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My drug war liberty talk

Some of you asked if my talk on Thursday at University of Illinois, hosted by Young Americans for Liberty, would be available as video online. Sorry, but that didn’t happen.

It was a good session with a nice turnout and some great participation in the Q and A part.

While I can’t give you a video or audio, I can share my powerpoint as a pdf file. I bet many of you can imagine what my talk was like from seeing this outline.

Drug War’s Assault on Liberty.

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Bad science, and really bad reporting

So, of course, everyone in the media has been gushing about the study that proves that even casual pot smoking damages the brain. Of course, that’s not even close to what the study showed, even if you accept the study itself as legitimate.

The people who really know, know better.

Here’s John Gever, Deputy Managing Editor, MedPage Today: Striking a Nerve: Bungling the Cannabis Story

Correlation does not equal causation, and a single exam cannot show a trend over time. Basic stuff, right?

But judging by coverage of a study just out in the Journal of Neuroscience, these are apparently foreign concepts for many folks in the media. [...]

Sad to say, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), which publishes the Journal of Neuroscience, may have driven these dramatic overinterpretations by promoting the study in a press release headlined “Brain changes are associated with casual marijuana use in young adults.”

Also note that the study did not identify any cognitive or behavioral abnormalities in the cannabis users versus controls — it was strictly an MRI study.

That, however, didn’t stop senior author Hans Breiter, MD, of Northwestern from opining in the SfN press release that the study “raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”

Um, no, it doesn’t — not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes.

Lior Pachter, a computational biologist, was even harsher about the actual science: Does researching casual marijuana use cause brain abnormalities?

This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year (as some of my previous blog posts show I am saying something with this statement). [...]

First of all, the study has a very small sample size, with only 20 “cases” (marijuana users), a fact that is important to keep in mind in what follows. The title uses the term “recreational users” to describe them, and in the press release accompanying the article Breiter says that “Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” In fact, the majority of users in the study were smoking more than 10 joints per week. There is even a person in the study smoking more than 30 joints per week (as disclosed above, I’m not an expert on this stuff but if 30 joints per week is “recreation” then it seems to me that person is having a lot of fun). More importantly, Breiter’s statement in the press release is a lie. There is no evidence in the paper whatsoever, not even a tiny shred, that the users who were getting high once or twice a week were having any problems.

Pachter then gets into an analysis of the study’s bad math (which is completely out of my knowledge base and totally over my head, so I can’t really comment on it, but it sounds damning.

And finally:

This issue is one of the oldest in the book. There is even a wikipedia entry about it. Correlation does not imply causation. Yet despite the fact the every result in the paper is directed at testing for association, in the last sentence of the abstract they say “These data suggest that marijuana exposure, even in young recreational users, is associated with exposure-dependent alterations of the neural matrix of core reward structures and is consistent with animal studies of changes in dendritic arborization.” At a minimum, such a result would require doing a longitudinal study. Breiter takes this language to an extreme in the press release accompanying the article. I repeat the statement he made that I quoted above where I boldface the causal claim: “”Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here.

Agreed.

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John Walters is loved

by Elizabeth Hasselbeck on Fox and Friends.

Wow. This clip has everything – reefer madness, Soros-funded legalization groups, Obama wants to turn the country into pot zombies….

I can’t figure out how to embed Fox videos on the blog (Fox doesn’t appear to like it very much), so here’s the link:

Casual pot smoking may damage your brain

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Out and about

Tonight (Thursday) at 8:00 pm, I’ll be speaking at the University of Illinois chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. Topic: The Drug War’s Assault on Liberty. I’ll be covering a number of topics, followed by a Q and A. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.

This is an open thread.

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In the spirit of the season

Via Drug Policy Alliance:

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release a statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.

“The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust, and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives,” said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

“We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure,” says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

The statement makes the following recommendations:

  • Repeal laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.
  • Eliminate policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates.
  • End policies that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

They will be holding a teleconference today.

More on this: Pastors seek to end war on drugs by decriminalizing use

“God does not care if you smoke weed,” he said. “God is not that petty.”

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Inside the mind of a drug warrior

William R. Brownfield is Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Even the title of his job tells you something about the absolute wrongness of how our government has approached drug policy.

He shared some of this thoughts in this speech: U.S. Official Comments on Drugs, Security and Latin America.

Of course, he denies he is a drug warrior:

A little bit of history: In the 1970s, the United States of America, or at least its government, discovered the drug issue. Richard Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs,’ a very unfortunate selection of terms, by the way, since in fact it’s not a war. It’s certainly not a war against our own population that in some way, shape, or form is part of the drug issue. And for that reason, ever so wisely, in the year 1993, the then newly-inaugurated president of the United States Bill Clinton said, and I quote, “It’s not a war, and we’re going to stop calling it a war on drugs.” Things move slowly in the federal government and the media, but don’t you all come at me in 15 minutes and start condemning me for the war on drugs, because I have already told you in advance it is not a war on drugs, it has not been a war on drugs for 21 years, and what we are doing goes a bit beyond the classical, typical definition of the term war, combined with the word drugs.

