Skip to Content

Alternet

Syndicate content AlterNet.org: Drugs
Updated: 22 hours 49 min ago

Will Denver Be the First Place in America to Legalize Magic Mushrooms?

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 22:10
The Mile High City could get even higher next year.

Denver could essentially legalize psychedelic mushrooms by next spring if a group of local activists has its way. But they have a few hurdles to overcome first.

This week, members of Denver for Psilocybin handed in to city officials a pair of municipal initiatives aimed at removing penalties for possessing and consuming the fungi, which contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. That's the first step in a process that could see the issue put before voters in the May 2019 local election.

One measure, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, reflects the activists' maximum program; the other, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Enforcement Deprioritization Initiative, is a less ambitious backstop.

Both initiatives would make enforcement of laws against magic mushrooms a low law enforcement priority by adopting language that would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psychoactive mushrooms." Under both initiatives, the sale of magic mushrooms would remain illegal.

The initiatives differ in two important respects. The broader one allows for the "personal possessions, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms; the backstop version only allows for possession and use, not propagation. And the broader version contains no limits on possession, while the backstop would limit possession to two ounces.

Kevin Matthews, campaign manager for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword he hoped the broader measure would pass muster with both city officials and voters, but that allowing propagation may be a bridge too far.

"It’s a natural right. It’s a human right. This one is our Hail Mary victory shot," Matthews said. "It’s more a matter of public opinion," he said of the two-pronged approach. "Are people ready to accept that people are already propagating?"

The Denver City Council now has a week to schedule a comment and review hearing led by Council Executive Director Leon Mason and Assistant City Attorney Troy Bratton. While the hearing is open to the public, there is no opportunity for public comment.

If the council approves, the initiatives then go to the Denver Election Division, which will have three days to decide whether to accept or reject them. Denver for Psilocybin had earlier versions of the initiatives rejected by the Elections Division but hopes it has addressed those issues with the new versions. If approved by the Elections Division, the group will then have to come up with some 5,000 valid voter signatures by January to qualify for the May ballot. They are confident that if they can get the measures on the ballot, they can win.

"I am extremely optimistic. I think we’re gonna win. I think we’re going to pass this thing," he says. Even if voters don't side with the group, "simply getting on the ballot will be a victory."

Denver isn't the only place where moves to legalize or decriminalize magic mushrooms are afoot, but it may be the first place voters get a chance to weigh in. In Oregon, activists aiming at 2020 are working on an initiative that would legalize and regulate the therapeutic use of psilocybin, while just to the south, the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative campaign tried to get their measure on the 2018 ballot, but came up short on signatures. They will be back.

Magic mushrooms remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But so was marijuana when Coloradans voted to legalize it in 2012. And here we are.

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

The Marijuana Market Is Heating Up — But Many of Its Workers Are Getting Left Out in the Cold

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 13:10
A new report shows what it's like to work in the burgeoning industry.

Legal marijuana is a growth industry. Medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and full-on legalization in nine, with more states set to join the green revolution this fall. New Jersey could become the next legalization state sometime in the next few weeks, and Election Day could see two more medical marijuana states (Utah and Missouri) and two more legalization states (Michigan and North Dakota).

In a new analysis of legal pot's jobs and pay scales, the marijuana head-hunting firm Vangst, which describes itself as the "Monster.com of the cannabis industry," reports that pot is hot. The company says it expects employment in the industry to more than double next year and that salaries at licensed pot businesses are up 18 percent this year.

But pot businesses are, after all, businesses, and they have some of the same issues as any other privately-held businesses. More than one-fifth of the 1,200 firms surveyed for this report offer no employee benefits at all and more than half offer no medical, dental, and vision insurance. Those industry workers most likely to get such benefits are those in the most lucrative jobs.

Marijuana businesses also replicate wage and salary differentials common in other industries. Managers and some skilled positions can take home well north of a hundred grand a year, while hourly workers, such as trimmers and budtenders, get paid proletarian wages.

The Vangst survey isn't exhaustive—it doesn't cover some mid-level jobs at grow and extraction operations or dispensaries, nor does it cover jobs that don't directly touch on marijuana, such as publicists, accountants, and marketers—but it does provide at least a partial glimpse at the pot jobs market.

But if you're looking for work in the legal pot industry, here's what to expect for various positions :

Cultivation director: Oversees all cultivation operations to ensure the production of compliant and high-quality cannabis. Establishes all standard operating procedures, nutrient and harvest schedules, integrated pest management programs, hiring, training, and personnel management. Responsible for ensuring the highest levels of plant health, potency, and production.

Low: $47,000

Average: $88,000

High: $140,000

Top: $250,500

Extraction director: Oversees all cannabis extraction and refinement operations. This includes facility design, laboratory setup, standard operating procedure development, regulatory compliance, hiring, training, and personnel management. Responsible for ensuring all cannabis extracted products are produced safely, efficiently, and consistently.

Low: $47,000

Average: $72,000

High: $135,000

Top: $191,000

Compliance manager: Ensures local, state, and federal compliance with all laws and regulations. Implements a company-wide program, which includes seed-to-sale tracking and internal compliance audits. Anticipates and tracks pending and current laws and regulations. Creates new policies and procedures as necessary and ensures the staff has an understanding of all compliance requirements.

Low: $45,000

Average: $62,500

High: $81,750

Top: $149,000

Outside sales representative: Focuses on sales strategies and account management to build value in the marketplace. An Outside Sales Representative develops relationships into new accounts in order to meet sales goals and manages existing accounts using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. They enhance product branding and increase sales through the training and education of retail partners and customers.

Low: $28,000

Average: $58,800

High: $73,500

Top: $150,000

Dispensary manager: Oversee day-to-day operations of a medical or recreational cannabis retail location. Create standard operating procedures, develop inventory processes, and ensure dispensary is fully compliant with all state and federal regulations. Responsible for hiring, training, and managing all dispensary staff.

