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Marijuana Is Now a Driving Engine of the American Economy

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 13:05
Click here for reuse options! From increased tax revenue to rising home prices, legalization is stimulating economic growth.

The legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is having a positive impact on states’ economies in ways that go well beyond tax revenue. From job creation to increased tourism, marijuana legalization is driving economic markets. Here’s how.

TAX REVENUE

Nine Nevada, where retail sales became legal on July 1, retailers reported over 40,000 transactions in just the first weekend and $3.5 million in taxes in the first month. In Alaska, legal cannabis sales have generated $1.2 million in tax revenue over the first eight months.

In Washington and Colorado, tax revenues from the legal cannabis market are well above initial projections. In Washington, tax revenue totaled $220 million for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2016. In Oregon, marijuana-related tax revenues are yielding about $4 million per month – about twice what regulators initially predicted.

In Nevada, where retail sales became legal on July 1, retailers reported over 40,000 transactions in just the first weekend. In Alaska, legal cannabis sales have generated $1.2 million in tax revenue over the first eight months.

JOB CREATION

The legal cannabis industry is responsible for the creation of nearly 150,000 new full-time jobs, according to data compiled by the online content provider Leafly.com. Their September 12 analysis identified 149,304 jobs in the marijuana sector – a 22 percent increase over the number of jobs that existed one year ago. States reporting the largest number of cannabis-related jobs were California (47,711) Colorado (26,891), and Washington (26,556).

TOURISM

The state of Colorado has experienced an unprecedented increase in tourism following the passage of marijuana legalization. According to data released last year by the Colorado Tourism Office, a record-setting 77.7 million people visited the state in 2015, spending over $19 billion. It is the fifth year in a row that tourism has set records in the state, which is experiencing a rapid growth in toursm that is nearly double the national average. And while not all of Colorado’s visitors are coming there for legal weed, many of them are. Among vacationers surveyed by the state’s Tourism Office in 2016, 49 percent responded that marijuana’s legal status positively influenced their decision to visit the state, and 22 percent of Colorado vacationers said that marijuana’s legal status was “extremely influential” in shaping their decision.

WORKPLACE PARTICIPATION AND WAGES

Lifting cannabis criminalization is linked with greater participation in the workforce and an increase in weekly income. A 2016 University of California at Irvine study reported that ending marijuana possession arrests is associated with an increased probability of employment, particularly among young African American males, and an average increase of 4.5 percent in weekly earnings. According to separate data published last year in the journal Health Economics, medical cannabis regulatory laws are associated with fewer workplace absences. Data published by the National Bureau of Economic research similarly reports that medicalization is associated with a"9.4 percent increase in the probability of employment and a 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent increase in hours worked per week” among those over 50 years of age. “Medical marijuana law implementation leads to increases in labor supply among older adult men and women,” researchers concluded.

HOME VALUES

The growth in the number of cannabis retail facilities is associated with an increase in nearby home values. That’s according to a just published economic analysis by researchers at the University of Georgia at Athens, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and California State University Sacramento. They reported that single family residences within 0.1 miles of a retail marijuana establishment saw an increase in value of approximately 8.4 percent compared to those located slightly further – between 0.1 miles and 0.25 miles – from the site. That increase in property value was estimated to be almost $27,000 for an average house in the area.

"In addition to sales and business taxes generated by the retail marijuana industry, the associated increase in property tax revenues represents another potentially appealing selling point for legalization,” they concluded. Their findings are similar to those of a University of Mississippi paper, published earlier this year, which determined, “[L]egalizing retail marijuana leads to an average 6 percent housing value appreciation.”

REDUCED CRIME

Legal marijuana is associated with reductions in criminal activities. According to a 2017 study published by the IZA Institute of Labor, “the legalization of recreational cannabis enacted in Washington caused a decrease in crime rates” – a result that authors speculated was due to reduced alcohol consumption by the general public. In Denver, incidences of violent crime and property crime fell 10.6 percent in the months immediately following legalization compared to that same span one year earlier. A 2014 assessment of state-by-state crime data similarly reported that jurisdictions experienced a drop in violent crime following medical marijuana legalization. Researchers also report that marijuana retailers play a role in reducing crime within their immediate vicinity. According to a 2017 paper published in the Journal of Urban Economics, “an open dispensary provides over $30,000 per year in social benefit in terms of larcenies prevented.”

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What Does DEA Chief Rosenberg’s Resignation Mean For Marijuana?

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:53
Trump now needs to replace the man who called 'medical marijuana a joke.'

The Washington Post broke an article that acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Chuck Rosenberg plans to resign within a week. Rosenberg is an Obama administration holdover going back to 2015, so the news was not totally unexpected.

President Trump will be tasked with selecting a successor, which will lead to a confirmation hearing process, which will lead to yet another public referendum over U.S. law and policy regarding cannabis and other controlled substances. Such a referendum occurred most recently during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, and had begun to ramp up again with Trump’s recent nomination of Terrible Tom Marino to the post of National Drug Control Policy Director (a.k.a., the “Drug Czar”).

The DEA Administrator and the Drug Czar are both important government posts, with the DEA Administrator wielding considerably more power. The Drug Czar coordinates anti-drug propaganda and advises the President and the DEA Administrator is head of the chief U.S. agency for Controlled Substances Act enforcement. The DEA is seated within the Department of Justice (DOJ), directly down line from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump can, and probably will, appoint someone with retrograde views on marijuana to fill Rosenberg’s vacant seat. It would be a surprise if he did not. That said, cannabis supporters should not be sad to see Rosenberg go, as his views on cannabis were none too enlightened.

As Rosenberg packs up his office, here are a few of his greatest hits and misses:

  • May 2015. President Obama taps Rosenberg, a former FBI official, to lead DEA. This happened because DEA agents were participating in sex parties with prostitutes supplied by drug cartels in Colombia. Rosenberg was expected to focus less on marijuana than his predecessors. Cannabis boosters cheered.
  • November 2015. Rosenberg called medical marijuana “a joke.” Cannabis boosters collected 160,000 signatures demanding his resignation, and high-ranking officials called for his head, but Rosenberg survived.
  • December 2015. Rosenberg opined that marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. This was an outlandish statement, but one that his predecessor refused to concede. A few days later Rosenberg caved to public ridicule, telling reporters that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” Cannabis boosters cheered, a bit.
  • December 2016. DEA issued a final administrative rule, establishing a controlled substances code for “marijuana extract.” That rule maintained marijuana, hemp and their derivatives as Schedule I substances. Cannabis boosters booed. And sued.
  • August 2016. DEA pledged to make it easier for private companies to grow and obtain marijuana for study. This was welcome news at the time, although nothing much has happened over the past 13 months, apparently due to DOJ stonewalling. But on August 11, 2016, at least, cannabis boosters cheered.
  • August 2016. DEA teamed up with a few other agencies to author the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, which construed the 2014 Farm Bill to permit cultivation for “industrial purposes (fiber and seed)” and not to authorize sales “for the purpose of general commercial activity.” Cannabis boosters booed.
  • August 2017. Rosenberg instructed DEA agents to disregard President Trump’s call to be rougher with suspects, including those suspected of drug crimes. Cannabis boosters cheered.

