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Join us on Pete's couch., the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
May 2015
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When science isn’t forced to serve the God of Prohibition, it tells us something else entirely

Johann Hari, author of the outstanding “Chasing the Scream,” which you absolutely should read, continues to get the word out about the failures of our drug war through a large number of interviews and articles.

His latest: Tragedy of Whitney Houston and Her Daughter: The Suprising Factora That Can Make People 4600 Percent More Prone to Addiction

Of course, most of our national discussion on addiction has been hijacked by Nora Volkow and NIDA, whose agenda boils down to “drugs are bad.” They promote the brain disease model of addiction which is essentially presented by them in the following manner:

  1. Drugs cause brain disease
  2. Anyone who uses drugs will probably get this disease
  3. Nobody should use drugs

And this supposedly justifies prohibition.

Of course, even if the NIDA model were true, it wouldn’t justify the sledge hammer approach of prohibition, which doesn’t actually address the problems of addiction but causes all sorts of other problems.

And the brain-disease-directly-caused-by-drugs model is also braid dead, since the large majority of drug users never become addicted.

But, of course, the science already exists to explain the majority of addiction. The problem is that the answers don’t support prohibition and are thus unpopular with agencies like NIDA who exist to serve prohibition.

We know the major reason why addiction is transmitted through families – and it is not what most of us think. There is a genetic factor; but there is another explanation that is even more significant – and that we can do something about. A major study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente (4) of 17,000 people has unlocked this – and its results have subsequently been replicated by over 20 studies funded by individual US states.(5) […]

“A person who experienced any six or more of the categories” of childhood trauma, Dr Felitti tells me, “was 4600 percent more likely to become an IV [injecting] drug user later in life than a person who experienced none of them.” (6) He adds: “I remember the epidemologists at the CDC told me those were numbers a magnitude of which they see once in a career. You read the latest cancer scare of the week in the newspaper and something causes an increase of 30 percent in breast or prostate cancer and everybody goes nuts – and here, we’re talking 4600 percent.”

The published research showed that for every category of trauma that happens to a child, they are two to four times more like to grow up to be an addict – and multiple traumas produced a massive risk.

In these instances, drugs are more a symptom than a cause of addiction, and to attempt to “treat” drug addiction by merely attempting to eliminate drugs, doesn’t address the problem.

Today, we have a criminal justice system that takes people who are addicted because they endured trauma, and we traumatize them more. […] Dr Gabor Mate, one of the leading experts on this question, told me: “If I had to design a system that was intended to keep people addicted, I’d design exactly the system that we have right now.”

Dr Mate – after years of treating patients who became addicts after hellish abuse – has outlined an alternative. Imagine if we had taken the $1 trillion that has been spent so far on the failed drug war (11), and had spent it on the collapsing services designed to protect abused children instead. Every year there are 686,000 kids who have been identified as abused or neglected in the US – and the services for them are appalling. (12) We are setting up a generation of new addicts – and then we will squander more money punishing them. If we spent the drug war money on turning this around, there would, this evidence suggests, be a genuine and substantial fall in addiction.

The more we study, and the more we learn, the more we understand just how warped and counterproductive our drug policies have been.

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Fixing neighborhoods

Very nice column by Neil Franklin, executive director of LEAP. This is Your Neighborhood on the Drug War

Few people discussing the recent riots and protests in Baltimore have bothered to question why young people would feel angry enough to destroy their own neighborhood. Some have suggested the unrest can be blamed largely on the “breakdown” of the family structure in poor neighborhoods, particularly in poor communities of color, where fathers are frequently absent.

What that suggestion fails to address is why the family structure would be breaking down in the first place. The long and short answer is: The Drug War is tearing these families apart. People who suffer from addictions in poor neighborhoods don’t have access to the kind of treatment options that middle and upper class families do, meaning parents with addictions are less able to be breadwinners and look after their children. These neighborhoods also have markedly fewer job openings, and feeding oneself and their family doesn’t become any less imperative when you’re poor, so selling drugs may be the easiest way to keep everyone fed and a roof overhead, however minimally. […]

Many police departments across the country have unwittingly played into a system of racial prejudice that has unfairly targeted communities of color for drug crimes for decades. There are more black men in the penal system now than there were slaves in 1850, yet we’re bewildered that anyone might get angry enough to burn down pharmacies or smash police cars after finding out yet another unarmed member of their community has died in police custody. […]

Cops are public servants who should be helping victims of violent crimes get justice. Prohibition has only created more violence and made neighborhoods more dangerous. Legalize and regulate drugs from a public health perspective, and put our cops back in charge of solving the nearly 40% of murders and 60% of rape cases that go unsolved.

