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Legal Marijuana Is a Big-Time Job Creation Engine

Sat, 07/01/2017 - 12:41
Click here for reuse options! And that's not even counting people making a living in the black market.

It's been less than four years since the first legal recreational sales in the United States took place in Colorado, but since then, the U.S. marijuana industry has been creating jobs at rapid pace, and there are now more people employed in the pot industry than in a number of common professions.

That's according to a new report from Marijuana Business Daily's Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, which pegged the size of the pot labor force at somewhere between 165,000 and 230,000 full- and part-time workers.

That's compared to 169,000 massage therapists, 185,000 bakers, and 201,000 dental hygienists. And pot industry workers are on a path to shortly exceed the number of telemarketers (238,000) and pharmacists (297,000).

Granted, the legal marijuana industry begins with a base of several tens of thousands of workers producing and selling medical marijuana products, especially in California, with its loose medical marijuana law, but the boom is being propelled by growth in the recreational market, and that is only set to continue and accelerate as more legal states come online next year, including California, Maine and Massachusetts. Nevada joined the ranks of the legal pot selling states on July 1.

California's recreational pot market by itself could generate around $5 billion in annual retail sales within a few years, doubling the size of the current legal weed market and creating a massive impact on job creation there.

In arriving at its numbers, Marijuana Business Daily included employment figures for retailers, wholesale growers, edibles and concentrates producers, testing labs, and ancillary firms, such as companies providing legal, marketing, security or other services to marijuana companies. The industry daily used a variety of methodologies, including survey data, on the average number of employees for each kind of company in the business, and that data was then applied to the estimated number of companies in each sector to arrive at final estimates.

One important caveat: The employment numbers mentioned here cover only a fraction of the people involved in the marijuana business—those involved in the legal marijuana business. Even when California, Maine, and Massachusetts begin legal retail sales next year, the legal pot states will only amount to about one-fifth of the U.S. population, and people are growing and selling marijuana in all the other states, too. From black market growers to clandestine dabs lab workers to cross-country couriers to dorm-room dealers, the number of people making a living in the illegal pot industry undoubtedly still dwarfs the number doing it legally. 

 

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'Conduct that Shocks the Conscience': South Dakota Forcibly Catheterizes a Toddler in the Name of the War on Drugs

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 21:34
Click here for reuse options! The barbaric practice is commonly used on drug defendants in the benighted state, but toddlers, too?

The state of South Dakota is practicing a form of drug war excess tantamount to torture or sexual assault, according to a pair of federal lawsuits filed by the ACLU on June 28. One suit charges that law enforcement and medical personnel subject drug suspects to forcible catheterization if they refuse to submit to a drug test.

The second suit charges even more outrageous conduct: State social workers and medical personnel subjecting a screaming toddler to the same treatment, in a fruitless bid to bring a child abuse or neglect charge against his mother.

Let's be clear here: We are talking about a person having a plastic tube painfully inserted in his penis without his consent and with the use of whatever physical force is necessary by agents of the state. In the name of enforcing drug laws.

Law enforcement has an incentive to coerce people into consenting to warrantless drug tests, with the realistic threat of forced catheterization, because its state laws punish not just possession of drugs, but having used them. Under the state's "internal possession" or "unlawful ingestion" statutes, testing positive for illicit drugs is a criminal offense. 

"Forcible catheterization is painful, physically and emotionally damaging, and deeply degrading," said ACLU of South Dakota executive director Heather Smith in a statement announcing the filings. "Catheterization isn’t the best way to obtain evidence, but it is absolutely the most humiliating. The authorities ordered the catheterization of our clients to satisfy their own sadistic and authoritarian desires to punish. Subjecting anyone to forcible catheterization, especially a toddler, to collect evidence when there are less intrusive means available, is unconscionable."

In the case of the toddler, the ACLU is suing on behalf of Kirsten Hunter of Pierre and her three-year-old son. According to the complaint, their ordeal began on February 23, when police arrived to arrest her live-in boyfriend for failing a probationary drug test. Accompanying the cops was Department of Social Services caseworker Matt Opbroeck, who informed Hunter that she and her children would have to take drug tests, and that if she failed to agree, her two kids would be seized on the spot.

