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July 2015
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DEA administration moves from actively evil to just incompetent

Remember when former head Michele Leonhart refused to say that marijuana was less harmful than heroin?

Well, her predecessor, Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, has taken a bold step toward… oafishness.

New DEA Leader: Pot Probably Not as Bad as Heroin. ‘I’m not an expert,’ he adds.

“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is,” Rosenberg said. “Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”

He added: “Let me say it this way: I’d rather be in a car accident going 30 miles an hour than 60 miles an hour, but I’d prefer not to be in a car accident at all.”

Now that’s leadership.


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Odds and Ends

As of today, Drug WarRant has been going for 12 years, with 6,090 posts and 10s of thousands of comments (don’t have an actual number on comments, since the count on those re-started when I moved to WordPress in 2009 – 70,000 since then).

We’ve seen some great progress in those 12 years (and some things have hardly changed at all).

The thing that really makes this site special is all the commenters who hang out on the couch. Thanks to all of you!

bullet image In the “things haven’t changed at all” category: Kansas Man Facing Felony Murder Charge for Telling an Acquaintance Where He Could Find Marijuana

The felony murder rule continues to cause injustice.

bullet image Also in the things-haven’t-changed category… Sandra Bland Marijuana Smear Is Another Cheap Trick of Racist Drug War

At a news conference discussing the preliminary findings of an autopsy following Bland’s alleged suicide at the Waller County Jail in Texas last week, officials placed heavy emphasis on marijuana reported to be found in the young woman’s system.

Why this emphasis? What does this have to do with widespread demands for accountability around the circumstances of her death? Are we expected to believe the not so subtle insinuation that marijuana use played a part?

bullet image In the category of “we wouldn’t have believed this 12 years ago…

[Via Press Release]: Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Measure Intended to Ensure Marijuana Businesses Have Access to Banking Services

The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, would prohibit the Treasury Department and its enforcement arm, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN, from using federal funds to punish banks that provide financial services to marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

See also: 10 Reasons Why Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition Is About to Go Up in Smoke

bullet image Or, how about this? A ‘Drugged Driver’ Who Wasn’t Avoids Prison in Pedestrian’s Death

Then something surprising happened. Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon, after carefully considering the facts of the case, decided to drop the felony charge. “There was no evidence whatsoever of impaired driving,” McMahon told the Daily Herald. “Her THC levels were zero. The metabolite was positive. A metabolite is not what impairs someone’s ability to drive.”

Baby steps, sometimes, but real change has been happening, and it appears that maybe…

bullet image Slowly but surely, the Western world is coming down from the hallucinatory war on drugs

Slowly but surely, the Western world is coming down from the hallucinatory war on drugs. Legalisation and regulation is safer for both users and society at large. One day we will look back with amazement at the idea of handing control of potentially-dangerous markets to the most lethal gangs on earth. These small steps in Derbyshire and Durham on cannabis are one more sign of progress towards a saner world.

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A fun app to test your own impairment

There’s a new app available for iOS and Android called Canary that lets you test whether or not you are in shape to drive. There’s an article about it here (though with some structural problems in the article).

It’s being connected with testing whether you’re too stoned to drive, but in reality it’s a basic test of impairment, whether from marijuana, alcohol, being too tired, or anything else.

I went ahead and downloaded it and have had fun checking it out. The four tests only take a couple minutes and really do seem to be aimed at determining if you are impaired.

First, a series of six numbers wander across the screen and twirl around one at a time. You must remember them and then properly enter the six digit number. You can’t continue until you succeed.

The second test uses the ability of the phone to detect movement. You stand still with one leg extended six inches. The test sees whether you can hold still without weaving.

Third is reaction time. A series of symbols flashes randomly across the screen and there’s one of them that you must touch every time it shows up (without touching the others).

Finally, it asks you to estimate when 20 seconds has passed.

At the end of the tests, it gives you a green, yellow, or red light based on your performance. You can also set a baseline so you can compare results against your own “sober” performance.

