Send comments, tips,
and suggestions to:
Join us on Pete's couch.
couch, the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
September 2021



Marijuana gateway theory suffers new setbacks

Scapegoating drugs for society’s problems is becoming increasingly difficult thanks to researchers who study childhood distress and how it affects a person’s adult life. Trauma has emerged as a leading culprit contradicting the claim that marijuana use leads to opioid addictions. A recent study from the University of Barcelona notes that:

“…children and adolescents who have suffered child maltreatment by adults show alterations, in early stages of life, in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), one of the main biological mechanisms of stress regulation […]

…The study shows that, in those subjects who had been exposed to child maltreatment for a longer period of time, there was greater dysfunction in the HPA axis, regardless of the severity of the experiences they had suffered. […]

And from Ohio State University:

… new research suggests that those with substance misuse issues as adults may have had particularly difficult childhoods…scores assessing childhood trauma exposure among adults with substance misuse issues were 24% higher than previous estimates for other adults in the child welfare system, and 108% higher than the general population.

Not surprisingly, children in these families also have suffered more trauma. […]

And from the University of Exeter:

Experiences of childhood trauma (abuse and neglect) are disproportionately higher in those with opioid use disorder (OUD). Childhood trauma may affect the reinforcing and rewarding properties of opioid drugs and responses to pain, potentially via developmental changes to the endogenous opioid system. […]

The trauma group reported liking the effects of morphine, feeling more euphoric and wanting more of the drug over the session, as well as feeling less nauseous, dizzy, and dislike of the effects of morphine compared to the non-trauma comparison group. Morphine increased pain threshold and tolerance, yet this did not differ between the groups. Childhood trauma may therefore sensitise individuals to the pleasurable and motivational effects of opioids and reduce sensitivity to the negative effects, providing compelling evidence for individual differences in opioid reward sensitivity. This may explain the link between childhood trauma and vulnerability to OUD, with consequent implications on interventions for OUD, the prescribing of opioids, and reducing stigmas surrounding OUD. […]

Excuses for foisting a war onto people due to their drug of choice presume the behavior is a vice meriting the severest punishments. It appears arresting and jailing people for drug use is considered simpler and more cost-effective than compensating or treating each individual for a screwed-up childhood. Prohibition is made the path of least resistance for certain politicians and law enforcement officials who fail to view science or medical technology as posing viable alternatives to the traumatizing brute force of arrests and incarceration.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

So, we were right all along?

The years we spent dealing with the tired “What about the children?!?” arguments.

Of course, we pointed out that teens may actually not be as eager to rebel with marijuana when grandma is taking it for her glaucoma. And we noted that illegal drug dealers don’t generally check I.D.s for age, while legalized dealers must. And every legitimate study consistently found that legal access to marijuana did not result in increases in teen use.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow finally agrees.

Top Federal Drug Official Admits Legalizers Were ‘Right’ About Teen Marijuana Use And Touts Psychedelics’ Therapeutic Potential

Volkow said on Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann’s show that she was “expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents would go up” when states moved to legalize cannabis, but admitted that “overall, it hasn’t.” It was reform advocates like Nadelmann who were “right” about the impact of the policy change on youth, she said.


Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Dangerous questions for ending drug wars

A dangerous question for prohibitionists and the politicians who favor drug wars might be this one:

“Do you agree or not that pertinent actions should be taken, within the legal and constitutional framework, to begin a process of investigation into political decisions made in years past by political actors, with the aim of guaranteeing justice and the rights of possible victims?”

The question originated in a recent voter referendum in Mexico that reflected deep dissatisfaction with former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s empowerment of the Merida Initiative, or what some call Obama-Biden Merida 2. The referendum envisions a means of forestalling an era of Biden-Harris Merida 3.