Hunter agreed to take her kids to St. Mary's Avera Hospital to be tested the next day. Here, in the dry language of the legal filing is what happened to her three-year-old, identified as "A.Q.:"

Ms. Hunter was met by [SMA medical staff] and told that she and her children needed to urinate in cups on orders of DSS.

At the time, A.Q., was not toilet-trained and could not produce a sample in a cup.

Even though other methods, such as placing a bag over his penis, would have yielded a urine sample, [SMA medical staff] immediately began to hold him down and to catheterize him.

At the time, [they] did not inform Ms. Hunter of altemative methods of getting a urine sample or explain the risks associated with catheterizing a child.

Ms. Hunter did not know that she could object nor was she given any opportunity to object. Ms. Hunter did not speak with or see a doctor.

A.Q. was catheterized and screamed during the entire procedure.

On information and belief, A.Q. was catheterized with an adult-sized catheter.

Ms. Hunter was humiliated and upset about A.Q.'s catheterization.

A.Q. was injured physically and emotionally.

In the aftermath of the state-sanctioned assault, A.Q. had to be taken to a hospital emergency room in Huron for constipation and pain and discomfort in his penis three days later, and make another emergency room visit to ASM two days after that, when he was diagnosed with a staph infection in his penis.

Hunter and the ACLU are suing DSS caseworker Opbroeck; his bosses, Department of Social Services Secretary Lynn Valenti and DSS Division of Child Protective Services Director Virginia Wieseler; and St. Mary's Avera, Registered Nurse Katie Rochelle, Nurse Practitioner Teresa Cass, and four unnamed SMA medical employees.

The ACLU argues that forcible catheterization of A.Q. violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches, the Fifth Amendment's right not to be forced to testify against oneself, and the 14th Amendment's due process clause because "it shocks the conscience, it was not medically necessary, and it was not reviewed by a judge." The lawsuit seeks monetary relief as well as declaration that the procedure is unconstitutional.

"The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable government searches,” said Courtney Bowie, ACLU of South Dakota legal director. "There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing a child. The Constitution’s purpose is to protect people from government intrusions exactly like this."

There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing drug defendants either—especially when the only drug use suspected is of marijuana—but the second lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges the practice is widespread among law enforcement agencies in the state, including repeated allegations of forced catheterizations after the victims have agreed to provide urine samples.

"State agents, including law enforcement officers, in multiple cities and counties in South Dakota have conspired to attempt to rationalize, justify, and illegally forcibly catheterize drug suspects, and illegally coerce drug suspects to provide urine samples by threatening them with illegal forcible catheterization if they will not voluntarily provide a urine sample," the complaint says.

The conspiracy violates the civil rights not only of those subjected to forced catheterization, but those threatened with it, the ACLU argues.

The lawsuit has five plaintiffs, all of whom were subjected to the procedure, and lists 20 unnamed police officers from Pierre, Sisseton, and the Highway Patrol, as well as one named Pierre officer, and the cities of Pierre and Sisseton. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the practice, as well as "compensatory and punitive damages."            

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United Nations and World Health Organization Call for Drug Decriminalization

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 14:03
American activists aren't the only ones seeking drug policy reform.

In a joint statement, the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) expressed their support for countries in the review and repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession of drugs for personal use. This joint statement, which addresses discrimination in health care settings, comes in light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to “ensure that no one is left behind”.

The WHO has previously called for drug decriminalization as a necessary measure for public health but this joint statement with the UN represents another significant step in the global movement for drug decriminalization.

There is growing support for drug decriminalization – the elimination of criminal penalties for drug use and possession – in the U.S. and around the world. Leading medical, public health and human rights groups have endorsed drug decriminalization, including the International Red Cross, the American Public Health Association, American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and Latino Justice.

Public opinion on decriminalization has also been steadily increasing as the harms of criminalizing drugs become more apparent. Polls of presidential primary voters in MaineNew Hampshire and even South Carolina found that substantial majorities in each state support ending arrests for drug use and possession. In 2016, the first state-level decriminalization bill was introduced in Maryland and a similar version was reintroduced in 2017. 

