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August 2015
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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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Beginner’s Guide

Regulars to DrugWarRant tend to be so well informed about the drug war and drug policy reform that it can be difficult to know where to start when talking to someone who is not knowledgeable.

The excellent Transform has a useful post: A beginner’s guide to prohibition and the war on drugs — it’s the war on drugs in a nutshell on one page.

It’s an extract from their publication: Ending the War on Drugs: How to Win the Global Drug Policy Debate, which has tons of useful material for engaging in debate.

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Celebrations in Oregon

Yes, marijuana is now legal in Oregon.

Hundreds celebrate marijuana’s new legal status in Oregon

Each state that gets added to the mix increases the validity of legalization, adds more evidence to the non-problematic nature of legalization, and reduces the perception of legal states functioning as “pot tourism” locations, making it then easier for more states to consider it.

It would be nice to have it reach Illinois.

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Former judge takes on the drug war

Federal Judge: My Drug War Sentences Were ‘Unfair and Disproportionate’

Former Federal Judge Nancy Gertner was appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton in 1994. She presided over trials for 17 years. And Sunday, she stood before a crowd at The Aspen Ideas Festival to denounce most punishments that she imposed.

Among 500 sanctions that she handed down, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,” she said. “I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty to write about those stories––to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy.”

No theory of retribution or social change could justify them, she said. And that dispiriting conclusion inspired the radical idea that she presented: a call for the U.S. to mimic its decision after World War II to look to the future and rebuild rather than trying to punish or seek retribution. As she sees it, the War on Drugs ought to end in that same spirit. “Although we were not remotely the victors of that war, we need a big idea in order to deal with those who were its victims,” she said, calling for something like a Marshall Plan.

She went on to savage the War on Drugs at greater length.

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Don Winslow writes a letter

Best-selling author Don Winslow took out a full page ad in the Washington Post yesterday as an open letter to Congress and the President: “It’s Time to Legalize Drugs.”

Let me come right our and say what you won’t tell
the American people. The War on Drugs is unwinnable.
It was unwinnable for Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan,
Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama. At forty-four years,
it’s America’s longest war and there’s no end in sight.

The people who benefit most from the War on Drugs are the traffickers. Every dollar we spend on drugs and every dollar we spend trying to interdict them raises the profits of the Mexican cartels and makes them more powerful.

So in the very act of fighting this war, we lose it.

Cops standing in front of big drug seizures look great on the evening news. But it sells a lie that we’re winning, just like George Bush on an aircraft carrier declaring that a war was over that still rages on today.

It’s not only that we can’t win this war, it’s that we’re destroying ourselves fighting it. We are literally addicted to the War on Drugs. A half-century of failed policy, $1 trillion, and 45 million arrests has not reduced daily drug use—at all. The U.S. still leads the world in illegal drug consumption, drugs are cheaper, more available, and more potent than ever before.

Our justice system is a junkie, demanding its daily fix of arrests, seizures and convictions. It needs drugs. It’s as hooked as that guy sticking a needle into his arm even though he knows it’s killing him.

It continues on, with lots of good material, and ends with:

How much more money do we have to waste, how many more families have to be destroyed, how many more people have to be killed before you summon the courage to tell the truth to the American people?

The War on Drugs is not only futile, it is wrong.

The answer is legalization.

The only way to win is to stop fighting.

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Driving simulator study – will we get science or junk science?

I’ve been waiting to hear about Iowa driving simulator studies for a while now.

Time reports: How Much Does Marijuana Impact Your Driving?

The researchers looked at 250 parameters of driving ability, but this paper focused on three in particular: weaving within the lane, the number of times the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. While alcohol had an effect on the number of times the car left the lane and the speed of the weaving, marijuana did not. Marijuana did show an increase in weaving. Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, showed increase weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states.

The fact that this paper focused on three of the 250 parameters of driving ability means that we’ll probably be getting a lot more of these in the future.

The concern to me is not learning actual science, but more often how the science is presented or skewed (junk science). I don’t doubt that the science at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa is rigorous. But I do have concerns about how it will be used, particularly based on the agenda of its funder (NIDA) and its lead researcher (Marilyn Huestis).

