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How Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump Have Restarted the War on Drugs

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 10:37
Under Obama, America’s addiction to mass incarceration seemed to fade. But then came Trump and a hard-line attorney general.

Shauna Barry-Scott remembers the moment she felt the American fever for mass incarceration break. It was an August morning in 2013, and she was in a federal prison in the mountains of West Virginia. She remembers crowding into the TV room with the other women in their khaki uniforms. Everyone who could get out of their work shifts was there, waiting. Good news was on the way, advocates had told them. Watch for it.

Some of her fellow inmates were cynical: it seemed like millions of rumors of reform had swept through the federal prison system to only then dissolve. Barry-Scott did not blame them, but she was more hopeful.

At age 41, she had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for possession with the intent to distribute 4.5 ounces of crack cocaine. “Think of a 12oz can of Coke, cut that in a third,” she explains. “And that’s what I got 20 years for.” The sentence made no sense to her. Barry-Scott’s son had been murdered in 1998, and the men charged with shooting him to death had to serve less time than she did – six and seven years each, she says.

But the amount of drugs in her possession had triggered a mandatory minimum sentence, part of a now-infamous law passed in 1986 to impose punitive sentences for certain offenses amid a rising panic over drug abuse. In 1980, some 25,000 people were incarcerated in federal prisons. By 2013 after four decades of America’s war on drugs, there were 219,000. Yet this population was just a small fraction of the estimated 2.3 million Americans locked up not only in federal prisons, but also in state facilities and local jails.

Her story is one of many that show how “mandatory minimums” unleash draconian sentences on people caught selling small amounts of drugs.

For those with prior convictions, even relatively minor ones, mandatory minimum sentences can be doubled, adding decades of additional punishment. Third offenses for drug crimes can result in a mandatory minimum penalty of life imprisonment.

Barry-Scott had a prior conviction that had carried a penalty of only one year’s probation, she says. As a result, “what would have been a 10-year sentence was automatically doubled to 20”.

As she watched CNN that summer day, Barry-Scott scribbled down notes. Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, was pushing through a set of “smart on crime” reforms that included directing federal prosecutors to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences when dealing with lower-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

For many years research and advocacy groups had opposed mandatory minimum sentences as cripplingly expensive, marked by racial disparities and of dubious value for crime prevention. But the laws were still on the books and the federal prison population continued to grow.

Holder was announcing that federal prosecutors were being instructed to use minimum sentences in fewer, and more serious, cases. Central to this push for change, said America’s first black attorney general, was the evidence that America’s harsh drug enforcement had fallen more heavily on African Americans.

Watching the announcement of Holder’s reforms back then, Barry-Scott says, she could feel a palpable change in the energy around her.

“Everything he said made sense,” she says. She and the other women would spend hours discussing what they had heard. “By the time we went to bed that night, everyone went to bed pretty happy.”

Over the next three years, America’s federal prison population would shrink, representing the first downward trend in 33 years. Today, Barry-Scott herself is free, part of a group of more than 1,900 inmates granted clemency by Barack Obama in the largest application of presidential mercy in half a century.

But she is no longer so hopeful. Less than two years after her family drove into the West Virginia mountains and brought her home, Barry-Scott watched with anger and disbelief as Donald Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, tried to bring back the tough policies in effect during America’s war on drugs.

In May, Sessions reversed his predecessor’s initiative, claiming, without evidence, that Holder’s sentencing changes had led to America’s sudden 10.8% increase in murders in 2015.

Sessions, a former senator from Alabama known for his hardline views on crime and legal immigration, had been denied a federal judgeship in 1986 over alleged racist comments and attacks on the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union (he first admitted, and then disputed, calling these organizations “un-American”). Martin Luther King’s widow had written a letter opposing Sessions’ appointment, saying he had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” through “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions”.

Appointing Sessions as attorney general “was like hosting a Confederate flag above the Department of Justice,” says Eugene Jarecki, a filmmaker who directed The House I Live In, an award-winning 2012 documentary about mass incarceration.

What is so striking about the move by Sessions and the Trump administration is that it is at odds with much thinking across the globe about the war on drugs, including among leaders in Latin America. Ever since 2011 when Juan Manuel Santos, as the president of Colombia, declared that the war on drugs had failed, a growing international consensus has been forming on the need for a new conversation to discuss the violence, bloodshed and ruined lives that followed in the wake of the war on drugs – whether in Colombia, Mexico or America.

The change in direction in the US has come at a time when America has been also seeing an increasing number of states liberalizing laws on the consumption and sale of marijuana. Into this evolving international and national context has stepped Sessions, with a very different approach.

The new attorney general and his initiatives represent a huge setback for advocates who have worked for decades to build bipartisan agreement that America’s war on drugs had been a failure and it was time to reverse the damage.

“To see Sessions now, under President Trump, try to reverse the major progress that Eric Holder and President Obama had made, it is just sickening,” Barry-Scott says. “Everything in us is screaming, ‘please don’t do this.’”

‘A new all-out offensive’

When Richard Nixon declared a national “war on drugs” in 1971, he announced, “America’s public enemy No 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. This will be a worldwide offensive,” he promised. “If we’re going to have a successful offensive,” he added, “we need more money.”

By 1986, the year Ronald Reagan warned against the “new epidemic of smokable cocaine, otherwise known as crack,” Len Bias, a young black basketball star who had just been picked to join the NBA ranks, died of an overdose. That year Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving specific amounts of drugs. The law created a remarkable 100 to 1 disparity in the length of sentences for possession of of crack cocaine (then associated with low-income, often African American drug users) compared with those for possession of the same amount of powder cocaine, the choice of wealthier white drug users.

Before 1986, the average federal drug sentence for a black American was 11% longer than one for a white American. After 1986, the disparity spiked: the average length of a federal drug sentence for a black American became 49% higher than one for a white person.

“The war on drugs has never been about the war on drugs; it’s always been about controlling and prosecuting and persecuting certain communities,” says Michael Collins, the deputy director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington. “This is not a scientific judgment on drugs or what drugs do to you. This is about people governed by zealotry,” he adds. “The very foundation of the war on drugs is racism and xenophobia.”

America’s drug war seems increasingly “intended as a war on the poor”, Baltimore journalist David Simon told the Guardian in 2013. “It may have begun a long time ago as a war on dangerous drugs, but at some point it morphed, to the point where it was really about social control,’’ added Simon, who is also known as the creator of The Wire.

As the US murder and violent crime rate spiked during the crack epidemic in the late 1980s, and political and media coverage about violence reached a high pitch, drug abuse briefly became America’s No 1 issue: the New York Times reported in 1989 that 64% of Americans named drugs as most important issue in the country, one of the highest single-issue priorities recorded in any national poll.

For decades, reciting law and order slogans has been the path of least resistance for politicians – and the policymakers who sign such harsh legislation have not been held responsible for its consequences.

“I am unaware of any legislator who has gotten into political trouble for codifying a simple-minded slogan or soundbite that pushes up the incarceration rate with no effect on crime,” says Bobby Scott, an African American Democratic congressman from Virginia who has been fighting for a better approach to criminal justice since he was first elected in 1993. “I am aware of many politicians who voted for intelligent, research-based initiatives that reduce crime and save money, and because they’re labeled ‘soft on crime’ they get in political trouble.”

In recent years, driven by the enormous price tag of mass incarceration for taxpayers, reforming America’s criminal justice system has become a bipartisan effort, with the Republican mega-donor Koch brothers and the advocacy group Right on Crime supporting the cause, and conservative states like Texas leading the way on reducing their prison populations.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who now serves as Trump’s energy secretary, was one of the many Republicans who signed on to these reforms. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past,” he said at the World Economic Forum in 2014. “What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done.”

In 2010, Congress acknowledged the troubling racial biases and revised the law, reducing the disparity in sentencing for crack offenses compared with those for powder cocaine from 100 to 1 to merely 18 to 1. Then-senator Sessions signed on to support the Fair Sentencing Act and had backed reducing this disparity for years. He conceded in 2009, “I definitely believe that the current system is not fair and that we are not able to defend the sentences that are required to be imposed under the law today.” But a former Obama staffer wrote that even as Sessions supported the law, he was holding back reform: while other Republicans supported reducing the disparity to 10 to 1, Sessions “insisted on reducing it to 18 to 1”.

“He is an outlier in terms of how he thinks about drug policy even with the Republican party,” Collins says. “He was an outlier and a loner when it came to policy-making in the Senate. The problem we now face is this outlier is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country.”

“You are never going to win the war on drugs. Drugs won,” Koch Industries executive Mark Holden told reporters in Colorado in June, expressing frustration at Sessions’ return to war on drugs policies and rhetoric.

“Illegal drug usage is at the same or higher levels now than it was when we started the war on drugs,” Holden, who leads the Koch criminal justice reform efforts, told the Guardian. “We need to go to a different approach.”

Sessions’ rollback of Holder’s sentencing reforms has been hailed by some law enforcement groups, and the Justice Department has also defended Sessions’ changes by pointing to his backing from people “actually on the front lines dealing with violent criminals on a daily basis”.

Among Sessions’ supporters in law enforcement are the Fraternal Order of Police (the nation’s most prominent police union), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys, which represents the frontline federal prosecutors whom Holder had tried to rein in.

Larry Leiser, the national association’s president, says that many federal prosecutors believe that tough mandatory minimum sentences are a crucial tool in convincing lower-level drug defendants to cooperate with the government when it’s prosecuting the higher-ups involved with the criminal activity.

“The tools we have [to tackle drugs and violence] are the tools that Congress has created for us, Leiser says. “We’re just trying to hold on to the ones we’ve got.”

“Some organizations and people like to make these drug traffickers the victims. What about the people whose lives they kill and the lives they destroy?” Leiser asks. “We’ve lost our way on this issue; we’ve failed to focus on the victims.”