Low: $41,500

Average: $56,250

High: $65,400

Top: $98,000

Budtender (per hour): Provides excellent customer service to all patients and customers in medical and recreational dispensaries. Uses point of sale system and other technology to ensure all cannabis product sales are properly tracked. Provides information to customers on product choices, consumption methods, compliance, and safety. Remains up to date on all cannabis regulations to ensure compliance within the dispensary.

Low: $12

Average: $13.25

High: $14

Top: $16

Trimmer (per hour): Manicures and prepares all harvested flower product to be sold in medical and recreational cannabis retail locations.

Low: $11.50

Average: $12.25

High: $13

Top: $14.50

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Are Getting Deadlier

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 04:04
It may seem absurd to fight disease with viruses, but bacteriophages could be the fix for a growing problem

The world's most frightening infections aren't carried by plague-infested rats, rabid dogs, or chimps with Ebola. They're transmitted by "superbugs" -- disease-causing bacteria that can't be killed by antibiotics.

This year, superbugs will kill about 700,000 people, including 23,000 Americans. That toll will increase exponentially in the coming years as ever-evolving bacteria develop resistance to more and more antibiotics. Even hand sanitizers are struggling against certain microbes. By 2050, superbugs could kill 10 million people annually.

Fortunately, it's possible to avert this grim future. "Bacteriophages" — viruses that infect only bacteria — can destroy antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The U.S. government, however, isn't doing enough to facilitate the development of these viruses. That needs to change.

Antibiotics don't work as well as they used to. From 2012 to 2014, the share of bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics rose from 5 percent to 11 percent, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Why the spike? For years, doctors doled out antibiotics willy-nilly. Even today, up to half of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary or used ineffectively.

Whenever antibiotics are used, some mutant bacteria survive. But the more an antibiotic is used, the more rapidly bacteria become resistant, reducing the effectiveness of the drug.

New treatments for superbugs are needed, but there have been no major novel antibiotic developments since the 1960s. That's largely because pharmaceutical companies are abandoning antibiotic research. It's time-consuming and expensive to bring a new drug to market — it takes about ten years and $2.9 billion, on average. So companies develop drugs that will make as much money as possible. Since drugs for chronic diseases make people life-long subscribers, and antibiotics are "one and done," developers opt to make the former. Moreover, growing antibiotic resistance reduces the effective lifespan of new drugs, further limiting profits.

That's why researchers must look beyond antibiotics and devote more resources to novel treatments — like bacteriophage therapy. Our planet is home to trillions and trillions of bacteriophages — phages for short — making them the most abundant biological form in the world. Each phage evolves to attack a specific bacterium.

If a patient has a bacterial infection, she could take a cocktail of many phages in the hope that some will target the infection. The treatment can be modified with different phages if the first cocktail does not work. And phages very rarely produce side effects.

It may seem absurd to fight disease with viruses. But phages are already working wonders in some parts of the world. Doctors in the Republic of Georgia and Poland have used them for decades. One Texas woman with a debilitating infection recently decided to fly 6,500 miles to Georgia to try phage therapy. Within weeks, she made a full recovery.

Despite such successes, phage research is underfunded. The National Institutes of Health only spent $473 million on antibiotic resistance research last fiscal year, according to a Politico report. And just a third of it went to phage therapy.

That's chump change. Just look at how generously the government funds other health initiatives. Since 2004, the government has funneled $1.6 billion into bioterrorism defense research every year, even though there haven't been any notable bioterror attacks.

Even if there were a smallpox attack, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it would only infect tens of thousands. By comparison, we know that millions of people will die from superbugs unless better treatments reach the market.

The government isn't merely skimping on research funding. It's also making it difficult for private companies and non-profits to develop phage therapies. Phages aren't a static chemical compound — they quickly evolve just like the mutating bacteria, giving them a huge edge over antibiotics. Even when a bacteria develops resistance to the phage, new phages can be found or existing phages can evolve to become effective again.

But this advantage also makes phages difficult to evaluate in a traditional clinical trial setting. Right now, the FDA only approves phages for use on a case-by-case basis.

To take full advantage of its potential, phage therapy needs its own separate FDA approval track.

Superbugs are becoming more and more deadly — and traditional antibiotics alone can't stop them. Phages may be the secret weapon; they're proven to be safe and effective.

It's time for the government to realize the best way to defeat killer bacteria may be to give people harmless viruses.

Categories: News Feeds

Nevada Nightmare: Being Jailed for Traffic Tickets Became a Death Sentence for This Texas Woman

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 08:43
Kelly Coltrain was detoxing when she was put in Mineral County Jail last year. She died after deputies denied her medical care.

Texas resident Kelly Coltrain, 27, had just finished visiting Reno and Lake Tahoe for a family reunion to celebrate her grandmother's 75th birthday when she was pulled over for speeding outside Hawthorne, Nevada, on July 19, 2017. She was booked into the Mineral County jail because of outstanding traffic tickets. She told jailers she was dependent on opioids, had a history of seizures related to withdrawals, and needed to go to the hospital. She never got there.

For three days, Coltrain remained in her cell, eating little, spending most of her time in bed in the fetal position, and asking for help. Despite being in a video-monitored cell where her discomfort was evident, sheriff's deputies ignored her requests for medical attention. Instead, even as her condition worsened, the deputies' only response was to hand her a mop and tell her to clean up her own vomit in her cell.

Kelly Coltrain sits in a cell at the Mineral County Jail in Hawthorne. She died about an hour after her jailer asked her to mop her vomit from the floor. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff)

She was dead less than an hour later—although it would take deputies another six hours to notice and another six hours after that before they summoned medical personnel. An investigation into her death was completed last week. It found that her jailers violated multiple policies by denying her medical care after she told them she was dependent on drugs and suffered seizures during withdrawals. The state investigators also found evidence the sheriff's office may have violated state laws barring the inhumane treatment of prisoners and official oppression and asked the Mineral County District Attorney to consider criminal charges. Instead, Mineral County handed the case off to neighboring Lyons County District Attorney Stephen Rye, who declined to press charges.

