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Rudy Giuliani's Position on OxyContin and Pain Management Is Correct

John Riley at Newsday has an interesting piece on Rudy Giuliani's role in helping Purdue Pharma preserve its image after the painkiller OxyContin was linked to widespread abuse. When Giuliani spoke out against medical marijuana, I repeatedly cited his work for Purdue Pharma as evidence of his hypocrisy. While I stand by that position, it should be noted that Giuliani's stance on pain management is actually quite good, in and of itself:
The OxyContin debate has been part of a larger fight in which patient advocacy groups that are worried about historic undertreatment of pain have joined with drug companies to argue against regulatory and law enforcement restrictions on painkillers that might unduly restrict their availability.


Giuliani was a key ally in that debate. He cast himself as an expert because of his prosecutorial background and his experience with prostate cancer. As part of his work for Purdue, he agreed to chair a group called the Rx Action Alliance, which promoted a "balanced" approach that would address abuse but maintain access for patients…

As the DEA continues its misguided war on pain management specialists, it's really quite refreshing to know that a front-running presidential candidate understands the problem. DEA's overreaction to OxyContin abuse has been disastrous, resulting in the reluctance of doctors nationwide to prescribe pain-relievers to deserving patients. Whether it was his prostate cancer, or the money Purdue paid his firm, something has led him to stand up for patient access and there's nothing wrong with that.

The only remaining question is why Giuliani is so hostile to medical marijuana. The fact pattern is remarkably similar: the stigma resulting from widespread recreational marijuana use has created a climate in which legitimate patients are denied medical access to the drug.

If only medical marijuana patients could afford to hire Giuliani Partners, LLC to help improve their public image…

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

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When Oversight Means Oversight: Waxman Goes After Walters for Politicizing His Office

"Oversight" is a funny word. It has two meanings, one the opposite of the other. "Oversight" can mean watching over, supervising, or reviewing an action, a policy, or a process. Or it can mean the failure to do so, as in: "I meant to keep an eye on those guys, but I didn't. I guess that was an oversight on my part." When it comes to monitoring the activities of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its head, drug czar John Walters, six years of Republican control of the Congress meant the only oversight that was practiced was of the latter variety. That was especially true when it came to looking into charges that Walters and ONDCP were using their drug-fighting mission to unfairly intervene in state and local ballot issues or legislation, or to seek partisan advantage for the Republican Party. What a difference an election can make. With the opposition Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress, the drug czar's office is joining other large hunks of the Bush administration in coming under tough congressional scrutiny. Today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), head of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, released the following statement charging Walters and ONDCP with coordinating with the White House to schedule events with some 20 vulnerable Republican incumbents in the months leading up to the November 2006 elections:
Politicization of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation’s drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members. A November 20, 2006, memo from Ms. Taylor summarizes the travel Director Walters took at her request. An agency e-mail sent the following day describes how Karl Rove commended the historically nonpartisan Office of National Drug Control Policy and three cabinet departments – Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture – for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in making “surrogate appearances” at locations the e-mail described as “the god awful places we sent them.” Other documents include an e-mail from the Interior Department to Ms. Taylor’s predecessor stating: “these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographical travel can benefit this President.” Chairman Waxman wrote to Ms. Taylor to request her attendance at a Committee deposition on or before July 24 and her possible appearance at a Committee hearing on July 30. He also wrote to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, the Republican National Committee, Director Walters, and the Secretaries of the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture requesting relevant documents.
There's a complete set of links to the documents mentioned at the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee web site linked to in the title of the Waxman release. It makes some interesting--and damning--reading. Waxman looks like he will schedule some hearings on this soon. Gosh, it sure is fun when we have someone on the oversight committee who actually practices the first definition of the word!
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David Murray Lies About Steve Kubby's Position on Medical Marijuana

Via DrugWarRant, here's a glimpse at the brilliant methods of ONDCP Chief Scientist David Murray.