One of Sessions’ suggestions, which he has made multiple times, is that the Obama administration’s modest changes in federal sentencing policy were responsible for the nearly 11% increase in total murders the country saw in 2015.

Leiser and Patrick O’Carroll, the executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, both say they believe the Obama administration’s modest criminal justice reforms are connected to 2015’s increase in murders.

“If you have less drugs in the marketplace, there are less people dying and fighting over the drugs, and you’re going to have less murders,” Leiser says.

Richard Rosenfeld, a leading criminologist who authored a Justice Department-funded study on the 2015 murder increase, says he knows of no research or data to support a link between federal sentencing changes and the uptick in murders. Because 2015’s murder increase does not represent a clear-cut nationwide trend – some big cities saw sharp spikes in the number of murders that year, others saw little or no change – it seems unlikely that a federal policy change could explain it, he says.

The idea that resuming longer sentences would reduce violence is also not supported by evidence, Rosenfeld says: “Returning to a period of lengthy mandatory sentences for drug offenders is not likely in my view to have much of an effect on street violence.”

In fact, one of the most comprehensive surveys of research examining the effects of tough drug law enforcement found that the tactic sometimes backfired and led to more violence, rather than less. 

“By removing key players from the lucrative illegal drug market, drug law enforcement has the perverse effect of creating new financial opportunities for other individuals to fill this vacuum,” the researchers wrote, and this competition to fill the openings in the drug market sometimes fuels drug-related violence, rather than making streets safer.

‘It is both destructive and vapid’

Exactly what effect Sessions’ reversals will have on America’s prison population remains to be seen. But data released last month by the US Sentencing Commission suggested that Holder’s “smart on crime” policies were having a real, if modest, impact.

The percentage of inmates subject to mandatory minimum sentences had decreased by five points since 2010. Most strikingly, gaps between black offenders and white offenders had narrowed. While black offenders were still the least likely to get relief from a mandatory minimum sentence, now only three points existed between the percentages of white and black offenders receiving relief. In 2010, the gap had been almost 12 percentage points.

Even after Holder’s changes, the number of prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences still made up more than half of the total prison population.

But by the time the research was published suggesting that the “smart on crime” approach was working, Holder’s policy changes had already been revoked.

Since Trump’s appointment of a new chief of staff, the president’s public feud with his attorney general has cooled off. Yet even if the president eventually fires Sessions, it seems most likely that his sharp changes in sentencing and criminal justice policy will survive without him, says Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s civil rights division under Obama.

“He’s already, in very short order, reversed all of those things,” Gupta says. “It would require somebody coming in to actively and affirmatively undo those policies, and they have a lot of support in the president and his administration,” she adds. “It’s not that easy. I think it’s hard to bank on that.”

The Trump administration’s war on drugs, Jarecki says, is like its approach to so many issues: “It is both destructive and vapid.”

“We’re living in a time where speaking less bluntly about these monstrous public antagonists would be immoral,” he says.

“Whenever anyone says that they’re going to turn the clock back on the war on drugs, they are willingly putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, of innocent people, at risk,” Jarecki says. “The morality of it is all we should care about. Will the country actually unlearn the lessons that mass incarceration is hurtful?”

Sessions’ endorsement of failed 1980s crime policy has not gone unopposed. Police chiefs in some of America’s biggest cities have publicly pushed back against the attorney general’s claims about immigration, drugs and violence. Prominent conservatives in the Senate have publicly disagreed with his sentencing rollback and other criminal justice reversals.

The public and media response to the opioid and heroin epidemics, which are now devastating white communities, are very different from the reactions to the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

“You notice nobody’s talking about mandatory minimums,” Scott, the Virginia congressman, says, “because the mandatory minimums were so draconian that no one who represented an area where people were actually getting these kinds of sentences could possibly withstand the public revolt if they tried to respond to the opioid crisis with five-year mandatory minimums with possession of a weekend’s worth of pills.”

For some black Americans, that change is both a sign of progress and another troubling mark of how deeply racism warps US politics.

“It is hard to describe the bittersweet sting that many African-Americans feel witnessing this national embrace of addicts,” law professor Ekow N Yankah wrote in an op-ed last year. “It is heartening to see the eclipse of the generations-long failed war on drugs. But black Americans are also knowingly weary and embittered by the absence of such enlightened thinking when those in our own families were similarly wounded.”

In Youngstown, Ohio, Barry-Scott, who has just turned 55, is applying for grants to support renewed after-school and summer programs in the same community center she attended as a child. She is on track to complete an expedited program that will allow her to finish her 10 years of supervised release early, and she continues working as a criminal justice reform advocate.

What’s most devastating about the renewed push for more incarceration, she says, is how much damage the war on drugs has already caused. Even with the blessing of the clemency she received – and with her tremendous fortune to be returning home – her family is still processing the toll of her sentence.

Barry-Scott left behind five of her children when she went to prison for a decade. “My oldest daughter was left with the task of trying to raise the youngest ones,” she says. Without her around, her husband had to work twice as hard to support the family. “We are still feeling the impact of what that did to my kids, psychologically and emotionally,” she adds. “It’s something we work on daily.”

For some of the women in prison with her in West Virginia, the damage done by their being away from their families was even greater. Barry-Scott remembers one young woman who was up every morning, weeping on the phone. Then she learned that the young woman was a mother, and her daughter was describing being sexually abused in her mom’s absence. The child had been young, only about six years old. “You’re telling me you couldn’t let her do community service, pay a fine, do something other than take her away from her child?” asks Barry-Scott.

“How do you heal from that?” Barry-Scott asks. “Countless children were killed, harmed, lost to the system. How do we count that toll? Will we ever really know?”

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Attacking the Crisis At The Source: Local Governments in Alabama and Ohio File Suit Against Opioid Distributors

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 10:31
The lawsuits target distributors, not manufacturers, but could still be a major step forward.




Over the past three weeks, ten municipal and county-level governments in Ohio and Alabama have been filing lawsuits against three major distributors of opioid medications, citing violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and federal racketeering laws. Defendants are also accused of creating a public nuisance and face allegations of negligence. The most recent lawsuit was…

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There’s No Known Cure For Arthritis, But Marijuana Works Wonders

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 11:09
More than 50 million Americans suffer from this painful, debilitating condition.

Here’s some good news: Medical marijuana is helping people with arthritis improve their quality of life.

Most of us know someone — an aunt, uncle or grandmother — suffering from arthritis. It is one of the most common health ailments in the world, with more than 50 million people affected in the U.S. alone.

The term “arthritis” is actually a category that includes over 100 conditions and diseases affecting joints and surrounding tissue. Symptoms of pain, stiffness and swelling aching joints are common. Arthritis can seem inescapable and changes people’s quality of life. There is no known cure.


·         Related Story: How This Former Radio Personality Found Relief From Advanced Arthritis Using Marijuana


Despite anecdotal evidence about efficacy of marijuana for arthritis, physicians simply don’t know enough about it to engage their patients about it as a treatment option. In one study, 70 percent of physicians said they would not know how to discuss possible interactions with other meds or suggest dose.

That is a great shame since cannabis has a better safety profile than the NSAIDS, steroids and opiates that are often employed to reduce arthritis discomfort but come with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, weakening of bones and addiction. Even if patients were able to use cannabis as a complementary therapy, they could very potentially cut back on the use of harder, more dangerous meds.


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It’s no surprise that cannabis could offer arthritis sufferers relief. After all, cannabis is known to be as much as 20 times more effective than aspirin at reducing inflammation and can be an effective sleep aid. Some research certainly supports those decisions.

An Israeli study found that 90 percent of medical marijuana patients stayed on their medicine regimen and most reported reduced pain and function. Researchers at the University of Nottingham noted that targeting cannabinoid receptors with medical marijuana products may help bring pain relief to knee joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. 


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The first Health Canada approved cannabis clinical trial studying arthritis began in 2016. The CAPRI Trial (Cannabinoid Profile Investigation of Vaporized Cannabis in Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee) will compare the effects of different ratios of THC and CBD as well as the short term safety of vaporized cannabis. Results have not yet been published.

Similar to other ailments, a gap exists between physician knowledge base about cannabis and patient interest. Some patients and physicians will wait until there is irrefutable evidence before trying cannabis as an alternative therapy. Others will not wait for more information and seek to improve their quality of life with cannabis now

What we do know is that as more states come online with regulated medical marijuana, more patients will have an alternative to consider, and having options is good news.


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Scientists Discover How Magic Mushrooms Make Psilocybin

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 10:52
This could open the door to mass production of the psychedelic compound.


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3 Ways Trump/Sessions Drug Craziness Is Making the Conservative DEA Look Sane in Comparison

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:39
Click here for reuse options! The DEA is unhappy enough to leak to the press.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has never been known as forward-thinking when it comes to drug and crime policy, but these days, the hide-bound drug-fighting agency is coming off as much more reasonable than its bosses, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

As is the case with everyone from Republican elected officials to top corporate executives, the Trump administration's bad case of crazy is forcing even the DEA to distance itself from some of Trump's more ill-thought-out and insidious mouthings.

No, the DEA hasn't gone soft. It's still out there doing its best to enforce federal drug prohibition, and just last year it was old school enough to refuse to move pot out of Schedule I, but several recent incidents show the DEA behaving in a more responsible manner than the president or his attorney general. 

1. The DEA has been accepting applications from scientists to grow marijuana for research purposes, only to be blocked by the Sessions Justice Department.

For years, researchers have complained that a government monopoly on marijuana grown for research purposes has stifled useful research and illustrated the DEA's role in hindering science. Late in the Obama administration, the agency relented, saying it would take proposals from researchers to grow their own crops.

But the Washington Postreported last week that DEA had received 25 research proposals since it began accepting applications a year ago, but needed DOJ's approval to move forward. That approval has not been forthcoming, much like DOJ when queried by the Post. DOJ may not have had anything to say, but some insiders did.

