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Updated: 22 hours 34 min ago

Mexico’s Cartels Have Gotten So Big, They Act Like Governments

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 06:00
Narcos know about winning hearts and minds, too.

Mexican villagers impacted by a tropical depression that hit the northwestern state of Sinaloa in September are saying “Thank you, El Chapo!” after receiving much-needed donations of mattresses and electric stoves attributed to imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.

Despite being the head of one of the most violent and powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world, El Chapo still retains popular support, especially in his home state of Sinaloa. That’s in part because, like some other drug traffickers, the Sinaloa cartel has taken care to reach out to local populations, especially when the state has failed to provide critical services.

Colombian Medellin cartel head Pablo Escobar, for example, built up a political base by building soccer fields and housing developments in Medellin in the 1980s. Other Mexican drug traffickers have taken a similar approach to building popular support. The notorious Zetas handed out Christmas gifts to the poor in 2014 in Nuevo Laredo, and added food to the presents last year.

The Mexican cartels are also notorious for boosting local economies with outrageous spending on multi-day fiestas and for providing “narco alms”—cash donations to local priests and parishes to fund public works and church activities—in bids at winning popular support. Such giving created a scandal in 2010, when it was revealed that a church with a stunning 65-foot cross built in a working-class barrio of the central Mexican city of Pachuca bore a plaque thanking Zetas head Heriberto Lazcano for its construction.

In this latest instance of narco-public service (and public relations), a video and several photos of villagers praising Guzman, who is now jailed in New York City awaiting trial in federal court, appeared on social media late last week.

The media images showed mattresses and boxes of electric stoves plastered with a large sticker of a cap emblazoned with “JGL,” the initials of El Chapo’s full name. The video also accused the state secretary of social development, who is responsible for disaster relief (SEDESOL), of handing out dirty, roach-filled mattresses to villagers whose homes were flooded in the storm.

“The victims from the previous rain storm in La Platanera and who were ‘aided’ by @SEDESOL with old mattresses were not forgotten by Mister Joaquin,” the social media user wrote.

In the video, shot in the town of Sanchez Celis, villagers standing beside their new mattresses smiled and praised El Chapo. One woman looked directly at the cell phone camera, then blurted out, “Thank you, Chapo Guzman.” Another woman sent her blessings to the cartel head.

Another social media post from the same user showed a truck carrying mattresses emblazoned with the JGL image.

The September storm caused devastating flooding in 43 towns and 31 communities in Sinaloa, leaving three dead and forcing 1,500 people to flee for their lives. When they returned home, they found their personal belongings and furniture ruined by the storm.

El Chapo isn’t the only family member trying to burnish the cartel’s image by doing good works. His wife, U.S. citizen Emma Coronel, appeared in a video last year helping to prepare boxes filled with non-perishable goods for victims of the September 2017 Puebla earthquake that left 370 dead and 6,000 injured. Then she went back to buying Prada purses and throwing lavish, Barbie-themed birthdays parties for her daughters.

Mrs. El Chapo’s lifestyle is light-years away from the muddy streets of rural Sinaloa, but the folks there are still enjoying their new stoves and mattresses courtesy of her husband.

Here’s the video:

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

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Can Hallucinations Lead to Post-Traumatic Growth?

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 07:01
The clinical psychologist Lily Dixon and her team detail the experiences of seven people who have lived with verbal or auditory hallucinations; amid the struggles, the researchers report, their journeys have also taken them to some positive places.

Contemplate how a person’s life would be changed by starting to hear or see things others can’t. Now imagine it could offer something good. A research team from Hull University and associated NHS trusts in the UK suggest that, among the tumult, hallucinations can also offer opportunities for growth. Writing in the Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy this year, the clinical psychologist Lily Dixon and her team detail the experiences of seven people who have lived with verbal or auditory hallucinations; amid the struggles, the researchers report, their journeys have also taken them to some positive places.

The five men and two women, aged 28 to 53, were recruited from mental-health services. Some had begun experiencing hallucinations in childhood, others later in life. The researchers interviewed them about how the experience had affected them and their relationships, the challenges they had faced, and what they expected from the future.

The interviewees were united in seeing the arrival of their hallucinations as an unwelcome shock. They were something to be hidden so as to avoid stigma. ‘I don’t want to accept it’s schizophrenia because it will always be branded, I’ll always be branded with that name, and if you tell anyone you’ve got schizophrenia they automatically think that you’re a mental case and that you’re going to kill them,’ said ‘Sophie’, one interviewee (real names are not used in the paper). She felt that to remain herself, she had to reject the experience: ‘I’m trying to separate the person, I like the person that I am when I’m not hearing voices.’ A commonly held early belief was that getting better meant reducing or eliminating the hallucinations. Blur out the visions, silence the voices.

