Later On

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Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category

He got life without parole for pot. And he was just denied clemency.

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US drug laws need serious reshaping. Tana Ganeva reports in the Washington Post:

Ferrell Scott was sentenced to life in prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a drug that’s now legal in many states and turning a handsome profit for the (primarily white) pot industry. Scott, like many nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences, is black. Without any chance at parole, despite an exemplary behavior record, he appealed to President Obama for clemency. He found out that his bid for clemency had been denied when he got an email about “bad news” from a friend. Thinking something bad had happened to his 93-year-old mother, he called home. His daughter answered, crying, and told him the news.

“She cried like a baby and she was telling me that she didn’t know what she was supposed to do now. Couldn’t understand it,” Scott tells The Watch in a phone interview.

“Why haven’t I been contacted? I hope this is a mistake. My God I’m f—–!” he wrote to Amy Povah, who runs CAN-DO, an advocacy group for prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

It’s not a mistake. His name is on the list of clemency denials published on the Justice Department’s website on Tuesday.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do, what’s gonna happen,” Scott says. “Well, I kind of know what’s going to happen. I’m going to be here for the rest of my life. I don’t know, man, I’m so depressed and shaken. I honestly thought I would get it.” Scott then brings up a good point: Obama has admitted to using the drug that landed Scott in prison for life.

The list of prisoners denied clemency is headlined “COMMUTATIONS DENIED BY PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA.” But that language, which suggests that the president personally reviewed each prisoner’s petition and decided that it was not deserving of a shorter sentence, isn’t accurate.

Obama doesn’t look at each petition. Rather, he sees (at most) the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney and then the White House counsel. The pardons office also often seeks input from the prosecutor’s office that led the initial trials. And while criminal-justice advocates have praised Obama for commuting the sentences of a record number of prisoners — more than 1,000 — some advocates say the decision-making process is too arbitrary and slow.

Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor who worked in Detroit in the 1990s and is now a leading advocate for “sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity,” tells The Watch that the problem lies in the process, which he says is long and inefficient. “It’s not like everyone sits down and decides together. It’s a bunch of different people in different offices, they all have different perspectives. Even a minor failure at any of those steps and everything grinds to a halt.”

“The program is embedded in the DOJ, which is a building full of prosecutors,” he says, and as a former prosecutor, Osler can tell you it’s not a profession that encourages self-reflection over past mistakes. The winding process can thwart even the best presidential intentions. “Obama clearly cared about the project of clemency, a fact that was reflected in the letter he sent to each clemency recipient,” Osler wrote in a paper published this year, “Given that interest, one wonders why his administration was so slow to take up a significant number of clemency cases. The answer, very likely, lies in the layers of redundant bureaucracy.”

Craig Cesal is another marijuana lifer who just found out his clemency was denied. “My crime was that my truck repair business in Chicago fixed trucks operated by a Florida long-haul trucking company whose drivers trafficked marijuana in the south,” he writes to The Watch. He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and after a nightmarish plea process detailed here, the government pulled its offer. So he got life.

Cesal suspects that his clemency was denied because of a bogus motion filed in a Georgia court. Since presidential clemency is supposed to be a last resort, Cesal thinks that at some point in the process, someone saw there were ongoing court proceedings over his case and dismissed his application for clemency.

Other prisoners previously interviewed by The Watch were shocked when they found out they weren’t granted a commutation — as have the people advocating on their behalf.

U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett called the sentence he was forced to give to Lori Kavitz for a nonviolent drug offense “idiotic” at the time, and has written a letter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney begging for her release. Kavitz is still in prison. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 10:25 am

Using Ecstasy to treat PTSD: ‘I felt like my soul snapped back into place’

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Another drug shows great therapeutic promise, reported at PBS by Caleb Hellerman:

In nearly a decade trying to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by childhood abuse, Jessi Appleton compiled a medical chart that reads like a Chinese restaurant menu. Biofeedback. Neurofeedback. Anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety medication. She tried a popular treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), where she spent hours letting her gaze follow a therapist’s hand as it moved through carefully prescribed patterns. She tried another gaze-based therapy, called brainspotting.

“EMDR helped the most, but I was hitting a wall,” says Appleton. “I was suicidal. I was like this ghost sort of thing, walking through life. And I felt like nothing was going to change.”