Internationally, several countries already have some form of drug decriminalization. Portugal, most notably, decriminalized drugs back in 2001 as a response to the country’s HIV crisis and has demonstrated the vast benefits of decriminalization – substantial reductions in overdose, HIV/AIDS and addiction, all without any increase in drug use or crime.

Not only does drug decriminalization drastically reduce the number of people mired in the quicksand of the criminal justice system – it also, as the UN/WHO statement highlights, vastly improve public health. It decreases the stigma against people who use drugs and addresses the discrimination they historically face.

The harms of discrimination are only exacerbated in health settings, where it is literally a matter of life and death. Decriminalization can be the difference between a loved one getting the health services they need and a loved one being stigmatized, denied treatment and in danger of losing their life.

Drug decriminalization is a rational and fiscally sound policy rooted in health and human rights. Governments throughout the U.S. and around the world have an indisputable moral and scientific imperative to pursue it.

 

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Like the Shoes You Order From Amazon, Opioids Are Made in China and Arrive Directly at Your Doorstep

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 13:53
Click here for reuse options! As the opioid crisis worsens, preventative measures are hard to come by in our increasingly technology-driven world.

Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, both 13, were best friends growing up in Park City, Utah. When their parents found the boys dead last fall, they had little idea of what might have killed them. Upon searching their social media accounts, they found conversations with another local teenager and talk of “pink”—the alias for U-47700, an extremely powerful opioid, eight times stronger than morphine and responsible for tens of the thousands of deaths that have occurred in the national crisis. Parents and relatives were shocked, wondering where their boys could have contracted a drug so potent and dangerous.

Where do teenagers get anything these days? On the internet.

U-47700 emerged last year as the latest drug in the growing epidemic. One user described it as "non-overbearing rushes of comfort, warmth, and laziness" that made him want to "lay in a cozy spot and watch a movie."  

Over the last several years, as opioids, beginning with heroin, took root in areas of cultural and economic decline like the Rust Belt, Chinese manufacturers have capitalized on the cravings of addicts by mass-producing synthetic versions such as U-47700, fentanyl, carfentanil and other analogues.

Much focus on the opioid crisis has been on Mexican cartels and their complicated trafficking network.

"The single-biggest problem is heroin that pours across our southern borders, just pouring, and destroying," said Donald Trump in the third presidential debate last fall.

While heroin via Mexican cartels is certainly a factor, the president continues to be as misinformed as ever. Synthetic opioids present a much greater threat; they are responsible for almost double the number of deaths compared to heroin.

“Why wait for a field of poppies to grow and harvest if you can get your hands on the precursor chemicals and cook a batch of fentanyl in a lab?” Tim Reagan, the DEA agent leading the Cincinnati office told Science Magazine.

Due to China’s new role in supplying opioids to the United States, everyone from teenagers in Utah to celebrities like Prince can purchase the drugs online. Opioid overdose has become the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the United States, with over 59,000 people dying in 2016. Last year, when the average U.S. life expectancy dipped downward for the first time in decades, many health professionals blamed opioid abuse.  

Chinese labs have been producing and selling drugs, as well as necessary manufacturing machinery for assembly line production, to individuals across the United States and Canada. They have faced only minor difficulties evading U.S. government intervention because, while fentanyl has been classified as a schedule II drug for decades in the United States, China has enforced no regulation up until recently.  

At the end of 2015, China added 116 synthetic drugs to its list of controlled substances after pressure from the DEA and its attempts to curb the growing opioid epidemic in the United States. As of June 2017, China has restricted 138 substances.

In a news conference, Justin Schoeman, a Beijing-based attache for the DEA said, “I can tell you that when China controls a substance, new psychoactive substances or fentanyl-classed substance, it has a huge impact on seizures and availability in the U.S.”

Although Schoeman’s words sound promising, preventing labs from continuing to produce and distribute powerful opioids is not so simple. Chinese chemists making fentanyl and other drugs can manipulate the molecules very easily, synthesizing unregulated variants that evade government regulations.

When the U-47700 that killed Grant and Ryan was purchased last fall, it was legal in China. The particular analogue did not become illegal until just last week.  

Both American and Chinese law enforcements predict that a slightly different alternative that has yet to be made illegal will arise soon. “My feeling is that it’s just like a race and I will never catch up with the criminals," Yu Haibin, a division director at the Ministry of Public Security’s Narcotics Control Bureau in China said.  