But over time, the interviewees found their focus had shifted. ‘Steve’ reported an event that stuck in his head: ‘I remember being at my best friend’s house and she said: “Well why don’t you just talk to them,” y’know the voices, rather than sitting around or arguing, so I did and I spoke to them so I went “Hello” and they go “Oh hello, you finally talking to us?” and I was like what?!

Making that step from denial and conflict to engagement had consequences for ‘Steve’, who felt that the voices were ‘more helpful now than disturbing … it’s like I’ve got a lot of friends I talk to every day’.

Others echoed this idea that when the hallucinatory experiences were faced, rather than fended off, the possibility of value could emerge. So much so that the prospect of shedding them no longer felt like a cure. ‘A lot of people say, what if I could change things but I’m not sure I would, y’know, if, I’ve just learnt to accept that it’s part of me now,’ said one interviewee. Another said that without his hallucinations, he would feel ‘hollow’.

Exactly what good could come from hallucinations? The answers were hard to pin down because no interviewee felt that they were an unalloyed good, and they didn’t want to tempt fate through naive optimism. One note was the self-fortification that comes from continuous battle. ‘Debbie’ said tentatively: ‘I haven’t let it beat me … it’s made me more tougher … the voice has given me more strength, and it’s, sort of like, made me into the person I am, stronger.’

Another positive thread was that the hallucinations brokered a change in perspective towards others, and even toward experience itself. ‘I show more empathy maybe, more than I used to,’ said one interviewee. Another described how ‘it’s changed the way I see others, think about other attitudes and the way I’ve seen myself.’

This self-scrutinising comment from ‘Paul’ gives an especially expansive take: ‘I think I’d have been a lot more destructive rather than constructive if I maybe wasn’t hearing or seeing things … I think it’s changed my outlook on, on certain things, y’know, of just sometimes learning to sit and watch the world go by, rather than trying to beat the world.’

What facilitated this apparent journey from dismay to bittersweet growth? The reports suggested that belonging, acceptance and emotional support – simply to have had ‘somebody listening’ – had been critical. But the journey sometimes also required movement against prevailing winds: one interviewee counselled: ‘Don’t give up on wanting to become yourself, rather than your society or whatever, forget all of them, forget everything else, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself.’

The quality of professional services was also crucial: clinicians offering alarm and stigma were seen as a common obstacle. The support that seemed most useful was based on the introduction of techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation, and engagement with the Hearing Voices network, which showed patients that they were not alone. This normalisation and engagement meant that having an atypical experience of reality no longer sundered the interviewees from society, but offered a different role where that experience had a part to play.

This isn’t a simple story. Participants continued to see their hallucinations as something that hindered them, but it was now tempered by the possibility of enrichment. Dixon’s team recommend that professionals, friends and family (but particularly clinicians) who are close to people having such experiences should avoid stigmatisation, and support them wherever they are at, understanding that a complex relationship with reality does not make the person any less whole.

This is an adaptation of an articleoriginally published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.

Alex Fradera

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

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Ricki Lake on 'Weed the People': 'It’s Not About Getting High, It’s About Children Dying of Cancer'

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 04:04
“It was hard to find oncologists to talk on camera about this,” says executive producer Ricki Lake

“Weed the People” is director Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake’s timely and compelling documentary about using cannabis oil as an alternative medicine for children with cancer. The film features half a dozen case studies of babies and teens who take this form of medical marijuana to reduce tumors. It is, as one believer states in the film, “not a cure, but an extension of life.”

Weed is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, and as the film explains, the government has a medical patent on marijuana, which seems hypocritical. Moreover, while in America, research on the effects that cannabis has on treating cancer have been minimal — most studies show the negative, not positive effects — in countries like Israel and Spain, there are encouraging findings about the drug’s healing properties.

“Weed the People” follows several families benefiting from cannabis treatment to track their progress. The film also showcases women on the front lines including Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s, which creates and sells cannabis oils to patients, and Dr. Bonni Goldstein a medical director at Canna Centers, who lectures on the efficacy of cannabinoid therapy.

Salon spoke with executive producer Ricki Lake about cannabis oil, its efficacy, and her new film “Weed the People.”

The film talks about a drug policy issue being a human rights issue. It is one of four documentaries you’ve produced on social issues, after “The Business of Being Born,” “Breastmilk” and the forthcoming “Sweetening the Pill.” Why have you become an advocate for these causes?