Then she tried a new experimental treatment: therapy under the influence of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy. Her therapist suggested she sign up to be part of a pilot study. After three sessions, she said, “I felt like my soul snapped back into place.”

Appleton, 32, was treated in Boulder, Colorado, in a study arranged and funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an organization that has long pursued a strategy of supporting rigorous scientific research into otherwise illegal drugs.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the treatment an important boost, when agency officials met with officials from MAPS to start clearing the way for one or more large-scale research studies. According to Rick Doblin, MAPS’ founder and executive director, officials with the FDA’s Division of Psychiatry Products will not require additional studies prior to launching a Phase 3 trial, a critical round of testing that determines whether a medical treatment can be approved for widespread use.

“It was a very collaborative discussion, in light of the need to develop new treatments for PTSD for veterans and others,” Doblin says. “They recognize that this is a novel treatment, combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, and there’s nothing else like it right now.”

The FDA says that federal law and internal regulations prohibit the agency from commenting on studies about pending applications or drugs still in development.

Details will be worked out over the next several months, but Doblin says that Phase 3 is likely to include at least 230 patients treated at roughly a dozen sites around the country.

Doblin and Appleton’s lead therapist, psychotherapist Marcela Ot’alora, say the therapy component is crucial. After a handful of preparatory meetings, the patient takes the drug under the watchful eyes of a two-person treatment team — almost always a man and a woman. Across studies, the dosage varies, but it is typically between 75 and 125mg, enough to trigger a strong experience. Like others, Appleton wore eyeshades and spent several hours lying back on a small couch, mostly in silence.

“It’s a lot of inner dialogue,” Appleton recalls. “Sometimes you’re terrified, sometimes relaxed, sometimes it’s other emotions. It’s intense, and by the end it’s exhausting.”

Ot’alora says her role is mostly supportive. Echoing Appleton’s description, she says the drug seems to help patients let go of their inner critic, or inner demons. “That part of you becomes a witness, saying, ‘This is what’s happening to you, this is what happened to you and this is how it felt.’ It’s very matter of fact.” . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 12:45 pm

Magic mushrooms ease anxiety and depression in cancer patients in one dose

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Melissa Healy reports the good news in the LA Times:

In findings that could pry open a door closed for nearly half a century, researchers have found that psilocybin — a hallucinogen long used in traditional healing rituals — eases the depression and soothes the anxiety of patients contending with serious illness and the prospect of imminent death.

In two separate studies published Thursday, researchers report that trial subjects who received a single moderate-to-large dose of psilocybin got substantial and lasting relief from their profound distress. Among 80 cancer patients who participated in the two trials, as many as 4 in 5 continued to feel measurably less hopeless and demoralized six months after taking the drug than they had upon their recruitment.

And even years later, many reported they had gained — and retained — a profound sense of peace and meaning from the experience. Of 29 cancer patients who got psilocybin in a trial conducted at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, 20 rated it as “among the most meaningful” events of their life.

“This drug saved my life and changed my life,” said Dinah Bazer, a Brooklyn, N.Y., woman who was administered a single dose of psilocybin at a New York treatment center in 2011.

In the wake of treatment for ovarian cancer, Bazer said, her anxiety at the prospect of its return was “eating her alive.” Under the influence of a single high dose of psilocybin, Bazer said Wednesday, she became “volcanically angry” as she visualized her cancer as a dark mass bearing down on her. With an epithet, she then saw herself throwing it off.

“I was bathed in God’s love” for hours after that, said Bazer, who describes herself as an atheist. When the psilocybin’s hallucinatory effects wore off, she said, two years of intense anxiety were simply gone.

“This is a groundbreaking result,” said Dr. George Greer, medical director of the Heffter Research Institute, the nonprofit organization that funded the two trials.

Greer suggested that the “existential anxiety” of the terminally ill is only one of many conditions that psilocybin may one day treat. Others may include treatment-resistant depression, addiction to cocaine, alcohol or tobacco, obsessive-compulsive disorder and “demoralization” in long-term survivors of HIV, he said.

Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist Dr. Roland R. Griffiths, the lead author of one of the two studies, said the enduring relief provided by a single dose of psilocybin makes such treatment more akin to surgery than it does to the plodding, labor-intensive treatments that remain the mainstay of his profession.

“I really don’t think we have any models in psychiatry that look like” the effects demonstrated in the two trials, said Griffiths. “Something occurs and it’s repaired and it’s better going forward … very plausibly for more than six months,” he added. “In that sense it’s a new model.”

The publication of the two early trials, in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, marks an American return to research on the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs after a hiatus of 50 years.

In the 1950s and ’60s, hallucinogenic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide — LSD — and psilocybin, which is found naturally in certain mushrooms, were widely used in U.S. biomedical research and in psychotherapy practices. But in 1966, as the psychedelic drugs gained a broad counterculture following in the United States, the U.S. government declared any use of the drugs illegal. By the 1970s, that ended all American research on their potential therapeutic benefits.

In recent years, a small clutch of American researchers, including the authors of the two new papers, have argued that such prohibitions might be preventing the discovery of better treatments for widespread and pressing psychiatric problems, including depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With PTSD epidemic among U.S. combat veterans and drug addiction a national scourge, American officials have indicated a new willingness to allow research to proceed on psychedelic and other drugs long classified as having no legitimate medical use.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration gave its blessing to conducting large-scale clinical trials of an experimental medication  — 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — better known as the party drug ecstasy.

Like LSD and psilocybin, ecstasy appears to hold promise as an adjunct to psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD. If the resulting Phase 3 trials of ecstasy demonstrate their effectiveness, the next step could be FDA approval of ecstasy as a prescription drug. . .

Continue reading.

The War on Drugs that Nixon initiated (against the advice of a presidential commission he formed) has done incalculable damage and blocked for decades the discovery of the benefits the drugs might bring. And I fear with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General we in for a big regression.

Later in the column:

In one of the trials, researchers used a very low dose of psilocybin, much lower than that required to induce hallucinations, as a placebo. In the other, they used the dietary supplement niacin. In each trial, all of the subjects got a high dose of psilocybin in one of two sessions. So all, in the end, experienced the full effects of the drug.

All subjects in both trials had been diagnosed with cancer, and with “existential anxiety or depression” resulting from the illness and the likelihood of an early death. Participants were extensively prepared for the expected effects of the psilocybin. To minimize adverse reactions, researchers closely monitored the subjects while they were under the influence of the drug or the placebo. Afterwards, psychotherapists encouraged the subjects to write down and reflect upon the experience.

Immediately after, as well as five weeks after their first session, subjects who got the psilocybin first looked much better than did those who got the placebo first. A wide range of standardized measures of depression, anxiety and quality of life showed that these subjects were less hopeless, less demoralized and less anxious.

Six months out, 87% of those in the trial conducted at New York University/Langone reported their life satisfaction and/or well-being had been improved by the experience. In the larger of the two trials, conducted at Johns Hopkins University, psilocybin produced “large and significant … increases in measures of quality of life, life meaning, death acceptance, and optimism” — effects that “were sustained at six months.”

Psilocybin’s side effects, meanwhile, were pretty tame. In the two trials, about 15% of subjects experienced nausea or vomiting when getting a high dose, and about 1 in 3 experienced some form of transient psychological discomfort. Many subjects’ heart rates and blood pressure rose, but none to a dangerous extent.

The potential use of psilocybin in patients diagnosed with life-threatening diseases comes at a moment when medical care at the end of life is a subject of growing concern among patients and physicians. Research finds it’s still common for dying patients to get painful and futile procedures. Palliative and hospice care, both aimed at easing the discomfort of the seriously ill, are growing specialties in American hospitals. An increasing number of patients, meanwhile, are demanding the right to die with a physician’s help.

As states debate these physician-assisted suicide bills, they should consider the implications of finding an effective treatment for the “existential distress” of the dying, said Dr. Craig D. Blinderman, a palliative care specialist at Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital.

And there’s a lot more. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 10:47 am

The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices

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Sarah Kliff has an excellent article in Vox that explains exactly when the US prescription drug prices are out of control and why prescription drug prices in other countries are much more reasonable. (It’s due to different government approaches and roles.) The article is copiously illustrated with stick figures, and it begins:

Let’s say you’re at the doctor. And the doctor hands you a prescription.