First, recall Steve Kubby's brief imprisonment last year. Due to his unique medical condition, many people were concerned that Kubby might not survive being denied access to medical marijuana while in jail. He survived thanks to Marinol and said this about the experience:

"During that time I experienced excruciating pain, a vicious high blood-pressure crisis, passed blood in my urine and I lost 33 pounds. However, there was also good news. I learned that Marinol is an acceptable, if not ideal, substitute for whole cannabis in treating my otherwise fatal disease. Now I am a free man and I am profoundly grateful to be alive and to have friends and supporters such as you."

Testifying before Congress last week, David Murray then twisted Kubby's statement into a pretzel, casting it as a complete reversal of his position on medical marijuana in general:

Founding proponents of medical marijuana in the United States have reversed their key positions of support for medical marijuana. [...] Steve Kubby, another Co-founder of medical marijuana in California stated in a letter to supporters on April 14th, 2006 that "Marinol is an acceptable, if not ideal, substitute for whole cannabis in treating my otherwise fatal disease."

Steve Kubby was just glad to be alive. He lost 33 pounds. He was pissing blood. If that sounds like an endorsement of Marinol as an alternative to whole cannabis, your name must be David Murray. The guy gets caught lying every time he opens his mouth, but this is obscene and disgusting, even by Murray's rock-bottom standards.

It would serve the U.S. Congress well to understand that David Murray does things like this. His claim that Steve Kubby changed his position on medical marijuana is a perfect example of the boundless dishonestly of which he is capable, and in fact specializes in.

This is the typical behavior that can be expected from the very Serious, Scientific, and Responsible people at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Don't bother asking why it is necessary for them to lie shamelessly about what Steve Kubby has said. They lie to our elected representatives only because they care about us. So we should be grateful that they are as good at lying as they are, lest we should be legally allowed to select medicines based on our experience rather than theirs.

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Drug Czar Says Pot Growers are "Terrorists"

The escalating lunacy of Drug Czar John Walters becomes more apparent all the time:
John P. Walters, President Bush's drug czar, said the people who plant and tend the gardens are terrorists who wouldn't hesitate to help other terrorists get into the country with the aim of causing mass casualties.


"These people are armed; they're dangerous," he said. He called them "violent criminal terrorists." [Redding.com]
So when Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff warned of an imminent terrorist attack this summer, did he mean that someone was planning on planting some pot in the woods?

Hopefully not, but it should come as no surprise that the people responsible for U.S. marijuana policy actually believe that they're fighting terrorists. Nothing could better explain their behavior or more perfectly illustrate the sheer mania by which they are driven.

All we need now is for the national media to report on ONDCP's unsightly divorce from reality, which can be easily documented and displayed. When the drug czar hallucinates violently onstage, spewing unfathomably bizarre exaggerations, it should be fairly clear that something has gone terribly wrong and that his microphone must be turned off immediately before he speaks again.

This is truly a definitive moment in the drug policy debate; a crystal clear depiction of the limitless enthusiasm of the drug czar's office for saying absolutely anything. Even people with no sympathy for drug policy reform should be asking questions about the fundamental competence and sanity of our top anti-drug officials.

Unless, of course, this is all a cynical plot to send Ed Rosenthal to Guantanamo Bay.

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You know the drug war's been lost when they're growing marijuana right outside the DEA's office...

Via I Was the State: DEA discovers marijuana growing a few hundred yards behind their Dallas office, the Dallas News reports. IWTS rhetorically asks if the Texas marijuana market has been shut down, and points out that marijuana is Texas' 6th highest grossing crop. This is almost right up there with the time a marijuana plant was found growing out of a crack in the New Orleans courthouse, or when a patch of marijuana was spotted growing in a traffic median in Israel. (I'd appreciate if anyone can provide links for these; I remember them but couldn't find anything online.
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Hurwitz Receives Lesser Sentence Second Time Around, Could Be Free in 17 Months