The record shows Rosenberg was no friend of cannabis. Still, given the posture of recent Trump appointees regarding the plant, we may wish him back one day. Industry advocates should watch the pending developments closely.

Aside from Jeff Sessions, Trump’s next DEA appointee could have more impact on the cannabis industry than anyone in the current administration. We should know more very soon.

This story first appeared on Canna Law Blog.

 

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Should Making a Music Video Keep Luke Scarmazzo in Prison?

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:51
Click here for reuse options! His partner was pardoned by Obama, yet Scarmazzo remains behind bars.

In 2008 Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Ruiz Montes were found guilty of drug charges for operating a medical marijuana dispensary and both sentenced to 20 years in federal prison with the possibility of life behind bars.

In his own words Luke wrote about his arrest “On a crisp September morning in 2006, federal agents in military fatigues, carrying automatic weapons and draped in tactical gear, were at their staging area going over the final details of their plan. They were preparing to take down their target. I just didn’t know when I answered my door bell at 6 a.m. that I, in fact, was their target. They stormed into my home, slammed me against the wall, and handcuffed me.”

It was the end of life as Luke knew it. According to Peter Hecht of the Sac Bee before his arrest Scarmazzo hired a production company to make a spectacular-looking music video, which depicted hip entrepreneurs packing boxes of cash, filthy rich from marijuana.

Dapper in shades, a braided ponytail and business suit, Scarmazzo rapped boastfully about riding in high-priced wheels, suggesting he kept “a weapon on me” to keep robbers at bay. He presided over a board room with seductive women and delivered this mocking testimony before a tribunal seemingly depicting unwelcoming city officials:

I’m a business man

I mean business, man

Let me handle my business, damn!

In the five-minute video, which was uploaded to YouTube, Scarmazzo brags of making $4,800 per pound – or “bow” – of marijuana, adding a rhyme: “Now that’s what I call incorporating dough!” He celebrated smoking joints in the face of federal marijuana intolerance and, with flipping fingers, delivered his kicker: “F—- the feds!”

Just weeks after the release of the video Federal and local drug agents raided his California Healthcare Collective. Both Luke and Ricardo went to prison. They fought for their lost freedom for years exhausting all of their legal remedies. His young daughter Jasmine even started a petition to set him free. The only chance to regain their freedom was through an act of mercy from President Obama in the form of clemency. Both Luke and Ricardo applied. I wrote a letter last year in support of them telling the president that:

“I want to particularly bring to your attention that neither Ricardo nor Luke would be charged with a federal crime today if they were operating a medical marijuana dispensary in California. Both federal law and Department of Justice charging practices have changed to the extent that their business activity would be legal today”.

In January of 2017 Ricardo was granted clemency by President Obama, Luke was not. Why? Both were convicted of the same crime. I strongly believe the video sunk any chance of Luke receiving clemency.

Today twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passed measures legalizing recreational marijuana. California’s Prop. 64 measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. Other tax and licensing provisions of the law will not take effect until January 2018.

The question I now ask is should creating a video keep someone in prison for many years?

Luke’s video will be featured in a piece titled “Martyr or Drug Dealer” in my upcoming art installation next month at Drug Policy Alliance’s International Reform Conference in Atlanta.

For more info about the DPA Conference visit www.reformconference.com

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Why the Decriminalization of Marijuana is a Civil Rights Cause

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:44
Generations of Americans – mostly people of color – have been crushed by aggressive laws on marijuana. It’s time for that to change

In a year where the forces of racism, xenophobia and hate are ascendant, and our rights are under siege, it has become understandably difficult for many to envision a future beyond the latest injustice of the week.

But the impressive resistance movement that has risen to challenge the Trump administration – and the inspiring number of first-time and long-time activists who have powered it – has grown strong enough to dream bigger than countering the president’s latest insult.

There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right.

Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.

This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana. It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.

For Democrats and progressives, the arguments have always been clear: generations of Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, have been imprisoned and starved of access to higher education, housing, and economic opportunities, and stripped of their inalienable right to vote thanks to non-violent acts. Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.

But in truth, the conservative case for marijuana decriminalization is no less resonant. Archaic drug laws have fueled wasteful government spending, and made millions of Americans who dream, achingly, of being their family’s breadwinner dependent on the charity of others. And they have given rise of the epidemic of opiate drugs – often legally manufactured and prescribed – devastating communities that pundits have taken to calling the ‘white working class.’

The often-repeated reference to the ‘white working class’ has grown counterproductive as it focuses on a narrowly defined group instead of using more broader, inclusive categories. It also stifles the creative thinking and organizing needed to guide our efforts for the remainder of this presidency.

On the issue of medical marijuana, a more accurate term for the residents of these hard-hit towns and regions – many of whom voted for President Trump – would be natural allies to the movement to decriminalize marijuana. 

In the coming weeks, I will be joining Decode Cannabis, a powerful new alliance of faith leaders, criminal justice reformers, healthcare practitioners, medical marijuana industry leaders and labor unions. For years, these groups have labored toward shared goals, but have too often done so in their respective silos.

This initial coalition is impressive, but it is not enough to succeed. At least not on its own.

To notch proactive policy wins in the Trump era, we must not retreat to the comfort of those of share our viewpoints. We must enter the lion’s den – even uninvited – to confront and cultivate the prospective allies who will mutually benefit from this cause. We must not allow the unique opportunities resulting from the intensifying rift between the White House and conventional Republicans to be squandered.

I am not willing to compromise or concede on this, nor any other civil rights issue. But I am willing – and eager – to engage with those whose views I find objectionable, and who likely view me with no less animosity – to advance this cause.

Doing so will determine whether or not the next generation of black Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and yes – the ‘white working class’ – fall victim to same racist and classist drug enforcement policies that brought oppression on their parents.

 

n a year where the forces of racism, xenophobia and hate are ascendant, and our rights are under siege, it has become understandably difficult for many to envision a future beyond the latest injustice of the week.

But the impressive resistance movement that has risen to challenge the Trump administration – and the inspiring number of first-time and long-time activists who have powered it – has grown strong enough to dream bigger than countering the president’s latest insult.

There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right.

Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.

This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana. It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.