"The review of the case, in our opinion, did not establish any willful or malicious acts by jail staff that would justify the filing of charges under the requirements of the statute," Rye said.

Now, as first reported by USA Today, Coltrain's family is seeking justice via a wrongful death suit filed last week. The suit accuses the sheriff's office of ignoring her life-threatening medical condition despite knowing she was in withdrawal and had a history of seizures.

Sgt. Jim Holland asks Kelly Coltrain to mop her cell. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff's Office)

"(Jail staff) knew Kelly Coltrain had lain for days at the jail, in bed, buried beneath blankets, vomiting multiple times, refusing meals, trembling, shaking, and rarely moving," lawyers Terri Keyser-Cooper and Kerry Doyle wrote in the lawsuit. "Defendants knew Kelly Coltrain was in medical distress. Kelly Coltrain’s medical condition was treatable and her death preventable," the lawyers wrote. "If Ms. Coltrain had received timely and appropriate medical care, she would not have died. Kelly Coltrain suffered a protracted, extensive, painful, unnecessary death as a result of defendants’ failures."

Keyser-Cooper, who has spent decades bringing successful civil rights lawsuits against northern Nevada law enforcement agencies, told USA Today said the Coltrain case was "the worst I have ever seen in 33 years. I've never seen anything like this." 

According to the state investigation, after she was arrested, Coltrain initially refused to answer questions about her medical history and family, but once she realized she would not be able to bail out, she told Sgt. Jim Holland she was addicted and had a history of seizures when going through withdrawals. The report found that Holland didn't follow a jail policy that requires that prisoners with seizure histories be cleared by a doctor before being held, and neither did jail staff monitor her vitals, as medical protocols required for prisoners undergoing withdrawals. In fact, the small jail in the county of 4,000 had no on-site medical care, instead taking prisoners to the hospital across the street for medical treatments and prescriptions.

The same evening she was jailed, Coltrain told night deputy Ray Gulcynski she needed to go to the hospital immediately for medication, but Gulcynski ignored the jail's medical care policy, telling Coltrain she couldn't go unless he decided her life was at risk.

"Unfortunately, since you're DT'ing (referring to the detoxification process), I'm not going to take you over to the hospital right now just to get your fix," Deputy Ray Gulcynski told Coltrain, according to the investigation report. "That's not the way detention works, unfortunately. You are incarcerated with us, so… you don't get to go to the hospital when you want. When we feel that your life is at risk… then you will go."

For the next three days, Coltrain lay in her cell, eating and drinking little and spending most of her time under the blankets in the fetal position. Early on July 22, she began vomiting, trembling, and "making short, convulsive movements," the report found. About 5 p.m. that day, Sgt. Holland brought her dinner and tried to get her to eat a few bites, which she did. He then brought her a new set of jail clothing to replace her soiled garments, along with a mop. Holland told her to mop the vomit from the floor.

According to the investigative report, Coltrain just sat there until Holland returned a few minutes later and asked her again to mop. Jail video showed her then trying to mop the floor as she sat on her bed, trembling and stopping frequently to rest. Holland thought she was being lazy.

"Sgt. Holland advised he thought Coltrain was just 'lazy' and that she just didn't want to stand up to clean the floor," the report said. "Sgt. Holland advised he just wanted the floor to be cleaned and he didn't care how it got done, just that it got cleaned up."

Less than an hour later, Coltrain was dead. Jail video showed her lying in the fetal position when she goes into a seizure. Her body goes rigid and her legs stiffen. While lying on her stomach, her face rises toward the back wall and her arm stretches out, hanging off the bed. Her head falls back to the mattress, she appears to go into a series of convulsions, then stops moving—forever.

That was 6:26 p.m. Her body lied there untouched until 12:30 a.m. the following day when Deputy Gulcynski comes to move her to a different cell and finds her unmoving. He nudges her leg with the tip of his boot, and when she doesn't respond, he looks at her face, touches her arm, and quickly leaves.

Deputy Ray Gulcynski tapping Kelly Coltrain with his boot and finding her unresponsive. (Photo: Mineral County Sheriff's Office)

The investigation found that Gulcynski notified his superiors that Coltrain looked dead and was cold. He re-entered the cell to check her pulse before leaving again. No one called paramedics. Instead, her body was left in the cell until a forensic technician arrived at 5:48 a.m. to begin investigating the death.

The Washoe County Medical Examiner, who handled the case for resource-poor Mineral County, ruled Coltrain's death accidental and caused by "complications of drug use." Toxicology reports showed heroin in her system.

But the state investigator, Detective Damon Earl, said in his report that had the jailers followed department policies already in place, Coltrain's death may have been preventable.

"There were a limited number of times where Coltrain had actual contact with the staff," Earl wrote. "This may be significant because had more contact been made with Coltrain, indicators of Kelly's medical condition may have been observed. These indicators may have alerted staff therefore prompting medical attention to be rendered to Coltrain."

While the civil suit says that both Holland and Gulcynski were subject to departmental discipline over the incident, Holland instead retired early—and got a going away present from the Mineral County Commission. In June, the commission voted unanimously to spend $17,853 to buy Holland an additional year toward his service. That let him retire with a higher annual pension and more health care benefits than if it had been denied.

The county commission had the money to give its negligent jail guard a nice little gift. Let's hope the commissioners and the good citizens of Mineral County are already budgeting to account for the payout they will most likely be making once Kelly Coltrain's family gets its day in court.

Family attorney Keyser-Cooper said Coltrain was a "successful student, a friendly outgoing girl, and an exceptionally talented soccer player," who was dear to her family. She had developed depression and addiction after a knee injury as a teenager in Las Vegas. While the family seeks compensatory damages, what it really wants, Keyser-Cooper said, is for conditions at the jail to improve. The family will not settle the suit without that, he added.