Each time there’s a tragedy in our city neighborhoods, people are ready to blame the citizen, the cop, the jury, etc., but it’s important that they look at the larger picture — what fosters and fuels situations where such disfunction in our criminal justice system occurs. And one of the biggest offenders is the drug war.

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A rose by any other name…

In weird news… Man Asks City To Ban Fart Smells — For A Good Reason

Last week, the City of Pendleton updated its nuisance ordinances to cover the smell of marijuana, NBC reported at the time. That means that even though recreational marijuana will be legal in Oregon starting in July, a person can be fined up to $500 if someone complains they smell marijuana coming from that person’s property.

In a letter published in the East Oregonian on Thursday, someone who signed his name as Peter Walters merely asked that council members take the next logical step and start regulating a far more noxious scent:

It was with great relief Thursday when I read in the East Oregonian that Pendleton’s city council took the time to pass an amendment to the city’s nuisance ordinance banning marijuana odor. Clearly, there has been no issue of greater importance facing the city. Now that this important work has been completed I hope that the council will move on to restricting the other offensive smell that plagues our community: farts.

Walters, who is pretty clearly mocking the marijuana ordinance, notes, “Some habitual farters argue that they need to fart for medical reasons but that doesn’t mean my kids should have to smell their farts.”

Nice move by Peter Walters.

I find the whole idea of trying to ban marijuana smells to be absurd. It’s not even that bad of an odor (obviously as a neighbor, you don’t want to be a bad neighbor and inundate people with any odor, but for people to occasionally catch a whiff? No big deal.)

We have dealt with (and still deal with) much worse assaults on the olfactory system. As a kid, I remember that whenever we went to Indiana, we had to roll up the windows and change the car vent to internal only when we got 10 miles from Gary, Indiana, and it was still unbearable. In college, our frequent trips to Cedar Rapids, Iowa were marred by the ever-present smell of the Quaker Oats factory. And have you ever been to Chinatown?

Even now, I smell the neighbors’ fresh-mowed lawns, and that distinct charcoal/lighter fluid combination every weekend, plus the acrid smell of spent fireworks in July and burned leaves in the fall. On one side, I smell cigarettes, and on the other, dog poop.

It’s the smell of freedom.

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We don’t want our children getting hooked on marjoram

Can’t guarantee that this was an actual post, but it was too funny not to share.


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The fully demonstrated and absolutely unsurprising consequences of criminalization

Nice piece at The Age today by Michael Coulter: The long-running war on drugs has failed: we need to legalise now

It would be nice to say that the war on drugs had achieved nothing. The truth is far worse.

The truth is the war on drugs has filled our jails, enriched the worst among us, wasted scarce police resources and blotted up millions of dollars that could have been far better spent. It has been an unmitigated disaster and it needs to stop.

This is the point that we have made here time and time again, and that is so important. Prohibition isn’t free. And yet, those who argue against legalization are often unwilling to even acknowledge the horrific costs of criminalization.

But if many now argue that drugs should be treated as a health problem rather than a law enforcement one, few are prepared to take the next step and call for full legalisation. It’s a debate we desperately need to have, because prohibition has had its day.

It certainly has.

And this frustrates me sometimes. In the past week, I’ve seen both an article and a panel discussion that purported to address the “unintended consequences of marijuana legalization.” Really? You’re going to go there?

I respect their right to have that discussion, but forgive me for not giving a damn about what they have to say, unless they have first established their bona fides in critiquing the destructive consequences of criminalization that we have faced for so many years.

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Pot science imbalance

Cute cover of Time Magazine with “The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded, Strangely Promising, World of Pot Science” or The Great Pot Experiment by Bruce Barcott and Michael Scherer.