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10 Celebs You Probably Didn’t Know Smoke Marijuana

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:28
It helps them tap into the creative process. Or something.

It’s really not a head-scratcher that Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and Willie Nelson all enjoy a toke or two now and again, but while smoking weed is not exactly an obscure occurrence in Hollywood, there are a few celebrities you might actually be surprised enjoy a hit now and again. Here are 10 famous types who have no issue with their cannabis consumption.

Kirsten Dunst

In 2007, the actress went on record with MTV saying:

I do like weed. I have a different outlook on marijuana than America does. My best friend Sasha’s dad was Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was the biggest pot smoker in the world and he was a genius.

I’ve never been a major smoker, but I think America’s view on weed is ridiculous. I mean — are you kidding me? If everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place.

I’m not talking about being stoned all day, though. I think if it’s not used properly, it can hamper your creativity and close you up inside.

More recently, she “accidentally” got high while smoking a “prop” on the set of her new movie.

Cameron Diaz

During an interview on Lopez Tonight, the actress says Snoop Dogg used to be her dealer (probably), saying: “We went to high school together, he was a year older than me…I’m pretty sure I bought weed from him. I had to have.”

Justin Timberlake

In 2011, JT told Playboy:

“The only thing pot does for me is it gets me to stop thinking. Sometimes I have a brain that needs to be turned off. Some people are just better high.”

Lady Gaga

During an interview with 60 Minutes, Gaga told Anderson Cooper: “I smoke a lot of pot when I write music. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it for ’60 Minutes’ that I’m some, like, sober human being, because I’m not.” (skip to the 10:54 mark)

Morgan Freeman

A longtime advocate of marijuana, Freeman told Newsweek back in 2012 that the criminalization of marijuana is just plain dumb:

It’s just the stupidest law possible, given history. You don’t stop people from doing what they want to do, so forget about making it unlawful. You’re just making criminals out of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. And we’re spending zillions of dollars trying to fight a war we can’t win! We could make zillions, just legalize it and tax it like we do liquor. It’s stupid.

Ilana Glazer

The Broad City broads, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, certainly toke a bunch on their show, but in real life? Yeah, they smoke weed off set, too.

Listen to them tell Jimmy Kimmel how they score their IRL weed.

Matthew McConaughey

We’re still a little hazy on this one, but in 2013, the Dazed and Confused actor, who was arrested while (presumably) high and playing the congas naked in 1999 told GQ magazine: “Of course I still play the congas naked, I just close the windows.”

Sarah Silverman

Not only does she smoke weed, so have her parents. She shared a few stories with Conan in 2015, noting that, unlike her dad, she doesn’t smoke out of a bong because “I’m a grown woman!” Youtube

Jennifer Lawrence

Of course everyone’s favorite relatable  “every woman” smokes pot, because she’s just like us, you know? She’s real, you guys. Unlike most people, she was snapped smoking a joint in Hawaii in 2013.

George Clooney

While filming Oceans Twelve in Amsterdam, the owner of a nearby weed shop told reporters that Clooney was no stranger to them. It’s also been reported that he visits that same shop several times a year. No word, however, if that’s still the case, now that he’s the father of twins.

 

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10 Celebs You Probably Didn’t Know Smoke Marijuana

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:28
It helps them tap into the creative process. Or something.

It’s really not a head-scratcher that Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and Willie Nelson all enjoy a toke or two now and again, but while smoking weed is not exactly an obscure occurrence in Hollywood, there are a few celebrities you might actually be surprised enjoy a hit now and again. Here are 10 famous types who have no issue with their cannabis consumption.

Kirsten Dunst

In 2007, the actress went on record with MTV saying:

I do like weed. I have a different outlook on marijuana than America does. My best friend Sasha’s dad was Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was the biggest pot smoker in the world and he was a genius.

I’ve never been a major smoker, but I think America’s view on weed is ridiculous. I mean — are you kidding me? If everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place.

I’m not talking about being stoned all day, though. I think if it’s not used properly, it can hamper your creativity and close you up inside.

More recently, she “accidentally” got high while smoking a “prop” on the set of her new movie.

Cameron Diaz

During an interview on Lopez Tonight, the actress says Snoop Dogg used to be her dealer (probably), saying: “We went to high school together, he was a year older than me…I’m pretty sure I bought weed from him. I had to have.”

Justin Timberlake

In 2011, JT told Playboy:

“The only thing pot does for me is it gets me to stop thinking. Sometimes I have a brain that needs to be turned off. Some people are just better high.”

Lady Gaga

During an interview with 60 Minutes, Gaga told Anderson Cooper: “I smoke a lot of pot when I write music. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it for ’60 Minutes’ that I’m some, like, sober human being, because I’m not.” (skip to the 10:54 mark)

Morgan Freeman

A longtime advocate of marijuana, Freeman told Newsweek back in 2012 that he the criminalization of marijuana is just plain dumb:

It’s just the stupidest law possible, given history. You don’t stop people from doing what they want to do, so forget about making it unlawful. You’re just making criminals out of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. And we’re spending zillions of dollars trying to fight a war we can’t win! We could make zillions, just legalize it and tax it like we do liquor. It’s stupid.

Ilana Glazer

The Broad City broads, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, certainly toke a bunch on their show, but in real life? Yeah, they smoke weed off set, too.

Listen to them tell Jimmy Kimmel how they score their IRL weed.

Matthew McConaughey

We’re still a little hazy on this one, but in 2013, the Dazed and Confused actor, who was arrested while (presumably) high and playing the bongos naked in 1999 told GQ magazine: “Of course I still play the congas naked, I just close the windows.”

Sarah Silverman

Not only does she smoke weed, so have her parents. She shared a few stories with Conan in 2015, noting that, unlike her dad, she doesn’t smoke out of a bong because “I’m a grown woman!” Youtube

Jennifer Lawrence

Of course everyone’s favorite relatable  “every woman” smokes pot, because she’s just like us, you know? She’s real, you guys. Unlike most people, she was snapped smoking a joint in Hawaii in 2013.

George Clooney

While filming Oceans Twelve in Amsterdam, the owner of a nearby weed shop told reporters that Clooney was no stranger to them. It’s also been reported that he visits that same shop several times a year. No word, however, if that’s still the case, now that he’s the father of twins.

 

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AlterNet Is Leading the Fight for Drug Reform: Please Help

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:04
Click here for reuse options! It's a battle on multiple fronts.

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

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

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

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

In solidarity,

Phil Smith, AlterNet Drugs Editor

 

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AlterNet Is Leading the Fight for Drug Reform: Please Help

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:04
Click here for reuse options! It's a battle on multiple fronts.