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

 

Categories: News Feeds

Billionaire Drug Executive Who Helped Fuel Opioid Crisis Now Plans To Make Millions Selling Treatment For Opioid Addiction

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 06:58
Click here for reuse options! Richard Sackler has secured a patent for a drug to treat people for addiction to his own painkillers.

On Friday, the Financial Times reported that billionaire pharmaceutical tycoon Richard Sackler has secured a patent for a new drug to treat opioid addiction.

The drug, a reformulation of buprenorphine, is essentially just a milder opioid that can blunt the symptoms of withdrawal while a person is being weaned off — competing variants of which are already generating nearly $900 million in U.S. sales.

Sackler's family also happens to own Purdue Pharma, the company that first developed OxyContin — a powerful narcotic painkiller that has been blamed for spurring the epidemic of opioid addiction that has decimated communities all across America.

In other words, Sackler made millions off of sales of a drug that caused a massive public health crisis — and now he stands to make millions more by selling the public a solution.

Purdue, one of several drug companies that made a decades-long push for liberal prescription of opioids, is currently facing a mountain of lawsuits. Prosecutors in several states allege Purdue was aware of the risk of addiction and overdose, but deceived doctors and patients and downplayed the risks to increase their sales — a charge the company denies. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey directly names several members of the Sackler family as defendants.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that up to 12 percent of patients prescribed an opioid develop an abuse disorder, and as many as 6 percent eventually switch to heroin. More than 115 people a day are now killed by opioid overdoses.

Rural areas have been especially impacted, with an astonishing 74 percent of farmers reporting they or someone they know is suffering from or has been affected by opioid addiction.

While increased availability of addiction treatment is a good thing, it is not a solution to the epidemic. Opioids remain a necessary tool to treat severe pain from surgery, cancer, and other serious conditions, but they must be used judiciously, and alternative therapies must be made available — particularly in lower-income rural areas where people are at higher risk.

Click here for reuse options!
Categories: News Feeds

These 4 Red-Leaning States Have Big Marijuana Decisions to Make This November

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 13:21
Two will vote on marijuana legalization; two on medical marijuana.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana since 2012, but all of those states have been in the West or the Northeast. This year, with marijuana legalization on the ballot in Michigan as well as North Dakota, legal weed could make a heartland breakthrough.

Similarly, medical marijuana’s rise to acceptance continues, and this year, Missouri and Utah look set to join the ranks.

Two of these states—Missouri and North Dakota—also have incumbent Democratic senators up for reelection in tough campaigns this fall. Whether voters motivated by marijuana could help Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp retain their seats remains to be seen, but pot at the polls will generate interest among more liberal voters.

We could see New Jersey move quickly and legalize weed via the legislature sometime in the next two months, but barring that, it looks like we'll see at least one, and quite possibly two, new marijuana legalization states come election day and, most likely, two more medical marijuana states.

Here we go:

Michigan

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

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

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. A February poll had support for legalization in Michigan at 57 percent, while a March poll came in at 61 percent. The most recent poll, from May, had support holding steady at 61 percent. Those are the kinds of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

That there are three separate measures on the ballot could lead to some confusion. If multiple ballot measures on the same topic pass, the one with the most votes generally prevails. But because in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory measure, if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the amendments, but at least one of them passes, it could be up to the state's court system to figure out which goes into effect.

While there is nothing stopping voters from voting "yes" on all three measures, there are also concerns that the multiplicity of options could result in splitting the pro-medical marijuana vote, with some voting "yes" on only one measure and "no" on the others. In this election, when it comes to medical marijuana, Missouri may have too much of a good thing.

North Dakota

The winds of change are blowing across the northern prairies. Just two years ago, North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, and this year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

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

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

North Dakota is a deep red state—Donald Trump got more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in 2016—but the only poll done so far has the initiative leading. The June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

That's good but not great news for Legalize ND. Yes, the initiative is leading, but the conventional wisdom among initiative and referendum watchers is that campaigns should be starting off with at least 60 percent support—the assumption being that inevitable organized opposition is going to eat away at support levels in the final weeks of the campaign.

Utah

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

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

The measure has received opposition from the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), but even church members don't appear to be heading the leadership on this one. A Utah Policy poll released Tuesday has support for the measure at 64 percent. Among Mormons, the church's active opposition has swayed only "very active" church members, who now narrowly oppose the measure. But "somewhat active" and "former" Mormons both overwhelmingly support it. It looks like medical marijuana is coming to the Land of Deseret.

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

 

Categories: News Feeds

Why Is Trump Ramping Up His Unwieldy War on Weed?

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 03:05
Trump’s new “marijuana task force” is a big step backward for America

Earlier this week, it was revealed that President Donald Trump has created a Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, one in which various federal agencies that oversee marijuana policy work together to find ways to prevent Americans from having access to the drug. According to a summary of a meeting held between the White House and nine government departments in July, "the prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate" and needs to be countered with "the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends."

Set aside the irony of government officials denouncing the pro-marijuana legalization arguments as "partial, one-sided, and inaccurate" while making it clear that they're only interested in data that will support their anti-legalization position, there is a deeper issue here: Trump is ramping up his unwieldy war on weed.

"It's a big step towards the prohibitionist status quo that we were in prior to the [President Barack] Obama years," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Salon. "It's not a step back [in the sense that] we're not behind where we were in the 1930s, but we're moving closer to where we were in the 1930s."

Strekal went on the contrast Trump's policies on marijuana with those of his predecessor.

"It's important to note that, even during the Obama years, the rhetoric and policy guidance that was coming out of the administration's Department of Justice was not necessarily pro-marijuana," Strekal explained. "They more took a neutral stance and allowed, after tension that happened in the early years of the Obama administration where they were conducting raids of medical dispensaries and shutting down access for patients to get safe and legal marijuana, they put forward the Cole memo, which best can be categorized as an uneasy detente between the federal and state policy guidelines."