Time Pot Cover

Not a bad article about the politicization of pot science, although to me it suffers from an attempt to provide “balance” in an area that is actually quite unbalanced.

For instance, the subhead of the article:

Legalization keeps rolling ahead. But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana—or the benefits

Um, no. Yes, there’s still a lot more we can learn, but the idea that we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana is just false. If anything, we oddly know too much about the dangers of marijuana, if you include all the untrue “dangers” that are distributed by politics and bad science.

One key point really hit home, focusing on the imbalance of science supported by the U.S.

The federal antipot policies resulted in a strange kind of scientific trade deficit. The U.S. leads the world in studies of marijuana’s harm, but we’re net importers of data dealing with its healing potential.

And that’s exactly because of the politicized nature of our federal “science” in this area, as particularly shown by putting marijuana science in the hands of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose clear goals are to prove abuse and advocate against drugs, not to, you know, learn science.

And it’s this agency history and focus that should make the authors of the article much more wary of accepting “scientific” pronouncements from Nora Volkow.

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We don’t make the laws…

How many times have we heard that? “We don’t make the laws; we just enforce them.”

Of course, that’s complete crap, as any of us who have attended a legislative session about medical marijuana legalization know – seeing the law enforcement officers in uniform there attempting to influence the process, even to the point of giving testimony regarding what is “medicine.” We see the police associations lobbying and spreading misinformation.

This next bit of information has been already discussed at length here in comments, but I think it’s important enough to have as a main post.

Ray Stern with the Phoenix New Times reported on this: Forfeiture Funds Used to Opposed Marijuana Legalization

A law-enforcement task force in Yavapai County cut a $50,000 check from RICO funds to a substance-abuse group dedicated to fighting marijuana legalization in Arizona, New Times has learned.

The deal between the Yavapai County-based Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) task force and MATFORCE was made soon after the Marijuana Policy Project announced it would launch a 2016 legalization campaign in Arizona — and more public funding against legalization could be on the way.

And here’s no surprise…

We don’t want to make any rash assumptions, but a Google search shows that MATFORCE conducted quite a bit of anti-marijuana-legalization campaigning in early 2014, after it received the RICO funds. Various boards and town councils were approached and asked to sign resolutions against legalization — resolutions which were sometimes filled with half-truths and rank propaganda. A few months after getting Polk’s RICO check, MATFORCE also brought in nationally-known anti-legalization speaker Kevin Sabet for its annual conference that April. We’ll let you know if we find out Sabet received expense reimbursements or direct payments from MATFORCE for his appearance. […]

UPDATE May 14: Sheila Polk got back to us, letting us know — essentially — that we were correct. The RICO funds helped pay for Sabet’s appearance in April of 2014. Here’s her email to New Times:

“The RICO funds have been used by MATFORCE to conduct a public awareness campaign on the harms of marijuana through billboards, focus groups on effective messaging, radio PSAs, rack cards, a marijuana tool kit, books, associated contract and travel expenses, and two conferences on marijuana in 2014. Our first conference was in April where we brought out Kevin Sabet, the leading national expert on marijuana, its harms, and the negative impact on communities in states that have legalized it for either medical or retail purposes, and the second was in November. Both conferences were open to the public. Kevin Sabet is the founder of SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, along with Patrick Kennedy.

This kind of use of taxpayer money to lobby against citizen initiatives is obviously wrong in so many ways, but those doing it were initially bolstered by the Arizona Attorney General:

Last week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an opinion, based on a question by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, that public resources could continue to “educate” the public about the alleged evils of marijuana legalization.

However, this statement created such an outcry, that he has backed off that position.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has withdrawn his May 4 opinion regarding the use of public resources in elections following intense criticism.

A link to the opinion now returns a message of the withdrawal, and Brnovich’s office issued a public statement about it today:

“Attorney General Brnovich takes the allegations that the previously issued opinion may have provided an opportunity for potential government abuse very seriously. Like those who requested the original opinion, our office has a responsibility to protect the taxpayer dollars of hardworking Arizonans.”

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When I write on Facebook, it’s an entirely different audience — coming mostly from my work — so I write on a variety of subjects and I’m careful not to inundate them with drug war rants all the time. In some ways, that makes it more powerful when I do have something to say about drug policy.