The prescription is for Humira, an injectable medication used to treat a lot of common conditions like arthritis and psoriasis. Humira is an especially popular medication right now. In 2015, patients all around the world spent $14 billion on Humira prescriptions — that’s roughly the size of Jamaica’s entire economy.

Let’s say your doctor appointment is happening in the United Kingdom. There, your Humira prescription will cost, on average, $1,362. If you’re seeing a doctor in Switzerland, the drug runs around $822.

But if you’re seeing a doctor in the United States, your Humira prescription will, on average, run you $2,669.

How does this happen? Why does Humira cost so much more here than it does in other countries?

Humira is the exact same drug whether it’s sold in the United States, in Switzerland, or anywhere else. What’s different about Humira in the United States is the regulatory system we’ve set up around our pharmaceutical industry.

The United States is exceptional in that it does not regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market. Other countries will task a government agency to meet with pharmaceutical companies and haggle over an appropriate price. These agencies will typically make decisions about whether these new drugs represent any improvement over the old drugs — whether they’re even worth bringing onto the market in the first place. They’ll pore over reams of evidence about drugs’ risks and benefits. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing.

The US system is badly out of whack. To see how badly, take a look at this BBC article by Greg Dunlop, which begins:

US executive Martin Shkreli became a symbol of greed when he raised the price of a tablet of Daraprim from $13.50 (£11) to $750.

Now, Sydney school students have recreated the drug’s key ingredient for just $20.

Read the whole thing. It’s short.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 3:16 pm

How Idaho’s Drug Warriors Crushed Hope in Epileptic Kids

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Eric Boehm reports in Reason:

In December 2014, Josh Phillips’ mother answered the phone to news no parent wants to hear. Her son, an epileptic high school senior and champion wrestler, was in the hospital.

The whole Salmon High School wrestling team was waiting at Steele Memorial Medical Center when Jeanette and Gary Phillips got there. The team had been on its way home from a match at West Jefferson High, more than an hour away and out of cellphone range in the rugged backcountry of northeastern Idaho, when Josh Phillips suffered the worst seizure of his life.

As the bus raced back to Salmon, Josh went in and out of consciousness. He stopped breathing at least once.

“We thought we were going to lose him,” recalls Jason Bruce, the team’s coach.

Josh had been diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 10 years old, but he’d been wrestling since he was much younger, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. Josh was the best of the bunch. He’d never been pinned during his four years at Salmon High, and Bruce says Josh was a clear favorite to win the state championship at the end of his senior season.

He never got the chance.

After a frantic drive through the mountains, Bruce was finally able to call an ambulance to meet the bus and Josh made it to the hospital where he was stabilized. But the incident on the bus forced the school’s hand, and the decision was made that Josh would no longer be allowed to travel with the team. It was too dangerous.

Now, instead of dreaming of a championship, Josh is just hoping for a normal life. He’s tried more than a dozen different medications and even underwent brain surgery. But the seizures that denied him a shot at a state title now prevent him from pursuing even the most mundane goals of the average 19-year-old. He can’t go to college and probably won’t be able to move out of his parents’ house. He’s not allowed to drive a car, and won’t get permission until he can show doctors that he’s having less than one seizure per month.

With pharmaceutical and surgical treatments unsuccessful, the Phillips family and others in Idaho placed their hopes in the legalization of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, a form of medical marijuana. Though not guaranteed to work for everyone, CBD has been shown to be effective in controlling seizures in some epileptic patients. For that reason, it’s been legalized in dozens of states as a medical treatment, including many states where more widespread uses of medical marijuana remain banned.

In Idaho, a bill to allow people like Josh Phillips to access CBD oil was passed by the state legislature in 2015, only to be defeated by a group of powerful special interests—including cops, prosecutors, and pharmaceutical companies—with direct access to policy makers in Boise. Emails obtained by Reason reveal a behind-the-scenes effort organized by the state’s Office of Drug Policy to derail the CBD legislation and, after it passed against the wishes of Gov. Butch Otter and his administration, to use executive authority to replace the bill with an alternative treatment program that has done nothing to help Josh Phillips or many other Idahoans suffering from seizures.