The Cole memorandum was a policy drafted by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole under Obama that effectively told states which had legalized marijuana that they could do so without federal interference as long as they abided by certain rules, such as making sure the drug stayed out of the hands of children and keeping it out of states where it is still illegal. By revoking the Cole memorandum, Sessions gave federal prosecutors carte blanche to decide for themselves whether they would respect the wishes of states that had decided to legalize the substance.

"Clearly, under the Department of Justice under the leadership of Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration at large, have many leaders who are still suffering from 'Reefer Madness' prohibitionist era rhetoric," Strekal told Salon. "Even coming out and publicly spreading things that are patently false is going to possibly curb the momentum that we have seen play out through the states and the explosion of public support that we have. Marijuana policy should not be characterized as a partisan issue, and unfortunately under a Republican administration, if they choose to make support for reform become a partisan issue, then it's going to hurt them politically."

He then pivoted the kinds of enforcement actions that one might expect to be taken to curb marijuana use.

"It could be a wide range of things," Strekal explained. "In my view it is unlikely that the DOJ [Department of Justice], or DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] specifically, commits to a widespread 'crackdown,' but it would be much more like what the Heritage Foundation called for in 2017... a twelve point plan for how the Trump Department of Justice can shutdown marijuana in America. And largely the DOJ has followed many of those steps, and the biggest enforcement action component of that would be targeted RICO suits against some of the largest companies in the industry. This is the same tool they use to take down organized crime, because in the eyes of the federal government, every single marijuana company — regardless of the fact that it's state legal — is operating in clear violation of federal law."

The Trump administration's attitude toward marijuana legalization stands in contrast with national Democrats, who have indicated they plan to take up federal decriminalization if they take back the Senate this fall.

What the Trump administration is doing is blatantly trying to impose the conservative social values of administration members like Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of legalization, on the rest of the country. This is not merely a step back for people who support marijuana legalization. It is also a giant step back for the concept that America is a nation of individuals making individual choices, rather than one in which Big Brother tells us which choices we should and should not make.

Categories: News Feeds

This 'Breaking Bad' Candy Shaped Like the Show's Blue Meth Is a Really Bad Idea

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 12:49
The sugary tribute to Walter White is raising eyebrows.

A shop in Provo, Utah—of all places—has been outed for selling packages of rock candy marketed as the infamous "Blue Sky" methamphetamine cooked up by chemistry teacher turned meth maker Walter White in the hit TV series "Breaking Bad."

The series, which aired for five seasons on AMC, told the story of White, an Albuquerque high school teacher who turned his talents to the lucrative task of manufacturing meth after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The item spoofs the nearly pure blue meth White cooked up in the show, complete with the "Breaking Bad" logo and an image of White as his clandestine alter ego Heisenberg superimposed over a glass beaker.

The rock candy was on sale at the FYE (For Your Entertainment) shop in Provo but apparently is no longer. It was also for sale on the store’s website, but as of today, "this item is currently not available," the website says.

“Ever want to own a street-legal package of Heisenberg’s infamous 'Blue Sky' product? Now you can with Breaking Bad Blue Sky Rock Candy Crystals, a package of deliciously addicting blueberry-flavored rock candy,” reads the product description on the FYE site.

It is still available on eBay, but only at the collector's price of $24.50 a bag. (It was going for $4.99 on the FYE site.)  Amazon and other websites sell blue rock candy without the methy marketing, and recipes for "Breaking Bad" rock candy are also all over the Internet.

Selling meth-marketed candy broke bad for FYE this past week when one of their customers took notice and then took umbrage. Customer Parker Twede posted a photo of the package to his Instagram page (he made his page profile private on Wednesday, so the rock candy pic is no longer available there).

“Just when I thought I had seen it all. Seriously?” Twede captioned the photo.

Twede was also happy to talk to local media about his concerns, racking up at least two interviews with Salt Lake City TV stations.

“It’s presented in a little baggie at the checkout, at children's eye level,” Twede told KSL-TV. “Frankly, it appalled me that this product even exists. It’s really irresponsible to the millions of people suffering from this terrible drug,” Twede added. “I am not easily offended, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this.”

Not everyone was as bent out of shape as Twede. Others interviewed by the TV station described the candy as "hilarious" and "funny."

Breaking Bad Blue Sky Rock Candy Crystals—not for everyone, especially the humor-impaired. But they could make a nice Halloween surprise for that special someone.

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

 

Categories: News Feeds

We Can Save Lives and Fight the Opioid Epidemic — But the Trump Administration's Strategies Make the Problem Worse

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:01
We're experiencing the worst public health epidemic in U.S. history, yet the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge and accept the complicated nature of addiction and recovery.

International Overdose Awareness Day can be a difficult, emotionally taxing day for many people. August 31 represents a day for families and communities to remember and honor the lives lost due to preventable drug overdose deaths and the failed war on drugs.

A record number of fatal drug overdoses cut over 72,000 lives short throughout the United States in 2017 alone. Drug overdose deaths exceed those attributable to gun violence, car accidents, homicides, or HIV/AIDS. More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017 alone than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.

Decades of the failed war on drugs and fixation on “Just Say No” rhetoric have served to alienate and dehumanize people who use drugs. They have also created a culture that prevents the implementation of proven life-saving measures and evidence-based treatment for people who need it. Just this week, United States Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came out in an infuriatingly inaccurate New York Times Editorial bashing safe consumption spaces and threatening criminal prosecution.

Despite the United States experiencing the worst public health epidemic in its history, the current administration refuses to acknowledge and accept the complicated nature of addiction and recovery. Strategy couched in criminalization, demonizing and racializing drug dealers, and zero tolerance only exacerbate the harms of drug misuse. The general collateral consequences of criminal punishment, in addition to the health-related consequences of incarcerating individuals struggling with drug misuse manifests in the risk of fatal drug overdoses amongst formerly incarcerated people being 40 times higher than the general population within the first two weeks after release. Fixating on MS-13 and building a wall at the Mexican border will not prevent accidental deaths or help reduce other harms directly related to a person’s access or lack thereof to adequate, trauma-informed healthcare, social services, or other needs that may be contributing to misuse.