The U.S. Congress investigates its own corruption only on rare occasions, and even then not very well. Posing the investigation question in the U.S. is likely to work best as a state referendum. It would enable and commit a state government to officially and aggressively investigate the progenitors and current political actors for whom drug wars have been a source of power and enrichment and whose corrupt practices limit the state’s ability to address vital public health and safety concerns.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Idaho sheriff’s office circles its wagons

Southern Idaho law enforcement is up in arms about a marijuana dispensary opening in mid-September in the nearby border town of Jackpot, Nevada. Discussions with Nevada’s Elko County leaders to prevent the opening of Jackpot’s new 24/7-365 weed convenience store were unsuccessful:

… Similar to alcohol, marijuana is an intoxicant. It slows reflexes and impacts coordination, Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter said. […]

Deputies have been sent to drug recognition school and have training in spotting drivers operating under the influence of marijuana, he said.

“I have a good team of deputies,” Carter said. “If there is an issue, they will deal with it as they always have.”

After the grand opening of the dispensary, he expects law enforcement agencies to have increased patrols along U.S. Highway 93.

“Anyone engaging in illegal behavior should be aware they risk attracting attention from law enforcement,” Idaho State Police said in a statement.

Really? A “drug recognition school” for spotting drivers under the influence of marijuana? Is spotting the drivers even possible? Does this mean passengers under the influence will also be spotted?

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Is public discourse on drug overdoses improving?

This article today in the Washington Post caught my attention:

Drug overdoses deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year

The death toll jumped by more than 21,000, or nearly 30 percent, from 2019, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, eclipsing the record set that year.

Disturbing news, but what caught my attention was how the article approached this problem. Not once was the notion of harsher enforcement mentioned as a possible solution or need.

Instead, here were some of the reflections in the article:

“Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and 50 percent of methamphetamine overdose deaths also involved fentanyl. In many cases, she said, users are unaware that their drugs are laced with the powerful painkiller, which can halt breathing even if a minute amount is ingested.” […]

But unlike past years, 2020 brought the added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. Health-care resources were stretched and redirected toward the emergency. Anti-addiction medication was more difficult to obtain. Stress increased dramatically. Users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people were not nearby to summon first responders or administer the opioid antidote naloxone, experts said.

“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that tries to prevent overdose deaths, said in an email.

It’s time for the government to “provide medications for opioid use disorder for everyone who needs them, with no restrictions on cost or availability,” Volkow said.

There was a time when an article like this would be half enforcement-related, with a push for stricter laws and tough cracking down. This really seems like a long-overdue change in the discourse, at least. Recognition that drug illegality results in the more dangerous lacing with fentanyl, and that stress, depression, and instability (etc.) are factors leading to addiction and overdose as opposed to it being a thing you can just arrest your way out of (or “just say no” to).

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Best headline response to Richardson facing Olympic disqualification for marijuana use

The Onion weighs in.

Dream Crushed Over Trivial Bullshit Represents Nation Better Than Gold Medal Ever Could

Sha’Carri Richardson

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Great headline

Flint’s old police academy sold for marijuana grow facility despite objections

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


Sharing with you a post I made today to a different audience…


This is a disturbing anniversary. Today, June 17, is 50 years since President Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one” — a speech that kicked off a massive and horribly damaging offensive that has continued to this day.

This is also a time when a whole lot of people are outraged at the notion of “critical race theory.” Why? Because they’ve been encouraged/duped by opportunistic politicians who wish to inflame partisan culture wars along with ridiculous non-issues like Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. (This will connect to the drug war. Patience.)

Many who oppose critical race theory don’t know what it actually means.

Now, when it comes to things like cancel culture and critical race theory and other culture-war fodder, there is an actual need for informed discussion on the nuances and the real-versus-manufactured outrages, but we don’t see much of that. For our purposes here, I will define critical race theory as “a practice that examines America’s history of racism and how it still impacts the country today.” Simple.

That brings us back to the drug war. And while there are a lot of topics I avoid commenting on because I don’t know enough, the drug war is something I’ve been studying and writing about extensively for two decades.

Yes, some call this the 50th anniversary of the war on drugs, but that’s a bit arbitrary. The origins go back much further and they’re almost all steeped in racism. The war on drugs is an essential part of America’s history of racism.

The first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws in the early 1900s were directed at black men in the South. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 20s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans.

