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In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Senate passes a major sentencing reform bill

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 14:02
But it’s still just a first step.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Tuesday approved a major prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to pass it easily, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill added significant sentencing reform provisions to a prison reform bill passed earlier by the House.

“The First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to those who’ve put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to society,” Grassley said on the Senate floor after the vote. “It also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses.”

“I think we showed something which most American people wouldn’t have believed—that a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support—left, right, and center—from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly,” Durbin said. “It is, however, the first step. We’ve got to start thinking about the second step. And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that.”

In addition to the prison reform language, the bill’s key sentencing provisions include:

  • Retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people;

  • Expansion of the “safety valve” allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences;

  • Reform of the “three strikes” law, reducing the “second strike” mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the “third strike” mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years;

  • Eliminate “stacking” for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense.

“Passing these reforms has been a team effort years in the making,” Grassley continued. “It couldn’t have been done without the stalwart commitment by a somewhat unlikely cadre of colleagues and advocates. We’ve had to compromise to make this possible, to seek to understand the other’s point of view. In doing so, I think we made the bill better. And we accomplished something of historic significance that will reduce crime, make our system more just, and improve lives for generations to come.”

The First Step Act was backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation’s largest police group, as well as 172 former federal prosecutors and sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill. A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.

For progressives and drug reformers, though, the bill is indeed only a first step. It does nothing, for example, to address the plight of people sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses, and that leaves them offering only qualified praise.

“The Senate’s version of the legislation, while far from perfect, includes crucial sentencing reforms that safely reduce the footprint of the federal criminal justice system from the front end,” said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress.

“This is a bittersweet moment,” said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The bill represents progress and we should celebrate the release of thousands of people serving disproportionately long sentences, but at the same time, the bill leaves far too many people behind. It’s a tough compromise for us and we must keep fighting for much deeper systemic changes.”

It is, after all, just a first step.

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.

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The year on drugs: Here are 8 big drug policy stories of 2018

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 09:08
We are making progress on numerous fronts.

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn’t been half-bad. We’ve seen marijuana legalization spread further, we’re on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

But overdose death numbers remain unacceptably high, and an obstinate Trump administration is working to block a key harm reduction intervention that could help lower those numbers.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High but Appear to Have Leveled Off

The nation’s fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn’t get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure 10 times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, but Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites—or supervised consumption sites—where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia, have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding elsewhere), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California’s Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace safe injection site legislation a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the U.S. Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal; the Philadelphia U.S. Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing in Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed in the Senate Tuesday.

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the “safety valve” allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the “three strikes” law, reducing the “second strike” mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the “third strike” mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn’t happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to 10, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwestern state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, mainly in the West, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn’t happen, and legalization hasn’t gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, but the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn’t. President Trump’s first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner’s allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization Is Nice, but We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. Then, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it’s likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

Finally, the absolutely most ridiculously unjustifiable aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana’s country cousin, hemp can’t get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Services Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute, in coordination with and the Drug War Chronicle.

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What's killing us: Here are the 10 drugs most implicated in overdose deaths

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 08:11
Multi-drug combinations prove particularly deadly.

While there are signs that the country’s drug overdose crisis may have plateaued, the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to be unconscionably high. Shockingly, the number of overdose deaths has increased tenfold since 1980 when there were only 6,000 nationwide and nearly doubled just in the past decade to more than 70,000 last year.

Now, in a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shed some new light on precisely which drugs are most implicated in these deaths. While the report examines overdose deaths from 2011 to 2016, we’re going to zero in on the 2016 data to get as close as possible to the present.

Three drug classes are involved: prescription and non-prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Often, fatal overdoses involve more than one drug, whether it is drugs in the same class (heroin and fentanyl) or combinations of drug classes (heroin and benzos or fentanyl and cocaine).

Before we get into the number-crunching, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that each single overdose death is a tragedy. A human life has been lost prematurely, the potential snuffed out, and friends and family members suffer greatly. It doesn’t have to be that way. While we’re going to look at deadly drugs, it behooves us to remember that many of these deaths are a function not just of the drugs themselves, but of drug prohibition.

People overdose on fentanyl, for example, because in a black market there is no packaging, no quality control, no dosage information to inform them of just how powerful is that powder they’re snorting or injecting. Added to heroin or crafted into counterfeit prescription opioids by unscrupulous black market operators, fentanyl kills people who didn’t even know they were taking it. Even more insidiously, fentanyl is turning up in black market cocaine and methamphetamine, whose users aren’t even looking for an opioid high and haven’t developed any tolerance to them (although some may be speedballing—that is, taking both an upper and a downer at the same time).

That said, here are the drugs making the greatest contributions to the 63,632 overdose deaths in 2016. (The numbers add up to more than that figure because, in some—actually, most—overdoses, more than one drug is mentioned.)

1. Fentanyl: 18,335

In 2016, fentanyl vaulted into first place in the deadly drug sweepstakes. As recently as 2011, the synthetic opioid was in 10th place, with some 1,660 overdose deaths attributed to it, but the death toll has increased more than tenfold in just five years. More than two-thirds of fentanyl overdose deaths also involved other drugs, and fentanyl is involved in more than a quarter (28.5 percent) of all overdose deaths, including 40 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and nearly a third (32 percent) of heroin deaths.

2. Heroin: 15,961

At the tail end of the prescription opioid phase of the current overdose crisis in 2011, more people died from oxycodone than heroin, but between 2012 and 2015, heroin resumed its role as the leading opioid linked to fatal overdoses, only to be overtaken by fentanyl in 2016. The vast majority—70 percent—of people who died from heroin were also using other drugs. More than a third were also using fentanyl, while nearly a quarter (23.8 percent) were also using cocaine. As prescription opioids became more difficult to obtain, the number of people dying from heroin skyrocketed, nearly tripling in the five years ending in 2016.

3. Cocaine: 11,316

Cocaine deaths rose dramatically beginning in 2015 and by 2016 the annual death toll was double what it had been five years earlier. With bumper crops in Colombia in recent years, cocaine is cheap and plentiful. It is also increasingly being cut with fentanyl, which is implicated in 40 percent of cocaine deaths, and mixed with heroin, which is implicated in a third of them. Cocaine is named in 17.8 percent of all overdose deaths.

4. Methamphetamine: 6,762

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2011 and 2016, a dramatic increase in what has become America’s forgotten drug problem. In 2016, slightly more than one out of 10 drug overdose deaths involved meth. Of the top 10 overdose drugs, meth is by far the one most likely to have been the sole drug implicated in the death, but even so, fentanyl was implicated in one out five meth deaths and heroin in one out of 10.

5. Alprazolam: 6,209

You know it as Xanax. This short-acting benzodiazepine is a favorite of stimulant users seeking to take the edge off, but also often forms part of a sedative cocktail with opioids or other benzos. About three-quarters of Xanax overdose deaths involve other drugs, with fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone each involved in about one-quarter of Xanax deaths. Xanax deaths increased by about 50 percent over the five-year period.

6. Oxycodone: 6,199

Its most infamous formulation is OxyContin, but it is also sold as Roxicodone, Xtampza ER, and Oxaydo. It may have been the primary killer opioid a decade ago, but has chugged along at around 5,000 deaths a year before going over 6,000 in 2016. Four out of five people who overdose on oxycodone were also using another drug, most often Xanax (25.3 percent), followed by fentanyl (18.6 percent).

7. Morphine: 5,014

The granddaddy of opioids. Morphine deaths increased slowly beginning in 2011, but have still increased by about 40 percent since then. More than eight out of 10 morphine deaths involve other drugs as well, particularly fentanyl, which is involved in one out three morphine deaths. Cocaine (16.9 percent) and heroin (13.7 percent) are also frequent contributors to morphine ODs.

8. Methadone: 3,493

Prescribed as an opioid maintenance drug, methadone is one of the few drugs on this list to have seen the number of deaths decline between 2011 and 2016. They’ve dropped from more than 4,500 a year down to less than 3,500, a drop of roughly a quarter. Nearly three-fourths of all methadone deaths implicate other drugs, with Xanax being most common (21.5 percent), followed by fentanyl (15.1 percent) and heroin (13.8 percent).

9. Hydrocodone: 3,199

This semi-synthetic opioid is sold under a variety of brand names, including Vicodin and Norco, and has proven remarkably stable in its overdose numbers. Between 2011 and 2016, it never killed fewer than 3,000 or more than 4,000, almost always (85 percent of the time) in concert with other drugs. Xanax was implicated in one-quarter of all hydrocodone overdoses, followed by oxycodone (17.2 percent) and fentanyl (14.9).

