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July 2016
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The Lancet Commission

The Lancet is one of the oldest and best-known peer-reviewed medical journals. Occasionally they commission a group a scientists to prepare a detailed scientific analysis on a particular topic. In this case, they joined with John Hopkins and commissioned 22 experts to analyze Public Health and International Drug Policy, in advance of the United Nations special session (UNGASS) on drug policy next month.

The report is not an easy read at times – so much data and information — but it’s very thorough and it is a stinging scientific indictment of international drug policy. Check out part of the conclusion:

Policies meant to prohibit or greatly suppress drugs present an apparent paradox. They are portrayed by policy makers to be necessary to preserve public health and safety, and yet they directly and indirectly contribute to lethal violence, disease, discrimination, forced displacement, injustice, and the undermining of people’s right to health. The framers of international human rights law foresaw that there would be times, especially in the face of security threats, when some individual rights would have to be abrogated in favour of preserving collective safety and wellbeing. There is international consensus that if policies that abrogate rights are necessary for the greater good, those policies should pursue a legitimate and transparently defined goal and be proportionate to that goal, must be the least rights-restrictive and the least harmful possible to achieve the stated goal, should include adequate remedies for people whose rights are violated, and should not interfere with the democratic functioning of society.

In our view, policies pursuing drug prohibition or severe suppression do not meet these criteria, even if one accepts that drugs in and of themselves somehow present a serious security threat. Policies that pursue drug prohibition or heavy suppression do not represent the least harmful way to address drugs, the aim they pursue is not well defined or realistic, their interventions are not proportionate to the problem, they destabilize democratic societies, and people harmed by them often have no recourse to remedies to mitigate those harms. The scourge of drugs and the harms of drug use are exaggerated to justify these measures.

You can Public Health and International Drug Policyread the report yourself. Also, Jacob Sullum has more on the report.

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The continuing saga of stoned driving

The science has long been clear. Marijuana can cause impairment and driving while impaired by anything (lack of sleep, alcohol, texting, being angry) is not a good idea. However, the impairment caused my marijuana is only a fraction of the impairment caused by alcohol, and, while alcohol releases inhibitions and can make drivers more reckless, those who are stoned are more likely to be aware of their limitations and exercise additional caution. Treating the issue of marijuana impairment in driving as the same kind of problem as alcohol impairment is a disservice to safety on the highways. All this we know.

That doesn’t prevent people from still trying to pretend that legalization is going to cause a cataclysm on the highways.

So here’s yet another study that shows, once again, that marijuana isn’t the stuff of disaster films. The Real but Exaggerated Danger of Stoned Driving by Jacob Sullum.

But according to an analysis that’s about to be published by the journal Addiction, the increase in crash risk associated with marijuana use is roughly 20 percent to 30 percent, as opposed to the widely cited estimate of 92 percent.

That doesn’t stop lawmakers from going crazy.

Politicians are in such a panic about stoned driving that they are willing to endorse legislation they concede has no scientific basis—legislation that is bound to result in the conviction of innocent drivers who pose no threat to the public. Advocates of that policy simply assume that requiring proof of actual impairment, as Massachusetts currently does, is too demanding in the face of the increase in cannabis consumption they anticipate as a result of legalization. This response is unfair, premature, and disproportionate given what we actually know about marijuana’s impact on traffic safety.

And, of course, science doesn’t stop the absurd reefer madness theatre that constantly shows up.

Drugged driving suit aims to curb impaired driving

Being simultaneously high on pot, cocaine, heroin, MDMA and LSD is never a good combination, but the Ford Motor Company wants you to know that it’s particularly bad if you plan to get behind the wheel.

That’s the idea behind the automaker’s new “drugged driving suit,” an elaborate collection of weights, bandages, goggles and noisemakers that claims to simulate the physical effects of taking a variety of drugs. […]

But why show teen drivers the effects of so many different drugs at once instead of making a suit that focuses on one popular drug like marijuana or MDMA?

Drennan-Scace explained that it was all about logistics.

“If we’re showing just one drug, we would need to make a suit for every different type of drug,” he said.