People use drugs. People have used drugs for generations. Drug-related deaths are preventable in a culture that takes radical steps away from failed punitive and abstinence-only policies and commits to the priority of saving lives and reduced harm. We cannot end drug use, and that ought not be the goal. However, we can end fatal drug overdoses.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, and every day, we must continue to challenge and push back against a political environment that discriminates against people who use drugs and scapegoats drug sellers. We ought to raise awareness of the ways that stigma associated with drug use and criminalization as a response to public health needs have blocked the widespread adoption of life-saving overdose prevention and treatment policies. Proven strategies, like safe consumption spacesdrug checking and medication-assisted treatment, are available to reduce the harms associated with drug misuse, treat dependence and addiction, improve immediate overdose responses, and enhance public safety. These strategies prevent fatalities, not end drug use in of itself. If we are in the business of saving lives, we need to be okay with that.

Chiefly, August 31 is a day where we send a loud and loving message to all people who use drugs, problematically or not, that they are valued, and that their lives matter. Their lives are unconditionally worth saving.

As we remember those we have lost to fatal overdose, we must demand that politics and fear-mongering be put aside, so we can center the needs of people who use drugs, and meet people who use drugs problematically with compassion and the resources needed to keep them alive.

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

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

Categories: News Feeds

Study Proves That Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths Helps No One

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 22:36
The practice is "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," the author concludes.

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history—more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose—or sometimes just the people who shared it—with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, “America’s Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis,” concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective—it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in U.S. history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking—yet completely unsurprising—finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount—or totally disregard—legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into U.S. jurisprudence, however."

“Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

The Opioid Crisis Could Cost a Half Million Lives in the Next Decade

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 22:24
There are some policy prescriptions that could lower that toll, but some other politically popular ones would likely increase it.

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in mid-August, showed a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths last year, with 49,000 related to heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. According to the authors of a study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that could be the new normal.

The study, by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, attempts to assess the number of opioid-related deaths we could expect to see over the next decade, as well as the impact of different policy responses on reducing the death toll.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimate that some 510,000 people will die over the next decade because of opioid use. The number includes not only drug overdoses but also other opioid-related deaths, such as HIV infections caused by shared needles.

Even including the non-overdose deaths, the number is staggering. Last year was the worst year ever for opioid-related overdose deaths, but this research suggests we are going to see year after year of similar numbers.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce the death toll, but also that some seemingly simple solutions, such as cracking down on opioid prescribing, could actually increase the toll. And even those policies that could cut the opioid death rate are likely to do so only marginally.

Making the overdose reversal drug naloxone more widely available could cut opioid-related deaths by 21,200 over the next decade, allowing greater access to medication-assisted therapies with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone would save another 12,500 lives, and reducing opioid prescribing for acute pain would prevent another 8,000 deaths, the researchers said. But those three policy moves combined would shave less than 10 percent off the overall death toll.

"No single policy is likely to substantially reduce deaths over 5 to 10 years," the researchers wrote.

While harm reduction interventions such as those above would save lives, some aspects of tightening opioid prescribing would actually increase opioid-related deaths by as much as the tens of thousands—because they increase heroin deaths more than they cut painkiller deaths. Moves such as reducing prescribing for chronic pain, up-scheduling pain relievers to further restrict their prescribing, and prescription drug monitoring programs all tend to push existing prescription opioid users into the illicit heroin and fentanyl markers all end up contributing to net increases in opioid deaths over the 10-year period, the researchers found.

On the other hand, other interventions on the prescribing front, such as reducing acute pain prescribing, reducing prescribing for transitional pain, reformulating drugs to make them less susceptible to misuse, and opioid disposal programs, appear to prevent more deaths than they cause.

Ultimately, reducing the opioid death toll comes down to reducing the size of the opioid-using population. That implies making addiction treatment more available for those currently using and preventing the initiation of a new generation of opioid users. Restrictions on prescribing, while possibly driving some current users to dangerous illicit markets, will have a long-term impact by reducing the number of people who develop a dependence on opioids.

Still, by all appearances, when it comes to the loss of life around opioids, it looks like a pretty sad decade ahead of us.

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

Here's How Long Traces of Marijuana Can Remain in Breast Milk

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 18:33
Click here for reuse options! With marijuana legalization becoming more widespread, these questions are growing in importance.

Marijuana is rapidly becoming legal across the United States as citizens and lawmakers question the wisdom of outlawing a drug that is, by almost any conceivable measure, much less dangerous than alcohol.

But "less dangerous" doesn't mean "risk-free," and the increasing ubiquity of legal pot raises serious medical and health questions that we are only beginning to unravel.

For example, there's little data about the impact of infants' exposure to marijuana through breast milk. Because of this lack of clarity, doctors recommend completely abstaining from marijuana use while breastfeeding.

A new study from researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggests there's a good basis for this recommendation. In a study of 50 women who were users of marijuana, researchers were able to detect THC in breast milk for as long as six days after the mother's last usage. THC is the chemical that can produce psychoactive effects in marijuana users.

"We found that the amount of THC that the infant could potentially ingest from breast milk was relatively low, but we still don't know enough about the drug to say whether or not there is a concern for the infant at any dose, or if there is a safe dosing level," said Christina Chambers, the principal investigator on the study. "The ingredients in marijuana products that are available today are thought to be much more potent than products available 20 or 30 years ago."

For those skeptical of any drug use, it might seem pointless to study the trace amounts of marijuana in breast milk when parents could just avoid using the drug at all. But Chambers argued that telling parents they must choose between breastfeeding and marijuana use can be difficult for doctors.

"Pediatricians are often put into a challenging situation when a breastfeeding mother asks about the safety of marijuana use," she said. "We don't have strong, published data to support advising against use of marijuana while breastfeeding, and if women feel they have to choose, we run the risk of them deciding to stop breastfeeding — something we know is hugely beneficial for both mom and baby."

There are still many more questions Chambers would like to explore with this research.