From a Hearst newspapers national column: “Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles?… THREE-FOURTHS OF THE CRIMES of violence in this country today are committed by DOPE SLAVES — that is a matter of cold record.”

And as marijuana found its way into the jazz scene, some of the animus shifted to blacks (for more on the drug war and jazz, also look up Harry Anslinger and Billie Holiday).

“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” (Hearst newspapers, nationwide, 1934)

Attributed to Harry Anslinger: “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races… Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Fast forward to the 1970s and racism was still connected to Nixon’s expanded war on drugs. As John Ehrlichman said: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

“But Pete,” you may say, “that’s ancient history — things that only old people like you care about. We don’t do that (or say things like that) anymore.”

OK. Let’s take a look at another piece of history.

Saturday will be the 35th anniversary of the death of Len Bias – a promising University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose. With his death in the news, Tip O’Neil and the Democrats jumped into overdrive to create legislation putting more teeth in the drug laws. The result was the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, crafted by a 44-year-old senator from Delaware named Joe Biden. While the intention of these laws may not have been specifically racist to those writing them, the results were most definitely racist because of other factors in society. These laws resulted in the infamous 100-1 threshold disparity in sentencing between the chemically identical crack cocaine (used more by blacks) and powder cocaine (used more by whites). For more details, read my article about this: Len Bias – the death that ushered in two decades of destruction.

The reason that this history should concern us is that decades of sentencing disparity based on institutional/systemic racism (defined as societal patterns and structures that impose oppressive or otherwise negative conditions on identifiable groups based on race or ethnicity) have resulted in huge numbers of black Americans being disenfranchised (particularly in those states that still do not allow ex-felons to vote) and has, in many areas, dramatically affected family and other societal structures.

Understanding the history of the drug war is an essential element in crafting better ways of dealing with drugs and addiction in the future, and ensuring that laws don’t wittingly or unwittingly affect one group disproportionately.

There were times during my days of writing about the war on drugs when I was under some pressure not to talk about it, particularly since I worked at a university (that pressure never came from the university administration, fortunately). Some of that pressure came from other faculty, some from political leaders. But it turns out that learning history is important. As are facts. Even in education.

Fortunately, grassroots conversations about the history of the drug war have mostly overcome the federal government’s resistance to any meaningful discussion. And people have better come to realize that declaring war is not a good drug policy.

Today, 65 percent of voters support ending the war on drugs and 83 percent say it has failed.

Let’s learn about and understand the dark parts of our history, not for blame assignment, or to make people feel bad about themselves, but to fix the broken things that have resulted (and still persist in often unexpected ways) — and to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

True patriotism is caring about the health and welfare of our country and working to make it better. It’s not about making empty nationalistic gestures of faux fealty while avoiding learning about our past.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Amazon supports marijuana legalization

Amazon Won’t Screen Employees for Marijuana Use, Will Back Federal Legalization

Amazon CEO Dave Clark said Tuesday that the company will no longer screen most of its employees for marijuana use, and it will back federal legalization legislation.

“We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation,” Clark said in a blog post on Amazon’s website. The change in policy comes as a response to “where state laws are moving across the U.S.,” Clark said.

Amazon also pledged to throw its considerable weight behind marijuana legalization on a countrywide scale, saying the company would be “actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act)—federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities.”

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

Time for drug sniffing dogs to find a new job

… and we’ve got one for them.

On the Covid Front Lines, When Not Getting Belly Rubs

The three Labradors, operating out of a university clinic in Bangkok, are part of a global corps of dogs being trained to sniff out Covid-19 in people. Preliminary studies, conducted in multiple countries, suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places.

“For dogs, the smell is obvious, just like grilled meat for us,” said Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong, deputy dean of research and innovation for the faculty of veterinary science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

The hope is that dogs can be deployed in crowded public spaces, like stadiums or transportation hubs, to identify people carrying the virus. Their skills are being developed in Thailand, the United States, France, Britain, Chile, Australia, Belgium and Germany, among other countries. They have patrolled airports in Finland, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, and private companies have used them at American sporting events.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon