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January 2015
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More junk science from Patricia Cavazos-Rehg

The media is often up for a juicy pot-related study, without requiring much critical thought.

The latest outrage-du-jour is that people are talking about marijuana… on Twitter.

Pro-marijuana ‘tweets’ are sky-high on Twitter

Analyzing every marijuana-related Twitter message sent during a one-month period in early 2014, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that the “Twitterverse” is a pot-friendly place. In that time, more than 7 million tweets referenced marijuana, with 15 times as many pro-pot tweets sent as anti-pot tweets. The findings are reported online Jan. 22 in the Journal of Adolescent Health and will appear in February in the journal’s print edition.

Most of those sending and receiving pot tweets were under age 25, with many in their teens, a demographic group at increased risk for developing marijuana dependence and other drug-related problems.

“It’s a concern because frequent marijuana use can affect brain structures and interfere with cognitive function, emotional development and academic performance,” said first author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and scholar in the Washington University Institute for Public Health.”

OMG, people are talking about pot. And they’re not saying enough bad things about it.

Really? Is this what passes for psychiatric science?

This is the same researcher who did a smaller study last year to “assess the content of ‘tweets’ and the demographics of followers of a popular pro-marijuana Twitter handle,” and came up with the following conclusion:

Our findings underscore the need for surveillance efforts to monitor the pro-marijuana content reaching young people on Twitter.

For what possible purpose?

Perhaps Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg should get a twitter account and just say a lot of bad things about marijuana to balance things out.

People are talking about marijuana. And they’re no longer willing to spout the false propaganda fed to them. You really think you can put the cat back in the bag?

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Open Thread

bullet image We were one of the few reporting sites that showed restraint and skepticism regarding Holder’s announcement of forfeiture “reform.” Yes, it’s a good step, but it’s not a solution.

Jacob Sullum continues to report: Despite Holder’s Forfeiture Reform, Cops Still Have A License to Steal

But I worry that the widespread confusion about what Holder did will undermine reform efforts by creating the false impression that the problem has been solved. Legislation is necessary not only to prevent cops from evading state reforms but to give property owners more protection under state and federal laws. Ideally, legislators should require a criminal conviction prior to forfeiture and keep cops from getting part of the proceeds, a policy that perverts their priorities and fosters corruption. It would be a shame if such reforms were killed by complacency.


bullet image The Supreme Court’s massive blind spot – Radley Balko with some outstanding reporting on just how out-of-touch the Supreme Court is with what actually goes on in the criminal justice system.

What’s missing from that career trajectory is any real experience in criminal law. Of our current Supreme Court lineup, only two justices — Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — have significant experience with criminal law. Both are former prosecutors. Alito spent time as an assistant U.S. attorney and a U.S. attorney. But even that misses a huge percentage of the criminal justice system: The overwhelming percentage of criminal cases in America are at the state and local level. Only Sotomayor has real experience with a local, day-to-day criminal justice system, and even that experience isn’t all that overwhelming: She spent four and a half years as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, thirty years ago.


bullet image Speaking of Sotomayor, she seems to be one of the only Justices even aware that there’s a Fourth Amendment problem…

Sotomayor to Justice Department Lawyer: ‘We Can’t Keep Bending the Fourth Amendment to the Resources of Law Enforcement’ — Sonia Sotomayor stands up for the Fourth Amendment in drug-sniffing dog case.

Sotomayor went so far as to suggest that the Court’s recent Fourth Amendment jurisprudence was flying off the rails due to its pro-police deference. Here’s a sample of what Sotomayor told the government lawyer:

I have a real fundamental question, because this line drawing is only here because we’ve now created a Fourth Amendment entitlement to search for drugs using dogs, whenever anybody’s stopped. Because that’s what you’re proposing. And is that really what the Fourth Amendment should permit?

…we can’t keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement. Particularly when this stop is not—is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It’s purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.

Precisely.

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Illegitimate

I don’t consider any government that commits murder or violates basic human rights to be legitimate.

Capital punishment and public opinion

The campaign to abolish capital punishment in Indonesia suffered a huge setback following the execution of six drug traffickers over the weekend.