In an online conversation, Nathaniel Popper, a writer covering the opioid crisis for the New York Times, talked to "BenzoChems," an alias for one of the most popular manufacturers in China. BenzoChems, who has posted videos of his production, said he routes packages through Hong Kong and then the United States Postal Service.

BenzoChems originally sold his products using ordinary websites, but like many Chinese opioid manufacturers, he now sells through the "dark web."

The dark web is like “the wild west, where everything is available in its complete lawlessness,” Joseph Pinjuh, chief of the organized crime task force in the United States Attorney’s office in Cleveland, told the New York Times.

The dark web was originally developed by American intelligence for top-secret communication services; however, it has quickly grown into an online marketplace that almost anyone can access using special browsers. Nefarious items are exchanged using virtual currencies like Bitcoin. The most famous website on the dark web, Silk Road, was shut down in 2013 by the FBI, but since then a slew of other websites, with even more sophisticated blockers to prevent government intervention, have popped up.  

The leading website on the dark web, AlphaBay, which appeared at the end of 2014 and attracted 14,000 new customers within its first 90 days, has more than 21,000 listings for opioids and more than 4,100 for fentanyl and other drugs. Buyers can browse the listings like shopping for items in a catalog. Forums discuss the potency of the drugs and many commenters recount stories of blacking out and going to the emergency room.

The ease of buying drugs through the dark web has made stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the United States even more difficult.

“We could give you a pretty good idea of the drug traffickers in town who can order kilos from Mexico — that’s a known commodity,” Pinjuh told the New York Times. “What’s harder to track is the person ordering this from his grandmother’s basement.”

The U.S. Postal Service handles over 300 million inbound pieces of international mail a year, nearly half of all packages entering the United States. While private mail carriers like United Parcel Service and Federal Express require advanced tracking procedures, only 40 to 50 percent of the countries using the the postal service provide that type of data. Officers with Customs and Border Patrol, an agency in the Department of Homeland Security, must manually sort through large bins holding a tremendous volume of packages, in order to retrieve potentially suspicious items. It is a “daunting task for CBP,” Robert Perez, executive assistant commisioner of the agency, testified in a hearing in May.

When it come to bringing dangerous substances into the country, the process is not only daunting, it's ineffective. Teenagers like Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth face about as much difficulty purchasing drugs off the internet as they do buying a pair of shoes on Amazon.  

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a state hugely affected by the opioid crisis (666 people overdosed in Cayahoga County alone last year), has been pushing legislation to require tracking data on all packages entering the country. The Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which has bipartisan support from Republicans like Marco Rubio and Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren, would give CBP the ability to use detection tools and identify suspect packages while the shipments are en route.  

However, there are numerous downsides to the act. Mandating the post office to use advanced tracking technology would also inflict enormous costs—$1.2 to $4.8 billion over 10 years, according to Robert Clintron, vice president of the postal service. Gregory Thome, director of the State Department’s Office of Specialized and Technical Agencies said the global postal system is “simply not able” to adapt electronic shipping data systems.

Given the impracticality of the legislation, it is unlikely that the post office will start using advanced tracking technology anytime soon.  Chinese chemists will continue to develop new variants of fentanyl to get around regulations, and opioids will continue to flow into the U.S.

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British Police on Guard Against Hordes of Acid Heads Seeking Historic LSD Stash

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 11:28
Is there really a hoard of ancient acid somewhere near a quaint Welsh village?

Police are patrolling a quiet Welsh village amid concerns that criminals could try to unearth a huge stash of LSD said to have been secreted there four decades ago.

In 1977 police raided an old mansion in the village of Carno in west Wales and smashed a multimillion pound drugs operation said to have been supplying up to 90% of the LSD being used in the UK.

One of the detectives involved in the investigation, codenamed Operation Julie, is now claiming some of the stash may not have been found and may still be in pristine condition even after all these years.

Dyfed-Powys police are taking the claim seriously enough to warn villagers in Carno, near Llanidloes, that unwanted visitors may be on the way. They have told the owners of a house used as a drugs factory 40 years ago, Plas Llysyn, of the revelations and stepped up patrols in the area.

