Articles Tagged with “consequences of drug laws”

In Europe, cacao has become a substance of choice for raves instead of using illicit drugs.[1] The chocolate is generally consumed in either an infused drink with agave and cinnamon, swallowed through a pill, or snorted through the nose.divine-chocolate-300x195

The most popular place for partying with cacao is at Lucid, a monthly gathering in Berlin, “where music, dance, community and natural high vibes roam wild and free.”[2]  The Chocolate Line, a Belgian company, popularized the inhaling of cacao powder when its founder, Dominique Persoone, introduced his chocolate shooter at a 2007 Rolling Stone party. [3] Persoone recommends that the powder be combined with mint or ginger to open and “tinkle” the nose, and that the powder must be cut to prevent caking and burning. Persoone has sold over 25,000 of his snorting devices.[4]

Demand isn’t for Hershey’s bars or cocoa baking powder, but for raw, virgin cacao which is pure and potent and not processed with milk and sugar. Even before the Europeans came to the New World, cacao was consumed and revered by the ancient civilizations. In the Aztec Empire, the seeds were used a form of currency.[5]

Louisiana passed two medical marijuana laws in 2016 signed by Governor Bell Edwards (D-Louisiana). These two laws were SB 271[1] and SB 180[2] both authored by Sen. Fred Mills (R- District 22). These two bills established Louisiana as the 25th state to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Louisiana’s history with medical marijuana, however, provides insights into the struggle to reform a medical program once a state has passed it.

First in the Nation

While it is mostly a footnote in history now, Louisiana was actually the first state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana program back in 1978. Passed only eight years after President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, Louisiana’s original medical marijuana program, authored by Sen. Tony Guarisco (D-Morgan City) and signed by Governor Edwin Edwards (D-Louisiana) allowed patients suffering from glaucoma and cancer to use medical marijuana.

iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn December of 2013, a 54-year-old Texas woman was traveling back from spending the Christmas holiday with a family friend in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico when she was stopped by federal agents at the Cordova Bridge border crossing in El Paso, Texas. As the unnamed woman was passing through the checkpoint, a police drug dog allegedly alerted on her, prompting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to select her for additional screening. The woman was quickly stripped searched and forced to undergo several body cavity searches at the crossing checkpoint, but the agents failed to turn up absolutely any evidence of drugs.

Regardless of this fact, the agents were determined to find some evidence of drugs and proceeded to transport the woman, handcuffed and against her will, to the University Medical Center of El Paso. At the hospital, doctors subjected the woman to an observed bowel movement, an expensive total body CT scan and numerous body cavity probes in a desperate attempt to find some trace of drugs. However, after enduring over six hours of demeaning and highly invasive searches, the agents were forced to admit the woman had committed no crime and released her with no charges. However, to add insult to injury, the woman soon received a $5,000 bill from the hospital for the exams she was wrongly forced to undergo.

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iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmall.jpgPresident Obama thinks marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and is less dangerous in terms of its impact on consumers. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president compared marijuana to other vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, stating “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

While the president doesn’t find the use of marijuana alarming, he is very bothered by the fact that minorities, especially minority youth, have a radically disproportionate rate of arrest and imprisonment. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties…we should not be locking up individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” A new study released this month supports the president’s concerns, finding that nearly half of all black males are arrested by the time they reach the age of 23.

What is even more surprising is that notoriously conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has also shown a recent liberalized attitude towards marijuana. Perry, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, defended Colorado and Washington state’s vote to legalize the drug, saying it is a matter of states’ rights. Although Perry sidestepped questions of whether he supported the decriminalization of marijuana, he promoted Texas’ drug courts, which offer treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders, as an example to other states and nations.

iStock_000001725183XSmall.jpgA recent report by the Partnership at Drug Free, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug Free America, found a solid majority of those polled by the organization itself, 52 percent, favor marijuana decriminalization and a vast majority, 70 percent, favor medical marijuana. The Partnership interviewed 1,603 adults. The majority of these adults (1,200) are parents of children who are between 10 and 19 years old. The report found 72 percent of mothers and 67 percent of fathers support medical marijuana.