Via John Tierney at the New York Times, posted late last night... Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced pain physician Dr. William Hurwitz to 57 months, more than pain treatment advocates were hoping for but considerably less than the 25 years handed down in the first trial by Judge Wexler. With time served, he could be out in 17 months. One paragraph in particular from Tierney's blog post encapsulates much of the backwardness inherent in the federal sentencing system, backwardness that affects many much more run-of-the-mill cases as well:
While there was no evidence that Dr. Hurwitz was profiting from the resale of his prescriptions -- and the jurors I interviewed said they didn’t think he intended the drugs to be resold -- he will still spend more time in prison than almost all the patients who admitting lying to him and reselling the drugs. Thanks to the deals they made to cooperate with prosecutors, seven of the nine patients got sentences ranging from 10 to 39 months. Only two got longer sentences than 57 months -- and one of them, who got 72 months, was also guilty of armed robbery and arson.
The other thing that is really troubling about this case is that jurors admitted to Tierney (previously) that they were not clear on what the law says about whether a doctor who screws up and prescribes to the wrong people, but isn't intentionally diverting drugs to the black market, should be held criminally responsible. But that is precisely the point of law on which the verdicts turned. If jurors don't understand the law they are judging, what is the justification for keeping the conviction and imprisoning someone for it? Despite the praise that has been given to Brinkema by Tierney and others for her handling of this case -- which admittedly was far better than other judges have done -- at the end of the day I have to say that I think she failed to do proper justice. I repeat, if the jurors admit that they did not understand the key point of law before them, I see no reasonable way for the verdicts to be considered legitimate, because the process itself is simply unsound. I could see an argument (theoretically) for having a third trial, but Dr. Hurwitz should be at home tonight with his family, and it's a crime that he's not -- not only for his sake, but for all the pain patients who effectively are being tortured by denial of pain medication because doctors don't want to take the risk of getting sent to prison. Lastly on this theme, think about the fact that the first set of convictions were invalidated, and this second set for the aforementioned reasons clearly should have been. That's an extraordinarily poor track record. A criminal justice system that imprisons people even when jurors admit they didn't know what they were doing is a system that is fundamentally corroded and has lost its way. Don't be proud of yourselves, feds! Despite all of the foregoing, I also have to say that I am relieved. 17 months is a long time to spend in prison, even if one hasn't already spent some years there already, but it could be much, much worse. Judge Brinkema could have given him the same 25 years, or life -- or 10 years, or 12 or 15. The trial also had a bright spot in that Brinkema saw through the misrepresentation about dosages that prosecutors had attempted:
Brinkema said she had read news accounts of the first trial and had seen some of the massive prescriptions Hurwitz had given out, including one patient who was given 1,600 pills a day. "The amount of drugs Dr. Hurwitz prescribed struck me as absolutely crazy," the judge said. But after hearing testimony from both sides, "I totally turned around on that issue," Brinkema said. "The mere prescription of huge quantities of opioids doesn’t mean anything."
In fact, there are known pain treatment cases in which the dosages were literally four times greater than the largest dosage prescribed by Hurwitz in the cases at stake (as I pointed out in a letter to Judge Wexler before the first sentencing, though obviously to no avail). Now lawyers in other pain cases (current and future) can read Judge Brinkema's comments to judges and jurors to explain why the apparently large doses may have been appropriate. The problem hasn't been a lack of experts willing to say that in trials; the problem has been that for some reason it just seems to wash over people in the face of the large number of pills. I think that having a quote like that from a federal judge will help to break through. I'm not a physician, and I'm not in a position to judge whether or not Dr. Hurwitz practiced good medicine in every case. But I'm completely confident that he did not engage any drug-dealing conspiracy. Perhaps the fact that I've met him several times in the past biases my view. But I've also met many of his former patients -- some of them I know well -- and it's a provable fact that he helped many people whom others doctors wouldn't help and who desperately needed the help, and that he gave them the benefit of thoughtful attention. A lot of these people were left in the lurch when the authorities moved against him, causing at least one suicide and arguably a few of them. Hopefully this outcome, while highly imperfect, has enough good points in it to help move things in the right direction; time will tell. You can keep with all of our pain reporting in our topical archive -- RSS is available here -- email us if you'd like to run our pain feed (or any other feed we offer) on your web site.
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Rudy Hates Pot Smokers (Especially Black and Brown Ones) More Than He Likes Effective Policing