In the middle of it all was a governor who had for years professed support for ending drug prohibition, only to turn his back when the opportunity came.

Nearly 20 years before Josh Phillips was born, Clement Leroy “Butch” Otter was already pushing for marijuana to be legalized in Idaho.

In 1978, the future governor was a 35-year-old two-term state lawmaker who was running as something of a radical upstart in the state’s gubernatorial election.

“If a person, of his own free will, wants to use marijuana, I question whether the government has any propriety in telling him he can’t,” Otter told Reason that year. “The government, in effect, is taking away the only real gift the Lord gave us.”

Intentionally or not, Otter was suggesting that socially permissive policy choices were compatible with—and perhaps even logically following from—a worldview informed by Christian religious tradition. Free will demands that people be allowed to go their own way, take their own risks and make their own mistakes. That’s a perspective that fits with Idaho’s religious conservative culture—and one that runs directly against any notion of government-enforced prohibition.

Otter lost his first gubernatorial race in 1978, finishing third in a seven-way GOP primary. But he won his next race, for lieutenant governor in 1986. He would win re-election to that post three times before earning a seat in Congress in 2001.

As lieutenant governor and during three terms as the representative from Idaho’s First Congressional District, Otter developed a reputation for being a free thinker with a high degree of skepticism toward government power.

In 1987, Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus left the state to attend a conference, leaving Otter to serve as acting governor. While in that role, Otter vetoed a bill that would have raised the legal drinking age in Idaho from 19 to 21 in order to allow the state to access federal highway funds. He said the bill was tantamount to giving into federal blackmail.

Starting in 1999, Otter fought a two-year personal battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after being cited for building an illegal pond in his backyard. The EPA said he was disturbing a protected wetland, but Otter maintained that he was allowed to do as he pleased on his own property.

In Congress, he gained notoriety for being one of three Republicans—along with Ron Paul of Texas and Robert Ney of Ohio—to vote against the PATRIOT Act in 2001.

In 2006, after three decades in politics, Otter found himself back where he started: campaigning for governor and talking to Reason magazine about why Idaho should legalize marijuana, at least for medical purposes.

“I still support medical marijuana,” Otter said in 2006, just weeks before he was elected governor. “Some of these people, the only way they can get relief is by smoking marijuana.”

Nine years later, after winning a third consecutive term as the state’s chief executive, Otter finally had a chance to put his name on a law that would legalize, for the first time in the state’s history, a form of marijuana to treat medical issues like seizures. The bill was SB1146.

He vetoed it. . .

Continue reading.

Do click the link and read the rest. It’s a sorry story, but it’s part of the US today. Later in the article:

. . . Unlike Rice, Otter wasn’t convinced. Ten days after the CBD bill passed in the House, the governor issued his veto with a message scolding the legislature for passing the bill against the wishes of the state’s law enforcement special interests.

“I don’t know what more I or senior members of my administration could have done to help legislators understand our strong opposition to this legislation,” he wrote in his veto message. “Both the House and Senate were told by the Office of Drug Policy, the Department of Public Welfare, and the Idaho State Police—as well as prosecutors and local law enforcement officers throughout Idaho—that there were too many questions and problems and too few answers and solutions in this bill to let it become law.”

Forced to choose between the families and children who wanted CBD oil legalized and the opposition from law enforcement, Otter chose the latter—though he said he “sympathized with the heartbreaking dilemma” facing Idahoans dealing with debilitating diseases that could potentially be treated with CBD.

Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, says the governor stands by the veto. Asked how that decision squares with decades of professed support for marijuana legalization, Hanian said Otter admits to changing his position. . .

No kidding. What’s the word for when you support something so long as it can’t happen, but when it can happen you oppose it? Opportunism? Hypocrisy? Dishonesty?

Do read the whole thing. It provides quite a bit to ponder. Later, for example:

. . . In his veto message, Otter explained his decision by warning of “the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent.” He cited the lack of support from Idaho’s law enforcement groups, and said that legalizing CBD oil could “decrease public safety,” without explaining how.

The law enforcement community’s own explanation for its opposition wasn’t any better.

“It basically opens the door, carte blanche, to make it almost unenforceable for us to be able to stop marijuana or illegal drugs in our communities,” said Shane Turman, president of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, at a hearing of the state Senate State Affairs Committee concerning the CBD oil bill in March 2015.