The voices of abolitionists were drowned out by those who came out in support of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who used the executions as an important part of his war against drug abuse in this country.

Public opinion in Indonesia is still overwhelmingly in favour of retaining capital punishment, certainly for the most heinous crimes, including drug trafficking, which is rampant in this country and has such deadly effects. […]

Eleventh-hour appeals last week in phone calls to Jokowi for stays of execution from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and King Willem of the Netherlands, whose citizens were among the six executed, fell on deaf ears.

Prime minister Tony Abbott has also been on the phone with Jokowi trying to save two convicted Australian drug traffickers, whose executions are apparently imminent.

Abbott has to prepare for disappointment and Indonesia for more diplomatic fallout.

The foreign leaders’ interventions, well-meaning as they are, may even have done a disservice to the abolitionists’ cause.

The executions have now been turned into a question of Indonesia’s national pride with accusations flying about the West imposing its human rights values on us.

But, as the saying goes, the harder they push, the stronger Indonesia pushes back.

In response to these foreign meddlers, Indonesia has invoked its sovereignty rights and legal system, which recognises the death penalty.

And with 58 more on death row, we can expect a few more executions, including many non-Indonesians, in the coming days or weeks, just to make a point.

The human rights campaigners and abolitionists have now learned to their dismay that compassion is not president Jokowi’s strongest suit, if he has any at all. […]

This may have been the reason why barely three months into office, Jokowi ordered the executions of the dozens of drug traffickers on death row.

His sagging popularity must have improved for taking a strong stand on drug abuses and for standing up to foreign meddlers.[…]

Supporters of the death penalty for drug traffickers rely on religious leaders endorsing the killing of human beings, even though most major religions advocate compassion and forgiveness above any act of vengeance.

The jury is still out that the death penalty will deter drug traffickers, but then this matters little in Indonesia. Public opinion very much wants it.

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More from Johann Hari on addiction (updated)

Johann Hari’s new book “Chasing the Scream” is getting some good coverage. Apparently he was on Coast to Coast recently with a huge audience, and reviews are starting to show up quite a few places. The book is available for sale beginning today.

Again, I think this is one of the best books out there right now about the drug war and how we need to move beyond it.

Last week, I discussed some of the ideas about addiction that are in the book.

Over at Huffington Press, Johann talks some more about this aspect of the book.

Update: Here’s a great youtube clip of Johann and Russell Brand talking about the book and the issues.

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Holder limits federal adoption of seizures

This is potentially big (and has gotten people quite excited), but it really depends on how certain things are defined.

Executive order dated today: Prohibition on Certain Federal Adoptions of Seizures by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

The tricky part:

“This order does not apply to (1) seizures by state and local authorities working together with federal authorities in a joint task force; (2) seizures by state and local authorities that are the result of joint federal-state investigations or that are coordinated with federal authorities as part of ongoing federal investigations…”

So yes, this is good news, but if it just means that local and state enforcement agencies will add a federal officer to the bust somehow in order to get around it, then I’m less excited.

I would much prefer to see an order abolishing equitable sharing (i.e., if feds adopt a seizure, then the locals and state get nothing).

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The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection

That’s one of the powerful messages that comes from Johann Hari’s excellent new book “Chasing the Scream” (see my review earlier this week).

Everything we’ve done to address the issues of addiction within the context of the drug war has been all wrong. It’s focused on the drug causing addiction, when the notion of addiction has a lot more to do with other factors.

I looked at him just now, lying there, his face pallid again, and as I stroked his hair, I think I understood something for the first time. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. It’s all I can offer. It’s all that will help him in the end. If you are alone, you cannot escape addiction. If you are loved, you have a chance. For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along, we should have been singing love songs to them.

One thing has the potential—more than any other—to kill this attempt at healing. It is the drug war. If these people I love are picked up by the police during a relapse, and given a criminal record, and rendered unemployable, then it will be even harder for them to build connections with the world.

There’s so much we know about addiction, that has been studied about addiction, yet is ignored in all the major discussions about how to ‘deal’ with addicts. “Chasing the Scream” does an excellent job of discussing these issues.