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of criticism this week for his comments rejecting medical marijuana and suggesting that its advocates are actually stalking horses for marijuana legalization. But his antipathy for marijuana goes far beyond simply rejecting its therapeutic applications and opens a window into what a Giuliani marijuana policy might look like. During Giuliani's years in office in the 1990s and into this decade, the number of marijuana arrests shot through the roof, rising from a few hundred before Giulani took office to more than 51,000 in 2000. At that point, thanks to Giulani's "zero tolerance" or "broken windows" approach to policing, New York City accounted for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests in the country. But it wasn't that Giulani just hated pot smokers; the results of his marijuana policy show starkly that his ire was aimed at pot smokers of a certain color--and it wasn't white. As an analysis of city pot arrests between the early 1980s and the early 2000s showed, as marijuana busts shot upward during Rudy's reign, the arrests shifted from the wealthy, central areas of the city to the cities poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. As the authors of that study noted, "these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalize even minor criminal offenses in highly public locations - anymore." Not only did the mass marijuana arrests not appear to be related to claimed decreases in violent crime, they appeared to be related to increases in violent crime, according to another researcher, Bernard Harcourt, commenting on the report:
New York City’s psychedelic experiment with misdemeanor MPV [marijuana possession violation] arrests—along with all the associated detentions, convictions, and additional incarcerations—represents a tremendously expensive policing intervention. As Golub et al. [authors of the original research] document well, the focus on MPV has had a significant disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic residents. Our study further shows that there is no good evidence that it contributed to combating serious crime in the city. If anything, it has had the reverse effect. As a result, the NYPD policy of misdemeanor MPV arrests represents an extremely poor trade-off of scarce law enforcement resources, imposing significant opportunity costs on society in light of the growing body of empirical research that highlights policing approaches that do appear to be successful in reducing serious crime. Our findings, building on those of Golub et al., make clear that these are not trade-offs in which we should be engaging.
So, not only did Giulani's mass marijuana arrest policy target racial minorities, it also hampered effective crime-fighting in the city. Can you imagine a President Giulani sitting in the White House and ordering something similar on a nationwide basis? It would certainly be a boon for the jail, drug testing, drug treatment, and other drug war-dependent industries, but I hope we are not at a point as a nation where we say "what's good for the prison-industrial complex is good for America." I'll be writing more about Giulani, his crime-fighting career, and what a Giulani presidency might mean for America's criminal justice system next week. But I have to wonder if what America needs now is a Prosecutor in Chief. (This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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A better mayor, on drug policy at least...

Vancouver's former mayor, Larry Campbell (now a member of Canada's Senate) has an editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press criticizing both the Liberals and Conservatives in Canada for the increase in marijuana convictions -- the former for not introducing the decrim bill soon enough -- the latter for being, well, just wrong (Sen. Nolin excepted, of course.) Campbell writes:
It's about time that we get over the stigma associated with many of the false assumptions that dominate this debate, and pragmatically move forward on eliminating pot prohibition. As someone who has both walked the streets as a member of the RCMP's drug squad and examined legislation for passage into law as a Senator, I have a sharp understanding of what constitutes a criminal. Those that use pot just don't fit the profile.
Campbell's rational call for change stands in stark contrast to the strong anti-marijuana stance of another former mayor, New York City's Rudy Giuliani, who radically increased marijuana arrests and even opposes medical marijuana use. Campbell's actually for legalization across the board -- according to our 2003 interview with him, though not optimistic of it. Keep up with Canada drug policy news through our topics page here (or the RSS feed for it here). Or just read our newsletter...
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Ann Althouse Insults Medical Marijuana