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

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

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

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

In solidarity,

Phil Smith, AlterNet Drugs Editor

 

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New FBI Report: One Arrest for Drug Possession Every 25 Seconds in 2016, As Drug War Rages On

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 08:00
Click here for reuse options! Criminalizing drug use hurts families and communities.

You may have heard that President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are “re-starting” the drug war.  Well, it never actually ended.

According to the FBI’s new Uniform Crime Report, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made more than 1.57 million arrests for drug law violations in 2016, a 5.63% increase over the previous year – and over three times more arrests than for all violent crimes combined.

More than four out of five of those arrests – 84.6%, or 1,330,401 arrests – were simply for drug possession.  Marijuana arrests also increased – about 41% of all drug arrests were for marijuana, the vast majority for simple possession.

These massive numbers are way out of sync with national public opinion, as a majority of Americans now support not just legalizing marijuana, but also ending criminal punishment for drug use.  As detailed in a recent Drug Policy Alliance report, there’s an emerging political and scientific consensus that otherwise-law-abiding people should not be arrested, let alone locked away behind bars, simply for using or possessing a drug.

Discriminatory enforcement of drug possession laws has produced profound racial and ethnic disparities at all levels of the criminal justice system. Black people comprise just 13% of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates as other groups – but they comprise 29% of those arrested for drug law violations and 35% of those incarcerated in state prison for drug possession.

Drug criminalization also fuels mass detentions and deportations.  For noncitizens, including legal permanent residents – many of whom have been in the U.S. for decades and have jobs and families – possession of any amount of any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana) can trigger automatic detention and deportation, often without the possibility of return.

Several countries have successful experience with ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession, most notably Portugal.  In 2001, Portugal enacted one of the most extensive drug law reforms in the world when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illegal drugs.

Today in Portugal, no one is arrested or incarcerated for drug possession, many more people are receiving treatment, and addiction, HIV/AIDS and drug overdose have drastically decreased.

Polls of U.S. presidential primary voters last year found that substantial majorities support ending arrests for drug use and possession in Maine (64%), New Hampshire (66%) and even South Carolina (59%).  In 2016, the first state-level decriminalization bill was introduced in Maryland and a similar version was reintroduced in 2017. The Hawaii legislature, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved a bill last year creating a commission to study decriminalization.

Earlier this year, the United Nations and World Health Organization released a joint statement calling for repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession. They join an impressive group of national and international organizations who have endorsed drug decriminalization that includes the International Red Cross, Organization of American States, Movement for Black Lives, NAACP, and American Public Health Association, among many others.

The FBI’s new data lays bare how the drug war continues to be a major driver of not just mass incarceration, but mass criminalization more broadly.  Criminalizing drug use hurts families and communities, compounds social and economic inequalities, and unfairly denies millions of people the opportunity to support themselves and their families.

What we’re doing doesn’t work – and actually makes things worse. Our limited public resources would be better spent on expanding access to effective drug treatment and other health services. As overdose deaths skyrocket all over the U.S., people who need drug treatment or medical assistance may avoid it in order to hide their drug use.  If we decriminalize drugs, people can come out of the shadows and get help.

We now have a federal administration determined to ramp up the drug war – but most drug enforcement is carried out at the local and state levels, so jurisdictions across the U.S. are responding to Trump and Sessions by moving drug policy reforms forward with increasing urgency.  This week’s latest FBI report gives us more than a million reasons why these reforms are so crucial.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

 

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New FBI Report: One Arrest for Drug Possession Every 25 Seconds in 2016, As Drug War Rages On

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 08:00
Click here for reuse options! Criminalizing drug use hurts families and communities.

You may have heard that President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are “re-starting” the drug war.  Well, it never actually ended.

According to the FBI’s new Uniform Crime Report, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made more than 1.57 million arrests for drug law violations in 2016, a 5.63% increase over the previous year – and over three times more arrests than for all violent crimes combined.

More than four out of five of those arrests – 84.6%, or 1,330,401 arrests – were simply for drug possession.  Marijuana arrests also increased – about 41% of all drug arrests were for marijuana, the vast majority for simple possession.

These massive numbers are way out of sync with national public opinion, as a majority of Americans now support not just legalizing marijuana, but also ending criminal punishment for drug use.  As detailed in a recent Drug Policy Alliance report, there’s an emerging political and scientific consensus that otherwise-law-abiding people should not be arrested, let alone locked away behind bars, simply for using or possessing a drug.

Discriminatory enforcement of drug possession laws has produced profound racial and ethnic disparities at all levels of the criminal justice system. Black people comprise just 13% of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates as other groups – but they comprise 29% of those arrested for drug law violations and 35% of those incarcerated in state prison for drug possession.

Drug criminalization also fuels mass detentions and deportations.  For noncitizens, including legal permanent residents – many of whom have been in the U.S. for decades and have jobs and families – possession of any amount of any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana) can trigger automatic detention and deportation, often without the possibility of return.

Several countries have successful experience with ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession, most notably Portugal.  In 2001, Portugal enacted one of the most extensive drug law reforms in the world when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illegal drugs.

Today in Portugal, no one is arrested or incarcerated for drug possession, many more people are receiving treatment, and addiction, HIV/AIDS and drug overdose have drastically decreased.

Polls of U.S. presidential primary voters last year found that substantial majorities support ending arrests for drug use and possession in Maine (64%), New Hampshire (66%) and even South Carolina (59%).  In 2016, the first state-level decriminalization bill was introduced in Maryland and a similar version was reintroduced in 2017. The Hawaii legislature, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved a bill last year creating a commission to study decriminalization.

Earlier this year, the United Nations and World Health Organization released a joint statement calling for repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession. They join an impressive group of national and international organizations who have endorsed drug decriminalization that includes the International Red Cross, Organization of American States, Movement for Black Lives, NAACP, and American Public Health Association, among many others.

The FBI’s new data lays bare how the drug war continues to be a major driver of not just mass incarceration, but mass criminalization more broadly.  Criminalizing drug use hurts families and communities, compounds social and economic inequalities, and unfairly denies millions of people the opportunity to support themselves and their families.

What we’re doing doesn’t work – and actually makes things worse. Our limited public resources would be better spent on expanding access to effective drug treatment and other health services. As overdose deaths skyrocket all over the U.S., people who need drug treatment or medical assistance may avoid it in order to hide their drug use.  If we decriminalize drugs, people can come out of the shadows and get help.

We now have a federal administration determined to ramp up the drug war – but most drug enforcement is carried out at the local and state levels, so jurisdictions across the U.S. are responding to Trump and Sessions by moving drug policy reforms forward with increasing urgency.  This week’s latest FBI report gives us more than a million reasons why these reforms are so crucial.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

 

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The Dreaded Marijuana Cotton Mouth: How Dangerous Is It and What Can You Do About It?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 11:16
It's called xerostomia and it's a serious issue for cannabis consumers.