10. Diazepam: 2,022

The most well-known diazepam is Valium. Like Xanax, this anti-anxiety drug can be used to take the edge off a stimulant binge, but it’s not cokeheads and speed freaks who are dying from it. In more than nine out of 10 fatal Valium overdoses, other drugs are involved, most commonly the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl, each implicated in about a quarter of the deaths, and heroin, implicated in a fifth.

Using these drugs is dangerous. Using them under a prohibition regime is even more so. Users don’t always know what they’re getting, and that lack of knowledge can be fatal.

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

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shifts left proposing legalizing recreational marijuana

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 06:31
The push is the latest sign Cuomo's approach to policy-making has shifted left after a primary challenge

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that he would push to legalize recreational marijuana in the Empire State next year — another sign that the Democrat's centrist approach to policy-making has shifted left in recent months after a primary challenge from "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, who ran to the left of the three-term executive as a self-described "Democratic socialist."

The proposal was outlined in a speech that Cuomo gave Monday in Manhattan, in which the newly reelected governor detailed his agenda for the first 100 days of his third term.

"The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else," Cuomo said, describing a system he argued had "for too long targeted the African-American and minority communities," according to the New York Times.

"Let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all," Cuomo added.

During the gubernatorial primary, Nixon ran a progressive campaign that supported the legalization of recreational marijuana as one of its key issues. The actress-turned-candidate framed legalization as a racial issue, arguing that minorities are jailed for "something that white people do with impunity." In doing so, Nixon brought to the forefront an issue that helped her capture some of Cuomo's strong support among black voters.

In the past, Cuomo had expressed concern about full legalization, last year claiming that marijuana was a "gateway drug" that could lead to significant substance abuse. However, this year he concluded that the "facts have changed," pointing to the decision of neighboring states to move toward legalization. Indeed, ten other states and Washington, DC have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Those states are reportedly spending the new tax revenue from marijuana sales on improving schools and transportation — and New York may soon do the same, as the move could bring in more than $1.7 billion in sales annually, the Times reported.

Earlier this year, Cuomo ordered the health department to study the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York. The study found that that the benefits of taxation and regulation outweighed any potential negative effects.

The proposal is expected to garner support in the Albany, where Democrats seized control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade in November's midterm elections.  The State Assembly, which is also dominated by Democrats, also supports such a measure.

A Quinnipiac University poll released in May revealed that 63 percent of New Yorkers supported legalizing marijuana for adults.

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Here comes hemp: Congress votes to unleash a billion-dollar industry

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 12:43
Marijuana’s lanky, straight-laced country cousin is about to get legal.

The Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday gave final approval to the massive 2018 Farm Bill, including a provision that will end an eight-decade ban on industrial hemp, that non-psychoactive but extremely useful member of the cannabis family. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

Even though you could smoke a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole and get nothing more than a cough and a headache, for decades the DEA has refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and marijuana that gets you high. That meant that American farmers could not legally produce hemp for a hemp products industry worth $820 million last year and expected to break the billion-dollar mark this year.

That’s right: Thanks to a federal court case brought against the DEA more than a decade ago, farmers in countries where hemp is legal can export it to the U.S., and companies in the U.S. can turn that hemp into a variety of products ranging from foods to clothing to auto body parts to building materials and beyond, but U.S. farmers can’t grow it. That’s about to change.

“For too long, the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Wyden and fellow Oregonian Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) teamed up with Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to sponsor the bill and guide it through Congress. McConnell’s role as Senate Majority Leader certainly didn’t hurt the bill’s prospects.

As well as guiding the bill forward, McConnell took to the Senate floor on various occasions to support it. In his statement on the passage of the farm bill, he touted “the new opportunities available with the full legalization of industrial hemp.”

“Finally we are recognizing industrial hemp for the agricultural product it is,” Merkley said. “This is a cash crop that hasn’t been allowed to meet its full economic potential because of outdated restrictions. When I visited a hemp farm mid-harvest, I saw firsthand the enormous potential of this diverse crop under the limited 2014 farm bill. This full legalization provides economic opportunity for farmers across rural Oregon and rural America—good for jobs, good for our communities, and just good common sense.”

The bill defines hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent THC or less by dry weight and removes it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Regulatory authority over hemp moves from the DEA to the Agriculture Department. The definition of hemp in the bill includes all parts of the plant and specifically lists cannabinoids, including CBD, that are removed from control of the CSA. The bill also includes funding and authorization for research and authorizes crop insurance for hemp farmers.

The inclusion of CBD has the potential of greatly expanding the size of the legal hemp industry. Hemp-based CBD wellness products—a category that didn’t exist five years ago—already account for nearly a quarter of the domestic hemp market, and the Hemp Business Journal predicts they will account for nearly $650 million worth of sales by 2022, becoming the single largest sector of the hemp market.

It’s been more than 40 years since Jack Herer ignited the marijuana movement’s interest in hemp with The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy. Herer is long gone—he died at age 70 in 2010—but the movement he launched has now reached the promised land. The single most ridiculously unjustifiable aspect of federal marijuana prohibition has been killed; now it’s time to finish the job by ending federal marijuana prohibition.

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

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This 78-year-old man in a wheelchair was cruelly evicted to the cold streets because he used legal medical marijuana

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:14
He had to steer his electric wheelchair half a mile in subfreezing temperatures to get to a homeless shelter.

A 78-year-old Niagara Falls man using a wheelchair was thrown out on the street last week for using medical marijuana in the federally subsidized housing unit he called home. Under harsh federal regulations, operators of such facilities are free to evict tenants who use medical marijuana—even if it legal in the state where they reside, as it is in New York.

According to the Associated Press, it went down like this: The man evicted, John Flickner, had lived for two years at federally subsidized Niagara Towers and obtained marijuana from Canada to use for back pain. In June, inspectors found marijuana in his apartment and called police. They declined to arrest him but instead advised him to get a doctor's recommendation. He did so.

"I didn’t know about getting the card. I just knew it was legal," he told the AP. "I wasn’t hiding anything."

But that didn't stop the owner of the housing complex, Nashville-based LHP Capital from moving forward with evicting him.

"The basis of the eviction was they have a zero-tolerance (policy) and he had marijuana in his apartment and at that time he did not have medical marijuana," said Niagara Falls attorney Jason Cafarella, who represented LHP at a November hearing in Niagara Falls City Court. "It was a lease violation and the tenant had known what the rules of the property were, had known the rules of the lease and violated those rules."

LHP got its eviction order from a judge on November 29.

"What really swayed the judge, the be-all, end-all factor, was a regulation which basically gives management the ability to impose this zero-tolerance rule regardless of medical marijuana or otherwise," said attorney Kevin Quinn of the Center for Elder Law and Justice, who represented Flickner. "If it’s being used, they have that ability to terminate a lease," he told the AP.

And that's what they did last Tuesday. In an hours-long drama, Flickner ended up being pushed out the door in subfreezing temperatures in his electric wheelchair. He then rode it a half mile to a homeless shelter where he found refuge.

"Cold, wet, windy," Flickner said of his trip. "All I wanted to do was get out of the wind," Flickner told the AP.

In guidance issued in 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that landlords deny new applicants for subsidized housing if they admit using medical marijuana. But that same guidance says landlords are allowed—but not required—to evict current residents for using medical marijuana. LHP did not have to throw John Flickner out on the street; it chose to.

LHP has not responded to media inquiries about the matter, but civil liberties and medical marijuana advocates have, and so has the New York Health Department.

"New York’s Medical Marijuana Program was established so that patients suffering from debilitating illnesses could have access to an alternative treatment option. No one should be forced out of their home for using a medication permitted under state law to treat a serious disease or condition," Health Department spokeswoman Jill E. Montag told the Buffalo News. "Stable housing is essential to good health, and New York State law protects patients who are discriminated against because of their lawful participation in the Medical Marijuana Program," Montag said.

Indeed, the state's medical marijuana law says medical marijuana patients and providers shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege … solely for the certified medical use or manufacture of marijuana." But federal drug law trumps the state's law.

"No one’s housing should be put at risk because of a medical prescription," John A. Curr III, director of the Western Regional Office of the NYCLU, told the News. "This tragic set of circumstances is a clear example of the destabilizing harm that marijuana prohibition continues to perpetuate in the lives of New Yorkers, particularly those living on the margins. The time has come for legalization at the state level to begin the repair of this harm in New York communities, especially since change at the federal level is unlikely anytime soon."