We had a football player arrested this week, and I felt like saying something. Thought I’d share it with you as well.

Locally, we have that same tired scenario where a extremely talented young person has made the news and is probably going to have his very promising career sidelined because he got caught with 5 to 30 grams of marijuana.

And, of course, none of the solemn, disapproving articles I’ve read are asking “Why?” And I don’t mean “Why did he smoke pot?” I know the answer to that. Or “Why did he try to sell it to an undercover cop?” I’ve got a pretty good idea on that one as well. No, the question I’m looking for is “Why the fuck are we still arresting people for this?”

Oh sure, some of you are getting ready to roll out the propaganda that we’ve been force-fed for decades about how it’s necessary to protect people from the evils of this plant — that it will enslave them, take away their motivation and make them unproductive members of society.

And that reminds me of a recent Daily Show with an appearance by Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson has made sixty-eight studio albums, ten live albums, thirty-seven compilations, and twenty-seven collaborations. He’s toured all over the place in his bus. He founded Farm Aid and is president of the board. He’s done benefits, has been involved in politics and an activist for animal welfare and for LGBT rights. And he managed to do all this while smoking more pot than any other human probably has in the history of the world.

Yeah, pot really shortens your career. Just take a look at the unproductive lives of such potheads as Carl Sagan, Louis Armstrong, Bill Gates, Stephen Colbert, Rick Steves, Maya Angelou, Barrack Obama, Susan Sarandon, Ted Turner, Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, Morgan Freeman, Steve Jobs, Shel Silverstein, David Letterman, John Lennon, and the list goes on and on.

Yes, I know that (in some places anyway) it’s still against the law. That doesn’t make the law right. There’s a certain role we’re supposed to play when this happens, but I’m quite frankly too damned tired of doing the requisite sad shake of the head in disappointment when someone is caught doing this kind of law-breaking. In the meantime, societal leaders joke about their “youthful indiscretions” and because they weren’t caught (whether through luck or privilege) they face no consequences, even as they enforce damaging consequences against others.

Using marijuana responsibly isn’t particularly hard to do, and compared to many other ordinary activities in our world (like bike-riding, eating sugar, or playing football) it’s far, far safer. But the laws against marijuana? Those can really mess a person up bad.

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Help Wanted

Brilliant! Via Tom Angell at

One of the U.S.’s foremost drug policy reform organizations is lending a tongue-in-cheek assist to the country’s top anti-drug enforcement agency.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is taking out a mock “Help Wanted” ad to aid the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in finding a new leader in the wake of its administrator’s recently announced resignation.

Here’s the ad:

Drug Policy Alliance DEA ad

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It’s always the money

Nice little article in Time by Aileen Teague, a Ph.D. history student, about the impact on Mexico of the U.S. war on drugs.

How Our War on Drugs Undermines Mexico

But here’s the key point:

And yet last year’s federal drug war budget — topping $25 billion — and the continued efforts of U.S. institutions abroad in the name of drug control, remind us that a war on drugs is still alive and well.

The current system is propped up by many different U.S. and Mexican institutions—police forces, the military, the CIA, the State Department, etc.—each with its own set of interests. Methodical funding cuts would have to be made alongside fundamental revisions of the roles these institutions play for real change to take place. For all of the talk of marijuana legalization and an end to the war on drugs, policies along these lines have yet to be established, let alone brought more fully into the global drug debate.

Exactly. For long-term meaningful change, it’s the budgets we hae to tackle, and there are very entrenched interests involved. I’ve been through some government budget excercises before and it’s rather amazing how hard it can be to cut agencies’ funding – it becomes a political nightmare regarding affected jobs and communities rather than being about actually spending the money in ways that provide value in terms of the larger picture.

Of course, if the DEA continues to piss off the Senate, maybe it’ll get a little easier to start making the kinds of cuts we need to make.

And it doesn’t hurt for us to raise the issue of wasteful spending on the corrupt drug war every chance we get.

Personally, when talking about fiscal implications, I prefer talking about savings from eliminating drug war wasted and corruption rather than talking about tax revenues from legalization, even though I realize that it’s the mere hint of talk about cutting budgets that gets the lobbyists who protect drug warrior jobs out of bed each morning.

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