I shifted gears post 9/11. I was doing my old talk show back then and had my second son homebirthed two months before 9/11. I became a mother on my own terms, and then two months later I was back on my show where it was, “My baby daddy thinks I’m a whore!” So, I soul searched about what I cared about. I wanted to make a difference. So, I went on a journey with Abby [Epstein], invested my own money, and used my personal homebirth footage — which I never expected to show anyone — to make “The Business of Being Born.” I felt I had to do that, and the impact that film had was major. Protocols have changed in hospitals because of our film.

With cannabis, it wasn’t my medicine, or my cause, but my husband passed away, and it was his passion. He was on the path to learn about CBD [Cannabidiol] even before Sanjay Gupta on CNN. We met a little girl who was 30 lbs., and 6 years old and, this is crazy, but we moved her and her family into our house and took her to osteopaths and a cannabis doc. She’s not in the film, but “Weed the People” comes from our personal experience and natural curiosity. It is fulfilling to make these films. They are important and hard to finance, but in the end, we have something that can be the tipping point.

What prompted you to investigate this alternative medicine in general and as a treatment for kids in particular?

It’s my [late] husband Christian’s legacy. That’s what makes the project so important to me. There are enough films about drug reform, and legalization, etc. This was about the kids and following the stories, and hopefully to get change to happen. We did it specifically to take the stigma away. It’s not about legalization, regulation, or getting high; it’s about children dying of cancer and the heroic docs and scientists putting their time into this. We followed some adults, like a mom with Stage 4 cancer who has surpassed life expectancy, but it was to look at the medicine. Scientists can’t do science because it’s a Schedule I drug. But [medical marijuana] has been used to treat many innocuous ailments, such as anxiety and pain, and now it’s used to shrink tumors.

How did you find the authorities interviewed in the film; what were the criteria for the case studies featured?

That’s more Abby’s work, but many we got through word of mouth. We met with cannabis makers, dispensaries, and through doing the film we went to ASA, the Americans for Safe Access Conference, in DC, and we met Dr. Donald Abrams and Dr. Sunil Aggarwal. We had great luck with these amazing people who are so knowledgeable about the plant. They’d lead us to others. It was hard to find oncologists to talk on camera about this. We’d meet them, and then they’d hear it is about cannabis and shut the doors. 

One of the things I appreciate about this industry is how parents are learning more than the doctors; Sophie’s mom, Tracy, becomes a “momcologist.” Her desperation prompts her to seek out treatments to save her child’s life. It’s not unlike the AIDS crisis where the LGBT community educated themselves about treatment to help themselves because the government wasn’t providing them any support. What observations do you have about how folks in this industry — and these parents — are working to educate themselves and society, especially in light of the lack or published research on the topic?

I think in this day and age we have to advocate for ourselves, period, in the health industry. We need to go in and demand what we want. They work for you. Mothers know about their bodies and babies. You have to dig, and there are bogus stories and bad medicines and its challenging, but with more states legalizing marijuana, it’s shifting. Its slow, but it’s starting to happen. This film will be a good tool to have so families will know what to look for. We’ll be inundated with, “Where do I go for my kid? What is available? What are the laws? And what strains work for what cancer?" In Israel, you can narrow down what’s working for prostate or breast cancer. 

What’s interesting to me about medical marijuana is the business side. This mostly exists as an underground/black market economy, albeit one that has support of some oncologists. There is an interesting development when Mara is told one of her patients has found a cheaper source. Jim, a firefighter profiled in the film, raises money through a fund so he can continue his daughter’s treatment. How much of this story is follow-the-money?

Mara is no longer makes medicine in her kitchen. She’s got a lab now. But she is not getting rich. She is only charging for the bud. She lives a humble life and it is one about being of service. There are stories of grows, but taxes in California are [steep], and a lot has changed because it became legal. They can’t sell CBD in California. All these shifts are happening. They are working it out. 

Let’s talk legality. The treatment apparently is not illegal in states where medical marijuana is permitted. There is, however, a case in the film where a family must move to California from Chicago to take part in treatment they could not get at home. Can you talk about this issue, which is as much about access, government regulation, and to an extent, money?

I think it’s all of the above. It’s crazy that that family in the film had to move. Part of it was is the kind of cancer he had. He ran out of donors, so people broke the law to be angel donors and send it in the mail so he could get a better quality of life.

California has the best conditions for making the medicine and it’s legal. Dr. Bonni Goldstein is freaking hero. She has turned her entire practice into pediatric cancer. Tracy Ryan is a warrior and what she achieved with her daughter, and her being so proactive and building a business to help other families is really inspiring.

