Our primary purpose today is to seek justice for thousands of people who have been needlessly suffering.”

The ACLU’s Farak petition led the Supreme Judicial Court to demand that Massachusetts district attorneys produce a list of affected cases as well as a list of cases that they intended to dismiss.

They had until the end of the day Thursday to comply.

Five district attorneys announced ahead of the ACLU’s morning press conference that they were dismissing a total of 6,057 cases.

“Given the nature and extent of her misconduct, retesting the substances at issue is unlikely to yield a reliable result,” Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said. “The most appropriate step is to notify the court that we will not pursue any further litigation in any of the identified cases.”

Suffolk, which is home to Boston, is dismissing 135 cases. Hampden County accounts for the bulk of dismissed cases (3,940), while the Northwestern District DA, who handles Franklin and Hampshire counties, is dismissing the next highest number of cases (1,497). Middlesex and Worcester counties are dismissing 245 and 241 cases, respectively.

The remaining district attorneys released their numbers later Thursday, announcing the dismissal of roughly 1,000 more cases. Essex is dismissing about 500 cases, Bristol reported 203, Plymouth gave an estimate of about 100, and Norfolk reported 76. The DA of the three counties making up the Cape & Islands did not find any cases. Berkshire County was reportedly reviewing 600 cases but has not revealed how many it will dismiss.

Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said that her office did not submit any dismissals because they were not away of any cases from their office that were affected by Farak.

“It’s unfortunate that the ACLU chose to stage a press conference without reading the AG’s brief filed in this case, which calls for speedy relief for these defendants,” Fennimore said in an email. “Sonja Farak’s crimes were egregious and, as our filings today make clear, this office has been working hard to resolve these cases as quickly as possible. Staff in the AG’s Office have been working hard for months to review databases, identify the Farak defendants, and secure their speedy relief. For the ACLU to suggest otherwise is false and irresponsible.”

The ACLU brought its Farak petition with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the firm Fick & Marx.

“This case is a reflection of how a misguided war on drugs turned into a war on poor people and a war on people of color,” Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said Thursday. “It turns out that for thousands of people the system that sent them to jail or put them on probation was rotten to the core.

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Bugs, Mold, and Excrement: Welcome to the Brave New World of California Cannabis

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 12:21
Project CBD critiques the new regulations for America’s largest marijuana market--and it isn't pretty.

On November 16, 2017, California officials released a new set of regulations for cannabis manufacturing, testing, and growing. In many respects, these updates are a significant improvement to the initial draft regulations, however, some major problems remain. 

Two important issues pertain to regulations on mold and foreign filth, which are absurdly loose. And unlike the initial proposal, no statement as to the rationale behind the new regulations has been released.

Safety requirements

Allowable limits for contaminants including pesticides, solvents, and microbes are described in sections 5718-5723 of the new regulations. These regulations have fixed a major issue in the initial draft where two different units were confused – parts per million by weight (µg/g) and parts per million by volume. Now solvent and pesticide limits are given in µg/g.

Other significant changes:

  • Solvent limits are largely improved. Certain class 2 solvents have been banned, as Project CBD had previously suggested.
  • Pesticide limits have swung from being very strict to being overly lax. The environmental concerns related to pesticide overuse appear more problematic than the health effects for consumers.
  • Many pesticide safety limits are still based on regulations for tobacco, which is entirely inappropriate.
  • Required tests for microbial contamination are minimal.
  • Limits on mold – one of the most common contaminants of cannabis – are nearly nonexistent. A product is deemed to pass regulations if less than 1/4th of it is covered in mold.

Solvents - §5718

Solvents are broken into two categories for the purpose of regulations. Category 1 solvents are banned and are not permissible at any detectable levels in cannabis products. Category 2 solvents are allowed up to set action limits that depend on the solvent in question and whether the product is inhaled or not. Action limits for non-inhaled products were appropriate in the initial draft proposal and have not changed.

The initial proposed regulations allowed for the use of highly dangerous solvents, including benzene, which Project CBD suggested be banned from use in cannabis manufacturing. We also suggested that regulators consider banning “class 2” solvents such as chloroform, since they are unnecessary for producing most kinds of cannabis extracts.1 The new regulations now ban the use of benzene and some class 2 solvents like chloroform, but allow other class 2 solvents, including hexane. (Hexane is rarely used to extract oil from cannabis, but is sometimes used to clean the oil of pesticides or other adulterants.) Although Project CBD hopes that cannabis manufacturers avoid using hexane to extract or clean oil, we believe these regulations are appropriate.

Each permissible solvent has a maximum allowable concentration in inhaled cannabis products (e.g. vape cartridges). In the initial draft proposal, these limits were based on safety data from California’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), although the limits were improperly calculated due to confusion with units. (“Parts per million” can have multiple meanings, as mentioned above. See the previous Project CBD statement for more detail.) The new limits are particularly stringent for some class 2 solvents and are overly lenient for ethanol residues.2   On the whole, the new limits are sensible.

Pesticides - §5719

Similar to solvents, pesticides are broken into banned pesticides, which are not allowed at any detectable concentration, and allowed pesticides. The action limits for permitted pesticides depend on whether the product is inhaled or not.

The regulations were released with only 5 days for public comments – including the weekend – and were not accompanied by any statement of reasons explaining how new safety limits were determined. As such, Project CBD’s comments on the new pesticide regulations point out potential problems without necessarily suggesting how these issues could be fixed or their extent.

In the new regulations, the list of banned pesticides has shrunk dramatically, from 42 to 21. One of these now-allowed pesticides is a neonicotinoid (acetamiprid) and four others have “high acute toxicity” to humans, according to the initial statement of reasons (bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, naled, and abamectin). Most of the rest of the now-allowed pesticides were banned in the original proposal due to environmental concerns, including myclobutanil (often sold Eagle-20).

The initial set of draft regulations on pesticides were very strict in some regards. The limit of detection (LOD) – which is the lowest concentration of a compound that can be detected reliably – was arbitrarily set at 0.01 – 0.02 µg/g. This is lower than the actual LOD of pesticides in cannabis for most labs. This has changed – now labs will determine their LODs scientifically and list these LODs on lab reports.3 This is an important fix.

To reiterate: because no statement of reasons has been released, we do not know the rationale behind the limits for pesticides on non-inhaled products. But we can say with some certainty that it is not based on the relative safety of these pesticides.

Safe limits for pesticide ingestion are given as the acceptable daily intake (ADI) or acute reference dose (ARfD), and are reported by the World Health Organization. The ADI indicates a level of pesticide ingestion that is considered safe for chronic daily use, which makes sense for food or medicine. Converting the ADIinto a limit for a pesticide in cannabis products depends on the amount of product that is consumed. If the limits were based on safe ingestion limits, the ratio of the ADI to the action limit would be constant. In the current proposal, this ratio varies from 2.5 to 750, a 300-fold difference. Pesticides like trifloxystrobin, bifenazate, and permethrin have very high action limits compared to their toxicity when ingested.