What happened to John Flickner has happened to others, said David Mangone, director of government affairs for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

"It’s really a clear evidence of discrimination, and medical marijuana should be treated like any other medication when it comes to living in subsidized housing," he told the AP.

At last report, Flickner was still at the Community Missions shelter trying to make arrangements for a new place to live. At least, the former tool-and-dye worker who injured his back in a skydiving accident 50 years can use his odorless vape pen there without getting thrown out in the cold.

"We're going along with state guidelines," Community Missions spokesman Christian Hoffman told the AP.

That seems like a sensible approach.

Update: Feeling the heat after the initial media reports of Flickner’s eviction, LHP has changed its tune and invited him to return. In a statement released Sunday, the company said it is “revisiting our policy in this evolving area.”

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

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Crackdowns on heroin, pain pills gave rise to fentanyl overdose epidemic

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 16:58
The black market always has an answer. Too bad this one is so deadly.

A new report on illicit U.S. drug markets from researchers at the University of San Francisco has found that the spread of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths last year alone, is tied to enforcement-driven shortages of heroin and prescription opioids, as well as simple economics for drug distributors—not because users particularly desire the drug. 

Illicit fentanyl has swept through American drug markets in waves—the super strong "China white" heroin of the 1970s was actually a heroin-fentanyl mixture—most recently in the past decade after rising levels of opioid addiction and the spread of "pill mills" prompted multifaceted moves to restrict opioid prescribing.

From a drug distributor's perspective, fentanyl is a most excellent substitute for heroin or prescription pain pills. Produced entirely in labs or chemical factories, it is far more powerful and cheaper to produce than heroin. Because it's more potent, it is easier to smuggle—often coming into the U.S. via postal and delivery service parcels, not by the semi load. And it doesn't require months of growing time and periods of intense peasant labor in lawless regions of weak states.

Fentanyl is typically sold deceptively—marketed as heroin or prescription drugs such as OxyContin or Xanax—and users and street-level dealers often don't even know that the drugs they are using or selling contain fentanyl, the researchers found. Fentanyl is making its way into the supply chain at the wholesale, not the retail level. That, the researchers said, suggests that demand is not the key driver in the drug's spread.

"Fentanyl is rarely sold as fentanyl," said Sarah Mars, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. "The dealers selling fentanyl directly to the users often don't know what's in it. Not only is this particularly dangerous, but it also means penalizing low-level dealers isn't going to make any difference in the fentanyl poisoning epidemic."

According to Mars, users are split on fentanyl, which produces a more sudden and powerful high than heroin, but one that fades faster. Some said fentanyl brought back the euphoria they had lost the ability to feel with long-term heroin use, but others said they feared fentanyl and found its effects too harsh.

"Whether or not they prefer fentanyl, users don't have any influence over what drugs are being sold," Mars said. "Without accurate information about these drugs, they can't make an informed choice about what they are buying. Also, very little drug slang has developed to describe fentanyl, which lends support to the notion that this is not a demand-driven epidemic."

The presence of drugs adulterated with fentanyl is uneven, Mars said.

"Most of the illicit fentanyl has been in the Northeast and Midwest," she specified. And that's where opioid overdose death rates are the highest.

Another contributing factor to the fentanyl overdose toll is that it has dozens of analogs with wildly varying potency. Some, like carfentanil, are amazingly powerful, as much as 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Some are so new they have not yet been made illegal.

"We believe it's the fluctuation in the potency of the drugs containing fentanyl that makes them so dangerous," said Daniel Ciccarone, MD, MPH, a professor of family and community medicine at UCSF and senior author of an ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study, Heroin in Transition. "You might have one dose that had hardly any fentanyl in it or none at all. Then, you might have one with a different fentanyl analog, of different potency, or even mixtures of multiple fentanyls and heroin."

Here is the paradox of drug prohibition: Trying to crack down on drugs tends to lead not to less drug use but to more dangerous drugs, and in the case of opioids, tens of thousands of dead drug users. There is an inexorable logic at play: The more law enforcement comes down on a drug, the greater the tendency for suppliers to make it more potent and compact—and dangerous.

Perhaps that's why we now see mainstream calls for a radically different approach, such as the one from Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle earlier this week. In her column "The Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths," McArdle argues that current drug policy is only running up the overdose death toll and that we need "to start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren't ready to stop."

That would involve increasing access to opioid substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine, "but lowering the death toll may require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates," McArdle writes.

"Prescription heroin?" she continues. "Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either—and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

There is a better way to deal with the opioid crisis than relegating tens of thousands of American opioid users to early, preventable deaths. We know what it is. Now it’s a matter of implementing smarter, more humane policies, and that’s an ongoing political struggle—one where lives are literally at stake.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.  Related Stories
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Oregon initiative would decriminalize psilocybin

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 08:24
Signature gathering for 2020 is about to get underway.

An initiative that would decriminalize most psilocybin offenses and open the door to regulated production and therapeutic use of the psychedelic substance in Oregon is moving forward.

Late last month, the secretary of state approved ballot title language for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative. The next step is a signature-gathering drive to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. Some 117,578 valid voter signatures are required, and petitioners have until next July to obtain them.

Under the initiative, anyone possessing up to 50 grams of dried magic mushrooms or 10 doses of psilocybin would not be charged with a crime, but with a violation similar to a speeding ticket. The only punishment would be a fine. Similarly, distribution of up to 50 grams or 10 doses without a license would be a violation—unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor.

As quantities possessed increase, so do the potential penalties. Possession of more than 50 but less than 100 grams would still be a violation, except for the two-prior-felonies folks, who would then face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 100 grams but less than 500 would still be a violation, except for people with one or more previous felonies, who again would face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 500 grams but less than a kilogram would be a misdemeanor for all. It would take possessing more than two kilograms to earn a felony charge for all.

Similarly, unlicensed sales of up to 50 grams or 10 doses would not be a crime but a violation punishable only by a fine—unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor. Penalties gradually stiffen, but under the initiative, it would take the sale of more than 15 kilograms to trigger felony charges for anyone regardless of prior criminal history.

Under federal law, possession of any amount of psilocybin is a felony. Under Oregon state law, though, possession of small amounts is only a misdemeanor, although possession of “substantial amounts” (more than 60 grams) is a felony, as is distribution.

But while the changes in the state’s criminal code would be significant, the primary goal of the petitioners is to clear the way for the therapeutic use of psilocybin via licensed and regulated producers, processors, and therapists.

“The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world,” chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote on the campaign website. “The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and integration afterward. We envision a community-based framework where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards.”

The move comes as both the public and the scientific community are shifting their opinions on marijuana and psychedelics. Recent studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of therapeutic use, including reducing anxiety in people with cancer and as a treatment for depression and alcoholism. There is also new evidence that magic mushrooms are among the safest recreational drugs.

Oregon was a leader in marijuana decriminalization in the 1970s, medical marijuana legalization in the 1990s, marijuana legalization in 2014, and drug defelonization last year. Now, it’s poised to lead the way on psychedelics.

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

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Trump’s ghoulish call for even more Chinese drug executions

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 15:07
Such “tough on drugs” measures are better politics than policy.

In a pair of tweets Wednesday, President Trump urged China to crack down on fentanyl, which he described as a “horror drug,” and predicted “incredible results” if China would start executing people for fentanyl-related offenses.

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid linked to tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S. in recent years. Chinese chemical factories are believed to be the primary producers of fentanyl and related synthetic opioid analogs, which are then mixed in with other illicit drugs, making them even more dangerous than they were on their own.

Trump’s tweets came just days after he errantly praised China’s President Xi Jinping for agreeing that China would “designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under the law.”

In reality, China made fentanyl and five fentanyl products controlled substances back in 2015 and promised President Obama it would “crack down” on it in 2016. Yet, the flow of fentanyl continued and fentanyl-related overdose deaths continued to climb.

And in reality, China is already most likely the world’s leading drug executioner. The only reason for any doubt is that China does not provide data on how many people it executes for drug offenses, but according to Amnesty International, “thousands of executions…were believed to have been carried out in China” last year.

China’s closest competitor in the gruesome race to execute drug offenders has been Iran, where Amnesty says more than 200 were hung in 2017, but, recognizing the futility of the hardline approach and heeding pressure from European funders of Iranian anti-drug efforts, the Islamic Republic has now moved to greatly reduce the number of drug executions.