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Popular law blogger Ann Althouse concurs with Rudy Giuliani's ignorant remarks about medical marijuana:

He takes a tough position:

"You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana," he said.
"We'd be much better off telling people the truth. Marijuana adds nothing to the array of legal medications and prescription medications that are available for pain relief."
I think he's right. But perhaps marijuana should be legalized, not just for people who can portray themselves as sick enough, but for any adult.
I appreciate that Althouse is open to legalization, but her casual and unsupported affirmation of Giuliani's remarks is uncalled for.

The fact that medical marijuana advances the interests of the legalization crowd doesn't mean it's a trick. Legalizers were simply among the first people to speak up about the treatment of patients. That's changing rapidly now. Do these groups sound like key players in a marijuana legalization conspiracy, Ann?
* The American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM)
* The American Nurses Association (ANA)
* The American Public Health Association (APHA)
* The American Society of Addiction Medicine
* British Medical Association
* The National Association for Public Health Policy
* The National Nurses Society on Addictions
* The Episcopal Church
* The Presbyterian Church USA
* The United Church of Christ
* The United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society
* The Union of Reform Judiasm
* The Unitarian Universalist Association

All of these organizations (and many more) have endorsed medical marijuana, and they're probably a bit more credible than OxyContin representative Rudy Giuliani.

Politics aside, why is it so hard to agree that people who don’t feel good should be allowed to feel better by using marijuana? Regardless of what anyone says, marijuana becomes a medicine when sick people successfully use it to treat their symptoms. That's what medicine is, by definition.

The "other options" argument is ludicrous because it is vital that sick people be given as many options as possible. Medical marijuana patients include people who are allergic to other medicines. Many patients use other medications as well, but find that marijuana settles their stomach after eating a dozen pills. For some, marijuana relaxes the muscles and/or the mood in ways that other medicines do not. Many of these "other options" are more toxic and more addictive than marijuana, and that is just a fact.

Patients and their doctors are the first people one should consult for information on the efficacy of medical marijuana, and their experiences should always matter more than the politicized fulminations of an authoritarian former prosecutor on the campaign trail.

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We Want Pardons: Petition to Save Bush's Legacy by Persuading Him to Pardon Thousands of Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Don't just pardon turkeys, President Bush! We, the undersigned, ask you to save your legacy by releasing thousands of nonviolent drug offenders from federal prison before you leave office. Short of taking such a measure, you will be doomed to go down in history as a hypocrite. Unlike President Clinton, you cannot point to a record of mercy toward people caught in the criminal justice system. While the overall Clinton record in criminal justice was not lenient, he did commute the sentences of 63 people, most of them neither wealthy nor powerful, including 29 nonviolent drug offenders. You, by contrast, commuted only three prisoners' sentences prior to helping Scooter Libby, one every two years. You have pardoned four times as many Thanksgiving turkeys as people you've released from prison. Even worse, in 2003 your attorney general, John Ashcroft, issued guidelines requiring federal prosecutors to always seek the maximum possible amount of prison time for defendants, with only limited exceptions permitted. The measure we've called for will undoubtedly be controversial, but you will have defenders from across the political spectrum. Advocates will assist your staff in finding appropriate cases -- reopening cases you've previously rejected would give the project a good head start. Clemency petitions will undoubtedly start to pour in once you put the word out. You can answer critics by saying we need to redirect our resources toward national security instead. And it will be consistent with the sympathy you've expressed in the past, based on your personal experiences, for people who have struggled with substance abuse. In the nation that is the world's leading jailer, which incarcerates a far greater percentage of its population than any other nation yet calls itself "land of the free," the president who helps to reverse that pattern will ultimately be recognized for it. Indeed, the "tough-on-crime" laws that have led us to this situation were mainly enacted for political reasons. Please pardon or commute the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders; please rescind the aforementioned Ashcroft directive; renounce your support for the drug war (at least in its current form); and call on Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentences and authorize downward revision of most federal sentencing guidelines. You have a year and a half left to prove that justice is for everyone -- not just for your friends. Will you rise to the occasion? History is watching.
Please click here to send a copy of this petition in your own name to President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and your US Representative and Senators if you live in the US.
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DEA Pain Hearings Tomorrow

