Skip to Content

Alternet

Syndicate content AlterNet.org: Drugs
Updated: 6 hours 2 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the video:

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

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions—At Least Until Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Here's How Canadian Boomers Got Into Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannabis convictions soar

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

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

Read more: How pot-smoking became illegal in Canada

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

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

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

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

Promises of enlightenment

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

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

Read more: The truth about cannabis on Canadian campuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words: Just legalize it.

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

Health

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

  • Marijuana may reduce opioid deaths and opioid prescribing.

  • Marijuana has intrinsic health benefits and risks.

  • Marijuana can have effects on mental health.

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

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

Criminal Justice

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

  • Incarceration has a negative impact on families and communities.

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

Economics

  • Regulating marijuana will create jobs.

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

  • Marijuana regulation could generate long-term cost savings.

Impact of Legalization in Surrounding Jurisdictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Bulldozed to Death for Growing 10 Marijuana Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Legalization

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

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

Drug Legalization

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

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

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

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

Amnesty

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

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

Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S.-Mexico Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Cocaine Dependency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

Is Juul Making It Easy for Kids to Vape in School?

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 10:57
New research shows thousands of students sneak this nicotine delivery system onto school grounds.

The Juul vaporizer is the latest advancement in electronic cigarette technology, delivering nicotine to the user from a device about the size and shape of a thumb drive. Juul has taken the electronic cigarette market by storm experiencing a year-over-year growth of about 700 percent.

In recent months, stories about a possible Juul craze among teenagers have circulated in the media. In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that parents are fighting a Juul epidemic. In May, The New Yorker told a story about Juul’s presence at high schools in America’s more affluent ZIP codes.

I study ways to inform public health and policy by using data from social media. According to new research my colleagues and I conducted that was just published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, thousands of students sneak this nicotine delivery system on to school grounds to use during school hours.

Using social media for science

Our study adds to this discussion by considering a novel source: posts to Twitter. Because posts on social media reflect the attitudes and behaviors of the public in their own words, researchers can treat this data source like a massive focus group.

For this reason, my colleagues and I will often turn to social media to track health behaviors, including the use of emerging tobacco products, to better understand the social and environmental setting in which they are used. For example, last year we discovered that “cloud chasing,” or the act of blowing the largest aerosol cloud possible in a competition, was one of the more appealing characteristics of electronic cigarettes among Instagram users.

In our most recent study, we wanted to document and describe the public’s initial experiences with Juul. We collected posts to Twitter containing the term “Juul” from April 1, 2017 to December 14, 2017. We analyzed over 80,000 posts representing tweets from 52,098 unique users during this period and used text classifiers (automated processes that find specified words and phrases) to identify topics in posts.

We found that 1 in 25 posts, or 4 percent, was indicative of use of Juul while at high school, middle school and even elementary school. These posts described young people talking about using Juul on school grounds, in classrooms, in bathrooms, in the library, at recess and during gym.

For example, if the words “school,” “principal,” “teacher,” “elementary” or “recess,” among dozens of others, co-occurred in posts with the word “Juul,” we identified that post as reflective of a young person using Juul or seeing someone use Juul while on school grounds.

In comparison, a recent national online survey showed that 7 percent of participants 15 to 17 years of age, who would most likely be high school students, reported ever using a Juul.

We only had access to posts from public accounts, so our findings do not reflect posts from private users suggesting our numbers may underreport the amount of youth talking about Juul on Twitter.

Juul’s discreetness may facilitate its use in places where vaping is prohibited, also known as “stealth vaping.”

How to handle vaping

Our findings suggest educators may be in need of training on how to identify Juul in the classroom. School administrators may consider installing vapor detectors in bathrooms and classrooms to deter use of Juul on school grounds.

Our study’s data source – posts to Twitter – may highlight a way parents can determine if their child is using Juul. While we analyzed anonymized data, parents could follow their child’s account to monitor such activities.

Twitter does not make its users’ demographic information (e.g., age) public in order to protect user privacy. As such, our study could not determine the exact age of Twitter users. However, posts contained combined words like “Juul” and “recess” suggesting posts were made by youth.

While Juul is marketed as a “smoking alternative” for adults trying to quit, we found relatively few posts containing phrases like “quit smoking.” One in 350 posts do.

Electronic cigarettes have stirred national debate where public health officials are trying to determine if these devices, like Juul, will help smokers quit combustible cigarettes or serve as a possible gateway product to combustible cigarette use among youth. While this debate will likely go on for some time, it is clear that nicotine use of any kind is known to be addictive and harmful to adolescent brain development. We believe that our findings underscore the need for policies to be implemented to keep such products out of the hands of youth.

Jon-Patrick Allem, Research Scientist, University of Southern California

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

Categories: News Feeds

New Study Shows Amazonian Psychedelic May Ease Severe Depression

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 07:34
Scientists have conducted the first randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of ayahuasca.

“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.

A 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 members worldwide.

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 States, Canada 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.

Luís Fernando Tófoli, Professor of Psychiatry, Universidade Estadual de Campinas; Dráulio Barros de Araújo, Professor, Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), and Fernanda Palhano-Fontes, , Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil)

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

Categories: News Feeds