Cotton mouth. It has become almost a punch line among marijuana enthusiasts. It’s not just folk lore and it’s not all in the mind, a collection of research has shown that dry mouth is more prevalent as cannabis use increases. It’s not a laughing matter for some users. Saliva plays an important role in our health and deserves more of our attention.

Saliva is created by our salivary glands, which are really a collection of four types of glands, that each secrete different substances through ducts distributed throughout the mouth. Together, the secretions make up the concoction of water, electrolytes and enzymes that function to keep our mouth healthy and help to begin the digestion process. When this process is interrupted, we can experience a dry mouth.

Spit. Taken for granted, we can forget that saliva protects and lubricates the mouth, helps us speak, eat, taste food and swallow. It also protects the throat, mouth and teeth from viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms. Without sufficient stores of saliva, we run a higher risk for tooth decay and cavities. It increases the risk of periodontal disease and even loss of teeth

 

Xerostomia is the proper name and it can be common for pot smokers as well as those taking cannabis concentrates in pill form as well.

This is not a side effect unique to marijuana. Over 1,800 medicines list dry mouth as a possible side effect. Fortunately, in most cases, regular saliva flow is typically restored once the medicine use is discontinued.

Patients with cancer who have experienced radiation treatments to the head, face or neck can lose function of salivary glands as well. In these cases, the condition can last months or longer.

What can a cannabis user do?

The American Dental Association suggests regular visits to your dentist as well as chewing sugar-free gum and brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Other professionals also suggest reduction in citrus based food and drinks as well as alcohol based breath sprays, mouthwashes and beverages because they tend to further dry the mouth. Over the counter sprays and gums that aid in keeping the mouth moist are also available any most local drug stores.

For all the benefit moderate cannabis use can bring, don’t let dry mouth spoil things. A bit of knowledge, regular professional dentist visits and attention to the types of food and drink you select should help you mitigate the problem.

 

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The Dreaded Marijuana Cotton Mouth: How Dangerous Is It and What Can You Do About It?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 11:16
It's called xerostomia and it's a serious issue for cannabis consumers.

Cotton mouth. It has become almost a punch line among marijuana enthusiasts. It’s not just folk lore and it’s not all in the mind, a collection of research has shown that dry mouth is more prevalent as cannabis use increases. It’s not a laughing matter for some users. Saliva plays an important role in our health and deserves more of our attention.

Saliva is created by our salivary glands, which are really a collection of four types of glands, that each secrete different substances through ducts distributed throughout the mouth. Together, the secretions make up the concoction of water, electrolytes and enzymes that function to keep our mouth healthy and help to begin the digestion process. When this process is interrupted, we can experience a dry mouth.

Spit. Taken for granted, we can forget that saliva protects and lubricates the mouth, helps us speak, eat, taste food and swallow. It also protects the throat, mouth and teeth from viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms. Without sufficient stores of saliva, we run a higher risk for tooth decay and cavities. It increases the risk of periodontal disease and even loss of teeth

 

Xerostomia is the proper name and it can be common for pot smokers as well as those taking cannabis concentrates in pill form as well.

This is not a side effect unique to marijuana. Over 1,800 medicines list dry mouth as a possible side effect. Fortunately, in most cases, regular saliva flow is typically restored once the medicine use is discontinued.

Patients with cancer who have experienced radiation treatments to the head, face or neck can lose function of salivary glands as well. In these cases, the condition can last months or longer.

What can a cannabis user do?

The American Dental Association suggests regular visits to your dentist as well as chewing sugar-free gum and brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Other professionals also suggest reduction in citrus based food and drinks as well as alcohol based breath sprays, mouthwashes and beverages because they tend to further dry the mouth. Over the counter sprays and gums that aid in keeping the mouth moist are also available any most local drug stores.

For all the benefit moderate cannabis use can bring, don’t let dry mouth spoil things. A bit of knowledge, regular professional dentist visits and attention to the types of food and drink you select should help you mitigate the problem.

 

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The Opioid Epidemic is Intertwined With Rising Hep C Infections, Other Serious Illnesses

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 10:56
The country is experiencing a "syndemic" -- multiple diseases feeding off of one another, compounding community health burdens.

Many Americans now know that, over the past decade, opioid addiction and deaths from opioid overdose in the U.S. have skyrocketed.

But we don’t hear as often about the other epidemics intertwined with this public health crisis. In rural Scott County, Indiana, for example, prescription opioid injections have been linked to overlapping outbreaks of HIV and the hepatitis C virus.

This is a “syndemic”: multiple diseases feeding off of one another, compounding a community’s health burdens.

Syndemic theory – first introduced by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer more than a decade ago – explains how epidemics interact with one another. The interplay of these diseases increases the risk for a number of infections, like sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

There are many interrelated epidemics within the “opioid syndemic.” Together, they make up perhaps the biggest public health challenge in the U.S. since the advent of the AIDS epidemic.

What we need to know

Before we can tackle this challenge, we need to understand where the opioid syndemic is most intense.

In the U.S., we have many public health surveillance systems that assess changes across geography and time. For example, AIDSVu, an online interactive map, tracks HIV data across U.S. counties. In some regions, the data maps across ZIP codes and census tracts.

Systems such as these help us compare disease outcomes across different places and demographic groups. However, when it comes to the opioid syndemic, we need to do more to identify local hotspots. Hotspots are places where outbreaks cluster together in a statistically significant way, in adjacent neighborhoods or communities with elevated disease rates.

Scientists like myself have started using a range of geospatial and statistical approaches to improve our understanding of the opioid syndemic. These tools allow us to find patterns in data on related health issues. We can also determine which characteristics of an individual, community or social network – such as syringe sharing and unsafe sex – are associated with hotspots.

These analyses can help public health departments and clinicians target local responses where they are most needed, when they are most needed and with the local subpopulations that most need them.

Finding hotspots

In Massachusetts, where I am based, opioid overdose deaths quintupled over the past 15 years. The state Senate and Governor Charlie Baker have established a new legislative mandate to systematically assess the key factors associated with the opioid syndemic.

There are many health issues associated with opioid use, including HIV, hepatitis C, STIs, soft tissue infections, mental illness and neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is related to exposure to drugs in the womb. For example, hepatitis C infections nationwide have nearly tripled since 2010.

Working alongside local and state public health departments, academic institutions and community-based agencies, we study the distribution of these health issues across Massachusetts and beyond. Our “risk maps” help us better understand the geographic distribution of opioid syndemic illnesses over time.