"They're sitting on it. They just will not act on these things," said one unnamed source described by the Post as a "law enforcement official familiar with the matter."

Another source described as a "senior DEA official" said that as a result, "the Justice Department has effectively shut down this program to increase research registrations."

The DEA tries to do the right thing, but Sessions squelches it.

2. The DEA head feels compelled to repudiate Trump's remarks about roughing up suspects.

The Wall Street Journal obtained an email from acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg to staff members written after President Trump told police officers in Long Island that they needn't be too gentle with suspects. Rosenberg rejected the president's remarks.

Saying he was writing "because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong," Rosenberg stated that Trump had "condoned police misconduct."

Instead of heeding the president, Rosenberg said, DEA agents must "always act honorably" by maintaining "the very highest standards" in the treatment of suspects.

It is a strange state of affairs when an agency many people consider to be the embodiment of heavy-handed policing has to tell its employees to ignore the president of the United States because he's being too thuggish.

3. The DEA has to fend off the Trump/Sessions obsession with MS-13.

Trump loves to fulminate about MS-13, the vicious gang whose roots lie in the Salvadoran diaspora during the U.S.-backed civil war of the 1980s. He and his loyal attorney general use MS-13 to conflate the issues of immigration, crime and drugs. Both of them insist that breaking MS-13 will be a victory in the war on drugs and are pressuring the DEA to specifically target them.

But, the Post reported, Rosenberg and other DEA officials have told DOJ that the gang "is not one of the biggest players when it comes to distributing and selling narcotics."

In the DEA view, Mexican cartels are the big problem and MS-13 is simply one of many gangs the cartels use to peddle their wares. DEA administrators have told their underlings to focus on whatever is the biggest threat in their areas—not MS-13—because "in many parts of the country, MS-13 simply does not pose a major criminal or drug-dealing threat compared with other groups," according to unnamed DEA officials.

"The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they could face professional consequences for candidly describing the internal disputes," the Post noted.

The president and the attorney general are seeking to distort what DEA professionals see as their key drug enforcement priorities so Trump can score some cheap demagogic political points, and the DEA is unhappy enough to leak to the press. We are indeed in a strange place. 

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Can Marijuana Reduce the Risk of Strokes?

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 10:50
Marijuana enhances blood and oxygen flow, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke, researchers found.




Smoking marijuana can reduce the risk of a stroke to a large extent, a new study has found. The findings of the study have been published in the journal, "Neuropsychopharmacology." Although the use of marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 29 states of the country, 21 states including Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, and Kansas…

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Are People Really Falling Ill from Touching Fentanyl? In Most Cases, Scientists Say No

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 10:32
We need to prevent hysteria and set the record straight: In these cases, police are more likely suffering panic attacks than opioid overdoses.

Police officers hospitalized after incidental exposure to fentanyl. A Florida child fatally overdosed. In communities around the country, such headlines are stoking fears that a momentary brush with a tiny amount of fentanyl powder could prove fatal.

The synthetic opioid, blamed for increasing numbers of overdose deaths across the U.S., is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. But experts consulted by STAT said many of the reported incidents appear to be false alarms that run counter to scientific fact and exaggerate the risks.

The American College of Medical Toxicology recently issued a position paper concluding that, based on what’s been publicly released, none of the recent incidents involving first responders is consistent with opioid toxicity. The doctors, who reviewed a handful of cases, said they are not challenging the truthfulness of the officers involved. Rather, they are questioning whether their reports are verified cases of poisonings that carry the hallmarks of opioid exposure.

“A lot of the symptoms are nondescript, such as vague dizziness, that don’t concern opioid poisoning,” said Dr. Andrew Stolbach, a physician at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and lead author of the paper. “And in a lot of the cases, the way that they were exposed doesn’t make sense, like brushing a small amount of powder off a uniform.”

While most of the reports have involved first responders, some have involved young children, including the fatal overdose of a 10-year-old Florida boy who was found to have a mixture of heroin and fentanyl in his body. How he came in contact with opioids remains unknown, although authorities have raised the possibility that he encountered it at a community pool or walking through a neighborhood known to be a hotbed of opioid trafficking.

Establishing the truth in these cases is not just a matter of setting the record straight, but of preventing hysteria and ensuring public safety. While accidental exposure to opioids can take lives, so can undue fear of the risks. For first responders, taking extra precautions could delay lifesaving care for people suffering overdoses and distract from more pressing threats, such as a suspect at a crime scene.

“We want to prevent unintended consequences,” said Dr. Diane Calello, medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System. “If a law enforcement professional is wearing a lot of unnecessary protective gear in a situation that requires an agile response, that in and of itself is a safety issue.”

Conversely, failing to take proper precautions could also result in harm. So what’s the right balance?

STAT spoke to several toxicologists and law enforcement officials to examine the underlying science of fentanyl exposure and the extent of the risk it poses to first responders and the public.

Can fentanyl poison officers and others through incidental skin contact?

In several incidents, officers have reportedly fallen ill after a powdered form of fentanyl came in contact with their skin or clothing.

Although ingesting a pinch of fentanyl powder can be fatal, several toxicologists said contact with intact skin is extremely unlikely to cause opioid toxicity, which can occur only if the substance enters the bloodstream.

“If you have fentanyl powder on your hand for five or 10 minutes, it’s inconceivable that that would be sufficient to cause you to have an overdose,” said Dr. David Juurlink, a toxicologist at the University of Toronto.

Fentanyl cannot penetrate the skin on its own. It needs moisture. That’s why, in clinical care, patients are given fentanyl patches to aid in absorption and relieve pain. The position paper by the American College of Medical Toxicology reported that, even if a large area of the body were covered with fentanyl patches, it would take 14 minutes to transmit a therapeutic dose of 100 micrograms, let alone an overdose.

“For the fentanyl patch to work, you have to put a lot of fentanyl in the patch. It has to be moist and it has to be in contact with the skin for a long period of time, in a special liquid,” said Stolbach. “Those aren’t the conditions that are going to occur when somebody is incidentally exposed.”

One of the most widely reported incidental overdoses occurred in East Liverpool, Ohio, where officer Chris Green became ill following a traffic stop involving drugs. Green has recovered and returned to work.

The city’s police chief, John Lane, said he believes Green’s illness resulted from opioid exposure, regardless of the questions raised by toxicologists. Lane said a screening test confirmed that Green had opioids in his body, but the exact method of exposure remains unclear.

He said Green collapsed moments after he brushed a small amount of powder off his shirt at the police station, after the traffic stop was over.

“We don’t know if he brushed it off with his hand or rubbed his eye,” Lane said. “We think what may have happened is that he put on that Purel or Germ-X stuff, and that got it wet and maybe he absorbed it that way. We’re not sure. All we know is he overdosed from it.”

The medical toxicologists group specifically warns that alcohol-based hand sanitizers should never be used, because they are ineffective in removing fentanyl and may increase drug absorption. The organization said officers should take basic precautions to prevent the remote risk of poisoning through skin contact, such as wearing nitrile gloves and immediately washing with copious amounts of water if contact does occur.

Can inhaling fentanyl cause an overdose?

Toxicologists said the possibility of accidental inhalation presents a higher risk, especially in poorly ventilated spaces where public safety officials suspect fentanyl is dispersed in the air.

Calello said inhaling fentanyl — or ingesting it — puts it in contact with mucous membranes in the nose or mouth, providing the drug a way into the bloodstream, which can result in poisoning.

She added, however, that such circumstances are unlikely to arise during a traffic stop or in other open-air environments. “Handling an overdose victim is not going to entail a plume of aerosolized drug,” Calello said.

It would take prolonged exposure to a large amount of airborne fentanyl to cause an overdose, according to the medical toxicologists. Their report references safety standards for industrial workers who manufacture fentanyl. “At the highest airborne concentration encountered by workers, an unprotected individual would require nearly 200 minutes of exposure to reach a dose of 100 mcg of fentanyl,” the report states. (100 mcg, or micrograms, is enough to have a therapeutic effect but not enough to cause an overdose.)

“We would expect in an industrial fentanyl production plant there’s going to be more fentanyl in the air than there would be at any crime scene,” Hopkins’s Stolbach said.

Still, in cases where first responders suspect a high concentration of airborne opioids, the medical toxicologists group recommends that officers use a respirator, in addition to wearing water-resistant coveralls to block skin exposure.

Why are so many officers falling ill if the risks of poisoning are so low?

Toxicologists said officers may indeed be getting sick following exposure to fentanyl or other substances, but that does not necessarily mean the drugs are the cause.

The only way to confirm a case of poisoning is to conduct a urine or blood test, or to verify that symptoms were reversed by a dose of naloxone. But such evidence is lacking in many of the cases reported around the country.

“The common theme is that there is no biochemical confirmation,” Stolbach said. In most cases, the media is reporting that officers are being hospitalized, but hospitalization may just be a precaution.

Juurlink said the real culprit in these cases may be a phenomenon known as the nocebo effect, in which the mere suggestion that a substance can be harmful causes people to suffer negative effects after exposure. In medical research, for example, being informed of side effects related to a pill or procedure can bring on real-life symptoms.

“If in a moment of panic, a person sees powder on their skin and they’ve read reports on the internet about people having overdosed, you could see how that might cause someone to at least believe they’ve had an overdose,” Juurlink said.

Indeed, some of the symptoms reportedly suffered by public safety officers, such as a racing heartdizziness, and anxiety, are more consistent with panic than opioid poisoning. “If anything, people with opioid poisoning would have a slow heart rate,” Stolbach said.

Toxicologists said law enforcement officials should be trained to recognize the objective symptoms of opioid poisoning so they can deliver the opioid antidote naloxone when appropriate. Those symptoms would take hold within a few minutes of exposure. A person would become sleepy and lethargic and start breathing at an abnormally slow rate.