It appears that the limits were not based on environmental concerns either: Of the seven least regulated pesticides (i.e. those with the highest allowable limits), five were originally banned due to potential ground water contamination.

For inhaled products, the limits still appear to be based on tobacco, as described in the initial statement of reasons. This may be because very little is known about the effects of heating or burning pesticides (an information vacuum attributable to lobbying from the tobacco industry). Some pesticides will, in fact, become safer when burned, while many others will break down to much more toxic compounds.

The EPA has previously stated that it need not study the health effects of burning pesticides at concentrations below 0.1 µg/g in cigarettes because those individuals are already smoking tobacco. After all, nicotine is the insecticide upon which neonicotinoids are based.

It may be true that inhaling less than 0.1 µg/g of most pesticides is safe. But regulations need to be based on scientific data. If safety data on burning and inhaling pesticides is not available, then the law should include provisions to be updated as new data emerges.

The outcomes of the tobacco industry’s war against science should never be used as the basis of safety regulations for another industry. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, killing roughly half a million people every year. This is precisely because the tobacco industry lobbied to ensure that scientific data on health and safety was not used to inform laws or regulations. That should not be the starting point for any aspect of the emerging cannabis industry.

Foreign material - §5722

The foreign material testing, described in §5722, is beyond the pale. §5722(e) states that:

A sample shall be deemed to have passed the foreign material testing if the presence of foreign material does not exceed:
(1) 1/4 of the total sample area covered by sand, soil, cinders, or dirt;
(2) 1/4 of the total sample area covered by mold;
(3) 1 insect fragment, 1 rodent hair, or 1 count mammalian excreta per 3.0 grams; or
(4) 1/4 of the total sample area covered by an 
imbeddedforeign material.

A small piece of chocolate weighs about 3.5 grams. 

Under the new regulations, a 16-piece chocolate bar would be considered acceptable if four pieces were covered in dirt, four more were covered in mold, and each of the 16 pieces had an insect part or rat poop on it.

Microbes - §5720

There is an unprecedented change in regulations on microbial contamination. Cannabis is not required to be free of mold nor are labs required to test for mold. The only limit on mold is given in (2) of the foreign filth section quoted above, which states that up to 1/4th of a product can be covered in mold.

Under the new proposal, products only need to be screened for three microbes: pathogenic E. coli, salmonella, and in the case of inhaled products, aspergillus. Since no statement of reasons were released with the regulations, it is not clear why 

California is so loose with microbes. Giving regulators the benefit of the doubt, it may be that they are trying not to restrict the use of beneficial microbes, an organic growing practice that uses non-harmful microbes as an alternative to pesticides. But mold is one of the most common contaminants on cannabis. It is absolutely essential to test for mold on cannabis, particularly when grown indoors.

Phase in of safety testing - §5715

The regulations have been released with just over a month before they will be implemented. To ease the burden on labs, testing will be phased in over the course of a year. This gives labs time to develop and validate methods for each kind of product and each kind of test.

On January 1, 2018, all legal products must be tested for cannabinoids, allowed solvents, banned pesticides, microbes, and product homogeneity.  On July 1, 2018, three additional tests will be required: banned solvents, allowed pesticides, and foreign material. On January 1, 2019, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and possibly terpenes will also be tested before sales.

Project CBD hopes that terpene testing will become more commonplace, as this will help to illuminate the therapeutic properties of these important plant components.

Other regulations

There are many important aspects of the new regulations that address issues beyond consumer safety. Here are some key points:

  • There is effectively no longer a limit on the size of grows. Each license allows a group or individual to grow up to one acre of cannabis, but there is no limit on the number of licenses a group can get. Project CBD shares the concerns of farmers who are worried that this will allow large-scale agriculture to push out smaller, more sustainable gardens. Privileging wealthy out-of-state investors and big players at the expense of family farmers is bad policy with unhealthy long-term implications for California’s economy and environment.
  • Law enforcement are allowed to copy the materials, records, and books of any employee of any licensed cannabis business. See §5800(a)(4).
  • Recreational products can’t be given away for free. Medical patients can be given free products through a compassionate care program, but this program must be run by a local jurisdiction, not a cannabis business. Moreover, only licensed retailers (e.g. a legal dispensary), not product manufacturers, can provide free products to patients. See §5411.
  • Medical patients under the age of 18 cannot be served at a dispensary. Their caregiver must buy product for them. See §5400(b).
  • Edibles are required to contain no more than 10 mg THC per serving and 100 mg THC per package. Other products must contain less than 1000 mg or 2000 mg THC per package, depending if the product is recreational or medical. See §40306.
  • Edibles cannot contain any other addictive substances, including caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Exceptions are made for cannabis chocolate, tea, and coffee. See §40300(b).
  • Labs are required to be certified by one of two groups (the International Standard Oganization or International Electrotechnical Commission). This will help ensure the accuracy and consistency of lab tests, which has been problematic in the past.
  • It is now much easier to get a license to do ethanol extraction, since it is considered a “nonvolatile solvent.” See the definition of “nonvolatile solvent” in §40100.

Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.

1 Solvents are classified into one of three groups by the FDA. Class 1 solvents like benzene are either very toxic or environmental hazards and should be avoided in manufacturing if at all possible. Class 3 solvents like ethanol and butane are fairly safe at low concentrations. Class 2 solvents like chloroform and dichloromethane are less dangerous than class 1 solvents, but should be avoided if the use of a class 3 solvent is possible.
2 This is not to say that the allowable limits are wrong. But compared to safety data from OSHA, limits are disproportionately lax for ethanol and strict for class 2 solvents.
3 A second number to be listed on lab reports is the limit of quantification (LOQ), which is at least as large as the LOD. The LOQ is the limit at which the concentration of a chemical can be accurately discerned. The range between the LOD and the LOQ is the range of concentrations where a test can show that a chemical is present, but cannot determine its exact concentration.
4 Products with multiple servings (e.g. a chocolate bar) will be tested every 6 months to ensure that every piece has roughly the same amount of cannabinoids in it. Specifically, the relative standard deviation must be less than 10% of the mean amount of each cannabinoid.

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Google Should Follow Apple's Lead and Remove Video Games Glorifying the Drug War in the Philippines

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 11:12
It's time for corporations to stop profiting off of Duterte's atrocities.

The President of the Philippines is responsible for a brutal drug war that has killed thousands of people in his country. He is also the protagonist in a series of online video games that glorify these murders. In these games, players act as Duterte and score points by eliminating “criminals”, “zombies”, and “people infected by drugs”, echoing the stigmatizing language used by Duterte himself in reference to people who use drugs. Up until yesterday, these games were widely available on Apple’s app store, as well as on Android’s Google Play store. Yesterday, Apple quietly removed the games from its store.