But as has been evident from his support of bloody-handed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left thousands dead, Trump has a fondness for the death penalty. And despite the lack of any evidence that killing drug offenders actually leads to a reduction in drug use or trafficking, he wants more.

One of the very exciting things to come out of my meeting with President Xi of China is his promise to me to criminalize the sale of deadly Fentanyl coming into the United States. It will now be considered a “controlled substance.” This could be a game changer on what is.......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2018

.....considered to be the worst and most dangerous, addictive and deadly substance of them all. Last year over 77,000 people died from Fentanyl. If China cracks down on this “horror drug,” using the Death Penalty for distributors and pushers, the results will be incredible!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2018

That brought a quick response from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which ripped into Trump’s cheerleading the death penalty in China as “morally repugnant” and instead urged responses to the fentanyl crisis that might actually achieve something.

“Draconian criminal punishments for fentanyl will actually make the problems associated with this drug much worse than they are now,” said Grant Smith, the DPA’s deputy director of national affairs. “This won’t reduce addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S., but it will incentivize the proliferation of even more potent drugs that will further exacerbate the crisis. President Trump’s push for China to execute more of its citizens for drug offenses is morally repugnant and ignores the decades-long failure of extremely harsh drug policies here in the U.S.”

Instead of lobbying for harsh, but inhumane and ineffective, drug policies in China, Trump would better address the overdose crisis by implementing proven harm reduction measures, Smith added.

“Fentanyl has indeed become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S., but health-based measures are far more effective than criminalization,” he said. “Interventions like drug checking, naloxone, supervised consumption spaces, and expanding access to evidence-based treatment are urgently needed to reduce fentanyl-related deaths.”

But the Trump administration isn’t into that. In fact, the Trump Justice Department just recently went out of its way to promise a crackdown on any cities that try to open safe injection sites as a means of reducing overdose deaths and the spread of blood-borne diseases. He would rather American drug users die and Chinese drug sellers be killed than come up with effective responses that would actually save lives.

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

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

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Trump predicts 'incredible' results from sentencing drug dealers to death — and shows why his sadistic strategies will only make things worse

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 11:52
Trump’s gleeful celebration of death is surreal.

This article was originally published by Filter, a magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter.

A little before 9 am on December 5, President Trump tweeted the following about his recent fentanyl agreement with China:

One of the very exciting things to come out of my meeting with President Xi of China is his promise to me to criminalize the sale of deadly Fentanyl coming into the United States. It will now be considered a “controlled substance.” This could be a game changer on what is.......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2018

.....considered to be the worst and most dangerous, addictive and deadly substance of them all. Last year over 77,000 people died from Fentanyl. If China cracks down on this “horror drug,” using the Death Penalty for distributors and pushers, the results will be incredible!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2018

People immediately pushed back against that figure of over 77,000 supposed fentanyl deaths. It’s incorrect. It seems likely that Trump got “70,000” from federal data released last week—the number of people who died from all drug overdoses in the US last year, not just fentanyl—and added 10 percent for good measure, to hype up support for his inconsequential “deal” with China.

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl were in fact involved in approximately 30,000 deaths in the US in 2017—still a staggering number, but less than half of the figure that Trump blithely shared with his 56.1 million followers.

Could Trump have been referring instead to some kind of global figure? Well, no. It’s impossible to find accurate global estimates of fentanyl-related fatalities, as definitions and reporting vary so much by country. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime states in its 2018 report: “Some 450,000 people died in 2015 as a result of drug use. Of those deaths, 167,750 were a direct result of drug use disorders [mainly overdoses], in most cases involving opioids.”

Worse than statistical innaccuracy, by describing fentanyl as a “horror drug,” Trump continues to exploit the US overdose crisis to rationalize brutal policies—whether advocating for the death penalty in China or the US, or for human rights abuses against refugees arriving from Mexico. “STOP THE DRUGS,” Trump tweeted on December 3, as a rationalization for building “the Wall.”

We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall. Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2018

Trump’s gleeful celebration of death is surreal, though not new. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the death penalty“barbaric,” and demanded that the US—the world’s eighth most enthusiastic executioner—abolish the practice. “The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” he said in October 2017. Among US citizens, support for the death penalty is at an all-time low.

China carries out the highest number of known executions in the world—thousands in 2017, although exact figures are hard to come by due to state controls. Four other countries—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan—accounted for 84 percent of the confirmed executions in the rest of the world in 2017.

With no regard for the American people or the UN’s perspectives, Trump has repeatedly said that he “loves” the idea of the death penalty for drug dealers. He has also expressed an affinity for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whose murderous drug war has resulted in the killings—without trial—of over 12,000 peoplesuspected of drug-law violations. In 2017 Trump reportedly congratulated the Philippine president for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

Despite Trump’s inaccurate number, he’s correct that the fentanyl overdose crisis is real. His sadistic strategies, however, will only make things worse.

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‘There’s a price to pay for pot’: Fox & Friends absurdly claims marijuana gummies are ‘killing people’

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 08:06
“You don’t start on cocaine, you probably start with marijuana and it leads to other things.”

Fox News hosts warned viewers on Monday that “gummies” infused with marijuana are threatening the lives of Americans.

On Monday’s edition of Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade spoke to a sheriff in Florida about a 12-year-old boy who was charged with felonies for sharing marijuana candy with his classmates.

“No one talks about this,” Kilmeade complained. “THC is addicting. I know so many people — they say they were told one thing and they get addicted to it and that’s an addicting substance. There is a price to pay for pot.”

“It’s not a minor non-violent felony,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd opined. “It’s ruining families and killing people every day across the United States. And we stand here in denial thinking that it’s not a gateway drug to drugs that’s killing people.”

“Yeah,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt agreed. “You don’t start on cocaine, you probably start with marijuana and it leads to other things.”

Watch the video below from Fox News.

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Mississippi madness: This woman spent 96 days in jail without seeing a judge for borrowing money

Fri, 11/30/2018 - 15:35
But Jessica Jauch should see justice done soon.

In April 2012, Mississippi resident Jessica Jauch was pulled over for a traffic violation. The encounter should have ended with a traffic ticket. It didn’t. Instead, Jauch was told she had been indicted by a grand jury and was arrested on a warrant for selling a controlled substance, based on a video prosecutors said showed her selling eight pain pills to a police informant the year before.

She then sat in the Choctaw County Jail for more than three months without going before a judge or having a chance to get bail. In Choctaw County, as in many other rural Mississippi counties, circuit court only meets twice a year, and the next court date was months away. Still, Sheriff Cloyd Halford said he didn’t have to let Jauch appear before a judge because she had already been indicted on a drug charge, which, he argued, established probable cause for her detention.

Jauch was forced to temporarily sign over custody rights for her daughter to her mother. After 96 days in jail, she finally saw a judge, was appointed a public defender and quickly made bail. Prosecutors eventually dropped the drug charges against her after the undercover video didn’t show what they said it did.

In obtaining the indictment against Jauch, the Choctaw County district attorney said his office had reviewed the video before taking the case to the grand jury and believed it showed a “hand to hand transaction” where drugs were delivered in exchange for cash. But when Jauch’s attorney filed a discovery motion to see the video, what it actually showed was Jauch borrowing $40 from the informant, not her selling drugs to him. After meeting with Jauch and her attorney, an assistant district attorney dropped the charges.

But the damage had been done. Jauch had been locked away for months on a charge that vanished into thin air once it was subjected to minimal scrutiny. In April 2015, she filed a federal lawsuit against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford, alleging violations of her constitutional rights. County officials conceded there had been violations, but tried to shift the blame to the court and the district attorney’s office.

That tactic worked—at first. U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock agreed with the county’s argument and dismissed the case in 2016. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reamed Aycock good. Jauch’s prolonged detention was “unjust and unfair” and “alien to our law,” the appeals court held as it reinstated her case.

“Heaping these consequences on an accused and blithely waiting months before affording the defendant access to the justice system is patently unfair in a society where guilt is not presumed,” Circuit Judge Thomas Reavley wrote in the 2017 decision.

This week, Aycock ruled in Jauch’s favor, finding Choctaw County and Sheriff Halford liable for violating her constitutional rights. There will be a March jury trial to determine damages. The county and the sheriff are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that’s a last hurrah. If the court refuses to hear the appeal, the county will have no choice but to pay up for what it did to Jessica Jauch.

In the meantime, the state of Mississippi has taken heed. The state Supreme Court last year enacted new rules of criminal procedure aimed at reducing the number of poor people kept in jail without a lawyer or access to bail. Among them are rules that say people arrested before being indicted should appear before a judge within two business days and people arrested upon indictment must be arraigned within 30 days.