What about the ethics of this alternative medicine? Should a 14-year-old, like Chico in the film, be getting a medical marijuana kit for his birthday?

Yes. I clearly think so. People might have an issue with it. As his mom says, “If you told me I would buy my son grow equipment…” It sounds crazy, but if you look at Chico at the beginning of film and then at the end because of cannabis, he’s the poster child for this medicine to do something for one’s quality of life. People audibly gasp when they see his transformation.

As I watched the film, I was convinced by the successful treatment in some patients, but I also questioned how much of this is hope and faith-based, and how much can be proven? Mara talks about dosing, and an increase in the amount of oil given to baby Sophie may be what helps her. There is research being done abroad that cannabis is effective. And we hope that it is safe. Should we remain skeptical?

With epilepsy, you can study a child having 100 seizures a day and give them cannabis oil and then see him have three. Cancer you can’t see in such a black and white way. We have anecdotal results of five and a half years of these children. They are starting to do cannabis/cancer studies in UCLA, but we need more scientific studies, so hopefully that will be coming soon.

So, is it difficult to go from being an interviewer on a talk show to being interviewed about the films you are producing?

These films are provocative, and I am able to use the platform I have achieved at a talk show host to be able make these films. I don’t have an agenda. I am grateful for my past career and the work I’m getting to do now.


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There Is an ‘Elegant Way’ to End Global Marijuana Prohibition

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 14:45
It works within the UN’s global anti-drug treaty scheme. It’s called inter se modification.

Uruguay legalized marijuana in 2013. Canada legalized it last week. In doing so, both countries put themselves in violation of the UN anti-drug treaties that are the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Not much happened. That’s because those treaties are toothless; they have no effective enforcement mechanisms. The global anti-drug bureaucrats at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board can write irate memos criticizing Ottawa and Montevideo, but that’s about it. They have done so, and Canada and Uruguay blithely ignored them.

Still, the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1971 and 1988 addenda are global agreements, and while an argument can be made that countries that want to legalize marijuana should just ignore that provision, there is a counterargument to be made that it is better to modify or creatively interpret the existing global framework than to merely brush aside the anti-drug treaties.

Now, the good folks at the Transnational Institute’s (TNI) Drugs and Democracy program have come up with what they call “an elegant way” to end global marijuana prohibition. It’s called inter se modification. Instead of ignoring the tension between national-level legalization and the treaties, using this strategy would “resolve those treaty tensions and enable progressive and sustainable change at the global level.”

What inter se modification does is allow two or more signatory states to the UN conventions to enter into an agreement among themselves alone. As TNI explains in the video below, a group of countries—say Canada, the Netherlands, and Uruguay—could agree to an inter se modification agreement on how marijuana cultivation should take place, how international pot commerce should be conducted, and education and public health policies, among others.

“These three countries would basically create a mini-treaty of their own, while at the same time respecting the rights and obligations of all state parties that do adhere to the UN drug control conventions,” TNI explains. “If other countries wish to legally regulate cannabis after this mini-treaty is agreed on, they are free to join the group and enjoy the benefits accordingly.”

Here we have a way to legalize marijuana at the national level without breaching the UN treaties. Instead the treaties’ provision on the illegal marijuana would simply be hollowed out over time as country after country eventually joins the inter se modification agreement. Maybe then there will come a tipping point where the treaties themselves can be amended to reflect the new global reality.

Here’s how TNI explains it all:

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

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Marijuana Midterms: How the Prospects for State-Level Legalization and Medical Marijuana Are Looking

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 14:30
Less than two weeks out, a couple of these races are turning into nailbiters.

With less than two weeks to go to Election Day, it’s looking like a mixed picture for state-level marijuana policy initiatives. There are two states—Michigan and North Dakota—with marijuana legalization on the ballot, and there are two more states—Missouri and Utah—with medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.

It’s possible that all four will pass, but it’s looking more likely in Michigan and Missouri than in North Dakota and Utah. In North Dakota, well-funded opposition may drown out the legalization message, while in Utah, late maneuvering by the Mormon church and state political leaders is undercutting support from what had previously appeared to be a measure cruising toward victory.

Here’s a quick recap of the initiatives and their prospects.


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

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

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. It had been holding steady at 61 percent support as late as May, the kind of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Support had indeed declined in the final weeks of the campaign as limited opposition finally emerged, but a September Detroit Free Press poll still has it winning with 55 percent of the vote and only three percent undecided and a September Detroit News poll had it winning with 56 percent.