The removal of the games from Apple’s store comes after the Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ANPUD) released an open letter in October to Apple CEO Tim Cook calling on Apple “to immediately remove apps (games) that are promoting murder, extrajudicial killings, violence, and the war on drugs in the Philippines.” The letter was signed by 131 organizations, including human rights and drug policy reform groups.

Meanwhile, the Google Play store continues to host the offensive and gruesome games (some rated “E” for “Everyone”) glorifying President Duterte’s drug war. In September, we called on Google to take down these games.

Sign this petition: Tell Google Play to Remove Games That Glorify Duterte’s Horrific Drug War in the Philippines

President Duterte has championed a campaign that is responsible for the extrajudicial killing of more than 12,000 people, showing his complete disregard for due process or human rights. It seems pretty clear that these games violate Google Play's policy, which says, “We don’t allow apps that lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event.” Google should follow Apple’s lead and remove the video games that capitalize on the real tragedy that is unfolding in the Philippines.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

 

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Can Psychedelics Help Cancer Survivors Shake Death Anxiety?

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 21:57
Ask Eddie Marritz.

When Eddie Marritz was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma, which is the type of cancer typically found in lungs, he thought it was a death sentence.

He was with his wife Hannah when he got the news. “We were on the six train,” Marritz recalls. “I was holding onto a pole and not feeling too steady emotionally. I said to her, ‘This is the day I've been waiting for all my life. This is the day where the delusion that I'm going to live forever meets the reality of I'm going to get something and die.’”

Eddie eventually beat cancer. “In the spring of 2013, I had done four rounds of chemotherapy and in late June I was operated on and it was a bit to recover from,” says Marritz. “I mean, it was a four-hour operation. I have a new bladder. They took out my prostate.”

The chemo and operation were successful for Eddie, but he couldn't shake the anxiety of having come so close to dying. So he entered New York University's psilocybin cancer anxiety study, where he met Dr. Jeffrey Gus, a co-principal investigator in the study and Eddie's guide through the psychedelic experience.

During the Summer of Love in 1967, Dr. Jeffrey Gus was a teenager. “Life Magazine came into our home,” he says, “and when I read about LSD on college campuses I said, 'that is for me.' I wasn't able to actually become involved with it. So we passed each other. And it wasn't until the late '90s that I saw the return of psychedelics in psychiatry.”

In early 2007, Gus and his colleagues at NYU received an investigational drug license from the FDA and the DEA, as well as approval from the university to start the study. As part of the research they administered to cancer survivors the drug psilocybin, which is the technical term for the active ingredient found in what's commonly known as magic mushrooms.

“When people came to our study and they took psilocybin,” said Gus, “it was such a vastly different experience than a 22 year old who took mushrooms to go to a rave. The sense of being assaulted by noise and loudness and people versus being quiet and the expectation of reviewing your life to find meaning. Same medicine, right? Same molecule. But a very, very different meaning, context and intention.”

“When you're diagnosed with cancer, or anything that you know pretty much spells the potential for life to be finite, you can get pretty wrapped up in yourself," said Marritz. "I certainly did.”

“Some of the people in our study were cured of cancer, but they still had tremendous existential distress around having had cancer, the fear of relapsing with their cancer, and it still haunted them," said Gus. "So even though it was somehow gone from their body, it was still part of their psychic landscape. We saw people who had existential distress in reaction to cancer as having, in some ways, lost meaning in life. When you lose meaning in life, life is meaningless. It’s a kind of death and it leads to a quicker death. To find meaning is to be alive.”

To hear how Dr. Jeffrey Gus guided Eddie through the psychedelic experience to help treat his anxiety, listen to “The Bigger Picture.”

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A Tennessee Judge's Outrageous Abuse of the Drug Court System

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 13:09
Click here for reuse options! He's throwing people who tested positive for nicotine in the clink.

A Tennessee judge has taken the questionable logic of drug courts to a ridiculous and punitive extreme by jailing drug court participants for having smoked cigarettes.

That's right, Hamilton County Drug Court Judge Tom Greenholtz has taken it upon himself to punish people under his supervision for using a legal substance because he thinks doing so will give them a "better chance at life."

Earlier this month, he jailed a handful of drug court participants who came up positive for nicotine in court-mandated drug tests.

"We routinely test for nicotine as we do for other controlled substances," Greenholtz told Chattanooga TV station Newschannel 9, blithely ignoring the fact that nicotine is not a controlled substance under state or federal law and that cigarette smoking is not a crime.

As for throwing hapless drug court victims in jail for violating his arbitrary edict: "It shows how serious we are about combatting this," he said.

Drug courts first appeared in the 1990s as a response to the overflowing jails and prisons generated by the war on drugs and were designed to keep drug users out of prison by subjecting them to intense judicial oversight replete with jail cell punishments for people who relapsed while under supervision.

But from the beginning, while prosecutors and drug court judges give lip service to the widely accepted idea that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing medical condition, the drug court model punishes people for suffering that medical condition. And now, Judge Greenholtz has taken that paradox to a whole new level.

He is punishing people who may indeed be physically addicted to nicotine even though using or possessing nicotine is not a crime. That's what can happen when you let judges act like doctors.

As a means of dealing with drug-addicted people, drug courts are humane only in comparison with imprisonment. The vast majority of drug court participants are there solely because they got caught using or possessing drugs. In an enlightened society, we would either offer them assistance if they desire it or just leave them alone (not arrest them in the first place) absent harm to themselves or others. Instead, with drug courts, we subject them to intense judicial scrutiny and punish them for relapsing.

As the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a damning 2014 report on drug courts:

Drug courts have spread across the country, yet available research does not support their continued expansion. Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and fail to help those struggling with drug problems. The drug court model must be corrected to play a more effective role in improving the well-being of people involved in the criminal justice system who suffer substance misuse problems – while preserving scarce public safety resources.

Throwing people in jail for smoking does not appear to be "improving the well-being of people involved in the criminal justice system" or "preserving scarce public safety resources."

There is some scientific research suggesting that people who quit smoking cigarettes do better in recovering from drug dependency, but that research finds only small differences. That study found a mere 3% difference in recovery rates between people who had quit smoking and those who hadn't. And the people in the study who had quit smoking had done so voluntarily—not under threat of imprisonment.

People who had actually participated in the Hamilton County Drug Court had a different take.

Paula Brazzell told Newschannel 9 she had been addicted to pain pills for years, it took her several attempts to get clean, and that cigarettes helped.

"I think so, yeah," she said. "It calmed me down."

One of Brazzell's friends was part of the group Judge Greenholtz jailed for smoking this month. Brazzell couldn't believe it.