That move helps to resolve the problem of people being jailed for unconscionable periods of time before seeing a judge, and the district court ruling and coming settlement should help concentrate the minds of Choctaw County officials. But the issue of heavy-handed drug law enforcement that was at the heart of this case remains.

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

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Here are 5 outrageous pot-related gift ideas for your favorite marijuana smoker — if you have more cash than consciousness

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 10:53
If you want to spend thousands on pot bling, someone will be glad to help you.

It was probably inevitable. As marijuana emerges from the underground and people with dollar signs in their eyes glom onto this hot new capitalist commodity, offerings aimed at the upscale pot person are making their entry into the marketplace.

From “carefully curated” selections of buds to bejeweled vaporizers costing tens of thousands of dollars, entrepreneurs are aiming squarely at where they think the money is: The high end of the getting-high population.

The marketing of conspicuous cannabis consumerism is a far cry from notions of cultural nonconformity, freedom, and racial and social justice that impelled marijuana’s movement from out of the shadows. While it would be naïve to think that the profit motive had no role in pot’s rise, it’s probably safe to say that previous generations of reefer rebels were not driven primarily by the need for more, better bling.

But this is America in the time of Trump, and classless crassness is very much in the air. When it comes to marijuana, the proudly self-confessed “capitalist tool,” Forbes has come to the rescue of deep-pocketed pot people who don’t know what precious bauble they want most to demonstrate their hempen hipness with its Holiday Gift Guide 2018: The Ultimate Luxury List For Cannabis Connoisseurs.

We’re going to skip over the small change items—like the Hermès Cheval D’Orient Mini Ashtray Set ($475), the Puffco Peak “streamlined” vaporizer ($379.99), and the Monogram Rogue Paq vaporizer carrying case ($339.99 for Italian leather, but the vegan leather version is a steal at $239.99!)—and head right for some of the most over-the-top items. If you or your favorite pot smoker have more cash than consciousness, you might want to check out these five products:

1. Jacquie Aiche Sweet Leaf Vintage Rolex, $9,000

The Beverly Hills jewelry designer has been doing reefer-inspired pieces for a while now, but as Forbes notes, “her Sweet Leaf stamp looks best on a vintage stainless steel, 10-diamond baguette Rolex.” She only makes these by special order.

2. Phoenician Elite Series Grinder, $1,500

Phoenician created the 24-karat gold-plated version of its four-piece grinder design with the aim of making “the most expensive grinder in the world.” Way to go. Again, this item is available by special order only, so order now to get yours by Christmas. Includes built-in ashtray and rolling papers compartment.

3. Elder Statesman Pot Leaf Sweater, $1,715

Okay, it is hand-knitted and hand-dyed cashmere, and it is a one of a kind piece. But $1,700 for a sweater? Even if it does have an embroidered black pot leaf?

4. Carole Shashona Cannabis Pearl Earrings, $7,000

Carole Shashona unveiled these black diamond-encrusted beauties at Barney’s New York Beverly Hills flagship store in June as part of a “dedicated effort to raise awareness about the positive benefits of marijuana and to break mainstream stereotypes.” And put some money in the bank.

5. Daniela Villegas x Beboe Vaporizer Necklace, $40,000

A brand that wants to be known as the “Hermès of Marijuana,” Beboe collaborated with jewelry maker Daniela Villegas to create “bespoke, bejeweled cases” made of “a solid 18-karat gold piece embellished with precious stones and inspired by nature.” Again, these are by special order only. You can order one now for Christmas, or you could buy lunch for 20,000 poor kids. Your call.

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

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Watch: Undercover Detroit narc squads brawl as they try to arrest each other

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:59
It’s laughable, but somebody could have gotten killed.

In a caper right out of the Keystone Cops, two different squads of armed undercover Detroit narcotics officers clashed earlier this month in a buy-bust operation gone badly awry. No one was hurt or seriously injured, so the primary damage is that done to the already tattered reputation of the Detroit police.

Just since the turn of the century, the department labored under a Justice Department consent decree from 2003 to 2014 because of its reputation for excessive force and brutality, thousands of untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in 2009, two consecutive police chiefs were forced to resign over sex scandals in 2011 and 2012, and six Detroit cops including an assistant police chief were charged last year with extortion and bribery in a scandal around steering towed car business to repair shops.

Still, even Detroit Police Chief James Craig was shaking his head over this latest incident.

“This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen in this department,” Craig said at a news conference called after the clash.

Things went south on the night of November 9, when two officers from the 12th Precinct were posing as drug dealers in order to arrest would be buyers. Two potential customers showed up, but they turned out to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct out to bust drug dealers.

And those 11th Precinct narcs had backup and a search warrant waiting once the buy went down. That’s “when it started to go horribly wrong,” Craig said.

Body camera video shows the two groups of cops shouting, shoving, and throwing punches at each other.

“They appeared to be like Keystone Cops,” Craig said of his narc squads.

The department is undertaking an internal investigation into what went wrong. Two officers accused of punching each other have been placed on restrictive duty and a supervisor has been reassigned out of special operations pending the outcome of the departmental investigation. Wayne County prosecutors are also taking a look to see if criminal charges will be filed.

There is good reason to take this police screw-up seriously. It should call into question Detroit police tactics, especially aggressive drug law enforcement, as well as police procedures that allowed the mishap to occur in the first place.

But there’s another reason, too: These kinds of screw-ups get cops killed. In 1986, Detroit Police Officers Giacomo Buffa and Mark Radden were killed when Buffa and his partner, both in plainclothes, were doing a drug raid at a home and Radden and his partner, also in plainclothes, responded to a report of shots fired at the home. Both officers died in a hail of friendly fire.

Here you can see Detroit’s finest at less than their finest:


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

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Big pharma greed and bad government policy are hampering global efforts to end AIDS

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 09:48
December 1 marks the 30th World AIDS Day—and despite leaps forward in medicine and awareness in affluent parts of the world, it’s still a big problem elsewhere.

If you cure illnesses, said Goldman Sachs Vice President Salveen Richter, it will disrupt “sustained cash flow.” Far better to find medical treatments that provide some solace but that prolong illnesses. Even better if these treatments are both necessary and expensive. If you find a cure for an illness, then you will find—as Richter wrote in her analysis for Goldman Sachs—“a gradual exhaustion of the prevalent pool of patients.” That’s the worst thing imaginable for pharmaceutical companies and their investors. Keep the goose alive as long as it keeps laying golden eggs.

December 1st is World AIDS Day. In 1987, two public information officers at the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) came up with the idea of such a day, which was then promoted by the UN from 1988 onwards. For a decade, World AIDS Day helped shape public consciousness about the ferocity of the disease. By 1990, almost 300,000 people died of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) per year, while about 10 million people suffered from HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). World AIDS Day and activist groups fought to ensure that AIDS was not seen as a curse on homosexual men and that it was seen as both preventable and curable. This was an enormous burden, given the homophobia in society and the cuts to public health that states around the world were being forced into by the policy framework of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

By 2018, 30 years after the origin of World AIDS Day, it is assumed that such concern is anachronistic. There is a sense that homophobia is less virulent and that the health care industry—both the pharmaceutical and medical sides—have taken hold of this epidemic. By last count of the WHO, more than 70 million people have been afflicted with the HIV virus, and by the end of 2017, 36.9 million people live with the HIV virus (under 1 percent of the world’s population). It is true that in many parts of the world, the HIV virus has been brought under control by technologies of prevention and of care. Part of this is because the health care infrastructure in the affluent world has not been totally devastated and partly because the pharmaceutical industry has come up with successful drugs to contain the virus. This is—of course—not the case for the affluent world’s working poor, who are sapped by the evisceration of health care.

In other parts of the world—in Africa and Asia, for instance—the HIV virus continues to be very dangerous. On large parts of the African continent, 1 in 25 adults has the HIV virus—just above 4 percent of adults. These men and women make up two-thirds of all those people who carry the HIV virus. What is important to focus on is that they live in countries where the IMF has systematically undermined state-provided health care—particularly primary health care—and where the cost of the drugs to contain the HIV virus remains prohibitive. It might well be that in the affluent parts of the world one can be sanguine about the HIV-AIDS epidemic. But it is certainly not something to dismiss in large parts of the world where the states remain under pressure to cut costs and where pharmaceutical companies find human bodies upon whom to do test trials rather than to cure.