One may be surprised that an organization focused on combating teenage drug use is publicizing report results showing favorable parental views on marijuana law reform. A deeper look into the results of marijuana law reform reveals that marijuana reform could help combat teenage marijuana use and thus align with the goals of the Partnership. For example, since Colorado passed marijuana laws, marijuana usage among Colorado teenagers has gone down. Colorado, probably the most marijuana friendly state in the nation, has a teenage marijuana use rate that is below the national average. Despite the beliefs of marijuana reform opponents that claim pro-marijuana laws will increase adolescent marijuana use, a recent report revealed there is no visible link between states legalizing medical marijuana and children increasing marijuana consumption.

The Partnership has had a noticeable history of focusing especially on the dangers of marijuana, even though the harms caused by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals far outweigh the harms of marijuana use. Past funding sources of the Partnership may explain the lack of particular focus on drugs more destructive than marijuana. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the Partnership has accepted funding from numerous tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical companies. These companies include the Budweiser, Michelob, Busch Beer Company: Anheuser Busch, the Marlboro and Virginia Slims company: Philip Morris, the Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes company: R.J. Reynolds, as well as firms associated with pharmaceuticals like Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company, and Proctor & Gamble. The Partnership reportedly ceased accepting alcohol and tobacco funding, but continues to receive support from major pharmaceutical firms, despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs cause the most overdose deaths compared to all other drugs.

CYMERA_20130829_142314.jpgAn investigation by Reuters revealed that a secretive unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using information gathered by Intelligence Agencies to facilitate criminal investigations of US residents. The information gathered by intelligence agencies, including the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security, are supposed to be used for national security and counter-terrorism purposes. Instead, the DEA unit is using intelligence information to go after individuals who are not connected to terrorism. This DEA unit, named the Special Operations Division (SOD) was created in 1994 to target Latin American drug cartels, but since then has warped into a domestic spying operation utilizing unconstitutional powers and procedures.

Examples of the unconstitutional procedures used by SOD include “parallel construction.” The practice of “parallel construction” was exposed by documents reviewed by Reuters. “Parallel construction” is where law enforcement officers, once they begin an investigation based on information from SOD, reconstruct the investigative trail to cover up the information’s origins, and thus deceive the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney, along with prosecutors and judges involved in the criminal case. The documents also reveal that federal agents and local police are specifically instructed to “omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony.” Experts, including Harvard law professor and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, believe that this practice violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney are not aware of how the investigation began, they cannot know how best to explore potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that may reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. Speaking to Reuters, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. criticized SOD’s powers, saying “you can’t game the system, you can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases.”

US law enforcement has imprisoned millions of people on drug-war convictions over the last 20 years. Due to their authorized yet unconstitutional deception caused by “parallel construction,” the number of those drug cases which resulted from evidence collected by spy agencies will never be known. The Reuters article, which broke this story, quotes DEA officials as saying that the DEA has utilized the “parallel construction” procedure “virtually every day since the 1990s.” The amount of phone data the DEA has collected now surpasses the amount of data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA).

nursing certification.jpgOften well-meaning but misinformed opponents of marijuana law reform suggest that certain statistics imply marijuana is the cause for huge numbers of emergency room visits. One example of such an opponent is a former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Scott Burns. The deputy director cited that patients reported marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits at a rate that rose 176 percent since 1994. Further, to support the view that marijuana should remain illegal, Burns points to the fact that marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits now surpasses heroin. More recently, Deni Carise, a substance abuse clinician, used the fact that in 2011 marijuana “was involved” in 455,668 emergency room visits nationally to argue against marijuana legalization.

Such statistics seem to highlight good reasons for the government to maintain the status quo of marijuana prohibition. A meaningful look, however, into the data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the source for such emergency room statistics, reveals the full picture. A fuller understanding about the role marijuana plays in emergency room visits demonstrates marijuana is not actually a major cause for emergency room visits.