"You're taking up those cells, paid for by taxpayer dollars to put somebody in jail for failing a nicotine test? I mean come on," she said.

Drug courts are a very blunt tool with which to address drug dependency. They become even more questionable when used as social engineering to punish people who aren't committing any crime other than a social faux pas by smoking.  

 

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New Yorkers Say It's Time to Legalize Marijuana

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 12:05
Will Albany ever get around to heeding the will of the people?

 

 

New Yorkers Say It's Time to Legalize Marijuana

Legalize it, New Yorkers are telling their legislators. The majority of the Empire State said it’s time for lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing marijuana, with 62 percent of residents surveyed voting ...

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Science: Regular Consumption Of Marijuana Keeps You Fit And Active

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 11:53
Study confirms that cannabis consumers are more fit, remain more active.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Here’s a new health-related adage to consider: Regular consumption of marijuana keeps you thin and active.

According to researchers at Oregon Health and Science University, people who use marijuana more than five times per month have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who do not marijuana.

The researchers concluded:

“Heavy users of cannabis had a lower mean BMI compared to that of never users, with a mean BMI being 26.7 kg/m in heavy users and 28.4 kg/m in never users.”

The study also suggested that people who consume marijuana on a regular basis are more physically activity than those that use it sporadically or not at all.

Of course, this is not the first time scientific studies have reached this conclusion:

  • A study published last year in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics suggests that regular consumers of cannabis have a lower BMI than those who do not use the drug.
  • A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that cannabis consumers have 16 percent lower levels of fasting insulin and 17 percent lower insulin resistance levels than non-users. The research found “significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences.”
  • And data published in British Medical Journal in 2012 reported that cannabis consumers had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption.

In the 2016 study, lead author Isabelle C. Beulaygue from the University of Miami concluded:

“There is a popular belief that people who consume marijuana have the munchies, and so [they] are going to eat a lot and gain weight, and we found that it is not necessarily the case.”

Researchers have not identified the reason behind the findings. But some suggest that those who consume cannabis regularly may be able to more easily break down blood sugar, which may help prevent weight gain.

If you’re interested in exploring the benefits described above, check out our directory for stores near you.

 

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Opioid Users Are Building a Movement for Public Health Solutions to the Epidemic

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 14:14
Click here for reuse options! Addicts need less incompetent advice from Trump cronies and more funding for treatment.

The opioid drug epidemic is the largest public health crisis facing our country right now, taking the lives of 64,000 people in the U.S. last year. Each day, 90 Americans overdose on painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet, heroin, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

Although President Trump declared the opioid drug epidemic a public health emergency last month, the government needs to invest tens of billions of dollars to address a national crisis of this scale. Perhaps predictably, Trump’s toothless declaration was not accompanied by any additional funds.

Trump’s plans to gut defund Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act stand at odds with a serious attempt to fight the epidemic, which has devastated states in the Northeast and Midwest. As the largest provider of opioid addiction treatment and overdose prevention, Medicaid plays a critical role that has grown even larger since passage of the ACA. In the 31 states that expanded Medicaid coverage, 1.2 million people with opioid addiction gained access to health care.

In addition to not allocating any new funding to the public health emergency and attempting to gut affordable healthcare, Trump has appointed cronies like Chris Christie to head his opioid commission and Newt Gingrich as a paid advocate. When he first took office, Trump tasked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with solving the opioid crisis as part of an absurdly broad portfolio. In recent months, however, the scope of Kushner's responsibilities appear to have narrowed.

With these antics, Trump risks minimizing the grave national impact of the epidemic while aggrandizing the role of law enforcement in fighting the problem. Over the summer, he told reporters, “Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society. I’m confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement efforts we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.”

It is entirely reasonable to fear that Trump, instead of relying on medical providers and public health experts to offer evidence-based solutions, will listen to partisan advisers offering strongman solutions like increased policing, a ramped-up war against drug cartels, or so-called mandatory treatment, which in some cases is unpaid hard labor.

Already, the U.S. spends $100 billion a year on policing and another $80 billion on incarceration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intention to restart the war on drugs and double down on incarceration.

Even deadlier than the AIDS epidemic at its peak, the opioid crisis costs the U.S. nearly $80 billion a year, which includes costs from health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. The opioid emergency needs real solutions and the funding for them, not half-measures and showboating.

This is why opioid users and their allies have launched the Opioid Network, a diverse, multiracial coalition of health care providers, drug users, community organizing groups and families from around the country. Many members are first-time activists, like Don LoGuidice from Ohio who lost a son to an overdose, or longtime drug user Brian Jablonski from Indiana.

We are taking our message to Washington and calling on Congress to release $45 billion in funding for opioid treatment, to protect Medicaid and pass the Alexander-Murray bill to stabilize the health care system so that addiction treatment is safe, affordable and accessible.

Convened and supported by the Center for Popular Democracy, the coalition includes affiliates in Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Vermont, along with Doctors Allied for Indian Health and VOCAL-NY, which emerged from the AIDS crisis and fought for funding for HIV and AIDS.

Over the summer, many of us put our bodies on the line to defend the Affordable Care Act. Now we plan to use the same tactics to pressure Congress to fund real solutions to the opioid crisis. We will flood the streets, hold town halls and make our voices heard.

Federal funding is crucial for bringing safe injection facilities, currently underground, above ground and staffing them with trained medical professionals, decriminalizing syringes and expanding syringe exchange programs, and making overdose antidotes like naloxone widely available without a doctor’s prescription.

Some observers have asked where the opioid epidemic’s ACT UP is. Formed in the late 1980s in response to government inaction on AIDS, ACT UP staged direct actions calling for funding for treatment and research and proactive policies and legislation to address the epidemic that killed 43,000 at its peak in 1995. One successful protest shut down the Federal Drug Administration for a day.

Setting the gold standard for what a direct action campaign can achieve, ACT UP won an entire new stream of funding for people with HIV/AIDS totaling over $3 billion, eventually turning AIDS into a manageable chronic condition, instead of a fatal one.

This is what we aim to do with the Opioid Network. We will turn up the heat on Congress and the Trump administration to ensure there is a steady stream of funding to address this crisis and that medical experts and drug users have a direct voice in the solution.

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis. To help opioid users, Congress must provide the necessary funding for safe and accessible treatment, and invest in knowledgeable, trained medical experts rather than the incompetent advice of Trump’s Beltway buddies and a revved-up criminal justice system. Anything less would be ineffective and a waste of time and resources.

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Under Trump, Drugs Are Pouring Across America's Border Like Never Before

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 11:51
Despite the chest thumping, the dope just keeps coming.

 

 

Drug Seizures by Immigration Agents See Six-Year High

Drug traffickers are sending a deluge of illicit and prescription drugs across the border, a sign traffickers aren’t intimidated by President Donald Trump’s beefed-up border security. Custom ...