Right to Health

It has long been the hope of human beings that preventable diseases should be eradicated by the use of changes in behavior and by the use of medicines. Every Indian child in the 1970s remembers the government posters that urged people to boil their water and to get vaccinated. It was thought that primary health care and education about health would pave the way toward a healthier world. At the 1978 World Health Organization conference at Alma Ata (USSR), governments of most countries said that by the year 2000 the level of health will permit people “to lead a socially and economically productive life.” It was underlined that “primary health care is the key to attaining this target as part of development in the spirit of social justice.”

Since 1978, the United Nations General Assembly has regularly argued—as it did in 2012—for “universal access to affordable and quality health-care services.” But the policy framework pushed on the majority of the countries of the world went in the other direction. The focus on the bad policy choices pushed on these countries should have been laser-sharp after the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2016 in West Africa. An important study in the Lancet (2015) found that in the three countries hit hardest by the outbreak—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—IMF policies had forced the governments to undermine their health care delivery services. The study found that in Sierra Leone, the IMF policies had severely reduced public sector employees. Between 1995 and 1996, the IMF required the state to cut 28 percent of its employees, including those in the health delivery sector. Stunningly, the WHO found that Sierra Leone’s community health care workers fell from 0.11 per 1,000 (in 2004) of the population to 0.02 per 1,000 (in 2008). This was the absolute antithesis of the Alma Ata Declaration.

Last week, in Savar, Bangladesh, the delegates assembled for the Fourth People’s Health Assembly. They came from far and wide, arguing for a return to the dynamic of which the Alma Ata Declaration was a part. The situation is now at an emergency footing, with public health institutions virtually destroyed and with plunder by pharmaceutical companies a normal situation. The WHO and World Bank found that by 2010, nearly 808 million people had incurred “catastrophic spending on health” because of the costs of drugs and because of the privatization of health care.

There is virtually no outrage at the IMF policy framework that destroys the health care infrastructure in the Global South. Saccharine pop-star humanism that begins with Bob Geldof’s Do They Know It’s Christmas (1984) merges with the equally syrupy tech-philanthropy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2000) to throw a shroud over the African continent. Nothing that Bono and Bill can do undermines the sharp edge of IMF policy and the theft of Africa’s riches by monopoly firms (including those mining companies that provide the raw materials for the computers that made Bill Gates his wealth).

Return of AIDS

Earlier this year, in April, the UN General Assembly heard the summary of a report on the need for urgency regarding the return of AIDS. Even though AIDS deaths have declined since 2010 by a third, there has been an uptick in the number of deaths. This is of concern. Serious-minded public health specialists worry that this rise in AIDS deaths has come as health infrastructure has been weakened and as pharmaceutical companies continue to charge absurdly high prices for HIV-AIDS drugs.

The same month, in April, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power)—which was founded in 1987—held a protest in New York City against Gilead Sciences, a monopoly pharmaceutical company. The drug in question for ACT UP is Truvada, a drug that reduces the chances of HIV infection. ACT UP says that a course of Truvada costs Gilead about $6/month to manufacture, but it charges patients an astronomical $1,500/month. What is scandalous is that the research for this drug was funded not by Gilead but by public funds and by philanthropists.

When a Goldman Sachs analyst says that the point is to make money from illness, she is merely mirroring the reality of the brutishness of capitalism. Serious conversations need to take place about the way in which monopoly pharmaceutical firms draw public funds to protect themselves from risk and then charge high prices to make astronomical profits. Questions need to be asked about the IMF policy space that makes it impossible to detect the virus and even harder to care for its victims.

It’s not enough to wear a ribbon on World AIDS Day. Go out onto the streets with a group of friends. Carry a sign. Let it say: More Public Health and Cheaper Drugs. If you want to end HIV-AIDS by 2030, the prescription is as simple as that.

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

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A Georgia nightmare: This woman was jailed for 4 months for possessing cotton candy

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 14:53
Cops said their roadside drug test said it was meth. It’s far from the only time the cops or the test has been wrong.

A Georgia woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she spent nearly four months in jail because a roadside drug test administered by untrained police officers falsely identified a bag of cotton candy as methamphetamine.

Monroe County resident Dasha Fincher filed the lawsuit last week against Monroe County, the two deputies who arrested her, and the company that makes the drug test. The lawsuit argues that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was reckless and negligent and violated her civil rights.

According to the lawsuit, the car Fincher was riding in was pulled over on New Year’s Eve 2016 because of a dark window tint, the deputies said, even though they later admitted the windows were legal. Deputies Cody Maples and Allen Henderson spotted a large open plastic bag inside the vehicle, and Fincher explained that it was cotton candy.

The deputies didn’t believe Fincher and used a roadside field drug test, which they said indicated there was meth in the bag. She was then arrested, hauled off to jail, and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute. Her bond was set at $1 million, which she was unable to come up with, so she sat in jail for the next four months.

In March 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab test results revealed that the substance was not an illegal drug, but Fincher sat in jail for another month before prosecutors finally dropped the charges.

The lawsuit says the drug test is the Nark II, manufactured by North Carolina-based Sirchie Acquisitions. That particular field drug test is known for producing errant results. In Georgia alone, police using the Nark II to field test drugs have wrongfully arrested at least 30 people, including a man with breath mints (positive for crack), a teacher with Goody’s Headache Powder (positive for cocaine), and a couple with vitamins (positive for ecstasy).

In all those cases, as in Fincher’s, lab test results from the Bureau of Investigation found no presence of illegal substances. But in all those cases, the exonerating results came only weeks or months later, after the harm to innocent Georgians had already been done.

The Nark II is still in wide use in Georgia. The manufacturer, Sirchie, defends itself by saying: “Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation.”

But too many Georgia law enforcement agencies clearly don’t bother to wait for confirmation before making life-changing arrests. And the state of Georgia doesn’t even require police officers to be trained on how to do the tests. As a result, innocent Georgians are being wrongfully arrested and jailed. And now, perhaps, at least one of these law enforcement agencies will have to pay for its wrongdoing.

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

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Mitch McConnell singlehandedly blocks sentencing reform — despite bipartisan support

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 13:18
The president had endorsed a reform bill, but that didn’t matter to Mitch.

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump’s announcement that he would support the effort, but by week’s end, those prospects dimmed abruptly as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn’t bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this in spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the “back end,” such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

  • Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.

  • Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions (“three strikes”) would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner’s and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn’t enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

“McConnell said he didn’t have the time, that’s his way of saying this isn’t going to happen,” said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s (DPA) Office of National Affairs. “McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he’s a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn’t like or care about this issue.”

McConnell’s move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

“Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn’t move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer,” he recounted.

“Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that,” Collins continued. “The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it’s up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed, people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it.”

That means sentencing reform is almost certainly dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will be an impediment to reform.

“McConnell is the obstacle—it’s not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions—it’s McConnell, and he’s going to be there next year and the year after that,” said Collins. “He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn’t going to listen to us, it’s going to be up to them to figure this out.”

“If McConnell doesn’t prioritize this, it doesn’t happen,” said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. That’s a shame, she said, because “I’m optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance.”

But now it doesn’t look like they will get that chance. That’s the downside. But there is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year may lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

“It’s been a long, hard slog to get to where we are,” said Collins, “but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs. Maybe it’s time to go maximalist.”

“My job is to continue to beat the drum for change,” said Gotsch. “It’s always hard, and we don’t get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn’t come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can’t let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years—the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice—and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis.”

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes.

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.



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Why did the flu kill 80,000 Americans last year?

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 05:29
Why was the 2017-2018 season such a bad year for flu? There were two big factors.

The 2017-2018 flu season was historically severe. Public health officials estimate that 900,000 Americans were hospitalized and 80,000 died from the flu and its complications. For comparison, the previous worst season from the past decade, 2010-2011, saw 56,000 deaths. In a typical season, 30,000 Americans die.

So why was the 2017-2018 season such a bad year for flu? There were two big factors.

First, one of the circulating strains of the influenza virus, A(H3N2), is particularly virulent, and vaccines targeting it are less effective than those aimed at other strains. In addition, most of the vaccine produced was mismatched to the circulating A(H3N2) subtype.

These problems reflect the special biology of the influenza virus and the methods by which vaccines are produced.

Flu virus is a quick change artist

Influenza is not a single, static virus. There are three species – A, B and C – that can infect people. A is the most serious and C is rare, producing only mild symptoms. Flu is further divided into various subtypes and strains, based on the viral properties.