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

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

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

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

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

There has been no more recent polling, but with 93 percent of the nation backing medical cannabis in an April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, it’s likely that Missouri isn’t going to buck the trend. The fundraising also points toward a successful campaign. Both New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure have raised more than a million dollars over the course of the campaign and both still have tens of thousands of dollars banked for the final push. The only ballot committee opposed to both campaigns, Citizens for Safe Medicine, was just registered last month and has reported no donations or expenditures.

North Dakota

This year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

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

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

Legalize ND faces the toughest odds. While a June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided and a poll this month, also commissioned by Legalize ND had it winning with 51 percent to 36 percent, two other recent polls have support at under 40 percent.

It also faces the toughest organized opposition, which is heavily out-fundraising it. While Legalize ND has raised less than $30,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, the national anti-marijuana lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has provided 100 percent of the contributions to Healthy and Productive North Dakota, an amount totaling more than $156,000.

A separate anti-initiative committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, which represents business groups and is headed by the director of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce, has raised $86,000. If Legalize ND can pull off a victory, it will be sweet, indeed, but it’s looking like an uphill battle.


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

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

A Utah Policy poll released in September had support for the measure at 64 percent,
with even Mormons generally breaking with the church leadership on the issue. But
after that poll was released, state political leaders, advocates, and the Mormon church announced they’d agreed on a medical marijuana plan that lawmakers would consider in a November special session. That has, to some degree, cut the legs out from under the initiative.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll released last week had support dropping to only 51 percent, with 46 percent opposed. What looked like a cakewalk just a few weeks ago has turned into a nailbiter.

There you have it. Marijuana could go four for four this year, but it’s not at all at done deal, and we may end up having to settle for only three or maybe even two out of four. Going only 50-50 on marijuana initiatives would be the worst performance of the modern era. Let’s hope 2018 doesn’t earn that distinction.

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

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The Trump Administration Put Out a New Video About Opioids — and It Gets Just About Everything Wrong

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 10:42
There are better ways to fight back against addiction.

A new campaign—from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Truth Initiative and the nonprofit Ad Council—has live-streamed a woman’s detox from opioids in a cubic “treatment box” to NYC passers-by. It then released a video including clips of the woman’s detox, interspersed with melodramatic music, commentary from “experts” and pedestrians’ gawking reactions.

It’s all part of a larger campaign titled “The Truth About Opioids.” Ironically, that’s the opposite of what this stunt delivers.

“It’s wrong in about every possible way it could be wrong. It’s really bizarre,” says Maia Szalavitz, addiction journalist, Filter contributor and author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

So what’s the problem? First, the choice to center withdrawal for shock value is misguided. The video opens with the young woman, Rebekkah, writhing and moaning (accompanied, of course, by the sound of a heart pounding). Stark text announces “Opioid Withdrawal Day 01,” followed by a list of symptoms. “This drug addiction has taken everything and everyone I’ve ever loved away from me,” she says. “Everything.”

“I’m the most camera-shy person in the world,” says Rebekkah, “but if making my detox public is gonna help somebody, even literally just one person, I’m all for it.”

Unfortunately, as Szalavitz reminds us, “There’s no evidence that scare tactics prevent people from becoming addicted.” Both ONDCP and the Truth Initiative (best known for its anti-smoking ads) have long legacies of employing such tactics.

ONDCP was formed in 1988 under President Reagan, during Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. It has a history of investing tons of money in ineffective anti-drug ads. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the $1.2 billion spent by ONDCP on anti-drug ads “was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use.” Ironically for an office focused on addiction, ONDCP suffers from its own—persisting in spreading inaccurate and useless messages, despite clear negative consequences.

The new video “doesn’t even mention that actually the most effective treatments for opioid addiction do not require you to go through withdrawal,” says Szalavitz. “And those treatments are methadone and buprenorphine used long-term. There is no reason to focus on somebody suffering withdrawal … The thing that people don’t understand about addiction, they think if people can just get through withdrawal, they’re cured.”

Misleadingly, the video portrays getting through withdrawal as an end point. “This woman implies this is the first time she’s ever been through withdrawal, which is extremely unlikely,” says Szalavitz, who has written about her own experiences with addiction as a young person. “I probably did it fully six times. The problem is not gettingoff, it’s staying off.”

The video makes it seem like withdrawal is the hard part, while ignoring the underlying reasons many people use drugs to begin with. “If the reason you are using opioids is because you have psychological conditions and they help you feel better,” says Szalavitz, “and if you don’t deal with whatever that is and [learn how to] cope with it, you’ll end up relapsing.”

In fact, at one point in the video Rebekkah does say, “I have a lot of self-image issues and my mind doesn’t tell me anything nice.” But the video does not make any reference to therapy or other plans to address underlying mental health struggles.