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Inside Crackland: The Open-Air Drug Market That São Paulo Just Can't Kick

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 11:06
Cracolândia is unlike nearly anything in any city in the world – sometimes thousands of addicts congregating openly in the city’s bustling downtown core.

“It’s a horrible life. You don’t eat. You don’t sleep. Any money you can get goes on crack,” says Felipa Drumont.

Drumont is 26, trans, homeless and addicted to crack. For the last four years, she has lived on the streets of an area of central São Paulo that has become infamous: Cracolândia, literally “Crackland”.

Here, hundreds of people sit in the middle of the street, wrapped in blankets, and smoke crack openly. Others wander, wild eyed, looking for tin cans and other recyclables to sell. Most are skinny and gaunt, faces contorted from years of drug abuse. There is garbage everywhere and a thick smell of body odour.

Police patrol the perimeter, just metres away. They keep an eye on things but don’t intervene with the drug-taking or dealing. Instead, they mostly watch for other crimes, such as robbery. Municipal officers and NGO workers hover nearby.

Even more surprisingly, on weekdays, there are also workers with backpacks and suited office types, who scurry past on the opposite side of the street. Despite being a scene of intense urban degradation, Crackland in fact sits on prime real estate.

It is next to Luz, the city’s biggest and busiest train station. Less than 100m away is a neoclassical style concert hall that last year hosted a performance by American jazz legend Herbie Hancock. There are private technical colleges nearby, and a leisure centre. The office of South America’s biggest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, known sometimes as the New York Times of Brazil, is a few blocks away.

None of it makes much difference to the addicts. Some exchange jokes or handshakes with each other, but most just look bewildered and lost.

It is unlike nearly anything in any city in the world. To some, including the current mayor, João Doria, that makes it an embarrassment.

After taking office in January, the business mogul declared war on Crackland. Early on a drizzly Sunday morning in May, Drumont watched as helicopters appeared overhead, and a veritable battalion of 900 armed police and security agents descended on the addicts. She says the police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

“The police turned up throwing bombs at everyone,” she recalls. “Thank god I wasn’t injured, but I was terrified.”

Drumont and hundreds of other addicts scattered. Many took refuge in a nearby gas station; others checked themselves in for treatment at government programmes, or were accompanied by city social services to packed homeless shelters.

After breaking up the crack market, police raided local properties, seized drugs and guns, and arrested dozens of suspected traffickers.

Local government officials heralded the operation a success. Doria, triumphant, declared: “Crackland is over and won’t come back.”

Six months later, Crackland continues, just metres away from where it was cleared.

Hamsterdam, Brazil

For readers familiar with the American TV series The Wire, Crackland looks like “Hamsterdam” – a section of vacant city blocks where, in an attempt to bring down street crime, Baltimore police set up a “free zone” for drug dealers and addicts.

There are, however, two key differences. First, Cracolândia isn’t located in vacant land, but right in the middle of the bustling downtown core. The area has been gentrifying, and an ambitious revitalisation is planned for 2018, including 1,200 new apartments.

The second difference is that this brazen drug scene has been a stubborn fixture of downtown São Paulo for more than two decades.

After Cracolândia first appeared in the 1990s, when the highly addictive smoked form of cocaine entered the city’s narcotics market, a succession of governments have tried – and failed – to end it, mostly via repressive policing.

Since then, the fluxo (“flow”), as the concentration of users is known, has moved around the neighbourhood, chased from street to street by heavy-handed police operations.

In 2008, mayor Gilberto Kassab sent police to disperse the addicts, just as his successor Fernando Haddad would nine years later. Kassab, as Doria did, declared: “Crackland no longer exists.”

In 2012, the city’s then-justice secretary said the same thing, this time in relation to a crackdown dubbed “Operation Pain and Suffering”.

Both times, the addicts simply regrouped down the street.

After the raid in May, Cracolândia re-formed just 400m away, in a park. Drumont followed: the raid didn’t dissuade her from taking crack. “I used even more drugs because I was nervous and scared,” she says.

Nevertheless, for those who say Crackland must go, the tactics enjoy broad approval. Supporters consider Crackland a menace, arguing that it gives power to organised crime, degrades the city and perpetuates a cycle of drug addiction and misery.

Exact data is scarce, but it is thought Brazil is home to the highest number of crack users in the world. According to the last national crack survey in 2014 by the Fiocruz medical institute, there are around 370,000 regular users in 27 city state capitals and the federal district. 

Brazil shares porous borders with all of the main cocaine-producing nations: Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

São Paulo is also the base of Brazil’s most powerful drug trafficking gang, the PCC (“First Command of the Capital”). Authorities say the PCC plays a controlling role in supplying Crackland.

According to them, the crackdown was necessary to break the hold of drug trafficking in the neighbourhood.

“With the [May] operation, the state retook territory that was dominated by drug traffic, facilitating the work of health and social workers,” says Floriano Pesaro, social development secretary for São Paulo state government.

As evidence for the success of their strategy, they point to a study – commissioned by the state government – showing that Crackland has got smaller: from 1,861 users before the operation in May to 414 in July, a reduction of 77%.

Clarice Sandi Madruga, coordinator of the survey, says there are many reasons for the drop. Some addicts have sought help, she says; others used the opportunity of the operation to flee from debts with drug dealers.

What’s more, she says, as many as one third of current Crackland residents are new arrivals who come for the services, such as health treatment and meals (provided by City Hall), and the relative safety. (Drumont corroborates that claim: for junkies, she says, there is a certainly safety in numbers, providing you don’t break the rules, such as stealing from others.)

For Madruga, notwithstanding the fact that Crackland still exists, the combination of a bit of carrot and a lot of stick has worked. “Something needed to be done,” she said.

Addicted and abandoned

But if many Paulistanos supported the raid – 60%, according to a poll by Datafolha – many others did not.

They argue that Crackland is symptomatic of the city’s wider problems: of poverty, homelessness and inequality. They say Cracolândia, for all its problems, acts as a refuge for the city’s addicted, downtrodden and abandoned.

“The effort by the São Paulo government is a classic example of the ‘war on drugs’ approach that for decades has failed to reduce drug use, driven people who use drugs away from essential health services, and given rise to widespread human rights violations,” says Cesar Munoz, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Even inside government, some officials are irate, seeing in the raid the same old discredited tactics.

“The traffickers they arrested are just small-time dealers,” says Arthur Pinto Filho, a senior official of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights in Public Health of the state of Sao Paulo.

“The traffic continues,” he adds. “It was a huge waste of public money: they are in the same spot. It was a step backwards. This is the same thing that has been done for years and never worked.”