“The bill is the most liberal CBD bill in the country,” declared Bryan Taylor, president of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, at the same hearing. “There are no regulations or safeguards.”

Rice, the Republican legislator who sponsored the CBD legislation, sees things differently. He says the state legislature worked with law enforcement to rewrite parts of the bill in an attempt to address those concerns. The final version of the bill would have required written permission from a doctor before a patient could obtain CBD oil and allowed doctors to prescribe CBD oil only for the treatment of intractable seizures after other medical options had been tried. There was nothing in the CBD bill that would have prevented police from arresting anyone for illegally obtaining or using marijuana or marijuana-derived products. . .

And this is Idaho, which presents itself as supporting the individual, etc. What a bunch of hypocrites.

Later we start to see the real reasons for Otter’s about face:

. . . If we take Otter at his word—and the word of his spokesman—then it was law enforcement’s opposition to the CBD oil bill that convinced the governor to veto it, and general concern about the public safety consequences of legalizing marijuana that convinced him to change his long-held views on the topic.

There may have also been a second factor pushing Otter’s administration to oppose the bill and favor a clinical trial of a particular drug instead.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, or PhRMA, represents drug companies and lobbies on their behalf. According to federal lobbying data aggregated by Maplight, PhRMA has spent more than $150 million on lobbying since 2008—a total that only includes federal advocacy efforts, not similar work done in state capitals.

But Big Pharma is active in the states too, and drug companies have been particularly keen on fighting efforts to legalize medical marijuana in all its various forms, including CBD oil.

That’s because states with legal medical marijuana have lower rates of drug prescriptions. In a study published earlier this year, Ashley and W. David Bradford, a daughter-father pair of researchers at the University of Georgia, analyzed state-level prescription drug databases from 2010 through 2013 and found that doctors prescribed significantly fewer pharmaceutical drugs in states with legal medical weed. The largest drop-off was for prescription painkillers, with 1,800 fewer doses prescribed annually in states with medical marijuana laws. They found a significant decline—486 fewer doses annually—in prescriptions for anti-seizure drugs as well.

In Idaho, PhRMA employs two full-time lobbyists to influence public policy. It also spends lots of money helping to elect state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle—including Otter. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2016 at 5:26 pm

Jeff Sessions’s ridiculous anti-drug crusade

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Tana Ganeva writes in the Washington Post:

A few days ago, it looked as if the popularity and profitability of marijuana would spare pot reform from the lurching chaos of Donald Trump’s administration. But then Sen. Jeff Sessions — probably the only person on earth who’s nostalgic about Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign — was announced as President-elect Trump’s choice for attorney general.

As my fellow guest blogger Steven Hale wrote on Friday, Sessions’s record and public statements indicate that he’ll be a nightmare for civil liberties. In terms of drug policy, Sessions stands out even in the GOP for his steadfast rejection of scientific evidence.

At a Senate hearing in April, Sessions held forth on the (nonexistent) dangers of legalization. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger. You can see the accidents, traffic deaths related to marijuana,” he said. “And you’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have, I think.”

Renowned scientist Nancy Reagan aside, there is actually no compelling evidence that marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drugs. As Maia Szalavitz has explained, although many people who do heroin or cocaine have tried pot, it’s more a matter of correlation than cause and effect. Citing the National Institute on Drug Abuse statistic that someone who tries marijuana is 104 times more likely to use cocaine, she noted, “Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members are probably 104 times more likely to have ridden a bicycle as a kid than those who don’t become Hell’s Angels, but that doesn’t mean that riding a two-wheeler is a ‘gateway’ to joining a motorcycle gang. It simply means that most people ride bikes and the kind of people who don’t are highly unlikely to ever ride a motorcycle.”

And there’s not definitive proof that stoned drivers are causing traffic fatalities. Marijuana might impair some motor skills, but unlike alcohol, it doesn’t encourage behaviors such as driving too fast or too aggressively that tend to contribute to fatal crashes. A 2015 study by the U.S. Transportation Department found that once factors like age and alcohol consumption were factored in, THC didn’t appear to play huge role in deadly car accidents.