“That’s the typical progression,” Calello said. “From awake to sleepy, to asleep, to unconscious. The things that have been described in the news really are not what we typically see with patients who get opioids.”



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Why a Drug Policy Organization Needs to Speak Out Against White Supremacy

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 09:55
Click here for reuse options! The drug war is just another version of Jim Crow.

The drug war is a tool of racial oppression.

We see this in racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates for drug offenses that exist even though white people and people of color use and sell drugs at about the same rates.

We see it in the way stop-and-frisk policies have been used to target communities of color.

We see it in the way allegations of drug use were raised as cover for the police killings of Philando CastileTerence CrutcherKeith Lamont ScottSandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin.

And we see it in the legal marijuana industry now taking shape, which risks excluding the communities that have been most subjected to drug war enforcement by making people with past drug law convictions ineligible for licenses.

Sometimes the racial implications of drug war policies are overt, and sometimes they are more insidious. But the bottom line is that when we work to dismantle the drug war, we are working to end a tool of oppression.

So when white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out. If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.

We saw this when the drug war replaced Jim Crow last century, and must fight to keep it from happening again. The only way to ensure that our drug policy reforms truly end the harms of drug prohibition is to support the fight against white supremacy wherever it is taking place.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.


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Inside The Ever-Expanding Complexities Of California’s Cannabis Market

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:58
The state has the most long-standing, established cannabis-based economy in the entire United States, if not world.

The state of California has the most long-standing, established cannabis-based economies in the entire United States, if not world. Starting back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Northern California counties such as Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity replaced their once booming logging industries with outdoor marijuana farms.

This socioeconomic turn came as the result of an influx of hippies from the San Francisco Bay area moving north and “dropping out” of modern society coming in conjunction with depleted forest reserves for logging businesses on the California Coast. For approximately four decades, these counter culture transplants and Northern California locals alike took advantage of the premier outdoor cultivation climates in these regions—and established an entire economic base within the continental U.S. based solely on the illegal drug trade.

The passing of Proposition 215 in California in 2002—the first medical marijuana program in the United States—literally set the stage for the first-known cannabis “green rush” in history. As California cultivators, dispensary owners, and cannabis doctors realized the state was really going to let them conduct a legitimized marijuana market, word rapidly spread across the nation. The sizeable influx of wide-eyed cannabis industry enthusiasts flocking to California to make a living growing and selling medical marijuana can accurately be measured in the price fluctuations of marijuana pounds. In 2004, indoor marijuana pounds could be sold for $4,500 in the state of California—in 2017 this price has dropped to approximately $1,500.

The medical marijuana industry in California has continuously been manipulated and altered since its inception with Prop 215. For starters, the multi-billion dollar industry still operates almost exclusively within the realm of the grey and black markets. A vast majority of California grown “medical marijuana” is shipped to other regions of the nation for a hefty profit. Also, cannabis dispensaries in CA buy all of their products with cash, generally from unlicensed growers—often negating laboratory testing as well as standardized sales tax procedures. Also, within the California marijuana market there are great disparages between federal, state, and county laws concerning what is legal and what is not. These laws also change once, if not two times a year. Point being, the medical marijuana industry in California is a mess.

In the November 2016 elections, the citizens of California voted Proposition 64 into place—opening up California’s first recreational cannabis market. Included in Prop 64 are a number of measures that will force the long-standing underground cannabis market into the limelight, with commercial cultivation operations having to undergo expensive, thorough licensing procedures. Moreover, dispensaries will only be able to purchase cannabis products from licensed cultivators who have put their products through rigorous laboratory testing. Also, anyone over the age of 21 can now carry legally carry up to an ounce of cannabis products as well as grow six plants. However, the novel cannabis market initiatives of Prop 64 are not without their complexities. One of the primary complications with Prop 64 is that California state and county laws will still be at odds—with some counties embracing commercial cultivation and others outlawing it entirely.

The state of California has set a launch date of January 1, 2018 for the recreational cannabis program, its goal is to have the entire state compliant to the many legal nuances of Prop 64 within this ever-shrinking time frame. However, many feel that the implementation of Prop 64 will only serve to make an already confusing system and economic model even more complex. This is largely because, there are several “layers” of cannabis business culture in California that must be “peeled back” with this novel legislature. Policy makers and law makers alike must now attempt to uproot an underground business model that has supported families and communities alike for over four decades in areas like Mendocino County. Moreover, there is an overabundance of CA State medical marijuana green rush migrants who have now established a thorough economic foothold throughout the state—many of these individuals base the lively-hood of themselves and their families on cannabis cultivation. To sum it up, it is likely that for some time at least, the dawn of 2018 and Prop 64 in California will bring a slow, confusing, and painful evolution of the cannabis industry in the Golden State—with the realization of a mature, regulated market still on a distant horizon.


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Why Is the Teen Drug Overdose Rate Rising Again?

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:51
A new report has also found the rate of overdose from synthetic opioids has increased sixfold since 2002, while heroin death rates have tripled.

The number of American teens to die of a drug overdose leapt by almost a fifth in 2015 after seven years of decline, a study by the National Center for Health Statistics has found. The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls.

Deaths among teenagers represent a tiny portion of drug overdose deaths nationally – less than 2%.

The report comes just as the Trump administration struggles to craft a plan to fight an opioid epidemic that claimed more than 52,000 lives in 2015.

“We wanted to document that in this age group there had been a decline [in deaths],” said Sally Curtin, lead author of the study. “The trends were unique for this age group. But, once again, it did increase again between 2014 and 2015.”

The report looked at the rate of overdose deaths for teens aged 15-19 between 1999 and 2015. Researchers found the rate of teens who died from a drug overdose dropped 26% between 2007 and 2014. Among boys, the death rate fell even more – by one-third.

But in 2015, the rate of overdoses among American teens increased by almost one-fifth. That year, 772 teens died of drug overdoses. The number of deaths in 2014 was 658.

While the rate of teen boys overdosing dropped dramatically in the last decade, the rate of overdoses among girls held steady and then increased in the last two years.

For the better part of a decade, even as drug overdose rates nationally have soared, a declining number of teens have died of drug overdoses. Indeed, fewer teens reported even trying drugs. A 40-year-running, nationally representative survey called Monitoring the Future recently recorded the lowest rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use among middle and high school students since the 1990s.

The trend prompted researchers to question whether smartphones might be replacing the inclination of previous generations of teens to abuse drugs.

Curtin cautioned that it was too early to sound alarms about a potential trend of teen deaths with just one year of data. But the larger trends are ominous. Researchers found that the rate of overdose from synthetic opioids has increased sixfold since 2002, while heroin death rates have tripled.

Traci Green, a professor at Brown University School of Medicine who studied the drug use habits of college-aged Rhode Islanders, said that the study reflects “a very messy use environment” in which heroin may be tainted with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, fentanyl may be pressed into illegal pills, and users may mix drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines (typically used to treat anxiety).

“It is of course very upsetting and worth thinking about what is happening with our young people – your young men and your young women,” Green said. Deaths among “young women, we have known for a long time, happen for different reasons and present differently”.

While overdose deaths among boys were still falling in 2013, overdose deaths among teen girls started to climb. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of teen girls dying of overdoses increased 35%. A parallel increase of 15% from 2014 to 2015 was recorded among boys. While the majority of overdoses were accidental, girls were more than twice as likely to have intentionally killed themselves.

The report comes as the Trump administration has given conflicting signals about how it intends to address the crisis. Recently, Trump blamed lower numbers of drug prosecutions for the epidemic, and promised to prosecute more drug cases. He also recalled First Lady Nancy Reagan’s 1980s-era “Just Say No” to drugs slogan.

“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place, talking to youth and telling them – no good, really bad for you in every way,” Trump said. “But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.”

Last week, Trump announced an intention to declare a national state of emergency to address the opioid epidemic. A state of emergency generally allows administration’s to cut through red tape and access emergency funding, but it is unclear what exact actions the White House might take.


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AlterNet Is Leading the Fight for Drug Reform: We Need You to Help Chip In

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:10
Click here for reuse options! Every bit helps.

As a subscriber to AlterNet's drugs newsletter, you know that independent media is a key ingredient for social change when it comes to reform. Whether the issue is legalization or ending mass incarceration, the journey starts with educating people, changing minds, inspiring people to become activists, and breaking through social taboos, racist mind-sets and powerful government agencies and business interests that stand in the way of progress. And media needs to be there every step of the way as reforms and changes begin to happen. 

AlterNet has been a media leader for almost two decades on drug reform issues. Can you make a generous contribution to support our work?

Every day, we push back against the massive onslaught of corporate propaganda that dominates the airwaves. With unique, original reporting, in-depth analysis and editorials, and a curated mix of the best content from select publishers and grassroots organizations around the globe, AlterNet is recognized as one of the best on this issue. 

We are a great bang for your buck. But we simply can't do it without your supportCan you help?

In solidarity,

Phil Smith, AlterNet Drugs Editor


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Marijuana Becomes a Player in California Politics and It's Putting Its Money on Gavin Newsom

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 22:37
Click here for reuse options! The lieutenant governor wants to replace Jerry Brown next year, and the pot people want to help him.

Marijuana is already a multibillion-dollar-a-year business in California, and with recreational sales to adults coming online next year, it's about to get even bigger. Now, the legal pot industry is beginning to throw its weight around in state office-level politics, and it's doing it the old-fashioned way: with a checkbook.

Fundraising for the 2018 gubernatorial campaign is already well underway, and according to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign contributions, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is running away with the cannabis cash. Pot growers, retailers and others in the industry have donated more than $300,000, swamping industry contributions to his Democratic competitors, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ($5,000) and Treasurer John Chiang ($100).