The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will be holding oversight hearings tomorrow on the DEA's Regulation of Pain and Medicine. This is long overdue. Our position is that DEA is effectively causing the torture by denial of opiate medication of millions of pain patients around the country, by prosecuting doctors and thereby frightening other doctors into not being willing to prescribe them. See our topical archive on the issue for further information. Among the presenters to the committee tomorrow is our friend Siobhan Reynolds, head of the Pain Relief Network. She has posted the prepared version of her testimony here. The Judiciary Committee makes live video feeds of all hearings available on its home page here.
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They're Trying to Clone Drug-sniffing Dogs!

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It's horrible because it's true:

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean laboratory that produced the world's first cloned dogs is looking to get into the business of cloning canines, first by cloning drug-sniffing dogs, a lab official said on Tuesday.

The laboratory at Seoul National University, implicated in a scandal for fabricating data in embryonic stem cell studies, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korea Customs Service to clone drug-sniffing dogs, said Kim Min-kyu, the researcher who heads the cloning project for the team. [Reuters]

You've gotta hand it to these guys. What better way to overcome the ethical dilemmas facing the cloning industry than by getting involved in the drug war, where ethics are all but unheard of.

There's something brilliantly Orwellian about armies of drug-sniffing dog clones chasing hippies and snarling at school children. It's just a matter of time until they build robots to do that, and when that happens I just don't know what I'm gonna do. The big-time crooks will have their own robots to commit crimes for them, so our prisons will be filled with poor suckers who couldn’t afford a Stash-Bot 6000 to take the rap.

For the time being, it's worth noting that cloning in the drug war is nothing new. Anonymous sources have informed me that the new ONDCP documentary Stoners in the Mist is actually cloned from the original Reefer Madness, and drug war mouthpiece Mark Souder is actually cloned from red-scare fear-monger Joseph McCarthy.

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Positive Drug Tests Don't Prove Impairment

Maybe you've heard the story: Worker gets injured on the job. Employer, anticipating hefty workers compensation claims, administers drug test. Wouldn't you know it, injured employee tests positive for marijuana and is denied compensation due to presumed impairment.

Of course, since marijuana remains detectable for weeks after use, it is just wrong to presume that a positive result indicates impairment at the time of the accident. Still, many companies continue to fire injured employees for marijuana, rather than compensating them for on-the-job injuries that had nothing at all to do with their off-the-job marijuana consumption. It is a morally-reprehensible and scientifically-fraudulent practice, but one which serves the financial interests of its practitioners and thus continues.

Finally, for the first time that I know of, this sickening practice has been challenged successfully in court:
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a worker whose hand was crushed by machinery at his workplace was not to blame for the accident despite his admitted marijuana use off the job.



The state law establishing the drug-free workplace program presumes that any injuries to an employee found to have been using drugs or alcohol were caused by the drug use. But the court noted that the law also allows employees to enter evidence to rebut that presumption.


The co-worker and the shop foreman both testified that McIntosh didn't appear to be impaired by marijuana use before the accident.

McIntosh, who had worked at Interstate for five years, contended the injury was caused by the actions of an inexperienced employee. [Forbes]
So often in drug policy reform, we must celebrate victories of common sense that could be taken for granted if anti-drug hysteria had not permeated every aspect of our lives. How absurd is it that McIntosh even had to prove his lack of impairment? After all, it is perfectly clear and undeniable that a positive test for marijuana doesn’t prove impairment at all. There was never any evidence of impairment at any point throughout all of this, yet it had to be decided by the state's highest court.