Sessions has also denounced President Obama for steering America away from the glory days when every state locked people up for a drug that is safer than alcohol. “I think one of [Obama’s] great failures, it’s obvious to me, is his lax treatment in comments on marijuana,” Sessions said at the hearing, The Post reported. “It reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs that began really when Nancy Reagan started ‘Just Say No,’ ” Sessions said of the president’s approach to pot.

But won’t Sessions be too busy railing against the NAACP to focus on rolling back drug policy reform? That’s unlikely. “He’s a nightmare for drug policy reform,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that lobbies for drug reform, told the Watch. “He looks to have been one of the worst Republicans in the Senate on issues of marijuana reform, sentencing reform, rolling back the drug war. All of it.”

Because Trump has said that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, people in the industry may have been complacent about a Trump win, but they shouldn’t be. “There are all sorts of ways the federal government can hobble marijuana policy reform in the states,” Nadelmann said. A Sessions-led Justice Department could jettison the Cole memo, a 2013 Justice Department declarationthat signaled the federal government wouldn’t crack down on marijuana sellers in states where it is legal. The administration could appoint U.S. attorneys who are against drug reform.

David Friedman, the previous chief executive of the Marijuana Index, doesn’t see the federal government going after legal pot given how popular marijuana is. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. Sessions is “certainly no friend of the industry,” Friedman told the Watch. The biggest fear he says pot sellers have is that they’ll be “made an example of” by the federal government.

“Asset forfeiture is what scares people the most. Having a federal agency come in, shut you down, take your inventory and freeze all of your cash and put you out of the industry,” Friedman said.

Nadelmann points to other worrisome signs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2016 at 12:06 pm

Medical Marijuana Is Legal in California. Except When It’s Not.

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From a NY Times article by Thomas Fuller:

. . .The plight of CannaCraft, which despite the June raid has had sales of $10 million so far this year, has been closely watched by other companies in the marijuana business here because of the way the company began openly courting state and local lawmakers and applying for licenses like any other business.

This year, the company moved into offices in a corporate park in Santa Rosa that were once occupied by a company that manufactured heart stents, and it obtained a business tax license as a cannabis company and permission to operate agricultural processing machinery.

“Their zoning was good. The choice of building location was good,” said Julie Combs, a member of the Santa Rosa City Council. “They were certainly using an open-door policy.”

In May, the company hosted nearly 50 lawmakers and regulators from Sacramento, the state capital, to demonstrate the process they use to produce the soft-gel capsules and other cannabis-based products that do not involve smoking. As technicians in white lab coats operated machines designed to detect impurities in their products, Mr. Hunter demonstrated to lawmakers the extractors that produce oils from the plant.

“Because cannabis has a stigma around it, we really needed to come out and change people’s image of what a cannabis company looked like,” Mr. Hunter said during a recent interview at the company’s headquarters. “We knew we were going to be one of the first through the gate, so we wanted to set a good example for the industry that looked professional and was clean.”

But two weeks after the visit by lawmakers, around 100 officers and agents wearing tactical gear, and representing multiple law enforcement agencies, raided the company’s headquarters and four other facilities. The officers broke down doors and, according to the company, seized around $500,000 in cash, 22 machines worth $3 million and $1.5 million worth of cannabis products.

Mr. Hunter was arrested and held on $5 million bail, which critics of the raid said was an unusually large amount.

Lt. Michael Lazzarini of the Santa Rosa Police Department’s investigations bureau said the police acted on the basis of a “public safety risk” caused by the cannabis manufacturing process, which he described as “illegal and volatile.” [I don’t understand this—sounds like blather to me. – LG]

“There’s this huge desire to make Santa Rosa a place for this industry to thrive,” Lieutenant Lazzarini said. “But then a lot of these businesses operate outside of the scope of local, state or federal regulations.”

The raid prompted lawmakers in Sacramento to enact regulations in September to clarify that the extraction procedure was legal. Lieutenant Lazzarini said he was aware of the change in the law, but that his department’s investigation was ongoing.

Continue reading.

I thought this reader comment was spot-on:

JimBob – Los Angeles 49 minutes ago

Let’s face it — the Santa Rosa cops wanted to get their hands on that cash. Pure and simple. Get rid of forfeiture laws and this stuff will stop.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2016 at 9:27 am

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