We measure risks by the burden of disease (e.g., the number of fatal overdoses) and rates (e.g., the number of hepatitis C infections per 100,000 people) across local communities. We also measure and map risk behaviors – such as syringe sharing, unsafe sex and doctor shopping – through surveys with health care professionals and people in the throes of addiction.

We have identified a number of hotspots tied to the opioid syndemic. For example, some hotspots for prescription opioids appear to overlap with drug overdoses.

We’ve identified cities and towns with significant clusters of hepatitis C and HIV. Springfield, Boston, Fall River, New Bedford and parts of Cape Cod, for instance, have notable overlapping hotspots for opioid overdose deaths, hepatitis C and HIV.

Among youth and young adults, we’ve also noted an increase in infectious endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve often caused by reuse and sharing of contaminated syringes.

How hotspot mapping can help

Mapping the opioid syndemic and related hotspots, we can better inform public health policy decisions, as well as clinical decisions for health care workers.

Such analyses can help to pinpoint the locations, communities and specific behaviors that could most benefit from interventions. For example, peer navigators who have “been there and done that” could visit overlapping hotspots and make it easier for high-risk populations to access sterile syringes, condoms, hepatitis C treatment and naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

Additional programs could focus on educating medical providers, pharmacists and patients in hotspots, to improve opioid prescribing practices and increase disease testing rates.

Released inmates have some of the highest risks for opioid overdose. Corrections facilities could try to improve their transitions back into local hotspot communities, by facilitating direct referrals to drug treatment programs and job training programs.

Of course, it will take continued collaboration and enhanced funding from governments and foundations to see these efforts forward. But there is no better time than the present to address one of our nation’s largest health crises.

 

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Categories: News Feeds

The Opioid Epidemic is Intertwined With Rising Hep C Infections, Other Serious Illnesses

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 10:56
The country is experiencing a "syndemic" -- multiple diseases feeding off of one another, compounding community health burdens.

Many Americans now know that, over the past decade, opioid addiction and deaths from opioid overdose in the U.S. have skyrocketed.

But we don’t hear as often about the other epidemics intertwined with this public health crisis. In rural Scott County, Indiana, for example, prescription opioid injections have been linked to overlapping outbreaks of HIV and the hepatitis C virus.

This is a “syndemic”: multiple diseases feeding off of one another, compounding a community’s health burdens.

Syndemic theory – first introduced by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer more than a decade ago – explains how epidemics interact with one another. The interplay of these diseases increases the risk for a number of infections, like sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

There are many interrelated epidemics within the “opioid syndemic.” Together, they make up perhaps the biggest public health challenge in the U.S. since the advent of the AIDS epidemic.

What we need to know

Before we can tackle this challenge, we need to understand where the opioid syndemic is most intense.

In the U.S., we have many public health surveillance systems that assess changes across geography and time. For example, AIDSVu, an online interactive map, tracks HIV data across U.S. counties. In some regions, the data maps across ZIP codes and census tracts.

Systems such as these help us compare disease outcomes across different places and demographic groups. However, when it comes to the opioid syndemic, we need to do more to identify local hotspots. Hotspots are places where outbreaks cluster together in a statistically significant way, in adjacent neighborhoods or communities with elevated disease rates.

Scientists like myself have started using a range of geospatial and statistical approaches to improve our understanding of the opioid syndemic. These tools allow us to find patterns in data on related health issues. We can also determine which characteristics of an individual, community or social network – such as syringe sharing and unsafe sex – are associated with hotspots.

These analyses can help public health departments and clinicians target local responses where they are most needed, when they are most needed and with the local subpopulations that most need them.

Finding hotspots

In Massachusetts, where I am based, opioid overdose deaths quintupled over the past 15 years. The state Senate and Governor Charlie Baker have established a new legislative mandate to systematically assess the key factors associated with the opioid syndemic.

There are many health issues associated with opioid use, including HIV, hepatitis C, STIs, soft tissue infections, mental illness and neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is related to exposure to drugs in the womb. For example, hepatitis C infections nationwide have nearly tripled since 2010.

Working alongside local and state public health departments, academic institutions and community-based agencies, we study the distribution of these health issues across Massachusetts and beyond. Our “risk maps” help us better understand the geographic distribution of opioid syndemic illnesses over time.

We measure risks by the burden of disease (e.g., the number of fatal overdoses) and rates (e.g., the number of hepatitis C infections per 100,000 people) across local communities. We also measure and map risk behaviors – such as syringe sharing, unsafe sex and doctor shopping – through surveys with health care professionals and people in the throes of addiction.

We have identified a number of hotspots tied to the opioid syndemic. For example, some hotspots for prescription opioids appear to overlap with drug overdoses.

We’ve identified cities and towns with significant clusters of hepatitis C and HIV. Springfield, Boston, Fall River, New Bedford and parts of Cape Cod, for instance, have notable overlapping hotspots for opioid overdose deaths, hepatitis C and HIV.

Among youth and young adults, we’ve also noted an increase in infectious endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve often caused by reuse and sharing of contaminated syringes.

How hotspot mapping can help

Mapping the opioid syndemic and related hotspots, we can better inform public health policy decisions, as well as clinical decisions for health care workers.

Such analyses can help to pinpoint the locations, communities and specific behaviors that could most benefit from interventions. For example, peer navigators who have “been there and done that” could visit overlapping hotspots and make it easier for high-risk populations to access sterile syringes, condoms, hepatitis C treatment and naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

Additional programs could focus on educating medical providers, pharmacists and patients in hotspots, to improve opioid prescribing practices and increase disease testing rates.

Released inmates have some of the highest risks for opioid overdose. Corrections facilities could try to improve their transitions back into local hotspot communities, by facilitating direct referrals to drug treatment programs and job training programs.

Of course, it will take continued collaboration and enhanced funding from governments and foundations to see these efforts forward. But there is no better time than the present to address one of our nation’s largest health crises.

 

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Categories: News Feeds

More Arrests for Marijuana Than for Violent Crime Last Year

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 15:23
Click here for reuse options! The mass arrests are at odds with public opinion that supports ending the drug war.

Despite spreading marijuana legalization and a growing desire for new directions in drug policy, the war on drugs continues unabated. According to the FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, overall drug arrests actually increased last year to 1.57 million, a jump of 5.63 percent over 2015. The increase includes marijuana arrests, which jumped by more than 75,000 last year compared to 2015, an increase of 12 percent.

That comes out to three drug arrests every minute, day in and day out, throughout 2016. It's also more than three times the number of people arrested for violent crimes. Drug offenses are the single largest category of crimes for which people were arrested last year, more than burglaries, DUIs or any other criminal offense. 

Unlike previous years, this year's Uniform Crime Report did not immediately make available data on specific offenses, such as drug possession or drug sales, nor did it break arrests down by type of drug, but the Marijuana Policy Project obtained marijuana arrest data by contacting the FBI. It reported some 653,000 people arrested on marijuana charges last year, although the FBI did not provide data on how many were simple possession charges. 