While the Tennessee Supreme Court has certainly made the right decision here, one shudders to think how many marijuana users have been thrown to the dogs under identical circumstances. The premise that marijuana ruins lives – almost universally false though it is – somehow becomes a justification for profiteers seeking to validate the most despicable treatment of people who've used marijuana.

These events serve to remind us that prohibition is more than police, prisons and politics. It an idea – corrupt to its core – which infects everything, entering our schools and workplaces to spread false prejudice and obscure even the most obvious truths.

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Rudy Giuliani Hates Medical Marijuana, But He Loves OxyContin

Rudy Giuliani has again lashed out at medical marijuana on the campaign trail:
"I believe the effort to try and make marijuana available for medical uses is really a way to legalize it. There's no reason for it," the former New York mayor said during a town hall-style meeting at New Hampshire Technical Institute.

He also said there are better alternatives.

"You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana," he said. [AP]
I've already written about the potent irony of Giuliani's opposition to medical marijuana, but if he won’t shut up about this, neither will I. If Rudy Giuliani won't stop talking trash about medical marijuana, and endorsing pharmaceutical alternatives, I won’t stop bringing up the fact that he worked as a hired consultant for OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

Giuliani has less than no credibility on this issue because he worked for a company that is in direct competition with medical marijuana. It's really that simple. His claims that medical marijuana is part of a broader legalization conspiracy are also ironic considering that Giuliani played a key role in keeping OxyContin legal after it was linked with widespread abuse. Giuliani personally met with former DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson and persuaded him to leave Purdue alone. Meanwhile, abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly OxyContin, has become the fastest growing drug problem among America's youth.

To be clear, I don't believe OxyContin should be illegal. Patients must be allowed to choose medicines based on what works for them, whether it be OxyContin, medical marijuana, or tree bark. But the transparent hypocrisy of Giuliani's behavior is so over-the-top that it is just impossible to ignore.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

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Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
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Opposing the Drug War Doesn’t Make Us "Pro-drug"

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As recently as Friday, ONDCP has continuously described drug policy reform organizations as "pro-drug groups":
For years, pro-drug groups have been alleging that "nothing can be done" about the world's illegal drug problem.
Nothing could more perfectly illustrate ONDCP's inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge the stated goals of the drug policy reform movement. For starters, "nothing can be done about the world's drug problem" is the precise opposite of what we believe, and is an ironic accusation to receive from people who specialize in accomplishing nothing.

We've identified many things that need to be done with regards to the world's drug problem, starting immediately. It's true that we want the government to stop doing several things it currently does, but that doesn't mean we advocate illegal drug use or want nothing done. Our message is positive: drug abuse can be handled better than this.

Moreover, the difference between advocating something and opposing the arrest of its practitioners is plainly evident in the case of religion, sexual preferences, sky diving and so on. It is utter nonsense to equate opposition to the drug war with advocacy of drug use, and ONDCP's compulsion to falsely describe our motives merely demonstrates the difficulty of actually responding to our arguments.

Ultimately, the magnitude and diversity of the drug policy reform movement overwhelms any attempt to simplify our agenda. DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said it best at the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference:
Who are we? We are people who love drugs. They say we like drugs. It's true. Especially marijuana. Marijuana has been good for us. God put it here for a reason and we need to find a way to live with it in peace. But we are also people who hate drugs. We have suffered from overdoses and addiction. But we know that drugs are here to stay, and prohibition and the criminal justice system is not the way to deal with it. And we are people who don't care about drugs. People who care about the Constitution, who care about 2.2 million Americans behind bars, who care about fundamental rights and freedoms.
Indeed, opposition to the drug war emerges from a thousand perspectives, but it is for precisely this reason that ONDCP still endeavors to boil down our position into one silly soundbite: "pro-drug groups." It is one thing to create caricatures of our movement and mock us in a blog that doesn't allow comments. It would be quite another to stand up and defend this catastrophic war before each and every constituency that suffers by its hand.