“This young lady is at extremely high risk of relapsing at this very moment,” says Szalavitz. “She has lost her tolerance to opioids, is not being given effective medication and this suggests that the only way [out of addiction] is to go through a ‘spiritual void’—do we talk about this with any other illness? Do we show cancer patients in the worst part of chemotherapy?”

With it’s abstinence-only, “just say no” mentality, the video feels outdated: “You could have seen this exact same video in 1988,” Szalavitz says.

In addition to its reliance on shock-and-scare tactics, another problem is the video’s singular focus on a young, thin, white woman who conforms to the dominant culture’s beauty standards. She says she started using opioids at age 14 after she hurt her ankle during cheerleader practice, and was prescribed pain pills by her doctor. This innocent white middle-class victim narrative is perfected by the end of the video, when Rebekkah says wistfully: “I want that white picket fence.”

At one point in the video, “Dr. Reitman,” an “addiction specialist” chimes in to hit home the point that this is happening to a white, middle-class attractive cheerleader: “Her addiction really started very innocently,” he says.

The video props up the idea that addiction only deserves our attention and compassion when it affects white middle- and upper-class families, who, unlike people of color or poor white people, are not to blame for their struggles. According to Szalavitz, it’s “The innocent white narrative, I didn’t do anything wrong, my doctor gave me this—and boom, I was shooting heroin.”

Beyond indulging in racist and classist tropes, the video sends an inaccurate message about how addiction usually works. It hammers home the idea that young, innocent Rebekkah was somehow tricked into addiction—”I trusted my doctor to take care of me and make me better” she says sadly. “The decision to go the doctor and not get the surgery—that’s the worst decision i made in my whole life.”

This perpetuates the media’s beloved myth about the opioid crisis; one that has stubbornly persisted despite all evidence to the contrary. As Szalavitz wrote in “What the Media Gets Wrong about Opioids” for the Columbia Journalism Review in August:

The “relatable” story journalists and editors tend to seek—of a good girl or guy (usually, in this crisis, white) gone bad because pharma greed led to overprescribing—does not accurately characterize the most common story of opioid addiction. Most opioid patients never get addicted and most people who do get addicted didn’t start their opioid addiction with a doctor’s prescription. The result of this skewed public conversation around opioids has been policies focused relentlessly on cutting prescriptions, without regard for providing alternative treatment for either pain or addiction.

The majority—80 percent—of people with addiction start by using drugs that were not prescribed to them, typically obtained from a friend or family member. “I would like to know how [Rebekkah] knew where to find heroin when her pain prescription ran out,” Szalavitz says. “Most pain patients don’t do that, don’t have a clue … 70 percent of people who develop opioid addiction have used drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine in the past. For a naive user, never having bought drugs on the street, to go straight to buying heroin on the street is very unusual. Only 3.6 percent of people who have opioid addictions ever try heroin.”

That’s not to say that pharmaceutical companies are blameless—companies like Purdue lied about Oxycontin. But the myth that most people get addicted to heroin through legally prescribed opioids has severely hurt pain patients by forcibly cutting them off from medication they need. It also suggests that people who start using in other ways may deserve blame.

The problems with the video don’t end there. Rebekkah’s fedora-wearing recovery coach, Blythe, adds some words of wisdom about the causes of addiction: “[Rebekkah] is spiritually void and that’s ok—that’s where she’s supposed to be.” She also reinforces Rebekkah’s white innocence, saying euphemistically: “this disease does notdiscriminate at all…it doesn’t matter what town you live in.”

Blythe begins crying, and makes clear the connection between her own past addition, Rebekkah’s current struggle, and the path of recovery that she hopes Rebekkah will follow: “Today I have a life— I’m free.”

But as Szalavitz points out, the recovery coach narrative is another way the video goes wrong. “Their only vision of recovery is that recovery coach,” she says. “If I were to make a commercial for recovery, I would show people in jobs that are not related to recovery. A lot of people in active recovery don’t want to become that, and most people in addiction don’t go on to become counselors or coaches. There’s nothing wrong with doing that important work. But you want to show recovery in its variety, not just the stereotype.”

Szalavitz stresses that she’s not blaming the woman in the video. “She believes she is doing the right thing.” Rather, it’s ONDCP and the companies behind the campaign that are to blame. “I think it’s exploitative to put somebody in literally the earliest moments of recovery on display like that. I don’t know how much money they spent on this; it does not look cheaply produced, it must have cost something to rent that little weird box in the middle of the city. All that could have been spent on naloxone, medication treatment to people who need it.” (The video is one of a four-part “multi-million dollar” campaign funded mostly by Facebook, Google, YouTube, NBC Universal, Amazon, Vice and Turner.)