That means Newsom has hoovered up around 98% of pot industry contributions in the Democratic race for the nomination so far. There's a reason for that—actually a couple of reasons.

First, the charismatic former San Francisco mayor has been a key player in the state's path toward full legalization, just as he was an early supporter of gay marriage. One of the first state-level officials to come out for freeing the weed, he has used his largely ceremonial position as lieutenant governor to champion the cause, creating a blue-ribbon commission and holding public hearings to develop policy to support what would ultimately become Prop 64, the legalization initiative approved by voters last fall. He's earned some political goodwill from the pot people.

Second, he's actively courting the industry. The Times reports that Newsom has held four industry fundraisers so far, including one in March hosted by the Indus Holding Company, maker of such marijuana-infused treats as Toasted Rooster and Crispy Kraken chocolate bars:

Local business leaders paid up to $5,000 for a chance to talk with the man aiming to be California’s next governor....Banking was a major topic that night, they said. Currently, the vast majority of banks and credit unions will not work with cannabis companies, because the federal government considers their revenue illegal. Some operate on an all-cash basis, and most lack the ability to find traditional financing.

There is a lot at stake for the marijuana industry. Regulatory and tax policies for the new legalization regime are being developed now. As both wielder of the veto pen over legislation and head of the executive branch that will implement legalization, the next governor will be a critical player in decisions that will help decide who makes a fortune and who doesn't.

And that worries Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents small growers in Northern California's traditional pot-growing Emerald Triangle. He told the Times the money to Newsom is coming from large enterprises and wealthy individuals seeking to cut out the ma-and-pa growers who paved the way.

"There are fierce and cutthroat business practices coming," he said. "We're pushing to keep craft growers in business."

The $300,000 raised so far by the pot industry is only a small part of Newsom's $14 million campaign war chest, but it's more than any other agricultural sector in the state has raised, and it's a clear sign of pot's increasing political clout. But with legalization already won—at least on the state level—that clout is going to be focused on who benefits and how. 

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How Marijuana May Treat Aggressive Brain Cancer

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 10:16
Successful treatment "reinforces the potential role of cannabinoids in the field of oncology."

In what is being heralded as a breakthrough for cancer research, GW Pharmaceuticals announced on Tuesday positive results from a study using a combination of cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol to treat an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM is a “particularly aggressive brain tumor, with a poor prognosis,” according to the British-based biopharmaceutical company focused on developing proprietary cannabinoid medicine.

According to the study, patients with documented recurrent GBM treated with THC:CBD had an 83 percent one year survival rate compared with 53 percent for patients taking a placebo.

Said Professor Susan Short, principal investigator of the study:

“The findings from this well-designed controlled study suggest that the addition of a combination of THC and CBD to patients on dose-intensive temozolomide produced relevant improvements in survival compared with placebo and this is a good signal of potential efficacy. Moreover, the cannabinoid medicine was generally well tolerated. These promising results are of particular interest as the pharmacology of the THC:CBD product appears to be distinct from existing oncology medications and may offer a unique and possibly synergistic option for future glioma treatment.”

The company has received Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for THC:CBD in the treatment of glioma.

GW Pharmaceutical’s glioma research demonstrates that THC and CBD appear to act via distinct signalling pathways. The combined administration of the two major cannabinoids led to a synergistic reduction in the viability of U87MG glioma cells when compared to the administration of each cannabinoid individually.

Studies of patients with high-grade gliomas showed that headache was the most common initial presenting symptom. These headaches can be persistent lasting more than six months and are often associated with other symptoms, including seizures, visual disturbances, cognitive impairment and nausea and vomiting depending on the location and growth rate of the tumor.



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Cannabis Conflict: States, Not Feds, Control The Fate Of Marijuana Law And Policy

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 08:47
The National Council of State Legislatures' call last week for marijuana to be de-scheduled is a harbinger of things to come.




Last week, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) adopted a formal resolution that Congress enable financial institutions to serve marijuana businesses. The forcefulness of the resolution is a first from a cannabis angle: it did not ask Congress to pass a banking bill specific to cannabis, or even to revisit the FinCEN guidelines for financial…

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Acid Redux: My Long, Strange, Cancer-Fighting Trip Back to Tripping

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 10:17
Our dual cancer diagnoses plunged me and my wife into depression. Could LSD, the drug of my youth, help now?

In March 2013 I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. Four months later, my wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. In the four years since that dual catastrophe, we have been fighting a relentless battle to survive. We prayed to God, but it seems He has determined that we should not be spared this trial.


A large part of the trial has been our struggle with depression. Our lives, what is left of them, will never be the same. That loss and the specter of death are overwhelming. The prognoses might change from month to month but the fear, anxiety and despair steadily metastasize.

Three years into this ordeal, I read news reports that psychedelic drugs were being used with some success to alleviate depression in late-stage cancer patients. It made sense to me. I had taken LSD hundreds of times in the ’60s, following the death of my mother and my father’s remarriage. In an ugly family tragedy, I fought bitterly with his new wife for my father’s favor and when, at 17, it became clear that I had lost, I left home to act out my anger and sorrow with self-destructive behavior in San Francisco during the Summer of Love.

But LSD changed all that. Expanding my consciousness brought compassionate closure to my past, opening a future of stupendous potentiality, a world of radical joy. In a very real way, acid saved my life, made it worth living. I got married, raised three kids, bought a house in the San Fernando Valley and had a long and rewarding career in the music business. In due course seven grandchildren arrived. I counted my blessings.

As those busy years progressed, my use of the drug steadily diminished. For a time I followed my own micro-dosing regimen, maintaining a low frequency high for days at a time. But I finally let it go altogether. Decades had passed since I had last tripped. Now suddenly, there was an urgent need to try it again. A half-century on, I wondered if LSD might not, once more, come to my rescue.

It was in 2012 that the New York Times first reported on research studies showing significant relief from depression and anxiety in terminally ill patients given psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Three years later the New Yorker detailed clinical trials at NYU, this time specifically with cancer patients and LSD, showing similar results. A Newsweek article quoted the quizzical researchers: “LSD appeared to allow patients to address their problems in a way that produced some resolution or catharsis.”

While they might not have known what to make of their research, I immediately understood acid’s potential to ease the fear of death. The drug itself induced a kind of dying, the surrender of ego and identity as a prelude to revelation. I needed that reset now more than ever.

My wife was having none of it. She made it plain: the idea was insane. It had been years since I last took LSD. It was a dangerous drug. And it was an illegal dangerous drug.

She was right about that: In 1968 LSD was designated a Schedule One substance, like heroin and cocaine, defined as “having no currently accepted medical use.” A first offense for possession can run as high as five years. Was I, indeed, crazy?

That last question spoke to her greatest fear. What if I took the trip and never came back, a late-stage acid casualty? I understood her trepidation. Psychedelics had never agreed with her, inducing paranoia and confusion instead of visions and ecstasy. She knew just how potent the drug was, how hard it could be on a brain and body. We were already virtually toxic from the arsenal of cancer medications we were taking. LSD could tip the balance into chemical chaos.

Her concerns were echoed by my two daughters. Along with my son, they had seen close up the ravages cancer had wrought. They had been trying to keep us alive ever since, joking that they should start a hip-hop group 2PWC — Two Parents With Cancer. Like my wife, my daughters took it personally that I would now recklessly risk my fragile health with an illicit drug. My decision to try LSD again was beginning to have unanticipated repercussions.

But I wouldn’t be dissuaded. Acid might help me cope with the crushing depression brought on by my disease. It was worth a try and at the same time, what was wrong with wanting to recapture some small token of my misspent youth?

There was only one problem. Where would I get it?

* * *

At 68, I’m definitely showing my age. Retired, on Medicare and Social Security, I am a certified senior citizen. Suffice it to say my dealer contacts had long since expired. I would have to start from scratch. I considered attending Burning Man in hopes of making contact with the millennial underground, but quickly concluded that trying to score in the middle of the desert from cosplay hipsters on a tear would amount to a net deficit in my quest for serenity. And what about undercover narcs? Actually, I had no idea whether there even was such a thing anymore. Would police disguises that formerly consisted of sideburns and bell-bottoms these days require piercings and a man-bun? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to take any chances. There had to be an easier way.

Working for 35 years in the record industry, notorious for drug use from the executive suite to the tour bus, you’d think something would turn up. It didn’t. While I was getting older, more settled and cautious, so was everybody else. Robust health was the new high, hanging in there as long as possible. LSD was a relic in the Baby Boomer’s trunk of memories. Or so it seemed.

As I began asking around, I was surprised to discover that many of my colleagues, who I’d always assumed were members of the psychedelic brotherhood, had in fact never taken the drug. One in particular was a devoted Deadhead and Phish follower. It made me wonder: Would acid have the same effect on me now that it had had a half century ago?

Despite its prelapsarian promise to “get us back to the garden” billing, LSD is best understood as a product of the Atomic Age. Like the bomb, there was something atomic about psychedelics, too, synthesized by heedless scientists drunk on pure research, unlocking secrets to explode the world. Maybe acid was a time-sensitive historical phenomenon, its shelf life expired at the end of the ’60s. Instead of a supercharged change agent, it had become a recreational party favor. My friend had simply aspired to be psychedelic. It was a lifestyle choice.


The search continued, down various dead ends. There was no point in asking my oldest surviving comrade from the ’60s, a former dealer and epic head back in the day; he had since become the pastor of an evangelical church. Early hopes were pinned on another friend who had an acid-dropping ritual once a year on his birthday. But when I asked he told me that his refrigerator had failed back in the ’90s and spoiled the stash. He hadn’t seen any since. I tried to widen the net, putting out feelers to anyone I knew 30 and under, mostly my kids’ crew. What I hadn’t bargained for was the innate creepiness of having your friend’s father ask you to cop. None of them got back to me.