Of course, this is essentially the concept behind a normal field sobriety test, which determines whether you can carry out actual tasks that might be necessary to driving, rather than going on some kind of arbitrary measurement of what’s in your blood, breath, or urine that may have nothing to do with impairment.

I have this odd desire to try to get a red light on the app just to see how impaired I have to be…

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The next states?

Christopher Ingraham helps provide data for future speculation — These are the states that could legalize pot next


Click on the image to see it larger.

I’ve got to say, I really don’t understand Wisconsin. In general. The state that has Madison and Mazo Beach has so many contradictions. I spent every summer there growing up, and love the beauty of the state (and the cheese and brats), but the politics baffle me.

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An active U.S. President said what?

I have very little faith in politicians and none in Presidents, yet this is pretty amazing language to hear from a U.S. President who is still in office.

“Mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it.”

“For non-violent drug crimes, we need to lower long mandatory minimum sentences — or get rid of them entirely.”

“In too many cases, our criminal justice system ends up being a pipeline from underfunded, inadequate schools to overcrowded jails.”

That, along with commuting the prison sentences of 46 drug offenders (a drop in the bucket, but better than nothing) and it almost makes if feel like there’s a change in the wind…

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What about the children?

Teenagers using less marijuana in age of legalization

A new study published The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse has found that teens are using marijuana less frequently and are less attracted to it now that it is decriminalized or legalized at the state level.

The data challenges many assumptions about how changing cannabis laws may impact children.

Opponents of legalization often tout scientifically unsupported notions about teen marijuana use. […]

The study, conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, looked at data spanning from 2002 to 2013 in the federal National Home Survey on Drug Use and Health. They found that younger teens aged 12- to 14-years-old showed an impressive 25 percent decline in cannabis use from 6 percent in 2002 to 4.5 percent in 2013.

Older teens aged 15- to 17-years-old also showed a significant decline in use from 26 percent in 2002 down to 22 percent in 2013. […]

“These findings belie the myth that society must perpetuate a policy of criminalization and exaggeration in order to dissuade young people from experimenting with cannabis,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML and the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is objectively safer than either alcohol, tobacco, or many of the prescription drugs it could replace.” […]

Lying to kids has also been a very bad move. In 2009, the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania found that government funded anti-marijuana ads (remember the old eggs-in-the-frying-pan commercials?) actually made teens more likely to want to try a toke.

I guess when Grandpa’s smoking a bowl on the front porch, it’s less of a draw for the kiddies.

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The desire to eliminate

Sharing something I wrote for my Facebook friends…

The change of an era… This was the first week with the new rule where I work prohibiting smoking anywhere on campus. Now those who smoke have to either completely leave campus grounds whenever they want a cigarette, or be forced to sneak a drag behind a bush like some adolescent pot smoker.

I remember when I first came to campus, you could smoke in the buildings – not in classrooms per se (at least not during an actual class), but just about anywhere else – offices, break rooms, theatres… At the end of each day, they had to sweep up buckets full of cigarette butts from the floor of the coffee shop. When they finally stopped allowing smoking generally in the hallways (and restricted it to designated rooms), it took forever to get some of the students to stop doing it.

I’m glad there’s no longer smoking in public areas of public buildings. It makes sense.

But I confess that I’m a bit sad and discouraged when I see any kind of blanket prohibitions. Was it really that much of an inconvenience to non-smokers to allow some segregated outdoor locations where smoking could occur?
We have this tendency as a species to desire complete eradication of something we don’t like. Take those who are offended by nudity, for example. It’s not enough for them to have beaches where clothing is required so they can attend without fear of seeing a breast. No, they work to make clothing mandatory at EVERY beach, no matter how remote, even though they would never go there themselves.

This same drive has helped keep the drug war going despite its disastrous consequences. And it is behind the effort to attempt to deny gay people the same rights as others.