[Gabor] has shown that the core of addiction doesn’t lie in what you swallow or inject—it’s in the pain you feel in your head. Yet we have built a system that thinks we will stop addicts by increasing their pain. “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,” Gabor would tell me. “I’d attack people, and ostracize them.” He has seen that “the more you stress people, the more they’re going to use. The more you de-stress people, the less they’re going to use. So to create a system where you ostracize and marginalize and criminalize people, and force them to live in poverty with disease, you are basically guaranteeing they will stay at it.”

This isn’t new stuff. Or radical stuff. I’ve been saying similar things for years…

“As anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows, dependence is hardest to overcome during difficult or stressful times. That must be why, when the government helps drug abusers quit, they arrest them and take away their job, possessions, and children.” – Guitherisms

But it’s a discussion that we absolutely need to bring to the front, because understanding and accepting these basic truths are what gives us harm reduction rather than prohibition, sane policy rather than insanity.

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What has Oregon’s Scott Frost been putting in his body?

So the NCAA, which has far more strict criteria on flunking a marijuana test (5 nanograms compared to 35 for NFL, 50 for MLB, and 150 for World Anti-Doping Agency), has suspended an Oregon player or two from tonight’s game for testing positive for marijuana.

Of course, we could debate whether the occasional joint was worse for a young person’s development than concussion and all the other afflictions that can befall a football player, but I want to talk about the statement made by Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost.

“I think anytime you put something in your body that doesn’t belong there it’s a bad decision.”

Scott Frost

Scott Frost

Really? How do you determine whether something belongs in your body, Scott? Are your players going to use mouth guards tonight? Do you brush your teeth? Do you know anyone who wears contacts? How about ear buds? Do any of your players stick those in their ears? What are your views on putting a penis in somebody’s body? A good decision or a bad decision?

How do you know that marijuana doesn’t belong in your body?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to put medium rare duck breast into my body. It was delicious, and I did it again. I’m pretty sure that was a good decision, but how am I supposed to know if it belongs there?

A couple of months ago, I had a kidney stone, and a doctor stuck a tube with a laser way into my body to blast it to smithereens. I’m pretty sure those things didn’t belong in my body, but I’m pretty happy that they were put there to do that job.

So please tell me, Scott — what’s your criteria for determining what belongs in your body?

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Chasing the Scream – book review

chasing-the-scream-3

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to read a new book about the drug war by Johann Hari: “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.”

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. I have a harder time getting into non-fiction books these days — I spend most of my time reading things online, and I’ve read so much about the war on drugs that it’s hard to get excited about reading a book about it.

But less than halfway through the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down – it’s an amazing read.

Johann has done something really phenomenal with this book, by combining compelling storytelling with the factual highlights of the abominable history of the war on drugs, plus an undeniable blueprint for replacing that war.

For drug policy experts like me, it’s a great read with some fascinating personal perspectives, while filling in a few historical knowledge gaps. Definitely a reading highlight.

But it will also really score with the average politically-aware reader who doesn’t know all that much about the drug war. I know that it’s often hard to reach this group, because there simply is so incredibly much to tell them about the drug war and the facts can be overwhelming. But here, in one book, they get good stories with all the info they need to become an informed advocate for reform. I plan on buying a few copies to give to friends to read.

Hari starts with the biggest villain of all — Harry Anslinger — by researching through all his diaries and files stored at Penn State University. I’ve known mostly about Anslinger’s war against marijuana, and now learned a few more things about what he did to get the war on drugs started in full force.

I was surprised to learn that doctors like Edward Williams were actually successfully using heroin maintenance approaches in the U.S. to treat addicts, until Anslinger shut them down, arresting thousands of doctors.

Most were charged massive fines, but some faced five years in prison for each and every prescription written. In many places, horrified juries refused to convict, because they could see the doctors were only treating the sick as best they could. But Anslinger’s crackdown continued with full force.

Harry wanted Edward Williams to be broken more than any other doctor, because he was widely respected and many people listened to him. “The moral effect of his conviction,” Anslinger wrote, “will most certainly result in greater circumspection.” […] “Anybody that came out with any academic work that could be critical of him, his Bureau, or his philosophy, had to go to prison,” Howard Diller, one of his agents, said later. “Or be beheaded.”