So, basically, this particular paper looked at SDLP (standard deviations of lateral position) and concluded that cannabis didn’t have nearly the effect of alcohol, even at fairly high levels, and yet, according to the researcher:

Huestis believes that the 5 ug/L limit is not strict enough, particularly when you take into account those with low tolerance.

Of course, also not mentioned in the article is a small point that was brought up in the study:

“SDLP is not directly validated to predict crash risk”

Ah, yes. SDLP results don’t necessarily equate to unsafe driving. It is simply an interesting variable worth looking at. That didn’t, however, stop the researcher from giving the opinion that marijuana driving laws are too lax. We’re likely to get a lot of that.

I remember when I first heard about the long-term simulator study in Iowa: University of Iowa testing effects of pot on drivers (the date of the article online wrong, it was actually September 9, 2012). I wrote to Marilyn Huestis back then, but never got a response.

What I wanted to know was whether the simulator would assess actual overall safety of driving or whether it would simply focus on elements of driving that were different. For example, stoned drivers are known to slow down because they tend to be aware of their condition (much more so than those on alcohol), but a simulator test could well interpret that caution as failure.

Based on the first results to come from the simulator, I think we have our answer.

I had additional concerns about Huestis based on this article back in 2013:

While the majority of scientists say the effects of marijuana dissipate relatively quickly, Huestis reports that both THC and impaired performance linger in the brains of daily users for weeks after their last puff. The chronic users Huestis observed were still excreting THC from their tissues even after a month of abstinence, and did not respond as well as the control group in psychomotor and divided attention tasks.

“Individuals may say they haven’t used cannabis in a day, a week, whatever—but guess what? Your brain is still recovering and changing from that abstinence,” said Huestis in a phone interview. “Some people might ask what that has to do with real driving ability. Well, now we have data to show that it affects psychomotor impairment.”
Huestis sees support for her work in several studies done throughout Europe, and Australia, but to those familiar with the bulk of the literature, Huestis’s claims have left many shaking their heads—especially considering the influence it would have on policy.

According to Heustis’s conclusions, all regular cannabis consumers—including patients who have demonstrated a medical necessity—would automatically become a traffic risk in the eyes of the law even after weeks of abstinence.

Yeah, that’s not someone I trust to present cannabis-related science fairly.

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More churches look toward ending the war on drugs

My father is a retired minister in the United Methodist church, so I was very pleased to see this new resolution from the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist church…

Our United Methodist Book of Discipline charges us to seek restorative, not punitive, justice. Specifically, it states,

In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole. Restorative justice grows out of biblical authority, which emphasizes a right relationship with God, self and community. When such relationships are violated or broken through crime, opportunities are created to make things right. (BOD PP164, H)

To that end, we offer the following resolution as an appeal to end the so-called “War on Drugs.”

Whereas: The public policy of prohibition of certain narcotics and psychoactive substances, sometimes called the “War on Drugs,” has failed to achieve the goal of eliminating, or even reducing, substance abuse and;

Whereas: There have been a large number of unintentional negative consequences as a result of this failed public policy and;

Whereas: One of those consequences is a huge and violent criminal enterprise that has sprung up surrounding the Underground Market dealing in these prohibited substances and;

Whereas: Many lives have been lost as a result of the violence surrounding this criminal enterprise, including innocent citizens and police officers and;

Whereas: Many more lives have been lost to overdose because there is no regulation of potency, purity or adulteration in the production of illicit drugs and;

Whereas: Our court system has been severely degraded due to the overload caused by prohibition cases and;

Whereas: Our prisons are overcrowded with persons, many of whom are non-violent, convicted of violation of the prohibition laws and;

Whereas: Many of our citizens now suffer from serious diseases, contracted through the use of unsanitary needles, which now threaten our population at large and;

Whereas: To people of color, the “War on Drugs” has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional social policy since slavery and;

Whereas: Huge sums of our national treasury are wasted on this failed public policy and;

Whereas: Other countries, such as Portugal and Switzerland, have dramatically reduced the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by utilizing means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse and;

Whereas: The primary mission of our criminal justice system is to prevent violence to our citizens and their property, and to ensure their safety, therefore;

Be it Resolved: That the New England Annual Conference supports seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse; and is further resolved to support the mission of the international educational organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition.

Big shout-out to LEAP for their work in this area.

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