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DrugWarRant.com, the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
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October 2021
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“What I do with my body is my business.” – Washington State Patrol veteran Barbara Werner, talking about the COVID-19 vaccination.

Hmmm…

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Positive news from the mess

Amid a Labor Shortage, Companies Are Eliminating Drug Tests. It’s a Trend That Could Create More Equitable Workplaces

A growing number of companies are eliminating workplace drug testing to attract and retain workers amid a global labor shortage […] Vice reported last month that 9% of more than 45,000 employers worldwide are eliminating job screenings or drug tests as an incentive to “attract and retain in-demand talent,” according to a recent study conducted by staffing firm ManpowerGroup. That equates to around 4,050 employers, in 43 countries, that are no longer disciplining or dismissing employees for recreational drug use.

It’s about time.

“Mandatory drug testing isn’t based on suspicion or unprofessional behavior,” says Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But a positive test can still cost the person their job, even if the use was legal, or for a medical purpose, or took place days or weeks earlier and doesn’t actually impact job performance.”

Of course, we’ve been saying that here for years. And the really good companies realized that and haven’t been drug testing. But way too many fell for the unsupported hype (and outright lies) that drug testing gets you better employees. More often, a company policy of drug testing was a sign of a lack of competent personnel management within the company.

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The dope on Mexico’s drug war

Benjamin T. Smith’s new book The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug War is a peculiar yet all too familiar account of illicit drugs south of the border.

Smith’s depiction reveals a drug war fostered by the conclusion of the First Transcontinental Railroad project. Rather than being offered railway construction jobs, newly arriving Chinese were rudely barred from entry at the border by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. By 1906, many Chinese immigrants had chosen to settle in Mexico where they faced hostile cultural or racial stereotyping and discrimination.

Forced to adapt and savvy to the manufacturing trades, enterprising Chinese immigrant farmers grew opium poppies. Opium sales financed upstarts of legal businesses. When marijuana, cocaine, opium, and heroin were made illegal or controlled in Mexico in 1917, nearly everyone wanted to get into the act of selling drugs, and by the 1920s many did. The illegal drug trade also became a platform for other types of crime, like kidnapping. As history would have it, the drug profession south of the border was largely restricted to wealthy elites, otherwise legitimate business people, politicians, law enforcement, the military—the usual cast of characters who exploit the poor and who can be found operating in Mexico’s current drug trafficking industry.

Harry J Anslinger’s marriage into the wealthy Mellon banking family was a move that rebuilt his political image. He began as a minor and ineffective bureaucrat in 1931, only to emerge as a monumentally huge and distasteful bureaucrat when he helped craft the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

By the time Anslinger crawled out from beneath his rock, superrich Mexican drug lords had been knocking each other off Hollywood-style for two decades. Anslinger, always the opportunist, used the situation in Mexico to turn the fledgling and domestically limited Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) into an agency that could reach out internationally. All the newly hired bureaucrats hailed him. All the hype and reefer madness, all the outbursts of mythical deadly violence or insanity blamed on ditch weed originated first in Mexico—not from the mind of Harry Anslinger (Hank, to his friends).

Enter the CIA. Mexico was of interest to the agency because it viewed it as a buffer zone that could be shaped and manipulated to thwart Communist movements emanating from various parts of Central and South America. The drug war made resisting Communism, socialism, liberalism, modernism, intellectualism, science, and democracy comparable to a walk in the park. It provided an excuse for US government agents to operate on foreign soil. The scheme was a profitable way to control Mexico’s economy and inhabitants. Other than drugs, among the most highly valued parts of Mexico’s economy are still oil, gas, and mining resources.

Systemic drug war graft is useful. It facilitates indirect and unofficial payments of bribes to foreign officials using only drug merchants’ cash. Joyful cooperation with US economic interests is assured. The drug war machine is designed to be the government’s ultimate inconvenience, a scapegoating mechanism that justifies its own existence by subjecting Mexico and other countries to an organized misery that undermines chances for a better quality of life.

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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.

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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.

Yep.

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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.

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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?

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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).

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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

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Great headline

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

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