Of course, finding acid was only part of the problem. Once procured, there would be no way of knowing exactly what I was getting. The same applied for dosage: Would it be strong enough? Would it be too strong? None of that ever used to bother me; buying acid on the street was always a crapshoot. I once scored an eyedropper bottle of pharmaceutical-grade Sandoz (the Swiss company that first commercially manufactured LSD 25 in its purest form). More often I would end up with something variously stepped on or, worse, adulterated with meth, which made for a Boschian ordeal. God knows what diabolical designer drugs are being passed off as the real thing these days.

I took a deep dive onto the web, searching “Buy LSD.” It yielded dozens of sites, where I was instructed to download Tor, open a Bitcoin account, install encryption software and cover my webcam with duct tape while surfing Blue Viking on the Dark Web. It all seemed more random and risky than the old-fashioned way, in a back alley from a stranger.

One thing I did learn, however: LSD was very affordable. The average price for a 250mc hit is around three dollars, essentially the same as it was in the ’60s. Even though a dollar back then is worth seven today, it still seemed like a bargain. Not that I really cared. I would have happily paid hundreds. I’d thrown caution to the wind. My web activity had probably already landed me on a government watch list, anyway. There was no turning back.

But secretly, I was starting to have misgivings. What if my wife was right? What if my synapses had grown brittle with age? What if they snapped under the strain? Not being able to score was giving me too much time to think about all the ways this could go wrong. It was going to have to happen soon. I was losing my nerve.

My wife watched all this frantic activity with growing alarm. If I was seriously going through with it, she demanded that I find somebody to guide me on the trip, in case I decided I could fly or stare directly at the sun. And she wasn’t about to volunteer.

I wondered who would agree to hold my hand as I stepped into the unknown. It didn’t seem fair to ask my friends. It wasn’t like asking for a ride to the airport. There could be dire consequences.

That left me with one option: my son. Unlike my wife and daughters, he didn’t seem overly concerned with my antics. He had, of course, tripped. All my kids had. Growing up in the ’80s, it had been, apparently, a rite of passage, checking a box on a to-do list of your parents’ youthful follies. Since then he’d settled down, gotten married and was raising three of his own kids. But he seemed to understand instinctively what it was I was after — some kind of liberation — and it was all right with him. I like to think that maybe my quixotic quest for a drug I had last taken when I was his age stirred some dormant impulse in him as well for the wild times he had long since put behind him. A friend laughed when I told him the plan: I’d just handed the boy a wealth of material for the psychiatrist’s couch. My son laughed, too, when he agreed to be my guide. I felt safer with him aboard.

* * *

I went back to reread the coverage of the LSD studies that had first caught my attention, looking for clues as to how the scientists were being supplied. If I couldn’t find any illegally, then legality was my last resort. Would I qualify as a research subject? That didn’t sound promising. I had zero interest in the clinical setting, picturing a windowless room with incense and New Age music setting the “mood,” while being observed, presumably, through a two-way mirror. But if that’s how it had to be . . .

My research eventually led me to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which had been consistently on the cutting edge of psychedelic research since the late ’80s. A nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, California, they had done the first therapeutic study on humans using LSD in 40 years. In 2008, they conducted trials using acid to treat anxiety due to life-threatening illnesses. They were currently testing the efficacy of MDMA (aka Molly) on PTSD patients, all with DEA and FDA approval. It was a long way from the street corners of the Haight where I used to wait for my man.

I started at the top, writing a letter to MAPS founder and Executive Director Dr. Rick Doblin, a pioneering name in psychedelic research, asking if he could “point me in the right direction.” Not surprisingly, I never got a reply; there are many excellent reasons not to give drug contact information to strangers through the mail. But I eventually did connect with Director of Strategic Communications Brad Burge.

My search had raised some intriguing questions along the way. Among them: Where would this renewed, albeit cautious, interest in psychedelic research eventually lead?

“We are primarily advocating for research and funding for research,” Burge told me. “But we also support much broader uses for psychedelics, with an emphasis on safety and responsibility. We are focused on the therapeutic approach because we see it as the most likely way to gain social and legal acceptance. At the same time, our goal is to open up its spiritual uses and benefits for personal growth, general science, creativity and whatever other applications people find.”

But what was that going to look like? Were we heading for a brave new tomorrow where LSD would be available by prescription, or even over the counter? Would there be acid emporiums alongside pot shops? Would it be administered in churches as a sacrament, or included with your concert or movie ticket, a premium enhancement like 3-D glasses?


“While we do advocate for the careful use of psychedelics beyond the therapeutic context,” Burge continued, “we don’t have any precise policy recommendations. We’re not lobbying to change laws. Especially not now, when at the federal level there is no effort whatsoever to reschedule or legalize psychedelics for broader use.”

As far as getting into a clinical trial, take a number. “We screened over a thousand people for a little more than a hundred slots in the second phase of our MDMA trials,” Burge explained. “And we had another thousand on a waiting list. They’d been referred by a psychiatrist, or read about the study on or just called us directly. We have a very rigorous criteria that varies with each study. You can read about it on our website.”

I did, and learned that potential subjects are evaluated by metrics like the Self-Compassion Scale, the Death Attitude Profile and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. It seemed pretty daunting. I wasn’t at all sure I could pass muster. I could guess what my attitude toward death might be (bad) but where was I on the Self-Compassion Scale? Besides, Burge told me, there are currently no upcoming or ongoing LSD trials in this country.

In fact, at the moment most of the action seems to be in Switzerland. That’s where MAPS obtained acid for LSD-assistant psychotherapy studies conducted jointly with Swiss scientists. The psychedelics needed for the work were was obtained from Swiss pharmaceutical companies willing to produce it in the relatively small batches required. It’s also there that one such company, Eleusis, is currently doing a study on LSD micro-dosing. It’s all very fitting considering acid was first discovered in Basel in 1938, but a long way to go to find out you don’t qualify. There was also a better-than-even chance that I might be flying halfway around the world to take a placebo. Once again I was barking up the wrong tree.

* * *

With nothing to lose, I next went to my oncologist. I had no expectation that he’d be able or willing to help me, but I confess that part of my reason for asking was just to hear what he’d say.

I had seen dozens of doctors since my diagnosis, with a wide range of bedside manners. Oncologists seemed to be in a class by themselves. They have developed a blandly empathetic affect, behind which they hide from their daily dealings with life and death. I wanted to see if I could reach beyond the protocols. Given studies into its benefit for depressed cancer patients, could he hook me up?

To his credit he didn’t blink. He could get into a lot of trouble for something like that, he replied evenly. But I could tell he was interested. He knew too well the limits of existing treatments for depression. He didn’t exactly tell me to keep looking. But he didn’t exactly tell me not to, either, and on a subsequent visit he inquired, is if in passing, whether I did that thing we talked about. No, I told him. But I’d keep him in the loop.

Meanwhile, I had stumbled across the book “Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America” by Jesse Jarnow. It was a revelation. An author, radio host and alt gadfly, Jarnow’s well-researched and entertaining work charted the course of the drug underground in the wake of the ’60s. He described a scattered spectrum of scenes linked in loose affiliation and drawing in everyone from graffiti artists to coding geeks to EDM DJs and unreconstructed Deadheads. The psychedelic subculture hadn’t withered away, after all. It had been continuously morphing all this time.

The book also had some tantalizing clues as to where I might look next. For example, there is a particular tree near the Central Park playground in Manhattan that had been used, Jarnow wrote, as a communal stash for a spontaneously generated gang of kids who hung out at the bandshell, got high and worked all night on dazzling graffiti murals. They called themselves the Parkies. Maybe Jarnow could put me in touch with them. Maybe they would take me to the tree. It was a measure of my desperation that the Parkies had last been active in the mid-’70s.

I emailed Jarnow and explained my situation, wondering if he might “know anybody.” He was sympathetic but guarded, leaving unspoken the assumption that if you had to ask, you probably couldn’t be trusted with the answer. I had lost the insider’s edge, the nod, the wink, the secret password that would get me through the door. Yet, even given the inherent risk, Jarnow did graciously direct me to a place where I “might be able to meet someone.”

So it was on a balmy spring evening in a down-market neighborhood on the fringes of Santa Monica that I attended the monthly gathering of the Psychedelic Integration Circle. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but a yoga studio in a converted garage under a jacaranda tree seemed about right. Folding chairs, set up around the mirrored walls, were slowly filling with participants. Their diversity, a range of race and age and various affinities, was reassuring: students from the nearby junior college, hippie re-enactors down from Topanga Canyon, Westside housewives and gloomy teens and Venice Beach flotsam. Who knew psychedelics drew such a wide range of citizens, all here for the same thing?

Except, as it turned out, for me. In a flyer handed out at the door the Circle laid out its mission: “to facilitate a reorganization of the mind, body and spirit after an experience of non-ordinary states of consciousness instigated by a psychedelic.” So far, so good, but below that, boldfaced, was a stern admonition: The solicitation or sale of any illegal substance was strictly prohibited on the premises. Why had Jarnow sent me here? Was this a test? Was I going to be the dude who breaks the rules? Was that the point? Or not?

Eventually, a trio of New Age sylphs, jacaranda blossoms in their hair, got things rolling. It was then, as we went around the room introducing ourselves, that I finally realized all these people had already taken psychedelics. They had solved the supply problem. What was on offer here instead was “reintegration,” professional help in case anyone needed their head screwed back on. Group settings and one-on-one sessions were available. There was a sign-up sheet at the hospitality table. Psychoactive drugs, it seemed, had given rise to whole range of monetized goods and services, an extension of the old neighborhood head shop.




I scanned the faces of the participants, looking for someone I might sidle up to afterwards, flashing cash under the streetlight. But my heart wasn’t in it. My search for LSD suddenly seemed pointless. These people wanted to fit acid into their daily lives. I wanted to fit my daily life into acid.

