Later On

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Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category

‘This is a culture war’: When it comes to punishment, racial disparities are pervasive

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Josh Salman, Dak Le, and Michael Braga report in the Herald Tribune:

Michael Brackins stopped at a strip plaza near Busch Gardens to sell a bag of crack cocaine.

As roller coasters roared nearby, the 33-year-old black man handed 1.5 grams to an undercover deputy posing as an addict and disappeared through a sea of rush hour traffic.

When the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested Brackins on a warrant months later, they enhanced the $100 drug deal to a more serious first-degree felony. Deputies reported the deal took place near a small, Hispanic church — and Florida law says Brackins threatened their safety to worship.

But the address listed is the home of a pastor. His church is more than a mile away.

Prosecutors did not drop the enhancement. Brackins signed a plea deal, and the judge gave him 20 months in state prison.

A few blocks north, Tampa police arrested Alan Arakaki for selling oxycodone pain killers to a confidential informant at Arakaki’s apartment complex near the University of South Florida. They busted the 37-year-old white man for the same crime a month later.

Police reports say Arakaki was 1,000 feet from El Bethel Primitive Baptist Church. But prosecutors dropped any mention of that chapel when it came to sentencing. Court and prosecutor files don’t explain why.

A judge offered Arakaki the leniency of probation, then sent him to substance abuse treatment.

The disparity between the two cases is not unusual.

Lawmakers ramped up the war on drugs in the 1980s through policies like drug-free zones to curb the crack epidemic that bred violence and havoc in minority neighborhoods across the country.

Times have changed.

Crack is no longer the scourge it once was. Cocaine convictions in Florida are down more than half during the past decade, as violent crime rates plummeted.

Now, the crisis is heroin and fentanyl. The dealers are mostly white. So are the tens of thousands of Floridians dying.

Reporters at the Herald-Tribune spent more than a year analyzing millions of records in the state court’s Offender Based Transaction System, which tracks every criminal case in Florida from arrest to appeal.

The newspaper also used two databases from the Florida Department of Corrections and a fourth from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission to measure racial disparities in the war on drugs. Journalists pored through boxes of court documents and crossed the state to interview criminal defendants, justice system officials, historians and researchers. Among the findings: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2017 at 2:52 pm

Why experiments are necessary: Teens are smoking less weed in states where it’s legal

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The common prediction and primary worry on the conservative side was that suddenly teen usage of marijuana would skyrocket (although that never made sense: legal marijuana cannot be sold to underage kids). Joshua Marcus of Vice reports:

As marijuana legalization spreads across the United States, opponents have maintained that there will be negative long-term consequences, especially on young people. On Monday, for example, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet tweeted“young adult use has skyrocketed over the past 10 years.”

There’s just one problem: The latest federal data says the opposite is true. Weed use by teens is dropping, especially in states that allow recreational marijuana use. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationwide survey, found declines in teen marijuana use in all but one of the five states that had legal weed from 2014 to 2016.

Colorado sold more than a billion dollars worth of weed last year, but the number of teens who reported smoking pot in the past year there dropped from around 18 percent to 16 percent, with a similar drop — from 11 percent to 9 percent — in teens reporting they’d smoked in the past month.

Other states saw similar declines or no major change in yearly use, including Washington, D.C. (16 percent  to 13 percent), Oregon (17 percent to 17 percent), and Washington state (15 percent to 13.5 percent), while underaged smoking ticked up just barely in Alaska (18.44 percent to 18.86 percent).

It’s still unclear why this is happening. It could be that teens are deciding that smoking weed is uncool because they’re seeing their parents do it, or it could be that states with recreational marijuana laws often employ public health campaigns designed to discourage young people from getting high. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. . .

Continue reading. Some very interesting charts at the link.

I imagine to some it made sense that legal marijuana would result in greater teen marijuana use, but experiments are needn’t precisely because many things that make sense turn out to be false when tested.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2017 at 2:29 pm

Cannabis News Round-Up

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Daniel Harvester posts at The Reality-Based Community:

California begins accepting permit applications for the sale of recreational marijuana. As Californiaembraces legal marijuana, many cities and counties just say “no.” A weed wonderland in the CaliforniadesertLos Angeles power brokers of pot crank up the kook. By legalizing recreational marijuana sales, Los Angeles will “set the tone for the rest of the country.” Got a criminal recordLos Angeles might help you get into the pot biz — or ban you. Why California cannabis rules promise a bumpy ride.

Marijuana prices are plunging in Colorado and that could be bad news. Colorado October HIDTA report an eye-opener.

Massachusetts proposal would allow the social consumption of cannabis. Delaware panel continues talks on legalized marijuana.

Is Illinois ready for legal recreational marijuana use? Their governor isn’t.

Sessions hints at crackdown on recreational pot.

Why it’s getting easier for marijuana companies to open bank accounts. Marijuana businesses, excluded from finance, face unusual risks. What 3 marijuana heavyweights are doing to become the P&G of pot. New study says marijuana legalization reduces alcohol use. Medical marijuana took a bite out of alcoholsales. Recreational pot could take an even bigger one. How tax reform could push more states to legalize marijuana.