While statistics from DAWN do indicate increasing numbers of people mention marijuana when visiting an emergency room, such a mention of marijuana only means the patient reported he or she had previously used marijuana, not that the marijuana use led to the emergency room visit. In interests of fully disclosing all past drug use, harmful or not, to the health care provider, patients routinely share such information. A notable increase of marijuana use reports in emergency rooms is not unique to the substance of marijuana. Since the late 1980s, and because of improved federal reporting methods, the overall amount of drug use mentions has risen significantly in emergency room visits.

The police shooting of a mentally ill Dallas man sent shockwaves across the country this week after a neighbor’s home surveillance system showed the man had been standing still when shot, contrary to what the offending officer stated. The Dallas Police Department reports that the officer, Cardan Spencer, and his partner were dispatched after the victim’s mother called police for help in dealing with her son, who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to the arrest affidavit, Spencer shot Bennett after he walked toward him and his partner with a “knife raised in an aggressive manner”. However, the neighbor’s surveillance video, which has spread widely over the internet, proves the victim had not moved towards the officers at all when Spencer shot him down.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg News, 64 mentally-ill citizens died after being shot with a gun or electroshock device by law enforcement in 2012, about three times as many deaths as 2009. No officers in the 64 incidents were found criminally liable, leading many to question police accountability. Just last year, a Justice Department investigation based solely on violent police encounters with Portland, Oregon’s mentally ill found nine cases with a “pattern or practice of unreasonable force”, with gaps in mental health care increasing the frequency of potentially fatal police encounters.

“It is a shame that a bullet is what our mental health safety net has become,” said Louis Josephson, CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health in New Hampshire. Since the mid-1950’s, the number of beds in state hospitals has decreased by 92%, with only 42,385 beds available in 2011. In addition, the average duration of acute-care psychiatric hospital stays is now a mere 7.8 days, 60% shorter than stays in 1993 and drastically shorter than the recommended two weeks mentally ill patients need for medications to stabilize.

iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn 2007 Jennifer Boatwright, a Houston resident, was traveling up I-59 with her boyfriend and two small children to visit family when she was pulled over in the tiny Texas town of Tenaha. Cops searched Boatwright’s car and, after finding over $6,000 she had placed in the car’s console so that she could purchase a used car on her trip, accused her of a being a drug runner. Tenaha officials then gave Boatwright two options: face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case she would go to jail and her children would be turned over to CPS. Or sign the cash over to the city of Tenaha under a process known as asset forfeiture, and get back on the road with no charges. Fearing for her children, Boatwright signed away her hard-earned cash.

In another equally upsetting example from Philadelphia, an elderly couple’s breakfast was interrupted by a knock on the door: it was the police, telling them that their home had been seized and that they had ten minutes to gather five decades worth of belongings and get out. Police auctioned off their home because the couple’s grandson had allegedly made several marijuana deals on their front porch.

The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is this: cash or property gained through illegal means, such as drug money or stolen property, does not rightfully belong to the owner and therefore authorities are entitled to confiscate the items and direct the proceeds toward fighting crime. State and federal laws allow asset forfeiture in instances as diverse as white collar fraud, illegal gambling, prostitution, cockfighting, poaching, drug dealing, gang activity and drag racing. Under most laws, you don’t have to be proven guilty or even arrested in order for asset forfeiture to occur. Once a victim is coerced into asset forfeiture, getting their assets back is an unlikely venture involving complex proceedings and high attorney costs, with the defendant often bearing the burden of proving their innocence.

nursing certification.jpgA Massachusetts lab technician has admitted to faking results, tampering with evidence and routinely ignoring agency test protocols when processing tens of thousands of law enforcement lab tests. The technician, Annie Dookhan, was known for being the most productive chemist in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health laboratory and the go-to chemist for prosecutors trying criminal drug cases.

Prosecutors now believe that Dookhan’s stellar reputation was built on fraud. In 2012, the chemist informed Massachusetts state police that instead of properly testing all substances turned over by law enforcement, she would occasionally only test a fraction of the substances, yet verify that all of the substances were illicit drugs. Despite her admission, Dookhan has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Dookhan’s fraudulent testing has led to more than 330 inmates being released from custody in the last year, while over 1,100 cases have been dismissed due to tainted evidence. In the wake of the scandal, one manager at the lab and the state’s public health commission have resigned, while another manager at the lab has been fired.