A police spokesperson said: “Dyfed-Powys police are aware of the issue and are assessing the content of the disclosure. We will be checking the records we hold to establish whether or not matters raised warrant further investigation.

“In the meantime we will be making the current owners of Plas Llysyn aware of the disclosure and the potential for persons to visit the area in an attempt to locate the drugs. We will be providing them with reassurance through increased patrols.

“We would also like to make it clear Dyfed-Powys police take a robust approach to drug trafficking and that appropriate action will be taken in respect of anyone suspected of using the information disclosed to assist them in obtaining and supplying controlled drugs.”

Operation Julie was launched after one of the men at the centre of the drugs racket was involved in a car crash in the town of Machynlleth, west Wales. Police pieced together a torn-up note and found it mentioned a key ingredient of LSD.

Some 800 officers, some of them disguised as hippies seeking the good life, descended on west Wales. There were elements of farce to the saga. Some of the undercover officers had fights with local police to maintain their cover.

One group of male officers was close to being rumbled after locals began to suspect them of being a gay cult and started to take a close interest in them. That led to female officers being introduced, including Sgt Julie Taylor, who was to be immortalised in The Clash song Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad.

After months of painstaking surveillance the police swooped and seized 1m tabs and enough raw materials to make a further 6.5m. A total of 120 arrests were made, resulting in 15 convictions and prison sentences totalling 120 years. The price of an LSD tab is said to have rocketed overnight from £1 to £5.

In a new edition of his book on the story, Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story, the former officer Stephen Bentley said a statement from one of the gang members had claimed a substantial amount of LSD had been buried in a woodland near Plas Llysyn.

Bentley said he had only recently got hold of the statement – and believed it was true. “I have made my mind up. That stash is almost certainly still there,” he said.

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Legal Pot Sales Begin in Nevada: 8 Things You Need to Know

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 21:42
Click here for reuse options! Look out, Denver! There's new competition when it comes to cannabis tourism destinations.

As of 12:01 a.m Saturday, legal adult marijuana sales begin in Nevada. And they will commence immediately, with dispensaries on the Las Vegas Strip announcing plans to be open to usher in Sin City's newest attraction.

But don't go lighting up on the Strip! Smoking in public is not allowed.

Nevada now joins Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in allowing people to legally buy and sell weed in pot shops. It's the first of the states where voters legalized it at the polls last year to see shops open, getting out of the gate ahead of California, Maine, and Massachusetts.

That's because the state fast-tracked legal pot sales by granting licenses to a few dozen existing medical marijuana dispensaries so they could sell to any adults while officials finalized regulations for the legal marijuana market, which was mandated to begin by January 1, 2018.  

So, now that you can add legal weed to Las Vegas's allures, here's a few things you need to know:

1. How much can I buy? Visitors and residents alike can purchase up to an ounce of buds and up to an eighth-ounce of marijuana edibles.

2. Where can I buy it? Look for medical marijuana dispensaries that have been granted recreational sales licenses. Those are clustered in the Las Vegas and Reno areas, including dispensaries on the Strip. There's a complete list of dispensaries here, but remember, not all have the recreational sales okay, so if you're about to go shopping, contact them directly to find out.

3. What do I need? You need to be at least 21 and have government-issued ID that says so. If you're a medical marijuana card holder, you don't have to be 21. And you need to have cash. That's because the federal government refuses to let banks handle marijuana business since pot is still federally illegal. Congress is working on this issue, but in the meantime, hit the ATM ahead of shopping.

4. What should I buy? Regular consumers will have a pretty good idea what they like, but novices can consult their budtenders. There will be a variety of high-quality, high-potency strains on sale, both "stimulating" sativas and "enervating" indicas, as well as a dizzying plethora of hybrid strains.

5. What about edibles? Edibles will be on sale, too, in a wide variety of forms, but because of emergency regulations issued Monday by the Department of Taxation, those products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose or 100 milligrams per package. That 10 milligram measure is a good one; novice users will certainly feel an impact at that level. But those emergency regs, which also restrict packaging and labeling, are likely to produce initial shortages of edibles given the short lag time between their roll-out and opening day.