“The research team decided it would be better to show (new drivers) the effects of different types of drugs in one suit, to get a feel for what it’s like.”


And once again, we see bad use of science used to justify that alcohol impairment is the same as other drug impairment.

“It shows them that getting behind the wheel, whether you’re drunk or you’re drugged, is a terrible idea,” said Ford of Canada spokesman Matt Drennan-Scace.

“Here in Canada in 2010, research showed that in 34 per cent of all accidents drugs were part of that accident. Thirty-nine per cent were alcohol, so it’s not that far off.”

Ah, that scientific term “part of.” Yeah, good stuff there, Matt.

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“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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.” – John Ehrlichman

Legalize it All by Dan Baum, Harpers Magazine

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The inevitable corruption of money when dealing with the powerless

Addicts For Sale

In the rehab capital of America, addicts are bought, sold, and stolen for their insurance policies, and many women are coerced into sex. […]

The people targeting them are variously called “marketers,” “body brokers,” and even “junkie hunters.” They know addicts better than anyone (and many used to be addicts themselves). They spot kids dragging suitcases along the road and ask them if they need a place to go. […]

In South Florida’s Delray Beach, home to hundreds of rehab facilities and halfway houses, scams abound to profit off of addicts and their insurance policies. The recent uptick in addicts adds energy to the hurricane, but the biggest driving force for the fraud is Obamacare and the 2008 Parity Act, which together give everyone access to private insurance that’s legally bound to pay for rehab. “Marketers” act like headhunters, picking up addicts when they’re down, then bringing them to rehab centers and halfway houses for a fee — usually about $500 per head.

Private Prisons Fight Back

While state and federal prison statistics show a recent decline in the number of Americans who are behind bars, there are still roughly 5 million people under correctional supervision. Many more are in rehab and mental-health hospitals, while hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are shuffled through detention centers – potentially big markets for private facilities. So the correctional industry is diversifying. “The scope of how big this is hasn’t even been anywhere near made clear,” says Caroline Isaacs, who closely tracks the private-prison industry for the American Friends Service Committee, an advocacy group that opposes corrections privatization. […]

Though the services may be evolving, the concerns remain much the same. As with many for-profit entities, the top priority is the bottom line, which is often at odds with the purpose of community corrections. Rehabilitation – whether in a prison or half-way house – is not typically in the operator’s best interest, because that means fewer clients.

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The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNODC) is now in its 59th session (through March 22). This session is partly in preparation for the major UNGASS 2016 (United Nations General Assembly Special Session) next month that will be focusing on international drug policy.

You can follow along a bit with the CND2016 by reading the various draft resolutions, etc. here.

Also, CND Blog does a great job of following (and in many cases transcribing) the activities.

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Replacing Scalia

So, President Obama announced his nominee for the Supreme Court this morning. As many have noted, it’s likely that a lot of the decision as to who was nominated was political, to shame the Republicans who refuse to even hold hearings on the nomination by nominating someone that they shouldn’t have a problem with, and then use their refusal against them in the November elections.

It’s possible, then to consider that there’s no real intention that this candidate is actually a possibility for the court. But still, I feel it’s important to look at them as if they would be. Here’s my quick reaction that I posted on Facebook:

Well, I’m disappointed with the nomination of Merrick Garland. Not really surprised that this would be the general direction the President would go, but disappointed. Garland is brilliant and certainly qualified. He is a moderate centrist with the potential for helping sway the more conservative members of the bench away from the extremes. And he’s generally left of Scalia. He has a pretty broad view of the First Amendment, which I like, but my biggest concern is in criminal justice issues.

Judge Garland spent much of his career working for the government — in the Justice Department and for prosecutors. I would really like to see someone on the Court who has more experience working for the people – someone who knows what it’s like to be a defense attorney, for example. And this has been demonstrated in his decisions on the bench where he has consistently gone against his liberal colleagues in providing deference to the government in criminal justice cases.

Garland has also regularly showed extreme deference to government agencies. According to ScotusBlog, “In a dozen close cases in which the court divided, he sided with the agency every time.” This, again, is a concern to me as I view part of the critical function of the Supreme Court to be one of the checks and balances of government, not an extension of the Executive Branch. But, of course, I’m not surprised, as President Obama has consistently pushed hard against any judicial oversight of the decisions of the Executive.