The user guide to legal pot in all Canadian provinces, territories. Former head of Canada drug squad now leads national marijuana businessCanada could make billions from legal pot. Legalization of marijuana unlikely to kill Canada black market right away. This is the formula Canada is using to figure out  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2017 at 1:32 pm

Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?

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Susana Ferreira reports in the Guardian:

When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use – bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners – Portugal was in a state of panic.

Álvaro Pereira was working as a family doctor in Olhão in southern Portugal. “People were injecting themselves in the street, in public squares, in gardens,” he told me. “At that time, not a day passed when there wasn’t a robbery at a local business, or a mugging.”

The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olhão, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermen’s nets from the Gulf of Cádiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhão’s shores. Overnight, Pereira’s beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union. Pereira recalled desperate patients and families beating a path to his door, terrified, bewildered, begging for help. “I got involved,” he said, “only because I was ignorant.”

In truth, there was a lot of ignorance back then. Forty years of authoritarian ruleunder the regime established by António Salazar in 1933 had suppressed education, weakened institutions and lowered the school-leaving age, in a strategy intended to keep the population docile. The country was closed to the outside world; people missed out on the experimentation and mind-expanding culture of the 1960s. When the regime ended abruptly in a military coup in 1974, Portugal was suddenly opened to new markets and influences. Under the old regime, Coca-Cola was banned and owning a cigarette lighter required a licence. When marijuana and then heroin began flooding in, the country was utterly unprepared.

Pereira tackled the growing wave of addiction the only way he knew how: one patient at a time. A student in her 20s who still lived with her parents might have her family involved in her recovery; a middle-aged man, estranged from his wife and living on the street, faced different risks and needed a different kind of support. Pereira improvised, calling on institutions and individuals in the community to lend a hand.

In 2001, nearly two decades into Pereira’s accidental specialisation in addiction, Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission – a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker – about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The data behind these changes has been studied and cited as evidence by harm-reduction movements around the globe. It’s misleading, however, to credit these positive results entirely to a change in law.

Portugal’s remarkable recovery, and the fact that it has held steady through several changes in government – including conservative leaders who would have preferred to return to the US-style war on drugs – could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction – and itself. In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that were already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around kitchen tables across the country. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.

The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies) – became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders”. This, too, was crucial.

It is important to note that Portugal stabilised its opioid crisis, but it didn’t make it disappear. While drug-related death, incarceration and infection rates plummeted, the country still had to deal with the health complications of long-term problematic drug use. Diseases including hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver cancer are a burden on a health system that is still struggling to recover from recession and cutbacks. In this way, Portugal’s story serves as a warning of challenges yet to come.

Despite enthusiastic international reactions to Portugal’s success, local harm-reduction advocates have been frustrated by what they see as stagnation and inaction since decriminalisation came into effect. They criticise the state for dragging its feet on establishing supervised injection sites and drug consumption facilities; for failing to make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more readily available; for not implementing needle-exchange programmes in prisons. Where, they ask, is the courageous spirit and bold leadership that pushed the country to decriminalise drugs in the first place?

In the early days of Portugal’s panic, when Pereira’s beloved Olhão began falling apart in front of him, the state’s first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less “Just Say No” and more “Drugs Are Satan”.

Informal treatment approaches and experiments were rushed into use throughout the country, as doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists worked independently to deal with the flood of drug-dependency disorders at their doors, sometimes risking ostracism or arrest to do what they believed was best for their patients.

In 1977, in the north of the country, psychiatrist Eduíno Lopes pioneered a methadone programme at the Centro da Boavista in Porto. Lopes was the first doctor in continental Europe to experiment with substitution therapy, flying in methadone powder from Boston, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Ministry of Health. His efforts met with a vicious public backlash and the disapproval of his peers, who considered methadone therapy nothing more than state-sponsored drug addiction.

In Lisbon, Odette Ferreira, an experienced pharmacist and pioneering HIV researcher, started an unofficial needle-exchange programme to address the growing Aids crisis. She received death threats from drug dealers, and legal threats from politicians. Ferreira – who is now in her 90s, and still has enough swagger to carry off long fake eyelashes and red leather at a midday meeting – started giving away clean syringes in the middle of Europe’s biggest open-air drug market, in the Casal Ventoso neighbourhood of Lisbon. She collected donations of clothing, soap, razors, condoms, fruit and sandwiches, and distributed them to users. When dealers reacted with hostility, she snapped back: “Don’t mess with me. You do your job, and I’ll do mine.” She then bullied the Portuguese Association of Pharmacies into running the country’s – and indeed the world’s – first national needle-exchange programme.

A flurry of expensive private clinics and free, faith-based facilities emerged, promising detoxes and miracle cures, but the first public drug-treatment centre run by the Ministry of Health – the Centro das Taipas in Lisbon – did not begin operating until 1987. Strapped for resources in Olhão, Pereira sent a few patients for treatment, although he did not agree with the abstinence-based approach used at Taipas. “First you take away the drug, and then, with psychotherapy, you plug up the crack,” said Pereira. There was no scientific evidence to show that this would work – and it didn’t.