6. What's it going to cost? Grams will be going for $10 to $15, ounces for anywhere from $150 for bargain buds to $325 for the primo. Edibles prices will depend on the various products. k

7. Where can I smoke it? Well, therein lies the rub, especially for visitors. The only places smoking pot is allowed are at your home or on your front porch. There's no smoking it on the Strip, in clubs or casinos, at rock concerts, or any other public place. And there's no smoking it in hotel rooms, either. Either a lot of tourists are going to end up with public smoking citations, or they start making local friends in a hurry, or they end up paying smoke damage surcharges on their hotel room credit card bills, or all of the above. This is going to have to change, especially since estimates are nearly two-thirds of legal pot buyers are going to be visitors. In the meantime, it could make edibles more attractive.

8. Can I take it home with me? Not if you live in a state where it is illegal. And if you live in a state where it is legal, why bother? If you get caught trying to bring it onto an airplane, the TSA won't bust you (because they're after terrorists, not tourists), but will turn you over to the local cops, who also won’t bust you (since your weed isn't illegal in Nevada), but the hassle might cause you to miss your flight. 

 

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Jeff Sessions’ Crusade Against Marijuana Hurts the Most Vulnerable—I Know Because I'm One of Them

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 11:23
Medical marijuana made my epileptic seizures stop. Sessions may not understand this, but cannabis has been a divine gift for me.

 

 

By Garett Roush If Attorney General Jeff Sessions had his way, I would once again be at risk of constant seizures. The former U.S. Senator from Alabama and now the nation’s top cop has started a crusade against states that have allowed access to cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use. As an epileptic, medicinal marijuana…

/* >

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White House Official Boasts They'll 'Bribe Moderates With Opioid Money' to Pass Trumpcare: Report

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 10:46
But even that may not be enough.

The Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare hit some major setbacks this week — but at least one Trump administration official isn’t too worried.

In an interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, an unnamed White House official literally says the GOP’s plan involves “bribing” moderate senators by throwing more cash at opioid addiction treatment.

“I think we’re going to pass this,” the source said. “I really think they’ll bribe off the moderates with opioid money and then actually move policy to shore up Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.”

The proposed Senate GOP bill has offered a mere $2 billion for combating the opioid crisis, and it would slash funding for Medicaid, which is the largest payer for addiction services in the United States.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who came out against the Senate’s bill this week, has requested $45 billion over ten years to help combat opioid abuse, although she has also expressed skepticism about the GOP bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid and its phase out of the Medicaid expansion.

Because of this, another GOP source tells Swan that it will likely be too difficult to get the GOP Senate bill across the finish line, no matter how much money is thrown at the opioid crisis.

“I think the gap is too wide and they are getting zero help from POTUS,” the source said. “Unpopular presidents pushing unpopular proposals usually fail.”

 

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The War on Drugs Places 'Black Joy' in the Line of Fire

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 10:36
Click here for reuse options! Black youth never get the privileges of innocence and 'youthful indiscretions' extended to their white peers.

*Editor's note: In this monthly blog series, the Drug Policy Alliance will examine the nexus between the War on Drugs and law enforcement practices that result in the mass criminalization, incarceration and dehumanization of communities of color.  These pieces will reflect on the ways in which the institutions of policing and prosecution- both driven by calls for “law and order” in the wake of the War on Drugs-  continue to function as instruments of reinforcement for the overarching structural racism on which the drug war was founded.

Over the past several weeks, the details surrounding the tragic killing of Jordan Edwards have been revealed under the intensely watchful eye of a public that continues to face a seemingly never-ending flood of stories recounting instances of police brutality and the pervasive lack of justice for black victims on the receiving end of police misconduct.

Outside of a media sphere permeated by meticulously crafted, state-serving narratives marked by the use of coded language as a form of fear mongering that encourages brutalization in carrying out the war on drugs and cultivates public apathy towards the victims of such violence, a situation in which a police officer responding to a neighbor’s call about possible underage drinking that ends with the use of lethal force on a car full of frightened kids could not be dressed as anything other than a senseless act of violence. This murder reinforces the message that the protections associated with the assumption of innocence and positive police discretion towards instances of youthful indiscretion are not privileges extended to black youth

Further, a failure to also identify this situation as one where the duty to protect and serve was superseded by aninstitutional obsession with policing and restricting the autonomy of black people would require willful ignorance of the history of enslavement and subjugation of black people in this country.