Back in the day, I loved psychedelics. I took them as often as I could find them, trying to stay under their influence as long as possible. Now I was trying to get there again, to shake off the fear of death. But I had changed. And so had LSD. The visions and ecstasy had faded. Agendas abounded instead. No wonder I was depressed.

When it was my turn to speak, I instead started to cry, great racking sobs. I wish I could say it was because I finally realized that the cure for my depression was acceptance, or that I had resolved to live each day as if it were my last, or something equally anodyne. But what it really was, I later found out, was akin to PseudoBulbar Affect, a neurological condition brought on, in my case, by the surfeit of medications I was taking and resulting in bouts of inappropriate tears and laughter. I was having a drug response, just not the one I had in mind.

Drying my eyes, I looked around. The group was stirring uncomfortably. The facilitators regarded me with smiles of glazed empathy. I made my exit as soon as I could.

Two days later I received an email. A friend of a friend had heard I was looking for something. Maybe I’d like to drop by.

* * *

Two doses, tiny paper squares, were printed with what looked like microchip circuitry, the manufacturer’s mark. There was no way to know how pure they were, or how potent. I paid my money to take my chances. Except I hadn’t paid anything. They’d been a gift, a benevolence from one old freak to another. Or maybe he just wanted to avoid a rap for intent to sell. There’s not much I can tell you about who finally came through for me without unduly compromising him. We ran in the same music business circles, knew each other without ever quite making contact. Suffice it to say, he embodied the creed: What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Once I had the LSD it took me a month to screw up the courage to actually take it, working backwards from my now serious qualms to the reason I had embarked on this course in the first place. I was still depressed. I still had cancer. I still needed a paradigm shift in the time I had left.

Finally, early one afternoon in late spring, my son and I drove north in his honkin’ Tahoe with the premium sound system, staying overnight in a Cambria motel overlooking Moonstone Beach. We woke to a pristine morning, cloudless and balmy and ocean scented: a good day to drop. The central coast of California, with its hallucinatory natural beauty, had always been a spot uniquely set aside for the psychedelic experience — the mackerel-back sky mimicking the lattices of mica left by the receding tide; the feldspar tributaries of a granite cliff face; the fractal complexity of a cypress tree.

What’s the old saying? The only thing more boring than listening to someone describe their dream is listening to someone describe their acid trip. Let’s just say that my misgivings dissolved in the onrush of that pure hit, expertly engineered and perfectly portioned. Somebody knew what they were doing. We rode up the coast, past a zebra grazing in a field below San Simeon, a remnant of W.R. Hearst’s private zoo. We stood barefoot in tidepools, ecosystems seething between our toes. We caught our breath as one sweeping Pacific vista after another opened up, each grander than the last. My son made note of his contact high as he curated the playlist for the day. Not the old standbys — the Dead, the Airplane — but music new to me, ambient and ethereal. There was a girl singer from a band called London Grammar with a voice that followed us everywhere. She sang “Hey Now,” our day’s anthem as we watched the sunset through the arch of a huge rock hollowed out by the waves. It was a perfect day, a perfect trip. Hey now, indeed.

But it wasn’t all bedazzled sightseeing. I had come here for a purpose, and in the afterglow of the motel room that night I tried to take stock. Had LSD lessened my depression? How did I feel about my imminent mortality now? Had a new day dawned?

Not really. The feeling I got from my much-anticipated, much-delayed trip was one of . . . familiarity. I immediately recognized where I was, in the benevolent hands that had set the course of the cosmos. I had been here before, many times. I had deciphered the palimpsests, lifted the corner of the curtain, caught a glimpse of the peerless synchronicity. And it was good to be back.

At the same time it was clear to me what had happened. The subjects of those clinical trials, the cancer patients struggling with depression, were just like me. Except that, chances are, most had little or no experience with psychedelics. For them the insights and revelations were new, and life-changing. But I was an old hand. Whatever LSD had to teach me I had already learned. Its work here was done.

I can’t say I was particularly disappointed. It had been a long shot from the beginning. There would be no shortcuts around whatever suffering was still to come. But at the same time I understood that my embrace of psychedelics had in some ways already equipped me to grapple with the big themes; Life after death; the impermanence of memory; the inevitability of change. I had long ago encountered them all. Now, all I had to do was apply myself.

And then there’s that bonus dose from my benefactor. I think I’ll hang onto it for a while. Maybe I’ll wait to drop it like Timothy Leary, on my deathbed (probably not). Or maybe I’ll save it until there’s finally a Main Street parade to honor the last unsung American hero, the volunteer acidhead.

For the moment it just feels good to be holding.

— Special thanks to Gene Sculatti.


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Don't Blame Addicts for America's Opioid Crisis -- Here Are the Real Culprits

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 08:42
The crisis was caused by rapacious pharma companies, colluding politicians and regulators who approved one opioid pill after another

Of all the people Donald Trump could blame for the opioid epidemic, he chose the victims. After his own commission on the opioid crisis issued an interim report this week, Trump said young people should be told drugs are “No good, really bad for you in every way.”

The president’s exhortation to follow Nancy Reagan’s miserably inadequate advice and Just Say No to drugs is far from useful. The then first lady made not a jot of difference to the crack epidemic in the 1980s. But Trump’s characterisation of the source of the opioid crisis was more disturbing. “The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place,” he said.

That is straight out of the opioid manufacturers’ playbook. Facing a raft of lawsuits and a threat to their profits, pharmaceutical companies are pushing the line that the epidemic stems not from the wholesale prescribing of powerful painkillers - essentially heroin in pill form - but their misuse by some of those who then become addicted.

In court filings, drug companies are smearing the estimated two million people hooked on their products as criminals to blame for their own addiction. Some of those in its grip break the law by buying drugs on the black market or switch to heroin. But too often that addiction began by following the advice of a doctor who, in turn, was following the drug manufacturers instructions.

Trump made no mention of this or reining in the mass prescribing underpinning the epidemic. Instead he played to the abuse narrative when he painted the crisis as a law and order issue, and criticised Barack Obama for scaling back drug prosecutions and lowering sentences.

But as the president’s own commission noted, this is not an epidemic caused by those caught in its grasp. “We have an enormous problem that is often not beginning on street corners; it is starting in doctor’s offices and hospitals in every state in our nation,” it said.

Opioids killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015 and the toll was almost certainly higher last year. About half of deaths involved prescription painkillers. Most of those who overdose on heroin or a synthetic opiate, such as fentanyl, first become hooked on legal pills.

This is an almost uniquely American crisis driven in good part by particular American issues from the influence of drug companies over medical policy to a “pill for every ill” culture. Trump’s commission, which called the opioid epidemic “unparalleled”, said the grim reality is that “the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks”.

The US consumes more than 80% of the global opioid pill production even though it has less than 5% of the world’s population. Over the past 20 years, one federal institution after another lined up behind the drug manufacturers’ false claims of an epidemic of untreated pain in the US. They seem not to have asked why no other country was apparently suffering from such an epidemic or plying opioids to its patients at every opportunity.

With the pharmaceutical lobby’s money keeping Congress on its side, regulations were rewritten to permit physicians to prescribe as many pills as they wanted without censure. Indeed, doctors sometimes found themselves hauled before ethics boards for not supplying enough.

Unlike most other countries, the US health system is run as an industry not a service. That gives considerable power to drug manufacturers, medical providers and health insurance companies to influence policy and practices.

Too often, their bottom line is profits not health. Opioid pills are far cheaper and easier than providing other forms of treatment for pain, like physical therapy or psychiatry. As Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia told the Guardian last year: “It’s an epidemic because we have a business model for it. Follow the money. Look at the amount of pills they shipped in to certain parts of our state. It was a business model.”

But the system also gives a lot of power to patients. People coughing up large amounts of money in insurance premiums and co-pays expect results. They are, after all, more customer than patient. Doctors complain of patients who arrive expecting a pill to resolve medical conditions without taking responsibility for their own health by eating better or exercising more.

In particular, the idea has taken hold, pushed by the pharmaceutical industry, that there is a right to be pain free. Other countries pursue strategies to reduce and manage pain, not raise expectations that it can simply be made to disappear. In all of this, regulators became facilitators. The Food and Drug Administration approved one opioid pill after another.

As late as 2013, by which time the scale of the epidemic was clear, the FDA permitted a powerful opiate, Zohydro, onto the market over the near unanimous objection of its own review committee. It was clear from the hearing that doctors understood the dangers, but the agency appeared to have put commercial considerations first.

US states long ago woke up to the crisis as morgues filled, social services struggled to cope with children orphaned or taken into care, and the epidemic took an economic toll. Police chiefs and local politicians said it was a social crisis not a law and order problem.

Some state legislatures began to curb mass prescribing. All the while they looked to Washington for leadership. They did not get much from Obama or Congress, although legislation approving $1bn on addiction treatment did pass last year. Instead, it was up to pockets of sanity to push back.

Last year, the then director of the Centers for Disease Control, Tom Frieden, made his mark with guidelines urging doctors not to prescribe opioids as a first step for chronic or routine pain, although even that got political pushback in Congress where the power of the pharmaceutical lobby is not greatly diminished.

There are also signs of a shift in the FDA after it pressured a manufacturer into withdrawing an opioid drug, Opanathat should never have been on sale in the first place. It was initially withdrawn in the 1970s, but the FDA permitted it back on to the market in 2006 after the rules for testing drugs were changed. At the time, many accused the pharmaceutical companies of paying to have them rewritten.

Trump’s opioid commission offered hope that the epidemic would finally get the attention it needs. It made a series of sensible if limited recommendations: more mental health treatment people with a substance abuse disorder and more effective forms of rehab.

Trump finally got around to saying that the epidemic is a national emergency on Thursday after he was criticised for ignoring his own commission’s recommendation to do so. But he reinforced the idea that the victims are to blame with an offhand reference to LSD.