Szalavitz and others have been trying to push back against the incorrect narratives around the opioid crisis perpetuated by the media. But a campaign like this is disheartening to say the least. “It drives us mad to see we’re just repeating the same thing over and over,” she says.

The video urges: “Know the truth. Spread the truth.” We can do so by fighting back against this campaign.

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Two New Polls Suggest Pot Prohibition's Days Are Numbered

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 10:58
Gallup and Pew both report record levels of support for marijuana legalization.

Two of the country's top polling organizations have released surveys this month showing support for marijuana legalization continues to increase and is now at record highs. A Gallup poll released Monday had support at 69 percent, while a Pew Research Center poll released two weeks earlier had support at 62 percent.

The Gallup figure is up two points over last year, while Pew is up one. More impressively, the percentage of people supporting legalization nationwide has doubled since 2000, when both polls reported support at only 31 percent.

"There is a growing sense among the U.S. population that it is time to end our nation's failed experiment with marijuana prohibition," responded Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "People are sick and tired of adults being treated like criminals simply for consuming a substance that is, by every objective measure, less harmful than alcohol. Americans are more informed about cannabis than ever before, and they can now see that regulation is a viable and effective alternative to prohibition."

Gallup's levels of support are slightly more favorable toward legalization than Pew's, most likely due to methodological differences. In addition to the seven-point spread between the two on legalization, Pew, for example, reports a majority of  Republicans still opposing legalization, while Gallup reports a first-time Republican majority in favor.

Pro-marijuana majorities can now be found across every demographic measured in the Gallup poll. Not only 53 percent of Republicans, but 71 percent of independents and three-quarters of Democrats want to free the weed, now even older Americans do, too. For the first time, a majority of those aged 55 and over (59 percent) support legalization, along with nearly two in three adults between 35 and 44 and a whopping 78 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds.

And support for legalization is now truly nationwide in the Gallup poll. As recently as 2010, only the West reported a marijuana majority, but now support is at 65 percent in the West, Midwest, and South, and even two points higher in the East.

The Pew poll found a few demographic groups not reporting majorities for legalization. In addition to Republicans, only 48 percent of Hispanics, 43 percent of white evangelicals, only 39 percent of the "Silent Generation" (people over age 75) could get behind it. But all other races, age groups, religious denominations (and atheists), and educational levels reported majorities for legalization.

The poll numbers reflect an increasing acceptance of weed as the country grows accustomed to the idea of marijuana being sold in stores (and taxed!) instead of in back alleyways. Nine states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of the Northern Marshall Islands already have legal marijuana, and another 21 allow for medical marijuana.

Four more states are voting on marijuana next month; Michigan and North Dakota on legalization, and Missouri and Utah on medical marijuana. And pot could play a role in the congressional races, too. The Democrats are already embracing it, and Republicans risk being left in the lurch.

"There are not many issues out there that enjoy majority support among both of the major political parties and in every region of the country," said MPP's Hawkins. "This support is consistently translating into wins at the ballot box, and it should further motivate elected officials to take action at the state and federal levels. Hopefully, lawmakers are paying attention to this clear trend in public opinion. If they ignore these poll numbers, they do so at the risk of seeing a drop in their own."

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









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One Key Congressman's Bold Plan to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Next Year

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 22:18
What a difference a midterm election can make.

Last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) unveiled a plan for a Democratically-led House to push through federal marijuana legalization by the end of 2019. In aneight-page memo to the House Democratic leadership laid out his roadmap to ending Reefer Madness.

Blumenauer isn't just any old congressman. The longtime stalwart marijuana reformer is the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a leading voice in the fight to bring marijuana out of the shadows.  And he's ready to do it once Congress gets back to work in January.

"Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis," Blumenauer wrote in the memo, citingpolling showing 69% of registered voters support legalizing marijuana. "We have an opportunity to correct course if Democrats win big in November. There's no question: cannabis prohibition will end."

Most projections have the Democrats taking back control of the House in November.  The Senate is a different story, with the odds against the party being able to overcome Republican control this year.

Winning the House is critical. During the current Congress, progress has been stymied by House Republican leaders, who haveblocked floor votes on dozens of cannabis-related amendments.  Not one marijuana reform bill has gotten a House floor vote in the past two years.

If the House goes Democratic and the party can push a legalization bill through that chamber, Blumenauer argues, then pressure will mount on even a GOP-controlled Senate, where there is already growing bipartisan support for reform.