Although everyone agrees Crackland is smaller than it was at its peak, many are sceptical of the government’s explanation, and say it’s probably due to a simple fact: police violence.

“Even if there was a reduction of this size, it’s not because of treatment, stopping to use or quality of life,” says Thiago Calil of the NGO É de Lei, who has worked in the region for 13 years. “[Addicts] are leaving the centre because there is huge police repression.”

City Hall employs more than 150 health workers in the Crackland area. Two of them, not authorised to speak on record, said that the police raids had increased mistrust and made it more difficult to approach addicts to help.

Yet another criticism is that raids merely disperse users into “mini-Cracklands”, of dozens rather than hundreds of addicts. At least 22 of these have been identified across the city.

“We understand from our teams that users have gone from the centre, and are using crack in other scenes, more on the outskirts of the city,” said Calil.

Better 22 mini-Cracklands than one big Cracolândia, argues Felipe Sabara, secretary of social assistance at São Paulo city government. He claims it’s easier to provide social assistance to users if they are less concentrated.

“The more people there are, the bigger density the crowd, the harder the approach,” Sabara says, blaming organised crime and the connection that users establish with their turf.

Sabara says his team is expanding outreach services across the city to deal with the dispersal, and disputed the accusation that City Hall merely wants to sweep Crackland under the rug in order to help gentrify the neighbourhood.

“We are doing the opposite,” he says. “We are resolving the problem.”

Still, Pesaro is under no illusions that Crackland has easy solutions. “We know that it will be a difficult and long process,” he adds.

Even Doria has backpedalled, now noting that Crackland is a historic problem, and saying the focus should be “to reduce it sensibly and end the 24-hour drug shopping mall”.

Redemption

Six months since the raid, Drumont is now two months clean. She lives in Tent 2, a structure set up by City Hall in the heart of Crackland, where she gets a bed and meals as part of a programme called Redemption.

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Brazil Is Giving Its Prisoners One of the World’s Most Powerful Psychedelics as Part of the Rehabilitation Process

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 13:03
Click here for reuse options! Ayahuasca may be helping to reduce rates of recidivism at Brazil's prisons.

Some of Brazil's violent offenders are being offered the opportunity for radical rehabilitation via the powerful psychedelic experience of the ayahuasca ceremony.

Rather than the system of continued abuse and alienation many modern prisons employ, some of Brazil’s prisons are starting to offer holistic services to encourage rehabilitation in inmates. Services offered to selected Brazilian prisoners include guided healing practices like yoga, reiki, meditation, and in some locations, ayahuasca journeying. The goal is to provide rehabilitation to violent criminals and reduce the rates of recidivism after prisoners are released.

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic tea derived from the ayahuasca vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and the Psychotria viridis plant, both of which are native to the Amazon. Ayahuasca ceremony is an ancient healing tradition used by indigenous Amazonian peoples. Some of those who have partaken of ayahuasca report profound psychological and sometimes physical healing experiences.

In recent years, ayahuasca has piqued the interest and curiosity of people in the rest of the world, culminating in an ayahuasca tourism industry throughout Amazonian regions of South America. As ayahuasca’s international popularity has grown, so has research into its therapeutic uses. The plant has shown potential to help people recover from trauma, PTSD, addiction and depression, as well as cancers and other afflictions.

Brazilian prisons started to offer ayahuasca through the prisoners’ rights advocacy group Acuda, based in in Porto Velho. As Aaron Kase notes in a 2015 article:

"The ayahuasca program serves a dual purpose. Prison populations in Brazil have doubled since 2000, and conditions are grossly overcrowded, so the retreats are a kind of pilot to try to reduce recidivism rates. For now, it’s just a few inmates participating, and it’s too early to tell whether the treatments will help keep them from reentering the criminal justice system, but it’s at least a starting point."

One inmate convicted of murder told the New York Times in 2015 about the lessons he had learned from his ayahuasca experience: “I’m finally realizing I was on the wrong path in this life. Each experience helps me communicate with my victim to beg for forgiveness.”

As the New York Times article explains in detail, supervisors at Acuda who get permission from a judge transport about 15 prisoners each month to a temple for ayahuasca ceremony.

“Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity,” Euza Beloti, a psychologist with Acuda, told the New York Times in the same article. “This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison. [At Acuda] we simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change.”

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How Jeff Sessions Plans to End Medical Marijuana Before the Year is Over

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:39
A crucial protection ends next month--unless Congress acts.

 

 

 

Tears streamed down Claudia Jendron's face this year as her doctor patted her hand and told her, after eight years of failed pain treatments for her spinal fusion-gone-wrong, "This is going to work, Claudia."

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The Onion Takes on the War on Drugs

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:07
"Souls who possess four ounces of illegal drugs at any point during their mortal lives face a mandatory minimum sentence of eternity."

America’s Finest News Source has taken aim at the drug war - not just once, but repeatedly. Here’s a rundown of some of The Onion’s best jabs at drugs and drug enforcement.

Pharma Wars

Highlighting both cartel violence and big pharma’s role in addiction in America, The Onion ran a 2013 piece titled, “Pfizer Kingpin Gunned Down in Ongoing Prescription Drug Cartel Turf War.”

“In the latest of an increasingly violent series of murders linked to international prescription drug trafficking, infamous Pfizer cartel leader Philip ‘El Loco’ Cox was gunned down Thursday by rivals from the Bristol-Myers Squibb organization, the FBI has confirmed,” the piece begins.

In real life, there’s been no news of industry CEO shoot-outs or assassinations, but some pharmaceutical execs have graced the headlines for running afoul of the law - albeit with far less blood and guts than their cartel counterparts.

Last year, several Insys managers and executives were charged with racketeering after federal prosecutors alleged they “led a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners to unnecessarily prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication and defraud healthcare insurers.”

As the industry’s role in spreading the use and abuse of addictive painkillers has come under increasing scrutiny, it’s sparked a number of other legal actions, including lawsuits in New YorkOhio, and Indiana.

The Onion’s take-out goes on to detail the supposed pharma cartel war and offer some faux quote gems, including this ominous closing warning from a fake sociologist: “Just remember that the next time you visit a major pharmaceutical hub—maybe it’s San Diego, maybe it’s Raleigh-Durham—you may find yourself abducted, tortured, and thrown out of a moving car with the word ‘GlaxoSmithKline’ carved into your chest.”

The Highs of Campaign Lows

Less a commentary on drug policy and more a mash-up of tropes from the last completely bonkers election cycle, a 2016 piece pulled together Jeb Bush’s flagging campaign and the New Hampshire heroin crisis that got so much press during primary season.


“Demoralized Jeb Bush Succumbs To New Hampshire Heroin Epidemic,” the headline reads, just above a dreary image of the ex-governor looking forlorn and hopeless.