Real leadership is still absent – and that won’t displease the pharmaceutical companies at all.



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Is Jeff Sessions’ Objection to Marijuana Racially Motivated?

Sun, 08/13/2017 - 10:29
Cannabis is not a public safety threat.

Much to the dismay of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved a budget amendment in an appropriations bill covering fiscal 2017.

The amendment would protect states with responsible medical marijuana laws from Department of Justice interference and would help prevent a federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis businesses—a position the majority of Americans support

However, the Department of Justice recently issued a letter that stated "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a crime.” The DOJ is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act under the guise of addressing “the most significant threats to public health and safety.”

Yet, cannabis is not dangerous and it is not a public health or safety threat.

Marijuana has been scientifically proven to be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco (both legal substances under federal law passed by Congress).

When cannabis businesses come into neighborhoods, crime goes down, not up.

In states with with medical marijuana laws, opioid use has even been shown to decrease. This makes it nearly impossible to see any threat at except the lack of federal regulations.

In May, Sessions, an ardent opponent to marijuana legalization, issued a memorandum ordering federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders, which overturned the bipartisan-supported policy of issuing mandatory minimums sentences for non-violent offenders implemented under the Obama Administration. The AG was blasted by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Then, in July, Sessions announced the DOJ was considering rolling back a series of Obama-era curbs on civil-asset forfeiture—a highly disputed practice that would allow law enforcement to permanently seize property, and in many states, cash from individuals and businesses, who may never actually be charged with a crime. This controversial practice is riddled with and is ripe for corruption, considering law enforcement only needs a “suspicion of a crime” to seize assets and, in many states, cash under the program.

Sessions is forcing his outdated, inaccurate views of cannabis on the American people, despite two-thirds of our country passing responsible medical marijuana laws, 61 percent supporting full legalization for adult use, 81 percent backing medical marijuana use, and 71 percent of Americans opposing a federal crackdown on cannabis.

Sessions’ positions are out of sync with President Trump’s goal of creating more well paying jobs and they are out of touch with Americans, veterans, patients, business owners, and the states, who depend on the billions in tax dollars collected from the cannabis industry for important state, county and municipal programs.

While it is clear the majority of Americans have become much more educated about marijuana, Sessions seems to be misleading the country about what marijuana is, its uses and how we even got here in the first place.

This leaves us questioning what Sessions’s war on marijuana is really about?

As Americans, we must ask ourselves tough questions: is this racially motivated?

Is it about our big-money prisons systems?

Is it pressure from political donors? Other special interest groups?

Maybe, it is Harry Anslinger, the father of drug criminalization himself, channeling himself through our Attorney General?

Whatever the explanation, a federal crackdown on the cannabis industry would mean medical marijuana patients and veterans will be denied access to treatments that improve their quality of life. Tens of thousands of Americans would lose their incomes and jobs. Billions less would be collected from cannabis businesses for state and municipal programs.

More otherwise law-abiding citizens would be locked up in prisons. More families will be torn apart. Innovation would be stunted, and pioneering entrepreneurs would be treated as criminals.

Congress has the power to stop Sessions’ Reefer Madness mentality while helping our country combat its opioid crisis, giving our nation's sickest patients access to alternative medical treatments, generating billions in tax dollars for programs, creating jobs and spawning innovation—all of which benefits Americans, not harms them.

Congress should step up and finally pass comprehensive and inclusive legalization reforms. If they do, you can rest assured the American people will applaud them for passing common sense regulations that will benefit our nation, patients, veterans, small businesses and pioneering job creators.

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Watch: Neil DeGrasse Tyson Thinks Marijuana Should Be Legal

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 20:47
Click here for reuse options! While the astrophysicist prefers reality to altered states, he doesn't believe pot should be illegal.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the beloved astrophysicist, showed up on StarTalk's inaugural Facebook Live show to promote his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, but wound up discussing the legalization of marijuana.

Tom Angell, from a pro-legalization group called Marijuana Majority, asked Tyson if he agreed with the late Carl Sagan, who believed marijuana should be legal.

Tyson responded, "If you really analyze it, relative to other things that are legal, there’s no reason for it to ever have been made illegal in the system of laws."

He elaborated that alcohol is legal and a more dangerous substance than marijuana.

While pro-legalization, Tyson is not a fan of altered states on a personal level. In a 2015 Reddit AMA, Tyson wrote, “I don’t count myself among active recreational drug users. For me, the least altered state of awareness I can achieve is the one I seek, because that one is most likely to be closest to reality.”

For those who'd like to spend an hour listening to Tyson answer questions with his signature charm, the full video is embedded below.

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Opioids: An Important Treatment That Can Be Used Responsibly

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 13:20
Click here for reuse options! Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

So it’s official. The opioid crisis is a national emergency.

The grim statistics support that conclusion. About 52,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2015, or a rate of 142 each day. The numbers for 2016 will almost surely be higher once the final figures are calculated.

I’m pleased that the president declared a national emergency. Although in his brief remarks yesterday he did not commit his administration to any specific policies, his declaration suggests he will support efforts to make treatment for drug addiction more widely available. This is absolutely necessary. We also need to ensure persons with mental health issues receive appropriate care. As the president’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis found, approximately 40 percent of those with a substance abuse disorder have a significant mental health problem. For these individuals, their addiction, although serious in itself, is likely a symptom of a grave underlying problem.

I’m less pleased with legislation that has now been adopted by 17 states—and may be adopted by the federal government—which places significant restrictions on a physician’s ability to prescribe opioid painkillers based on the physician’s individualized assessment of the patient’s needs. The regulations vary from state-to-state, but the trend appears to be increasingly tighter restrictions. Kentucky recently adopted a law limiting opioid prescriptions for acute pain to three days.

There’s no question that the overprescribing of opioids by ‘pill mills’—typically self-described pain clinics—was a major contributing cause of the rise in opioid addiction in the 1990s and early 2000s. How many individuals innocently became addicted because they were misinformed about the risk of addiction as opposed to those who became addicted because they consciously sought a relatively cheap high is not known and is perhaps unknowable and is, in any event immaterial, as whatever the patients’ motivation, the prescribing physicians acted unethically and, perhaps, illegally. But the fact that opioid painkillers can be, and have been, improperly prescribed should not cause us to lose sight of the fact that opioid painkillers serve a legitimate medical purpose.

Yes, many Americans have become addicted to opioids, and some of those first became addicted as a result of prescribed medication. However, many, many more Americans have used prescribed opioids responsibly. They have not become addicted. Instead, they have benefitted tremendously from the relief that opioid painkillers can provide. I know because I am one of them.

Without getting into too much personal information, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2010. At one point, my condition was so severe that I could hardly walk. After various therapies failed (please: I never want to hear the word “holistic” again), I was prescribed celecoxib (brand name: Celebrex). This drug was almost immediately effective. Unfortunately, over time, it began to have serious side effects. To help me deal with the pain while reducing my use of celecoxib, my physician prescribed the opioid hydrocodone. Through the judicious use of hydrocodone over the last few years—on average, about three 5 mg pills a week—I have managed to wean off celecoxib and still manage my arthritis. I have no craving to move on to stronger drugs, nor at any time have I sought to increase the number of pills prescribed.

Tens of millions of others have also managed their pain through opioids—allowing them to carry on productive lives that otherwise might not have been possible—without becoming addicts. The opioid crisis should not obscure the fact that those who become addicted as a result of using painkillers remain the exception, not the rule.

Each patient is different, of course, but that’s precisely why the recently enacted laws mandating what physicians can prescribe constitute an improper interference with the practice of medicine and the physician-patient relationship. Physicians, not politicians, should determine a patient’s treatment.

Sometimes we must sacrifice personal benefit and personal freedom for the greater good. That’s understandable. But this public policy principle does not justify imposing onerous restrictions on the use of opioids for the treatment of pain. Doing so would penalize those who use these drugs responsibly because some abuse these drugs. Such a policy has no precedent in the modern practice of medicine.

The Morning EmailWake up to the day's most important news.  

Without getting into too much personal information, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2010. At one point, my condition was so severe that I could hardly walk. After various therapies failed (please: I never want to hear the word “holistic” again), I was prescribed celecoxib (brand name: Celebrex). This drug was almost immediately effective. Unfortunately, over time, it began to have serious side effects. To help me deal with the pain while reducing my use of celecoxib, my physician prescribed the opioid hydrocodone. Through the judicious use of hydrocodone over the last few years—on average, about three 5 mg pills a week—I have managed to wean off celecoxib and still manage my arthritis. I have no craving to move on to stronger drugs, nor at any time have I sought to increase the number of pills prescribed.

Tens of millions of others have also managed their pain through opioids—allowing them to carry on productive lives that otherwise might not have been possible—without becoming addicts. The opioid crisis should not obscure the fact that those who become addicted as a result of using painkillers remain the exception, not the rule.

Each patient is different, of course, but that’s precisely why the recently enacted laws mandating what physicians can prescribe constitute an improper interference with the practice of medicine and the physician-patient relationship. Physicians, not politicians, should determine a patient’s treatment.

Sometimes we must sacrifice personal benefit and personal freedom for the greater good. That’s understandable. But this public policy principle does not justify imposing onerous restrictions on the use of opioids for the treatment of pain. Doing so would penalize those who use these drugs responsibly because some abuse these drugs. Such a policy has no precedent in the modern practice of medicine.

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Serious About Opioid Crisis? Then Don’t Slash Medicaid

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 10:11
Republicans are still considering making dramatic cuts in the program that would severely handicap efforts to overcome the opioid epidemic.



Serious About Opioid Crisis? Then Don’t Slash Medicaid

The opioid epidemic is a major public health crisis, devastating communities across the country. Opioids cause serious harm to the body and can lead to deadly overdoses. They also put people at risk of contracting viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C, which cause chronic and potentially life-threatening illness and result in millions of dollars in…

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