Jordan’s story is not anomalous. The explosion in exposure of police brutality across the nation and subsequent reflection on my own experiences with law enforcement while growing up in Dallas quickly led me to the sobering realization that any of the nights I enjoyed not long ago, when I was Jordan’s age, could have ended in tragedy. The price of this realization has been an existence marred by constant feelings of fear and anxiety about what could happen and how my personal relationship with drugs might be used in an attempt to strip me of my humanity posthumously.

As a result, I often find myself preemptively policing my actions, my speech, expressions of my emotions, my movements, and even my writing, but none of these things have proven adequate in protecting me from potentially volatile interactions with law enforcement or figures that have been endowed with authority to use force by whatever institution employs them.

Knowing that I am not alone is deeply saddening.

What is much more devastating, however, is reading in the Dallas Morning News that kids who occupy some of the same spaces I once did experienced such a degree of psychological trauma from Jordan’s death and similar situations that they feel they have no choice but to forfeit simple joys of youth like playing basketball and partying with friends.

Living with the psychological burden imposed by the constant threat of state violence is not freedom. We cannot begin to chip away at the hyper-criminalization of black and Latino youth until we end the war on drugs. If not, the reality most of America is privileged enough to enjoy - the assumption that an interaction with law enforcement will not end in their demise - will remain an aspiration at best.

When I was in elementary school, a large part of the school’s efforts to convince us to “just say no” to drugs involved encouraging us to “dare to be different.” As an adult, I am imploring the powers that be and those who have been complicit in cultivating this drug war climate to put the same amount of time and resources into daring police to allow all youth the space to enjoy their lives without fear of those entrusted with the responsibility of protecting them.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog

 

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Calling Chris Christie! White House Opioid Crisis Commission Misses Due Date for Preliminary Report

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 11:23
The group's task of reducing addiction and overdose is complicated by administration positions on health care and drug policy funding.

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis has missed its first deadline.

The newly created panel met for the first time on June 16, just 11 days before the White House’s ambitious due date for a preliminary report meant to outline federal strategies to curb the epidemic.

An executive order that established the commission had set a 90-day deadline for the completion of that document. The deadline will come and go without a report being filed, and a commission teleconference originally scheduled for Monday evening has been rescheduled for July 17.

“It’s been pushed back for a couple of weeks,” commission member Bertha Madras, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital who studies the biology of addiction, told STAT. “We need more time because it’s a massive task.”

Madras said the group has been working diligently on its report, compiling a list of federal resources and programs available to help stem the epidemic. The panel was still crafting its recommendations, she said, but overall the commission’s work was going very well.

“Right now, we’re going to have more recommendations than anyone anticipated,” she said.

Madras was named to the commission just last month, along with its chair, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Roy Cooper of North Carolina. The fifth member, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, is a treatment advocate who has spoken openly about his own struggle with drug abuse.

“It seemed to have been put together on a fairly brief turnaround,” said Dr. Joe Parks, the medical director of the National Council for Behavioral Health, of the first meeting, during which he delivered a brief presentation. “I was left with the impression that we were part of an initial broad information-gathering — I was given very broad opportunity to give whatever input I pleased.”

Outside experts have been largely impressed by the commission and its direction, if not the pace of work.

“I had a good hour with Governor Christie, and I have to say he was extremely impressive, extremely knowledgeable,” said Gary Mendell, who as the CEO of the addiction treatment advocacy group Shatterproof was invited to testify before the commission at its first meeting. “He seemed very focused on wanting to do the right thing.”

But Mendell and others who appeared at the first hearing were adamant that the pending health care legislation would be a major setback for the recovery community if it became law.

At the same time, Mendell said, while those invited to testify implored the White House not to pursue legislation that could hamper treatment access, they recognized that Christie’s commission is a non-legislative body with little influence over Republicans on the Hill.

Despite forceful rhetoric on the issue from Trump while on the campaign trail, the White House has struggled to avoid contradictions between the commission’s work and its own agenda.

In April, Trump celebrated the House’s passage of a bill that detractors say would sharply reduce access to addiction treatment in two ways: a roughly $800 billion cut in planned Medicaid spending over the coming decade, and deregulation that could allow insurers in some states not to cover some basic health services, including addiction treatment.