While that figure marks a decline from historic highs a decade ago—pot arrests peaked at nearly 800,000 in 2007—the sharp jump in pot arrests last year demands explanation, especially as it comes after a decade of near continuous declining numbers.

"Arresting and citing nearly half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty," said MPP communications director Morgan Fox. "Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested."

Despite the lack of specific offense data, 2016 is unlikely to turn out markedly different from previous years when it comes to the mix of drug arrests. Past years typically had simple drug possession offenses accounting for 85-90 percent of all drug arrests and small-time marijuana possession arrests accounting for around 40 percent. 

That means of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, probably 1.3 million or so of them were not drug kingpins, major dealers, gangbangers, or cartel operatives. Instead, they were people who got caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use. 

“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the U.S., particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason," said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms." 

Perpetuating the war on drugs leads not only to the criminalization of millions, but also perpetuates racially biased outcomes and heightens racial tensions in the U.S. Black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates to other ethnic groups, but they constitute 29 percent of all drug arrests and 35 percent of state drug war prisoners. 

And it has a huge negative impact on immigrants, fueling mass detentions and deportations. Non-citizens, including legal permanent residents—some of whom have been here for decades and have US citizen family members—face deportation for even possessing any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana). Between 2007 and 2012, more than a quarter million people were deported for drug offenses, including more than 100,000 deported for simple drug possession. 

In 2016, the Obama administration set the tone on drug policy and criminal justice matters, yet the number of arrests still went up. Now, with the "tough on crime" Trump administration, these disappointing numbers may be as good as it gets for the next few years. 

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More Arrests for Marijuana Than for Violent Crime Last Year

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 15:23
Click here for reuse options! The mass arrests are at odds with public opinion that supports ending the drug war.

Despite spreading marijuana legalization and a growing desire for new directions in drug policy, the war on drugs continues unabated. According to the FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, overall drug arrests actually increased last year to 1.57 million, a jump of 5.63 percent over 2015. The increase includes marijuana arrests, which jumped by more than 75,000 last year compared to 2015, an increase of 12 percent.

That comes out to three drug arrests every minute, day in and day out, throughout 2016. It's also more than three times the number of people arrested for violent crimes. Drug offenses are the single largest category of crimes for which people were arrested last year, more than burglaries, DUIs or any other criminal offense. 

Unlike previous years, this year's Uniform Crime Report did not immediately make available data on specific offenses, such as drug possession or drug sales, nor did it break arrests down by type of drug, but the Marijuana Policy Project obtained marijuana arrest data by contacting the FBI. It reported some 653,000 people arrested on marijuana charges last year, although the FBI did not provide data on how many were simple possession charges. 

While that figure marks a decline from historic highs a decade ago—pot arrests peaked at nearly 800,000 in 2007—the sharp jump in pot arrests last year demands explanation, especially as it comes after a decade of near continuous declining numbers.

"Arresting and citing nearly half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty," said MPP communications director Morgan Fox. "Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested."

Despite the lack of specific offense data, 2016 is unlikely to turn out markedly different from previous years when it comes to the mix of drug arrests. Past years typically had simple drug possession offenses accounting for 85-90 percent of all drug arrests and small-time marijuana possession arrests accounting for around 40 percent. 

That means of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, probably 1.3 million or so of them were not drug kingpins, major dealers, gangbangers, or cartel operatives. Instead, they were people who got caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use. 

“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the U.S., particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason," said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms." 

Perpetuating the war on drugs leads not only to the criminalization of millions, but also perpetuates racially biased outcomes and heightens racial tensions in the U.S. Black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates to other ethnic groups, but they constitute 29 percent of all drug arrests and 35 percent of state drug war prisoners. 

And it has a huge negative impact on immigrants, fueling mass detentions and deportations. Non-citizens, including legal permanent residents—some of whom have been here for decades and have US citizen family members—face deportation for even possessing any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana). Between 2007 and 2012, more than a quarter million people were deported for drug offenses, including more than 100,000 deported for simple drug possession. 

In 2016, the Obama administration set the tone on drug policy and criminal justice matters, yet the number of arrests still went up. Now, with the "tough on crime" Trump administration, these disappointing numbers may be as good as it gets for the next few years. 

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There Are Too Many Opioid Overdoses to Autopsy All the Bodies

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 13:08
Click here for reuse options! The massive increase in drug deaths has overburdened an industry.

In the rural and suburban communities where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest, so many people are dying of overdoses that medical examiners are unable to autopsy all the bodies. That means critical information—including accurate tallies of drug deaths that are used to inform policy—may be overlooked.

According to Vice News, an estimated 70 medical examiners offices around the country have accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners. NAME requires that no single medical examiner perform more than 250 autopsies a year, to minimize potential errors and ensure a standard of quality is met.

“If you go over that line, you’re more likely to make mistakes, take inappropriate shortcuts, etc.,” NAME president Brian Peterson explained to Vice. “If you’re under that line, you’re more likely to do a thorough job.”

The problem is, the opioid crisis has produced a massive increase in the number of bodies that indicate drug abuse as a possible cause of death. While full-body autopsies were once the standard way to establish proof of an overdose death, medical examiners’ offices are instead sending off samples for toxicology screenings. The practice keeps the number of autopsies down so the examiner's accreditation isn’t threatened. But it also means that once an overdose is ruled out, there’s no way to examine the body to establish the cause of death. The wait for a toxicology report to be completed can be as long as a month. By then, the body has generally been buried or cremated.

“The risk is to possibly miss an alternative cause of death,” Thomas Andrew, former chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, told the UK’s Daily Mail.

The way to solve the problem would be to increase the number of staffers, but that would require more resources and credentialed professionals to fill the jobs. Most ME offices don’t have budgets that would allow them to take on more hires.

“It's not like people are sending extra funds our direction,” Peterson, who in addition to his role at NAME is a medical examiner in Wisconsin, told the Daily Mail.

Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner experienced a threefold increase in the number of opioid-related deaths last year. The office performed so many autopsies its accreditation was removed this year. Chief medical examiner James Gill hardly expects to get the money his office would need to hire staff to meet demand. In the past, the state legislature hasn’t “been willing to fund us to the level we need,” Gill told Vice.

“It has strained our resources, our finances,” Andrew told the Daily Mail. “We can't use all of our resources to just do drug deaths. Where would the traffic crashes fit in? Where would the suicides fit in?”

Another issue is that there just aren’t that many forensic pathologists in the field. Vice points out that “just 35 people graduated from U.S. and Canadian medical schools and became forensic pathology residents in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.” If budgets were adjusted, the task of filling those positions would still be difficult.