When the story came out, Bush was fresh off a campaign run through the Granite State, the politically important site of the first primary elections in the presidential campaign season. Some pundits posited at the time that Bush was finally beginning to “hit his stride” after an uplifting stop in Portsmouth - but it was too late. By the end of the month, he threw in the towel.

“Plunging into a downward spiral of despair and self-doubt after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, a demoralized Jeb Bush reportedly succumbed this week to New Hampshire’s ongoing heroin epidemic,” The Onion wrote, while Bush eked out the last days of his campaign.

“At press time, a senior Bush advisor confirmed that the candidate had climbed in the New Hampshire polls after generously sharing a needle with several fellow addicts.”

Unfortunately for Jeb and his rig-sharing ways, it wasn’t until a few days after this story that the Florida Senate approved a needle exchange.

War is Hell

The drug war was still charging forward with reckless fervor when The Onion posted a 2005 gem riffing on the longstanding lock-em-up approach to addiction.

Report: 92 Percent of Souls in Hell There on Drug Charges” the headline declared.

“A report released Monday by the Afterlife Civil Liberties Union indicates that nine out of 10 souls currently serving in Hell were condemned on drug-related sins,” the piece began. "’Hell was created to keep dangerous sinners off the gold-paved streets of Heaven,’ ACLU spokesman Barry Horowitz said. ‘But lately, it's become a clearing-house for the non-evil souls that Heaven doesn't know how to deal with.’"

Although the astonishingly high percentage of prisoners locked up on drug charges has long been a source of consternation for drug policy progressives, currently the lock-up rates aren’t quite that high. Roughly half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges, according to federal numbers.

In case the parallels to the drug war weren’t clear enough, the piece referenced “God's ‘get tough’ drug policy of the 80s A.D.” and a “one sin and you're out” practice reminiscent of zero tolerance policies.

“According to God's law, souls who possess four ounces of illegal drugs at any point during their mortal lives face a mandatory minimum sentence of eternity,” the piece continues. Of course, in the intervening years, America’s hellishly tough drug policies have softened nationwide - and hopefully the afterlife has taken some cues from that shift.

Cheeky Chimp

Playing on concerns about animal testing and tropes about the behavior of people with addiction, a 2010 send-up is titled “Chimp in Cocaine Study Starts Lying to Friends.”

“Concerned workers at the National Primate Research Center said Bobo, a 5-year-old chimpanzee participating in a 16-month cocaine study, was observed this week lying to the faces of friends, family, and staff,” the text begins.

The piece goes on to describe Bobo becoming “an asshole” whose friends enable him by always giving him “one last chance.”

As of press time, Bobo was reportedly sprawled out on the floor of the laboratory,” the piece ends, “begging for more cocaine and offering to give researchers hand jobs in exchange for some.”

Unlike most of the other items on this list, this piece doesn’t particularly target a drug war-specific issue and hones in more on concerns about animal testing and widespread perceptions about the behavior of drug users. Nonetheless, it still merits a mention for its gold-star humor.

What Epidemic?

In fall 2016, as stories about the growing heroin epidemic formed a dominant thread in mainstream media outlets, the Onion set its sights on the dope boom with a piece titled, “Small Town Beginning To Wonder What Taking Heroin Epidemic So Long To Get There.”

“Saying they figured their community’s mix of high unemployment and low economic mobility would make it a prime target for the drug problem devastating similar small towns throughout the nation, residents of Boswell, IN reportedly wondered aloud Friday what was taking the heroin epidemic so long to get there,”’ the Sept. 2016 send-up notes.

“‘I keep hearing about how small, economically depressed cities all over the country have been succumbing to the flood of cheap heroin, and given the state of things here, it just seems like we really should be looking on helplessly as our neighbors turn to lives of hard drug use,’ said Boswell native Kathryn Witte, echoing the sentiments of her 770 fellow residents who argued that, with the town’s rural location and lack of entertainment options, Boswell should be awash in overdoses and drug-related crime by now.”

The opioid epidemic’s ferocity has made waves in rural areas, gaining a glut of coverage in West Virginia, Kentucky and other areas not stereotypically seen as the center of such big city problems. But it hasn’t impacted the whole country equally, and has particularly batteredAppalachia - though presumably real-life rural towns aren’t actually worried about being left out.

Blowing Bush’s Legacy

The Onion took a jab at the 43rd president’s rumored partying past with a 2013 piece titled, “George W. Bush Having Trouble Finding Decent Cocaine Since Leaving White House.”

“Sucks, because I could really use some good coke right now,” the story jokingly quoted the ex-president saying. “It’s commencement season, and God knows how many speeches I’m gonna have to get through.”

Bush has never publicly admitted to dabbling in the white stuff, but rumors have plagued the Texas native for years. And he may have only added to the mystery by refusing to offer answers, instead alluding to a misspent young adulthood.

“What I did as a kid? I don’t think it’s relevant,” he told a reporter one time. "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” he said another time.

But even years after vacating the Oval Office it seems it’s a fog of mystery he can’t escape.

“I had some real good hookups in D.C., but the shit down here is just terrible,” faux Bush told The Onion.

“I just don’t get as high, you know?”

 

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In the Face of Massive Depression World-Wide, the High Priestess of Hallucinogens Amanda Feilding Is Exploring Microdosing

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 14:54
Click here for reuse options! The Beckley Foundation's new brain imaging study explores psychedelic microdosing.

The Countess of Wemyss, Amanda Feilding, may be the only leader in psychedelic research and drug policy reform who can say with certainty that she’s distantly related to Charles II. She’s almost certainly the only one who grew up in a castle on an English estate, though her description of it is more late Grey Gardensthan Buckingham Palace.

Feilding recalls being intrigued by altered states of consciousness as a lonely and isolated girl. “My mother was a Catholic,” she says in a warble not unlike that of a kindly British aunt. “And sometimes the wonderful singing in church with incense, one could go often to an altered state.”

As an adult, she studied comparative religion at Oxford and immersed herself in the learning of mystical experiences. Now 74, Feilding has never lost her interest in altered states of consciousness. In fact, she has pursued the topic with zeal, even going so far as to perform and film a self-trepanation procedure, or drilling into the skull to remove a piece of bone, an ancient medical procedure thought to relieve pressure and increase blood flow in the brain.

The Oxford UK-based Beckley Foundation, founded in 1998, is her research brainchild. But her research and experiments in consciousness go back more than 50 years, when she first started using LSD. “I set up Beckley to explore consciousness and its altered states,” she says. “Our research has shown that we can treat chronic depression, addiction, PTSD, all of these psychologically based conditions.”

Her instincts about the healing properties of psychedelics have been validated through studies at NYU and Johns Hopkinsadministering psilocybin and MDMA. These studies, using a high dose of psychedelics, seem to reduce the symptoms of many mental health disorders.