He also sent patients to Lopes’s methadone programme in Porto, and found that some responded well. But Porto was at the other end of the country. He wanted to try methadone for his patients, but the Ministry of Health hadn’t yet approved it for use. To get around that, Pereira sometimes asked a nurse to sneak methadone to him in the boot of his car.

Pereira’s work treating patients for addiction eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Health. “They heard there was a crazy man in the Algarve who was working on his own,” he said, with a slow smile. Now 68, he is sprightly and charming, with an athletic build, thick and wavy white hair that bounces when he walks, a gravelly drawl and a bottomless reserve of warmth. “They came down to find me at the clinic and proposed that I open a treatment centre,” he said. He invited a colleague from at a family practice in the next town over to join him – a young local doctor named João Goulão.

Goulão was a 20-year-old medical student when he was offered his first hit of heroin. He declined because he didn’t know what it was. By the time he finished school, got his licence and began practising medicine at a health centre in the southern city of Faro, it was everywhere. Like Pereira, he accidentally ended up specialising in treating drug addiction.

The two young colleagues joined forces to open southern Portugal’s first CAT in 1988. (These kinds of centres have used different names and acronyms over the years, but are still commonly referred to as Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, or CATs.) Local residents were vehemently opposed, and the doctors were improvising treatments as they went along. The following month, Pereira and Goulão opened a second CAT in Olhão, and other family doctors opened more in the north and central regions, forming a loose network. It had become clear to a growing number of practitioners that the most effective response to addiction had to be personal, and rooted in communities. Treatment was still small-scale, local and largely ad hoc.

The first official call to change Portugal’s drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. “My thought right off the bat was that it wasn’t legitimate for the state to punish users,” he told me in his office at the University of Lisbon’s school of law.  . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2017 at 11:06 am

New Study Says Marijuana Legalization Reduces Alcohol Use

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post, in which he quotes a research study:

We find that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes. Counties located in MML [Medical Marijuana Law – LG] states reduced monthly alcohol sales by 15 percent, which is a consistent finding across several empirical specifications. When disaggregating by beer and wine we find that legalization of medical marijuana had a negative effect on corresponding sales by as much as 13.8 and 16.2 percent, respectively.

More at the links, including a chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2017 at 9:40 am

A marijuana risk: Obscure Vomiting Illness Linked To Long-Term Pot Use

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Pauline Bartolone reports in California Healthline:

For 17 years, Chalfonte LeNee Queen suffered periodic episodes of violent retching and abdominal pain that would knock her off her feet for days, sometimes leaving her writhing on the floor in pain.

“I’ve screamed out for death,” said Queen, 48, who lives in San Diego. “I’ve cried out for my mom who’s been dead for 20 years, mentally not realizing she can’t come to me.”

Queen lost a modeling job after being mistaken for an alcoholic. She racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and her nausea interrupted her sex life. Toward the end of her illness, Queen, who stands 5-foot-9, weighed in at a frail 109 pounds.

Throughout the nearly two decades of pain, vomiting and mental fog, she visited the hospital about three times a year, but doctors never got to the bottom of what was ailing her. By 2016, she thought she was dying, that she “must have some sort of cancer or something they can’t detect,” Queen said.

But she didn’t have cancer. She had an obscure syndrome called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition only recently acknowledged by the medical community. It affects a small population — namely, a subset of marijuana users who smoke multiple times a day for months, years or even decades.

There’s no hard data on the prevalence of the illness. But in California and Colorado, which have loosened marijuana laws in recent years, emergency physicians say they’re seeing it more often. One study in Colorado suggests there may be a link.

Dr. Aimee Moulin, an emergency room physician at UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, said she has seen a rise in the number of cases since California voters legalized recreational marijuana last November. She expects to see another increase after commercial sales are permitted starting in January.

Doctors say it’s difficult to treat the condition. There is no cure other than to quit using marijuana, and many patients are skeptical that cannabis is making them sick, so they keep using it and their vomiting episodes continue.

Doctors can do little to relieve the symptoms, since traditional anti-nausea medications often don’t work and there are no pills to prevent the onset of an episode. Patients may need intravenous hydration and hospital stays until the symptoms subside.

“That’s really frustrating as an emergency physician,” said Moulin. “I really like to make people feel better.”

Diagnosing the syndrome can also be frustrating — and expensive. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2017 at 10:11 am

Awkward: Top U.S.-Backed Honduran Security Minister Is Running Drugs, According To Court Testimony

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Sort of the exact opposite of draining the swamp. Lede:

THE HONDURAN MINISTER of security, who was intimately involved in solidifying the 2009 coup, is tied up in drug trafficking, according to testimony from a Mexican drug-trafficker-turned-Drug-Enforcement-Agency-informant in U.S. court. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2017 at 12:48 pm

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