Cartoon depiction of an influenza virus structure. Different strains are named after their versions of the haemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins, as in H1N1 ‘swine flu.’ Timonina/

Viruses consist of protein packages surrounding the viral genome, which, in the influenza virus, consists of RNA divided into eight separate segments. The influenza virus is enveloped by a membrane layer derived from the host cell. Sticking through this membrane are spikes made up of the proteins haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA), both of which are required for the virus to successfully cause an infection.

Your immune system reacts first to these two proteins. Their properties determine the H and N designations of various viral strains – for instance, the H1N1 “swine flu” that swept the globe in 2009.

Both HA and NA proteins are constantly changing. The process that copies the viral RNA genome is inherently sloppy, plus these two proteins are under strong pressure to evolve so they can evade attack by the immune system. This evolution of the HA and NA proteins, called antigenic drift, prevents people from developing lasting immunity to the virus. Although the immune system may be prepared to shutdown previously encountered strains, even slight changes can require the development of a completely new immune response before the infected person becomes resistant. Thus we have seasonal flu outbreaks.

In addition, various subtypes of influenza A infect animals, the most important of which, for humans, are domestic birds and pigs. If an animal is simultaneously infected with two different subtypes, the segments of their genomes can be scrambled together. Any resulting virus may have new properties, to which humans may have little or no immune defense. This process, called antigenic shift, is responsible for the major pandemics that have swept the world in the last century.

Forecasting flu, producing vaccine

Against this background of antigenic change, every year the World Health Organization predicts which strains of flu virus will be circulating during the next flu season, and vaccines are formulated based on this information.

In 2017-2018 the vaccine was directed against specific subtypes of A(H1N1), A(H3N2) and B. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this vaccine was 40 percent effective in preventing influenza overall. But, significantly, it was only 25 percent effective against the especially dangerous A(H3N2) strain. This mismatch probably reflects the way most of the vaccines are produced.

The common way of producing influenza vaccine starts by growing the virus in fertilized chicken eggs. After several days, the viruses are harvested, purified and inactivated, leaving the surface proteins, HA and NA, intact. But, when the virus is grown in eggs, individual viruses with changes in the HA protein that increase its ability to bind to chicken cells can grow better and thus become more common.

When people receive vaccines produced from these egg-adapted viruses, their immune system learns to target the egg-influenced HA proteins and may not react to the HA proteins on the viruses actually circulating in humans. Thus, the virus used to produce much of the 2017-2018 vaccine provoked an immune response that did not fully protect against the A(H3N2) virus circulating in the population – although it may have lessened the severity of the flu.

Influenza vaccine has been produced in chicken eggs for decades. AP Photo Small improvements and a universal vaccine

Scientists are on the hunt for a better way to protect the world’s population from influenza.

Two new vaccines that do not use egg-grown viruses are currently available. One, a vaccine made from viruses grown in mammalian cells, proved in preliminary studies to be only 20 percent more effective against A(H3N2) than egg-produced vaccine. The other, a “recombinant” vaccine consisting of only the HA proteins, is produced in insect cells, and its effectiveness is still being evaluated.

The ideal solution is a “universal” vaccine that would protect against all influenza viruses, no matter how the strains mutate and evolve. One effort relies on the fact that flu’s HA protein “stalk” is less variable than the “head” that interacts with the host cell surface; but vaccines made from a cocktail of HA protein “stalks” have proved disappointing so far. A vaccine composed of two proteins internal to the virus, M1 and NP, which are much less variable than surface-exposed proteins, is in clinical trials, as is another vaccine made up of a proprietary mixture of pieces of viral proteins. These vaccines are designed to stimulate the “memory” immune cells that persist after an infection, possibly providing lasting immunity.

This year’s vaccine looks like it will be a better match. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu Will the 2018-2019 flu season be as bad?

Based mainly on the recent flu season in South America, the World Health Organization recommended changing the A(H3N2) subtype in the vaccine to one that better matches last year’s circulating A(H3N2). They also recommended changing the B subtype to one that appeared in the U.S. late in the 2017-2018 season and became increasingly common elsewhere. The WHO anticipated that the circulating A(H1N1) subtype will be the same as last year and so no change was necessary on that front. So, although the same strains will most likely be circulating, epidemiologists expect the vaccines to provide better protection.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot every year, but, typically, fewer than half of Americans do so. Flu and its complications can be life-threatening, particularly for the young, the old and the otherwise debilitated. Most years the vaccine is well matched to the circulating virus strain, and even a poorly matched vaccine offers protection. Plus, wide-spread vaccination stops the virus from spreading and protects the vulnerable.

The first flu death of the 2018-2019 season has already occurred – a healthy but unvaccinated child died in Florida – affirming the importance of getting the flu shot.

Patricia L. Foster, Professor Emerita of Biology, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Good Riddance! Here's One Great Reason to Be Thrilled Jeff Sessions Is No Longer Attorney General

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 14:15
Trump clearly fired him for the wrong reason — but there's a major upside for Americans.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates, that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century’s drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least rhetorically reversed the Obama administration’s “live and let live” approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions’ anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department’s Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It’s probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it’s hard to see how anyone he chooses can be more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

“Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace,” said NORML director Erik Altieri. “NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness.”

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

“With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next U.S. Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts,” he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

“While Trump’s dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president’s motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions’ wrongs,” said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. “The U.S. public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies.”

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come—and gone.

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.

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Here Are the Disturbing Links Between Pot Prohibition Advocates and Anti-Semitism

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:44
This is nothing new. Nixon and his administration, for example, used dog whistles in election campaigning and were motivated by racism in launching the War on Drugs.

I am still reeling after the mass shooting targeting the Jewish community in Pittsburgh last month. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; since 2014 we have seen an increase in hate crimes across the United States. As others have noted, increasing use of dog-whistle rhetoric by politicians and pundits has to bear part of the blame.

President Trump and others have stoked prejudice around crime allegedly perpetuated by immigrants, or in urban communities of color. Trump’s Twitter account and campaign speeches are filled with examples of language designed to appeal to racists. A number of local Republican campaigns in the midterms independently depicted Jewish opponents as clutching fistfuls of cash.

This is nothing new. Nixon and his administration, for example, used dog whistles in election campaigning and were motivated by racism in launching the War on Drugs. But this is a time when extra vigilance is needed.

During my 21-year law enforcement career, I was recognized as a subject-matter expert in the investigation of white-supremacy gang crimes, and I’ve applied this experience to my work in drug policy reform. Sadly, I’ve previously found cause to write about fringe elements in the cannabis legalization movement who use anti-Semitic symbolism and racist language.

However, journalists and reformers have too often ignored disturbing elements within the marijuana prohibitionist movement. In California, many of us felt that use of anti-Semitic tropes by people like Roger Morgan and Dr. Paul Chabot—both of whom started drug-free organizations, including Stop Pot and the now defunct Coalition for a Drug Free California—were best ignored as the rantings of irrelevant extremists.

Today, I believe that was wrong. Because the same anti-Semitic tropes that they used against George Soros (top image), the Hungarian-American philanthropist and supporter of drug policy reform, have now exploded and taken over the national conversation.

Increasing Anti-Semitic Attacks on George Soros

Both Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh murderer, and Cesar Sayoc, accused of sending over a dozen pipe bombs to perceived Trump opponents, shared “online conspiracy theories” about Jews and George Soros that are grounded in anti-Semitism.

These include statements very much like this one, found in Roger Morgan’s 2011 book, Soros the Drug Lord:

“The greatest enemy and threat to this nation is not Radical Islam and Al Qaeda, but the treasonous George Soros, who uses his billions to socially engineer and deconstruct America so that he can achieve his maligned goal of a New World Order.”

This demands to be challenged: The Jew as master puppeteer isclassic WWII-era Nazi propaganda. The image below, created in 1941 and depicting the supposed manipulation of Churchill and Stalin, is from the US Holocaust Museum:

Roger Morgan—in his articles, his book and through his anti-drug 501(c)4 nonprofit organization “Take Back America”—has perpetuated the debunked myth spread by Lyndon Larouche, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones and most recently by Roseanne Barr that Soros collaborated with Nazis in wartime Hungary to steal and send Jewish families to the gas chambers.

Morgan claims in his book that Soros, as a 14-year-old boy, amassed wealth by stealing “100 kilo bags of gold” while collaborating in helping to send 500,000 Hungarian Jews to death, and “helped ransack their possessions.” The claim is as ludicrous as it is disgusting.