"Are there any differences in effects of marijuana in breast milk for a two-month-old versus a 12-month-old, and is it different if the mother smokes versus eats the cannabis?" she asks. "These are critical areas where we need answers as we continue to promote breast milk as the premium in nutrition for infants."

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

San Francisco Just Got Another Step Closer to Having a Safe Injection Site

Thu, 08/23/2018 - 12:40
The city could be the first in the nation to adopt the internationally proven harm reduction intervention.

With an assist from the state legislature, the city of San Francisco is moving quickly to become the first in the country to operate an officially sanctioned safe injection site for hard drug users. The State Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow the city to open several sites as part of a three-year pilot program.

The measure, Assembly Bill 186, sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and co-authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), passed the Assembly last year, but now must go back for a concurrence vote after changes were made in the Senate. Once re-approved by the Assembly, the bill will head for the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

While there are no sanctioned safe injection sites in the U.S., there are more than a hundred operating, primarily in European countries (Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark), but also in Australia and Canada. They have been heavily researched and found to be a proven harm reduction intervention. Safe injection sites are linked to reduced rates of HIV and Hep C transmission, overdose death prevention, reduced public injections, reduced numbers of discarded needles, and an increased number of people entering drug treatment.

Under the bill, the pilot safe injection sites must meet specific criteria, including providing a "hygienic space supervised by health care professionals… where people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, sterile consumption supplies, and access to referrals to substance use disorder treatment."

"People are injecting drugs whether or not we intervene," said Wiener in a statement. "Safe injection sites provide people with an opportunity to inject in a clean, safe environment, with healthcare personnel available to prevent overdoses, and with an opportunity to offer people addiction, healthcare, housing, and other services.

"AB 186 is a bill that asks one specific policy question—should we keep trying what has failed for decades or give San Francisco the choice to try something that we know saves lives, reduces disease, and saves money?" said Assemblymember Eggman. "The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities up and down the state and all across the country. This bill provides a path for taking it on as the health crisis that it is."

"We have already lost too many people to overdose in this country," said Laura Thomas, interim California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which helped guide the bill through the legislature. "I’m grateful to the State Senate for understanding the urgent necessity to take action, and for giving San Francisco the green light to move forward and save lives. We’ve been talking about the need for these services in San Francisco for over a decade. It’s time to take action."

New San Francisco Mayor London Breed is ready to move forward. She's announced plans to open a model safe injection site at the Tenderloin's Glide Memorial Methodist Church at the end of the month in a bid to quell NIMBY concerns among local residents.

"I understand the concern, but what I’m most concerned about are the complaints I get about needles on the streets," Breed told members of the media last week. "We are talking about a needle exchange, medical services and treatment on demand, so the point is to try and change how we deal with this. Just because we don’t want to see it—people who sadly struggle with drug addiction—doesn’t mean that it’s just going to disappear."

After the Assembly vote this week, Breed said it was necessary. "The conditions of our streets are unacceptable—the needles, people shooting up publicly," she told local CBS affiliate KPIX News on Wednesday. "I am so excited. It’s just another step further to getting us where we need to be in order to open one here," said Breed.

Lt. Gov. (and former San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom, who will most likely be the state's next governor, said he could get behind the concept, too. "I'm open to it," he said. "I think it's a novel strategy."

While safe injection sites have strong state and local support, they are likely to run afoul of federal law. Even if the city and state create a place where heroin and other drugs can be more safely ingested, federal drug laws make no provision for such activities. Mayor Breed seems undeterred, though.

"The president might crack down on us. So be it," Breed said. "I’m here to do a job, and this is part of my job."

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

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

 

 

Categories: News Feeds

Bad Lawmen: Meet 6 of America's Most Drug-Corrupted County Sheriffs

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 21:43
Most county sheriffs are dedicated law enforcement professionals. Some aren’t, and sometimes outrageously so.

Last week, the good citizens of Mississippi's Tallahatchie County got a rude shock. The county's top lawman, Sheriff William Brewer, was at the courthouse, which was not unusual. This time, though, he was dressed not in his sheriff's uniform but in an orange prisoner jumpsuit to face federal criminal drug trafficking charges.

According to a federal indictment, over a period of 15 years, Sheriff Brewer had conspired with a local ne'er-do-well to have that person repeatedly rob drug dealers, give stolen cash to Brewer, sell the drugs, then give Brewer part of the proceeds. In return, that man got a free ride for his own methamphetamine trafficking activities. Well, until he started coming up with his own meth supply. When Brewer found out about that, he started demanding a $500 or $600 payment every week for the dealer to carry out his work unimpeded. The dealer eventually became an FBI informant and took his former partner down.

Brewer has now resigned as sheriff, and he has not yet been convicted of anything, but his arrest on drug and extortion charges is yet another disturbing example of the corrosive impact on law enforcement of enforcing drug prohibition.

County sheriffs are unique figures in the American law enforcement landscape. Unlike police chiefs or the heads of federal law enforcement agencies, they are typically elected, not appointed. They are subject to little effective oversight except from voters at the polling booth. They control policing not only of all county territory not handled by municipal police forces, but also the county jail and the policing of the courthouse. They control their own law enforcement fiefdoms.

And they sometimes turn to the dark side. For the past dozen years, the Drug War Chronicle has covered drug prohibition-related law enforcement misbehavior in a recurring feature, "This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories." During that period, hundreds of police officers, DEA agents, FBI agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, jail and prison guards, and sheriff's deputies have gone down for one or more of the myriad forms of dirty drug policing.

Law enforcement misbehavior has run the gamut from planting drugs on innocent people to ripping off drug dealers and selling their stashes to sexual coercion to lying on search warrants to lying in court to pocketing cash from drug busts to embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and even stealing drugs from those drug drop-off boxes.