I also was not aware how involved Anslinger was in channeling the full might of the U.S. government in exporting our drug war to the rest of the world.

“Drug prohibition would work — but only if it was being done by everyone, all over the world. So he traveled to the United Nations with a set of instructions for humanity: Do what we have done. Wage war on drugs. Or else. Of all Harry’s acts, this was the most consequential for us today. […]

One of his key lieutenants, Charles Siragusa, boasted: “I found that a casual mention of the possibility of shutting off our foreign aid programs, dropped in the proper quarters, brought grudging permission for our operations almost immediately.” Later, leaders were threatened with being cut off from selling any of their countries’ goods to the United States.

Whenever any representative of another country tried to explain to him why these policies weren’t right for them, Anslinger snapped: “I’ve made up my mind — don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Johann Hari provides us, throughout the book, with incredible access to individual players in the drug war. For the history, in addition to Anslinger, his research provides detailed insights into:

  • Billy Holiday, a jazz singer and drug user whose paths crossed with Anslinger’s, and
  • Arnold Rothstein, who invented the modern drug gang, and was the first major figure in organized drug crime in the United States.

And as Hari moved us to the present and future, these personal stories came from actual extensive interviews with an amazing array of individuals, including:

  • Chino Hardin, a drug dealer for years in Brooklyn, who started his business when he was 14 years old.
  • Leigh Maddox, a state trooper who later turned away from the drug war.
  • Rosalio Reta, a killer for the Zetas in Mexico, who resides in a prison in Texas.
  • Marisela Escobedo, who refused to accept her daughter’s murder by drug traffickers, and led protests in Mexico, until she was assassinated in front of the government palace (interviews were with family and friends).
  • Gabor Maté and Bruce Alexander, who developed new ways of looking at addiction, while working with addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
  • Bud Osborn, a poet and homeless addict who helped transform that area of Vancouver and bring about the notion of rights for addicts.
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, who supported and promoted harm reduction approaches, including heroin clinics.
  • João Goulão, who helped lead a revolution in drug policy in Portugal.
  • José Mujica, president of Uruguay, who brought marijuana legalization to his country.

… and we learn about the players in the very different legalization approaches in Washington and Colorado.

Good stories, compelling arguments, and powerful facts.

You can learn more at Chasing the Scream, which will have actual audio files of all the pertinent interviews. The book has also been thoroughly researched and fact-checked by the author and editors with 65 pages of notes and bibliography.

I highly recommend Chasing the Scream, which is available for preorder at Amazon.com, or through the Chasing the Scream website. (It’s available January 20th.)

I’m not done talking about this book — not by a long shot. It’s got some very powerful material about addiction and how we treat human beings that should be starting points for a number of serious conversations. I’ve got a lot of corners turned down on my copy of the book that still need to be discussed.

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Thought for Charlie

It’s baffling to me that we have such insane restrictions on the use of drugs, and yet we let absolutely anybody use religion.

Sure, the vast majority of people who use religion do so responsibly, and in a way that is fulfilling for themselves, but the same is true of those who use drugs.

So why is it that those who are willing to lock up all drug users because of the apparent destructive impulses of a tiny minority, are not calling for the same thing for religion users?

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Unwilling to face reality, we just throw more money at it

Obama reaffirms U.S. support of embattled Mexican President after closed door meeting

Despite pressure from protest groups in both the United States and Mexico, it appears that nothing much will change in terms of Washington’s anti-drug support to its southern neighbor following a meeting between President Barack Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto. […]

“Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and the drug cartels that are responsible for much of the tragedy inside of Mexico,” Obama said. “We want to be a good partner in that process while recognizing that ultimately it will be up to Mexico and its law enforcement to carry the key decisions that need to be made.”

The U.S. has to date provided $2.1 billion to Mexico to combat drug trafficking in the country under the Mérida Initiative – which is pejoratively known as “Plan Mexico.” While the Initiative is loosely modeled after a similar effort in Colombia, many critics claim that it is doing more harm than good – citing as evidence the widespread corruption in Mexico’s civil police forces and a soaring murder rate since its implementation.

Hey, why change your approach when you’ve got one that’s failed so spectacularly for so many years?

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