Currently, Feilding is eyeing the LSD microdose trend. The Silicon Valley crowd, always in search of new technology to enhance creativity and productivity, has led the microdosing trend, garnering a lot of attention even from staid publications like Business Insider and The New Yorker.Building on this momentum, she is attempting to secure funding for an exploratory brain-imaging study to gain insights on how microdosing could also be a tool in the battle for improved mental health.

“We humans, incredible species, we dominate the world with all the clever things we’re doing,” she muses. “But we’re seriously flawed and have some serious psychological problems.” According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability and ill health worldwide. More than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, some of it treatment-resistant.

Depression is much more complex than persistent sadness and loss of interest. It also increases rates of addiction, suicidality, heart disease, and diabetes, lethal in their own right. Feilding believes that mental illness may set maladaptive patterns in the brain, which then become the norm. The world is then viewed through the maladaptive lens, perpetuating the pattern.

“What the psychedelics do is shake that setting and open it,” she explains. “It’s the elixir of consciousness, and when the person sets the right intentions, it can reset the badly maladaptive setting. So all of a sudden they say, ‘aha! What a bore this is.’”

So far, informal microdosing studies have been led by James Fadiman and Sophia Korb, who have analyzed results from those who self-report microdosing experiences. Thousands of people have submitted their observations, reporting improvements in mood and vitality, enhanced focus, and boosts in motivation, creativity, and pattern recognition.

Feilding observed similar characteristics during her own LSD experiences in the 1960’s while playing the ancient Chinese game of Go with friends. “Me and the people I played with took it very seriously. I did not like losing,” she laughs. “I found that if I was on LSD and he [her opponent] wasn’t, I won more games. What it enables you to do is to see the board better. It’s an encasement of space, you’re capturing space on the board.”

Thinking of her Go games of the past, Feilding is keen to start Beckley’s microdosing brain-imaging study. “The cohort size I’m going for is by no means my perfect cohort size,” she explains. “One would like the size to be very big. But because of the costings, and particularly if you’re dealing with controlled substances, it can double the cost of everything.” Feilding says she would be satisfied with 20 people on LSD and another 20 on placebo as a start.

But money is a very real problem, and despite the “foundation” part of Beckley’s name, it is not awash in cash. “The Beckley Foundation is funded with great difficulty,” she says. “I would love to be really hitting on all cylinders with the research I want to do.” Feilding is in one stage or another of developing the protocols and recruiting scientists for around 20 studies, all of which need funding. To finance them all, she estimates needing to raise around five million pounds.

Many of the studies Beckley has implemented have focused on high doses of psychedelics that create a “mystical,” or “peak” experience. These are the doses that have been more formally correlated with improvements in mental health. In fact, the more intense the peak experience, the better the outcome.

MIcrodosing is meant to work quietly and behind the scenes. Fadiman recommends microdosing 1/10 of a standard dose, or a “tenner.” Feilding believes that the right dose likely varies from person to person, and that a microdose, which can be taken with more regularity, could potentially be a “smart drug” to improve well-being, mood, and cognitive functioning.

Feilding, who was doing LSD every day in her Go days, says her aim was to hit the sweet spot where vitality and creativity are enhanced while still being fully in control of her behavior. The research Beckley has thus far compiled on the “peak experience” shows that participants felt:

  • A sense of unity with all things
  • Ego dissolution
  • Transcendence of time and space
  • A sense of insight into the ultimate nature of reality
  • Feelings of ineffability and awe
  • Profound positive emotions, such as joy, connectivity, and love

Microdosing also seems to produce positive benefits, but less profoundly. Microdosers report:

  • Improved mood and vitality
  • Enhanced focus
  • Boosts in creativity
  • Increased motivation and drive
  • Remaining in control

Psychedelics, researchers believe, cause the brain to turn off its Default Mode Network, the part of the brain that houses the ego and the referential self. When the brain is not occupied with an attention-hogging task, the DMN lights up and may wander off into daydreaming, worrying, recollecting, and ruminating. Recent research has shown that high activity in the DMN is increasingly linked to depression and anxiety.

Previous LSD brain-imaging studies led by close Feilding associates David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris show that, when using 75 mcg of psychedelics, brain networks became more unified while others, like the DMN, go offline, leading researchers to hypothesize that LSD could help reverse intractable, restrictive thoughts. “Psychedelics can induce a state of high plasticity,” says Feilding, “enabling profound shifts in thoughts and behavior to be achieved, rapidly.”

Feilding is pleased to see a groundswell of clinical evidence showing what she’s always believed, that psychedelics can improve the human condition. Whether the microdosing brain-imaging study will show the same results as the higher-dose studies is yet to be seen, but she is optimistic. “I hope that we will have a better understanding of how microdosing can benefit mental health and society,” Feilding says.

Microdosing, she believes, might serve as a more palatable way to open doors for increased psychedelic therapy and gain some additional mainstream exposure. She welcomes widespread and positive publicity, proclaiming, “I always thought that the way through the taboo was through the very best science.”

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Study: Does Marijuana Dabbing Cause Cancer?

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 11:45
Those dab hits can include not only pot smoke, but also "toxic degradation products."

Marijuana dabbing, the increasingly popular method of inhaling high-potency concentrated cannabis, may be hazardous to your health, according to a new study.

Researchers at Portland State University discovered that dabbing may expose users to elevated levels of cancer-causing toxins, including benzene, compared to other methods of inhalation. 

The study, published earlier this year in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega, raises serious health concerns about the practice of dabbing, especially among the younger population who prefer this method of vaporizing.

“Given the widespread legalization of cannabis in the United States, it is imperative to study the full toxicology of its consumption to guide future policy,” said Rob Strongin, a Portland State professor and lead author of the study. “The results of these studies clearly indicate that dabbing, although considered a form of vaporization, may, in fact, deliver significant amounts of toxic degradation products.” 

Dabbing has been around in some form or another since the 1970s, but the practice has skyrocketed into popularity over the past decade. Essentially, a dab is a small dose of highly concentrated cannabis that is heated on a hot surface and then inhaled. Focus on the word “concentrate” — and fully grasp the meaning.

Cannabis concentrates are exactly what they sound like: Take the herb and extract all the THC out of it as you can. The extreme amount of THC in the concentrate means you will need very little (just a dab) to achieve the psychoactive effect.  But trying to accurately and consistently heat the concentrate to the proper temperature is hard — and that is part of the problem.   

The difficulty users find in controlling the nail temperature put users at risk of exposing themselves to not only methacrolein but also benzene,” Strongin said. “Additionally, the heavy focus on terpenes as additives seen as of late in the cannabis industry is of great concern due to the oxidative liability of these compounds when heated. This research also has significant implications for flavored e-cigarette products due to the extensive use of terpenes as flavorings.” 

 

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