It's bad enough when the people charged with enforcing the law flout it, but it's arguably more disheartening and corrosive when the corrupt cops are the very people charged with heading law enforcement offices, such as county sheriffs. There are more than 3,000 of them, holding office in every state except Alaska (no county governments), Connecticut (replaced by State Marshals), and Hawaii (deputies serve in a division of the Department of Public Safety). The vast majority of them are honest law enforcement professionals.

But some are notoriously not. Each year, one or two or three county sheriffs find themselves on the wrong side of the law because of drugs, whether it's stealing them, selling them, or gobbling them down themselves. And sometimes, when they break bad, they do so in a spectacular fashion. Here are a half-dozen of the most outrageous from the past decade alone:

  1. Oklahoma's Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess. Burgess was hit in 2008 with a 35-count indictment charging him with coercing and bribing female inmates to participate in sex acts. He was hit with 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy, and five counts of bribery by a public official, among other charges. A federal lawsuit filed by 12 former inmates alleges that Burgess and his employees had them participate in wet T-shirt contests and gave cigarettes to inmates who would flash their breasts. Another prisoner alleged she was given trusty status after agreeing to perform a sex act on Burgess, but lost that status when she later refused. After a jury trial, now former Sheriff Burgess was convicted of 13 felonies, including five counts of second-degree rape and three counts of bribery by a public official. Testimony included that of several former female inmates who testified they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to the sheriff, as well as two female drug court participants. Burgess sexually assaulted one of them in his patrol car after arresting her for a drug court violation. In March 2009, he was sentenced to 79 years in prison.
  2. Texas's Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating. Another badge-wearing pervert, Keating, 62, went down for a November 2008 drug raid at a home where the victim and her boyfriend lived. The boyfriend was arrested on outstanding warrants and removed by sheriff's deputies, who then searched the house and found meth paraphernalia. Sheriff Keating shooed the remaining deputy out of the bedroom, closed the door, and told the victim, "You are about to be my new best friend." He then threatened to arrest her on drug charges unless she "assisted" him by performing oral sex on him on multiple occasions and becoming a snitch for him. Keating pleaded guilty in that case in January 2009 but was then indicted along with nine jail guards—seven women and two men—for official oppression over allegations that the county jail was like Animal House. That indictment features multiple allegations of guards and inmates doing drugs and having sex with each other under Keatings' watch. Keating was looking at up to 10 years in prison on the original charge when he died of a heart attack in July 2009. The federal charges against him were subsequently dismissed.
  3. Illinois's Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin. Sheriff Martin found himself in hot water in 2009, when he was indicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges after being videotaped repeatedly providing pounds of marijuana to a local man, who would sell the weed and then give Martin the proceeds. That man became an informant for the DEA after Martin threatened him with death when he said he wanted out. It only got worse from there. While in jail awaiting trial, Martin, his wife, and their 20-year-old son were all arrested again, this time on solicitation of murder charges for plotting to knock off the guy who ratted them out. In September 2010, Martin was convicted of 15 counts in the drug trafficking and murder-for-hire scheme. He was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison in January 2011.
  4. South Carolina's Florence County Sheriff E.J. Melvin. The only black sheriff on this list, Melvin was indicted on dozens of federal charges along with 11 others in 2011 for a massive and complex cocaine trafficking conspiracy. He was accused of dealing cocaine from his official vehicle, extorting money from drug dealers for protection or to get reduced charges. State police agents testified that they give Melvin a list of possible drug dealers, only to have him tip them off and arrange to get payments from them to keep the agents away. In addition to the massive cocaine conspiracy, involving multiple kilograms of the drug over a multi-year period, he was also accused of ripping off $5,000 in victim assistance funds for personal use. He ended up convicted on 37 of 43 counts and is now serving a 17-year federal prison sentence.
  5. Kentucky's Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge. Hodge was indicted on both state and federal charges in 2011 for stealing around $350,000 over a seven-year period, including $100,000 he claimed was used in drug investigations. That wasn't all: Hodge was also charged with ripping off drug dealers and then funneling them to a local attorney. He would get a $50,000 kickback, the department would get a $50,000 "donation," and the dealers would get more lenient treatment. Oh, and he admitted to being strung out on pain pills. Hodge is now doing 15 years of federal time and 17 years of state time, and when he gets out, he has to pay back some $335,000.
  6. Oklahoma's Love County Sheriff Marion "Joe" Russell. Russell was arrested in 2016 on charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and housing a fugitive, but it gets hinkier than that. He was accused of turning a blind eye to meth dealing out of his own home by his adult son, covering up a missing person case where another family member is the main suspect. His son, Willie Russell, had already pleaded guilty to meth dealing. The fugitive, a young woman, was dating Willie and staying at the sheriff's house even though she had four arrest warrants outstanding. Russell would remind her that she was in a "safe haven," and when she left anyway, he arrested her and the man she moved in with—for harboring a fugitive. He was also accused of arresting drunken women in bikinis and taking them to his house instead of to jail. There, they were allegedly sexually assaulted and given meth. The missing persons case involves a young couple who were last seen in a car owned by Russell's nephew. That couple, Molly Miller and Colt Haynes, are still missing, but Russell is now in the clear, having copped a plea deal that resulted in one year of probation and $370 in court costs.


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

 

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Wells Fargo Terminates Banking Services for Florida Political Candidate Over Her Support for Medical Marijuana

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 07:28
Click here for reuse options! The bank claims she represents a risk.

Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner in Florida, reportedly had her campaign accounts shut down by Wells Fargo over her support for medical marijuana.

“Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?” a “relationship manager” for Wells Fargo wrote to the Fried campaign for on July 11th.

Medical marijuana controversy: @WellsFargo has terminated banking services for Florida Ag Commissioner candidate @nikkifried over her advocacy for and support by the medical cannabis industry pic.twitter.com/jdMn5oUMeH

— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) August 20, 2018

 

The campaign answered honestly that they have and would continue to do so.

“As a result of a recent review of your account relationships, we determined that we need to discontinue our business relationship and close the account,” the bank responded.

Medical marijuana is already legal in Florida. Fried called the bank's actions "arbitrary" and "unprecedented."

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