Of course the desire to blanket ban is often justified by the “do-gooders” as being their “concern” for the well-being of others. They just want to save others from sinning by being gay or naked, or from harming their health by smoking or doing drugs. Well who the fuck gave them that right?

If someone wants to educate me about what they think is bad for my soul or my lungs, that’s fine. I’ll listen and decide for myself what I want to do with that information. But when they want to force me to adhere to their beliefs, I’m not interested.

I know that smoking is harmful. And I’m glad I gave it up years ago. But I also have no regrets for those years that I was a smoker. God, I enjoyed it! I have great memories of sitting around an overflowing ashtray with a bunch of friends talking about… well, anything. Philosophy, movies, art, politics — OK, there may have been another kind of smoke involved as well. And I wouldn’t give those experiences up.

No, I don’t mind some time-and-place regulation of activities. But the drive to completely eliminate an activity because some people don’t like it, is, to me, a very ugly part of who we are.

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Researchers and journalists still challenged by the concept of causation

New analysis of smoking and schizophrenia suggests causal link

Sigh. Sound familiar? This time it’s about tobacco smoke, not marijuana, but the problem is still the same.

In research that turns on its head previous thinking about links between schizophrenia and smoking, scientists say they have found that cigarettes may be a causal factor in the development of psychosis.

After analysing almost 15,000 tobacco users and 273,000 non users and their relative rates of psychosis – where patients can experience delusions, paranoia and hear voices in their heads – the researchers said cigarette smoking appears to increase risk.

It’s the same bad reporting of research that happened with marijuana — and they even mention that they used to use the same argument with marijuana!

Previous studies, some by Murray, have also linked cannabis use to psychosis. But there is much debate about whether this is causal or whether there may be shared genes which predispose people to both cannabis use and schizophrenia.

McCabe said the new results on smoking suggest “it might even be possible that the real villain is tobacco, not cannabis” — since cannabis users often combine the drug with tobacco.

Once again, they’re using a research method that can only show correlation, not causation.

For this study, McCabe’s team analysed rates of smoking in people presenting with their first episode of psychosis and found that 57 per cent of these individuals were smokers.

People with a first episode of psychosis were three times more likely to be smokers than those in the control groups.

The problem is that we don’t know enough about psychosis to know whether there are internal proclivities that exist and can influence behavior before the first “episode” fully manifests.

Here’s how you would determine causation of psychosis:

  • Take a large control group of non-smokers.
  • Make a random half of them start smoking.
  • Follow both groups, and if the smoking group has a significantly higher incidence of psychosis, then you have a fairly good indication of causation.

Of course, such research isn’t possible.

The research that is being done is great, but it doesn’t indicate causality. However, if you want to get published in the press, you need to claim (or at least, imply) causality.

[Thanks, Daniel]

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Johann Hari’s Ted Talk

Those of you who have read Johann Hari’s outstanding book Chasing the Scream already have experienced most of this information, but Johann has just had a Ted Talk that is really outstanding.

This is a good one to share with folks, particularly those who have supported the drug war because of their concerns about addiction.

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

Johann Hari Ted Talk

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Declining prices is good news

The Cannabist reports: How much have Colorado marijuana prices dropped in 2015?

Since last June, the average price of an 1/8th ounce of recreational cannabis has dropped from $50-$70 to $30-$45 currently; an ounce now sells for between $250 and $300 on average compared to $300-$400 last year. More competition and expansion of grow facilities contributed to this price decline, but it is also a natural result for any maturing industry as dispensaries try to find the market’s equilibrium price.

This is good news. I know that there are some of the drug poicy “academics” who always seem to want prices pushed artificially high as a deterrent, but that’s a ridiculous way to look at the market.

It was certainly natural to expect high prices at the beginning as the industry was getting set up; this drop is now a good indication of the development of a healthy competitive market. Lower prices also make the black market less attractive and reduce the sense that legal cannabis is some kind of “elite” experience.

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