But Senate Republicans aren't the only potential obstacle. The current House Democratic leadership hasn't exactly been chomping at the bit to make freeing the weed a priority next year.

But while there is majority support for ending marijuana prohibition among House Democrats, the party's leadership has so far appeared lukewarm to the idea of prioritizing the issue in 2019.

When Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was asked about pushing cannabis reform next year, he replied that top Democrats "haven't talked about that," and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the frontrunner for House Speaker if the Democrats win, seems willing to defer to President Trump on the matter.

"I don’t know where the president is on any of this," she said. "So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result."

But despite his notoriously pot prohibitionist attorney general, President Trump may not get in the way of marijuana legalization. As a candidate in 2016, he pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and earlier this year, as part of a deal with pot state Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), he told Gardner he would back "a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

Democrats need to be prepared to act when Congress reconvenes next year or risk giving Trump a freebie, Blumenauer warned.

"Democrats should lead the way," he wrote. "If we fail to act swiftly, I fear as the 2020 election campaign approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support—especially from young voters. Democrats must seize the moment."

Beginning in January, the Democrats need to get moving, Blumenauer counseled.

"For too long, under Republican leadership, these issues have not been allowed to be fully debated. We must change that approach. Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspects of marijuana policy. Within the first six months, these committees should hold hearings, bring in experts, and discuss possible policy fixes," he wrote.

Blumenauer is calling for the numerous hearings by March, including:

  • A House Judiciary Committee hearing on descheduling marijuana;

  • A House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on safe and equal access to medical marijuana for veterans;

  • A House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on marijuana research;

  • A House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the unequal and unfair taxation of marijuana businesses; and

  • A House Administration Committee hearing on access to financial services for candidates who support marijuana legalization.

From April to June, Blumenauer wants relevant committees to "start marking up bills in their jurisdiction to responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap—the gap between federal and state marijuana laws—before the end of the year."

Those issues would include addressing the racial injustices of the unequal application of federal marijuana laws, protection of state marijuana laws, removal of barriers to marijuana research, civil asset forfeiture protections, job protections, access to financial services, and equal taxation for marijuana businesses, among others.

Blumenauer wants to see bills addressing these issues passed by August, and then movement to get a legalization bill through the Congress by year's end.

"With the marijuana policy gap diminished, after months of hearings and markups, the House should pass a full descheduling bill and work with Senate allies to guide the bill through Senate passage," he wrote. "Our chances in the Senate depend both on the November elections and increased public pressure following House passage. While the Senate has been slower on marijuana policy reform than the House and the American people, it now has almost 20 introduced bills in an effort to catch up with the House. We must build on this momentum."

If all goes well, Blumenauer predicts, "By the end of 2019, marijuana will be legal at the federal level, and states allowed to responsibly regulate its use. The federal government will not interfere in state efforts to responsibly regulate marijuana use within their borders."

All of this, though, starts with winning the House in November. As Blumenauer notes, with even Donald Trump having signaled support for a state-regulated approach to marijuana, "the only obstacle standing in our way is the Republican leadership in Congress."

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











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

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 17:36
The super-powerful synthetic opioid is cheap… and deadly.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Massachusetts, 85 percent

  2. New Hampshire, 83 percent

  3. Maine, 66 percent

  4. Rhode Island, 65 percent

  5. Ohio, 64 percent

  6. Maryland, 60 percent

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

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

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

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This Amazonian Psychedelic May Ease Severe Depression

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 08:04
A new study may offer hope for sufferers of depression.

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

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

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

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

The ‘vine of the spirits’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building on past evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Religion turned science

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

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

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

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

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

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

The healing power of the psychedelic experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 15:43
Canada becomes the second country and the first G7 member to free the weed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 22:26
In South Dakota, testing positive for drugs is a felony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Here Are 10 Economic Sectors Impacted by Legal Marijuana

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 13:36
The spread of legalization is sending ripples through the economy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 12:42
The city by the bay has been a hotbed of illegal race-based policing. This is just the latest example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not an Anomaly

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

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

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

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

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

It's Not Just San Francisco

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

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

When will things ever change?

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

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Here Are the 10 Most Popular Ways to Consume Marijuana

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:56
Smoking and vaping dominate the market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Live Resin: … Sales: $61 million.

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

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

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


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

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 09:28
The state criminal justice and Republican political establishments are opposed. Imagine that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 08:36
He's at the U.N. to try to grab control of global drug policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 13:32
The governor and the legislature are just about ready to roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 22:09
North Dakota's GOP-led Health Department comes up with a wildly dishonest cost estimate, and its GOP legislators approve it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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