Read the rest of his comments as he talks about each effort that has been taken over the years and how it failed miserably, and, at the very end, merely comes to the conclusion that what is required is all of the above and some undefined “more.” Also note his pathetic attempt to claim Colombia and changing drug consumption trends as some kind of validation, and never once questions the damage caused by these policies.

Even as he recognizes shifts (Uruguay, Washington, Colorado), he fails to see them as anything other than new factors in the equation as opposed to repudiations of decades of war.

It’s a powerful blindness, demonstrating either a true believer, or, perhaps more likely, someone who has spent a career under flawed assumptions and is constitutionally unable to question their life’s work.

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Odds and Ends

bullet image Commissioner gives ultimatum; Vermont Reps remove PTSD language from medical marijuana bill

MONTPELIER — A House committee, poised to allow PTSD patients to qualify for medical marijuana, reversed itself Friday when the state’s top law enforcement official stepped in before the panel voted.


bullet image While heroin epidemic rages, Bain seeks profit in drug treatment centers

But as opiates ravage communities from rural Vermont to Hollywood, treating addiction has become big business. The push for national health care, and recent changes to federal health insurance laws could make it even more attractive. Substance abuse treatment is a $7.7 billion industry, according to a recent report by IBISWorld Inc., a New York research firm, and growing at an annual rate of about 2 percent.


bullet image Why You Should Never Believe a Newspaper On The Value Of A Cocaine Bust

So, the total value is more like $17 million than the $250 million in the headline.

There is an economic point to this over and above just quibbling with the numbers being offered to us. Now that we can see the price difference between a half container full of cocaine in Colombia and a half container full of cocaine in Rotterdam we can work out why people try to smuggle half containers around the world. Because there’s a $230 million profit in managing to get one half container through. And a $230 million profit on a possible $17 million cost means that the authorities have to intercept at least 12 out of each 13 shipments in order to make it an unprofitable activity.

And no, no one at all thinks they are managing to do that and nor is there anyone who thinks they ever will. Meaning that we can now understand why that War on Drugs doesn’t seem to be having all that much effect: there’s simply too much profit to be made from the smuggling for the war to have any noticeable effect.


bullet image Legal pot becomes a touchy workplace issue

DENVER — Last month, Colorado diner owner Mark Rose posted an unusual job description: “Looking for part time experienced breakfast cook. Pays well, must be friendly and a team player, could turn into a full time gig by summer. 420 friendly a must.”

With that public declaration, Rose put himself squarely in the camp of employers acknowledging that marijuana use is perfectly legal in Colorado. Perhaps more significant, it also puts him in the camp of employers who officially don’t care if their employees use pot off-duty. The phrase “420″ is shorthand for someone who uses marijuana.

Rose owns Dot’s Diner on the Mountain in the pot-friendly mountain town of Nederland, Colo., just west of Boulder. He says he wanted to hire a marijuana-friendly employee to ensure he didn’t have to deal with someone who might complain about his own pot use.

More employers like him, please.


bullet image For fun, here’s a delightful parody of how the media gets sucked in to all the latest hoax drug scares.

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The Shocking Truth about what’s happening in Denver

3 Months Later, Here’s What Denver Looks Like Since Legalizing Marijuana

Three months following Colorado’s decision to legalize the production, sale, possession and use of recreational marijuana — a vote that Denver city officials including Mayor Michael Hancock, among others, fought kicking and screaming — guess what’s happened to Denver crime rates in 2014?

According to new data, they’ve fallen across the board. Property crime is down 14.6% compared to the same period in 2013. Violent crimes are down 2.4%.

Where are the zombies?

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Positive news in sentencing

U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Lower Federal Drug Sentences

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The seven-member U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today to amend federal drug sentencing guidelines. The change will reduce federal drug sentences by an average of 11 months.

“We commend the Sentencing Commission for taking this important step toward reforming federal drug sentences,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “This change will save taxpayers money, help to rein in federal prison spending, and bolster the spirits of tens of thousands of federal defendants who are facing impractical and disproportionately long sentences.”

Not enough, but an important step.

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Dana Milbank saw a boobie!

In an embarrassing column in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank acts much like a young boy who just saw his first breast.

How can Congress cure political ills? Smoke some marijuana.

Except in this case, the sniggering and giggling juvenile is discussing… marijuana!

Legal marijuana is spreading like a weed [...] redefined the meaning of a grass-roots movement. [...] There were no complaints, perhaps because munchies had been provided [...] If the pot proponents were any more laid back, they would have been horizontal. [...] Congress should immediately reefer the matter to committee to draft a joint resolution: Everybody must get stoned. [...]

You get the idea.

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