But today, given the rise of white nationalism and the elevation of Soros to the status of a boogeyman by politicians, we cannot stay silent even about claims that are patently false. Per a recent Financial Times article:

“Soros has become the House of Rothschild of the 21st century,” said Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust history at Emory University and the author of a forthcoming book on modern-day anti-Semitism. “No one [explicitly] says Soros is a Jew, but there are groups on the right for whom these [symbols] are a wink-wink, nod-nod dog whistle.”

While researching prohibitionist nonprofits, I discovered some disturbing links.

Parents Opposed to Pot

Parents Opposed to Pot—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the slogan “Bursting the bubble of marijuana hype”—was founded in 2014. Its “Principal Officer” in 2015—according to GuideStar, a large information service aiming to promote transparency in nonprofits—was Roger Morgan.  

Parents Opposed to Pot has social media presences and a list of highly qualified “professional advisors” in medicine and academia.

And who else was on the board? A document I obtained directly from the Internal Revenue Service shows that in 2015 the organization’s “List of Officers, Directors, Trustees, and Key Employees” comprised just two people: Director Roger Morgan and President Julie Schauer.

Julie Schauer is a the DC-based millionaire who has donated heavily through her family trust to arch-prohibitionist Kevin Sabet and his Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM Action) political action committee. Schauer gave $1.3 million to Sabet’s group for their anti-legalization campaigns throughout the United States in 2016.

Let me be clear: I am not accusing Sabet, SAM or Schauer of being racist or anti-Semitic. Morgan, based on his writings, clearly espouses anti-Semitism, which is a form of racism.

But what does perplex me is that Schauer—who signed the 2014 IRS 990 tax filing for Parents Opposed to Pot in 2018, and who this year was promoted by Sabet as a speaker at his 2018 RX Summit—knowsabout her former director and principal officer Roger Morgan’s anti-Semitic views, but has ignored them.

It seems the strategy is to quietly hope these views are forgotten. The website of Parents Opposed to Pot makes no mention of Morgan (or Schauer) but still displays versions of Morgan’s articles. You can see articles that are strongly similar—but this time containing anti-Semitic tropes—on Morgan’s Take Back America site.

I challenged Parents Opposed to Pot on Twitter about their connection, though Morgan, to Take Back America. They responded:

Both Parents Opposed to Pot and Take Back America had their non-profit status suspended by the IRS earlier this year, after failing to file the requisite Form 990 for three consecutive years, and you might argue that they’re irrelevant. But they’re still active on social media, and still connected with major players in the anti-legalization movement.

Schauer and Morgan’s nonprofit work has called for law enforcement intervention in states that have legalized. SAM Action, to whom Schauer has donated in the past, supplied most of the funding to (unsuccessfully) oppose legalization in Michigan.

Parents Opposed to Pot’s deliberate indifference to anti-Semitic references can be seen on their Twitter feed. I am not the first to point out how they have ignored such messages in the articles or videos they share:

Their account continues to deny Morgan’s belief in anti-Semitic conspiracies, and ignores how damaging they are when spread via social media.

Simply stating that they don’t believe in conspiracy theories doesn’t mean that racist organizations can’t use these lies to gain influence or cause violence. And as I’ve said, I don’t accept that anti-Semitism and racism should be brushed under the carpet—not in my own movement, and not in our opponents’ movement.

Anti-Legalization Funder Julie Schauer Responds

Before publishing this article, Filter emailed Dr. Kenneth Finn, one of the professional advisors named on the Parents Opposed to Pot website, requesting comment on Roger Morgan’s connection with the organization and his anti-Semitism.

Filter’s email referred to my previous understanding, based on documents I obtained, that Morgan was a co-founder of Parents Opposed to Pot, something Schauer denies.

Filter received two replies directly from Julie Schauer. The first made no reference to anti-Semitism, but cited a study funded by the Australian government that showed a correlation between adolescent marijuana use and suicide attempts, made other claims about marijuana’s dangers, including saying that it is “connected so often to teens who go missing.”

Schauer’s second email, which was prefaced by threats of legal action in the event of her being misquoted, deserves to be published in full:

“I am the only founder of Parents Opposed to Pot. Roger Morgan is not a co-founder of Parents Opposed to Pot. Diane Goldstein, the person promoting that information is dead wrong. In fact, Roger gave an interview to No Weed Illinois today and he didn’t mention Parents Opposed to Pot.

Roger Morgan was on the Board of Parents Opposed to Pot for one or two years because he volunteered to be working from the West Coast. We needed someone from the west coast. I did not ask him to continue on the Board, but we have two different representatives from California on our Board.     

Roger and I differed on a number of issues, but we do agree that George Soros’s funding of Drug Policy Alliance has greatly harmed young people. Promoting this ideology has much to do with why 21-35 year olds are dying at a rate that is 5x what it was in 1999. We agree that most young people who die began their illicit drug use with marijuana.

I personally find that Soros’s indifference to these deaths disgraceful. If Mr. Soros got out of his perch in the ivory tower, he could re-evaluate his decisions and stop funding drug legalization efforts.

Roger and I agreed however, that parents must tell their children that no amount of marijuana use today is safe. We also know people whose children have become psychotic—suddenly. Some of their children died from marijuana ONLY, with marijuana the only drug in their toxicology reports.

I am also upset with George Soros because I formerly gave money to My opposition to the Iraq War which is as strong as my opposition to marijuana legalization. continued to ask me for donations but it had changed its mission. When I looked into it, I found out that a donation from Soros had much to do with changing the mission. Yes, I am upset that the political action group, as well as charities I donated to, took donations from him and then, instead of sticking to their purpose or goal, incorporated his ideology.

I don’t blame George Soros for anything he did as a teen, and realize that Roger does. I don’t think that Roger’s objection to Soros is anti-Semitic.  

I HAVE NOT READ Roger Morgan’s BOOK and have no interest in reading it.”

We’ll set aside, for now, Schauer’s unfounded claims about drug policy reform and marijuana—which has never caused a verifiedoverdose death and is not a “gateway drug.”

But note how she refers to how she and Morgan “differed,” while minimizing his contribution to her organization. At the same time, she lightly hints at possible wartime wrongdoing by Soros, accuses him of being aloof and exerting undue influence, and denies Morgan’s anti-Semitism.

Even if Julie Schauer fails to understand how her anti-legalization ideology perpetuates racial injustice, surely she should publicly and unequivocally reject the racist tropes spread by her former director?

And if she doesn’t understand why they are considered anti-Semitic, she could simply refer to the Anti-Defamation League. It addresses issues like anti-Semitism on Twitter, the use of terms like “globalist” as anti-Semitic tropes, and the specific anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against Soros.

Instead, Schauer likes to portray herself as a victim of reformers like me, who have attempted, for example, to hold Kevin Sabet and his organization accountable for campaign behaviors that, at a bare minimum, crossed ethical lines. (I do, however, condemn any verbal abuse Schauer may have received.)

Schauer wrote to the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 2017:

“By using me as a scapegoat, your state has harmed my reputation. Some marijuana activists publicly humiliated me over the Internet by digging up ‘dirt’ and posting it on the Internet. My reputation as a teacher of 30 years is now tarnished and damaged so that I can never go back to teaching again. For nearly two months, I received phone calls and emails from people who did not know me, but wished to intimidate me. (I don’t know how they got the information.) It was harassment as some of the language they used in their insults confirmed by belief that marijuana causes vile behaviors. I’m not a ‘pay-to-play’ type of person, I resent that your state has tried to make me out to be. Thank you, California, and thank you, marijuana activists and marijuana groups, for ruining my career and harming my reputation.”

Not Good Enough

Ms. Schauer, although I do not accuse you of being racist or anti-Semitic, I do take exception to the way you and your organization have contributed to the spread of racism, without your publicly condemning these ideas. And I’m appalled that, in these circumstances, SAM and Kevin Sabet have brought you to the national spotlight.

Perhaps Sabet, who is currently attempting to reframe marijuana legalization as the New Jim Crow, doesn’t know that your former director has published anti-Semitic bile, while you and your non-profit have willfully ignored and sanitized it?

It’s stunning to me that your organization portrays drug policy reformers as disingenuous, while you, your website and your social media pages are not candid about Morgan’s views.

If you were embarrassed when your contributions were used in a manner inconsistent with California campaign law, you should be incredibly ashamed to continue to operate your organization without acknowledging its previous links with anti-Semitism. You and your organization’s continued failure to fully disavow Morgan make you complicit in perpetuating anti-Semitism in America.

This article was originally published by Filter, a magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter.

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