Merrick Garland will be a good jurist if he is confirmed. But at a time in our nation when we are desperately in need of critical criminal justice reform, it’s unlikely that his addition to the court will in any way help us move in that direction. And with a completely dysfunctional Congress and a reticent (and sometime hostile) Executive Branch, that would leave it entirely to the people to continue the hard slogging away at grass-roots reform.

As a side note, the President made a pretty serious gaffe for a constitutional lawyer when he said,

“Merrick Garland would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.” —@POTUS #SCOTUSnominee

Again, some speculate that this was merely tossing red meat to the law-and-order crowd, but it’s a pretty insensitive comment to make when criminal justice reform is such an important topic.

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Don’t worry. We’re just using it to fight terrorists…

I know this was already mentioned in comments, but feel it’s worth highlighting. Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.

I’ve been writing about this since 2003 here at Drug — how the powers sought by the government ostensibly for going after terrorists would always ultimately be used to take away the basic rights of ordinary citizens.

This is why we must always be vigilant and not be taken in by appeals to safety by law enforcement groups seeking more access to private information.

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Open Thread

Just got back from a week in New York as tour guide for a wonderful group of students, and saw some great shows, including Smokefall, Nice Fish, Fun Home, Hamilton, and Eclipsed. Beautiful weather and we saw a lot of the city, including going all the way out to Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

Haven’t had time to catch up with drug policy developments yet.

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No surprises here

Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post: Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn’t

The latest data from the U.S. Border Patrol shows that last year, marijuana seizures along the southwest border tumbled to their lowest level in at least a decade. Agents snagged roughly 1.5 million pounds of marijuana at the border, down from a peak of nearly 4 million pounds in 2009. […]

The data supports the many stories about the difficulties marijuana growers in Mexico face in light of increased competition from the north. As domestic marijuana production has ramped up in places such as California, Colorado and Washington, marijuana prices have fallen, especially at the bulk level. […]

And it’s not just price — Mexican growers are facing pressure on quality, too. “The quality of marijuana produced in Mexico and the Caribbean is thought to be inferior to the marijuana produced domestically in the United States or in Canada,” the DEA wrote last year in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. “Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican cartels are attempting to produce higher-quality marijuana to keep up with U.S. demand.”

Vice News: Iran Is About to Execute Another 100 Prisoners for Drug Offenses

Such wide-scale bloodletting has increased revulsion at the international community’s complicity. Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at the UK-based human rights organization Reprieve, called the planned mass execution at Ghezel Hessar “the one tangible return on the UN’s investment in Iranian drug raids.”

“Iran’s spree of drug-related hangings is based on unfair trials and force ‘confessions,’ and its main victims are innocent scapegoats and vulnerable people who’ve been exploited as drug mules,” Foa said in a statement.

Iran’s penchant for putting drug offenders to death hasn’t dampened the UNODC’s enthusiasm for the country’s role in the drug fight.

Also from Christopher Ingraham: Donald Trump’s drug policy is an alarming throwback to the 1980s

Trump’s promise to prevent drugs from entering the country in the first place is a throwback to the drug war policies of previous decades. This may be no accident. He recently sought drug policy advice from William J. Bennett and discussed the heroin epidemic with him.

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Website adjustments

The site had a bit of a meltdown for awhile today as several plug-ins suddenly stopped working correctly. Plug-ins are third-party additions to WordPress that allow additional functionality in the blog, and we use a number of them. Sometimes you find a good one and start using it, but the developer of it doesn’t keep updating it, and it becomes incompatible when there is a routine upgrade of the core WordPress software.

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened today. I’ve had to deactivate comment ratings (as that one had gone completely haywire), along with a couple of others that affect how I write posts (but shouldn’t affect user experience).

Please let me know if anything else stops working correctly. In the meantime, I’ll look for a replacement for the comment rating system, but it may be awhile. I’m getting ready to take students to New York for a week.

Consider this an open thread.

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