“We just don’t produce enough new medical examiners each year to serve the country,” Thomas Baker, a Minnesota-based medical examiner, told Vice.

Without the clarity that autopsies provide, there’s a chance record-keeping around opioid deaths could be off. One University of Virginia study suggests that various issues result in opioid deaths being undercounted by as much as 20 percent. As Vice warns, those miscounts mean “prosecutors can have a harder time proving cause of death in criminal cases, and states may miss crucial public health information, especially during a crisis of unprecedented proportion.” Already tight budgets are likely to remain that way if death tolls are underestimated.

Jeff Sessions has suggested the Department of Justice will relaunch the war on drugs, although by every measure, the lengthy campaign was an unmitigated failure. Don Winslow, author of The Cartel and The Force, recently offered a list of the drug war's consequences in a piece for Time.

After five decades of this war, drugs are cheaper, more plentiful and more potent than ever (as Mr. Sessions himself has conceded)...The so-called War on Drugs quadrupled our prison population (overwhelmingly and disproportionately composed of minorities), handed out life sentences to nonviolent offenders, militarized our police forces, promoted the disgusting concept of for-profit prisons, shredded the Bill of Rights and cost taxpayers upward of a trillion dollars.

A World Health Organization survey recently found that America leads the world in illicit drug use. The U.S. also jails more people than any other country, by percentage and raw numbers.

Instead of the relaunching the war on drugs, the U.S. would do well to look at other countries with more successful responses to drug problems. In 2001, Portugal changed its laws to be less punitive for users caught with small amounts of drugs, and also instituted an aggressive public health campaign to address issues around addiction and drug abuse. Decriminalization has helped drive down overdose rates in the country drastically. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes that Portugal's “drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe — one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark — and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.” In the U.S., which had 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, an increase of just over 20 percent from the year prior, the number of deaths is expected to be even higher this year.

“Most of us went [to] and are in this field because we can handle [it] emotionally. But what’s changed is, it’s just non-stop,” Kent Harshbarger, a forensic pathologist in Ohio, told Vice. “It’s like drinking from a firehose. It’s just coming too fast.”

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There Are Too Many Opioid Overdoses to Autopsy All the Bodies

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 13:08
Click here for reuse options! The massive increase in drug deaths has overburdened an industry.

In the rural and suburban communities where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest, so many people are dying of overdoses that medical examiners are unable to autopsy all the bodies. That means critical information—including accurate tallies of drug deaths that are used to inform policy—may be overlooked.

According to Vice News, an estimated 70 medical examiners offices around the country have accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners. NAME requires that no single medical examiner perform more than 250 autopsies a year, to minimize potential errors and ensure a standard of quality is met.

“If you go over that line, you’re more likely to make mistakes, take inappropriate shortcuts, etc.,” NAME president Brian Peterson explained to Vice. “If you’re under that line, you’re more likely to do a thorough job.”

The problem is, the opioid crisis has produced a massive increase in the number of bodies that indicate drug abuse as a possible cause of death. While full-body autopsies were once the standard way to establish proof of an overdose death, medical examiners’ offices are instead sending off samples for toxicology screenings. The practice keeps the number of autopsies down so the examiner's accreditation isn’t threatened. But it also means that once an overdose is ruled out, there’s no way to examine the body to establish the cause of death. The wait for a toxicology report to be completed can be as long as a month. By then, the body has generally been buried or cremated.

“The risk is to possibly miss an alternative cause of death,” Thomas Andrew, former chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, told the UK’s Daily Mail.

The way to solve the problem would be to increase the number of staffers, but that would require more resources and credentialed professionals to fill the jobs. Most ME offices don’t have budgets that would allow them to take on more hires.

“It's not like people are sending extra funds our direction,” Peterson, who in addition to his role at NAME is a medical examiner in Wisconsin, told the Daily Mail.

Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner experienced a threefold increase in the number of opioid-related deaths last year. The office performed so many autopsies its accreditation was removed this year. Chief medical examiner James Gill hardly expects to get the money his office would need to hire staff to meet demand. In the past, the state legislature hasn’t “been willing to fund us to the level we need,” Gill told Vice.

“It has strained our resources, our finances,” Andrew told the Daily Mail. “We can't use all of our resources to just do drug deaths. Where would the traffic crashes fit in? Where would the suicides fit in?”

Another issue is that there just aren’t that many forensic pathologists in the field. Vice points out that “just 35 people graduated from U.S. and Canadian medical schools and became forensic pathology residents in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.” If budgets were adjusted, the task of filling those positions would still be difficult.

“We just don’t produce enough new medical examiners each year to serve the country,” Thomas Baker, a Minnesota-based medical examiner, told Vice.

Without the clarity that autopsies provide, there’s a chance record-keeping around opioid deaths could be off. One University of Virginia study suggests that various issues result in opioid deaths being undercounted by as much as 20 percent. As Vice warns, those miscounts mean “prosecutors can have a harder time proving cause of death in criminal cases, and states may miss crucial public health information, especially during a crisis of unprecedented proportion.” Already tight budgets are likely to remain that way if death tolls are underestimated.

Jeff Sessions has suggested the Department of Justice will relaunch the war on drugs, although by every measure, the lengthy campaign was an unmitigated failure. Don Winslow, author of The Cartel and The Force, recently offered a list of the drug war's consequences in a piece for Time.

After five decades of this war, drugs are cheaper, more plentiful and more potent than ever (as Mr. Sessions himself has conceded)...The so-called War on Drugs quadrupled our prison population (overwhelmingly and disproportionately composed of minorities), handed out life sentences to nonviolent offenders, militarized our police forces, promoted the disgusting concept of for-profit prisons, shredded the Bill of Rights and cost taxpayers upward of a trillion dollars.

A World Health Organization survey recently found that America leads the world in illicit drug use. The U.S. also jails more people than any other country, by percentage and raw numbers.

Instead of the relaunching the war on drugs, the U.S. would do well to look at other countries with more successful responses to drug problems. In 2001, Portugal changed its laws to be less punitive for users caught with small amounts of drugs, and also instituted an aggressive public health campaign to address issues around addiction and drug abuse. Decriminalization has helped drive down overdose rates in the country drastically. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes that Portugal's “drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe — one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark — and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.” In the U.S., which had 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, an increase of just over 20 percent from the year prior, the number of deaths is expected to be even higher this year.

“Most of us went [to] and are in this field because we can handle [it] emotionally. But what’s changed is, it’s just non-stop,” Kent Harshbarger, a forensic pathologist in Ohio, told Vice. “It’s like drinking from a firehose. It’s just coming too fast.”

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