In May, a leaked memo suggested the Trump administration would seek to effectively eliminate the White House’s drug control policy office, reducing its funding from $388 million to $24 million. The administration backtracked on the cuts following bipartisan outrage.

And on Monday, top Trump lieutenant Kellyanne Conway found herself facing demands for an apology after she suggested the two requisite tools for ending the crisis were funding and “a four-letter word called will.”

When asked about the deadline, the White House forwarded questions to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which forwarded questions to Christie’s office, which did not respond to requests for comment.

The commission has not changed its goal of submitting a final report to Trump by Oct. 1.

Andrew Joseph contributed reporting.

An earlier version of this story stated that Trump’s draft budget envisioned effectively eliminating the White House’s drug control policy office. The proposal was made in a memo that was leaked, before the budget proposal was released.

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El Chapo: Netflix's Gruesome, Gripping Answer to The Wire

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 11:03
The new series about Mexico’s rock-star supervillain, Joaquín Guzmán, has the same turf wars and slaughter of innocents as David Simon’s hit – plus gore.

Like all great folk villains, the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán has a story that demands to be told. Netflix have dutifully obliged with the show El Chapo, which premiered last week. Most people became aware of Guzmán in 2015 after his “jailbreak of the millennium”, escaping from a maximum-security prison in Mexico through an underground tunnel riding a motorbike on rails. It’s the kind of break-out MacGyver storyliners dismissed as too implausible. El Chapo’s tunnel makes you wonder what miracle of mind and will made it possible. He may not look like much, but Guzmán is a rock star in supervillain circles.

Netflix junkies may well experience deja vu when they dig into the series. For the second time in two years, the streaming service shows us the rise to power of a real-life drug lord. Narcos followed Pablo Escobar’s journey from small-time dealer to billionaire robber baron. Now El Chapo offers ringside seats to Guzmán’s rise from minor member of the Guadalajara cartel to the most powerful drug trafficker on the planet.

It is fitting that Guzmán spends the first hour of El Chapo on a frantic do-or-die mission for Escobar. Like Narcos, El Chapo traces the Scarface blueprint of a young buck with a big idea who butts up against the established order and prevails thanks to clever alliances and chilling ruthlessness. If you’re expecting carnage, the show will not disappoint. Explosions, decapitation, torture, unimaginable cruelty, slaughter of innocents and coke-induced psychosis pop up with the reliability of a drug dealer who always comes through.

What you may not expect is how El Chapo subtly chimes with another show about the drug trade. Much of the critical acclaim The Wire received was due to its portrayal of how the three key tiers of the drug game – the street, the police and the politicians – interacted in a broken system, with deadly results. In El Chapo, it is clear that the state and politicians are as ruthless as the cartels.

The character of crooked politician “Don” Conrado Sol is a fictional construct, embodying the political corruption in Mexico that has allowed the likes of El Chapo to flourish. On the surface he is meek, unassuming and concerned only with humbly serving his country, but underneath Sol is gripped by an ambition to be president. His rise through the political ranks parallels El Chapo’s criminal ascent, and is all the more chilling for how quietly it is done.

It would be wrong to characterise El Chapo as simply another gory story about opium-fuelled ultraviolence. We watch as the state buddies up with drug lords, sanctions murder and takes sides in turf wars. Over time, it becomes a comment on the idea of Mexico as a failed state and the larger scandal of the failed war on drugs.

As a teenage Guzmán attends a barbecue thrown by the local drug lord, an older, wiser head informs him about some of the groups present: “The guys standing over there are the politicians. Be careful with them – they’re the real assholes.” Like Bodie in The Wire, El Chapo realises early that the game is rigged. His tunnel may be an engineering marvel, but it is the bridges he builds with the state that aid his land grabs and purges, securing his entrance into the criminal hall of fame.

In The Wire, no one got the better of Stringer Bell until he came up against state senate grifter Clay Davis and his magical money faucet. It’s the same message in the Franklin Terrace projects or the Sinaloa poppy fields; even mass-murdering sociopaths must concede you can’t fight city hall. It’s a lesson every would-be Escobar must learn.

 

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