So for the record, no, we are not "pro-drug." We are pro-freedom. We are pro-justice. We are pro-health, pro-equality, and pro-constitution. And we will continue to stand for these values openly and despite the certainty of being called things that we are not.

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Why Do Newspapers Drug Test Their Employees?

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Staffers at two major newspapers in Washington, D.C. tell me that they were warned about possible drug tests when they were hired. I don't know how widespread the practice is, or whether testing is actually conducted, but it got me thinking…

Why would a newspaper drug test its employees? In an environment characterized by firm deadlines and intense public exposure and scrutiny, how on earth are drug tests necessary to ensure competence? Really, what could be more frivolous than drug testing people whose efficiency is so easily measured?

I suspect that these companies reserve the right to drug test, but rarely do so in practice. If so, it's the threat that counts; that precisely because deadlines rule in the newspaper world, you can't have your staff getting wasted on illegal drugs. But even that makes no sense, because incompetence will always be revealed well before the urinalysis results come in.

Could it be that these newspapers are literally afraid that stoned staffers will create stoned stories? Absent tight controls, perhaps mischievous drug addicts would take over, perverting reality itself through drug-fueled, mind-altered reporting. Certainly, we don't need subliminal pro-drug messages with our breakfast cereal, and we don't want some acid-freak's hallucinations reported as news.

If journalists can't get high without fear of dismissal, maybe that explains the wealth of uninformed, uninspired drivel that passes for drug reporting in the modern press. Then again, we all know that drug testing doesn't actually prevent people from partying, especially with those powerful "hard" drugs that leave your system within 48 hours.

At the very least, this practice reveals that an anti-drug bias is literally built into the structure of major news organizations. But that should come as no surprise to anyone whose seen false government propaganda cut and pasted from press releases to the pages of prestigious papers with no regard for accuracy or opposing viewpoints.

After all, if you get too creative with a drug story, they just might pull out the pee-cup on you.

Location: 
United States

Hillary Clinton: Drug Policy Reformer?

This is a week old now, but I think Hillary Clinton's comments at the recent Democratic Presidential debate are worth discussing here:

MR. [DeWayne] WICKHAM: Okay. Okay, please stay with me on this one.

According to FBI data, blacks were roughly 29 percent of persons arrested in this country between 1996 and 2005. Whites were 70 percent of people arrested during this period. Yet at the end of this 10-year period, whites were 40 percent of those who were inmates in this country, and blacks were approximately 38 percent. What does this data suggest to you?

...

SEN. CLINTON: In order to tackle this problem, we have to do all of these things.

Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I’ve supported legislation to try to tackle that.

Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.

Three, we need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. (Applause.)

We need to make sure that we do deal with the distinction between crack and powder cocaine. And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration. (Applause.) [New York Times]

Of course, if Clinton truly believes that "non-violent offenders shouldn’t be serving hard time in our prisons," she'll have to look further than diversion programs and repealing mandatory minimums. Still, it's refreshing to hear a democratic front-runner sounding rehearsed on drug policy and criminal justice reform.

Frankly, the principle that non-violent drug offenders shouldn't be doing hard time stands in stark contrast to the drug war status quo. This is a powerful idea, and while Clinton attaches it to politically-safe policy proposals at this point, she sounds ready to have a realistic discussion about the impact of the drug war on communities of color.

Between Mike Gravel's aggressive anti-drug war stance and a near consensus among the other candidates about reforming sentencing practices and prioritizing public health programs, we're seeing rational ideas about drug policy creep slowly into mainstream politics.

I know quite a few pessimistic reformers, and far more that are just impatient. Everyday more people are arrested, jailed, killed, or otherwise stripped of their humanity by this great and unnecessary civil war, and it's depressing as hell to watch these things continue. But moments like this provide a barometer for our progress – slow though it may be – and I don't understand how anyone can look at the last 10 years of drug policy reform and say we're not moving forward.

I don't think our movement needs to change. I think it needs to grow, and indeed it is growing. When Hillary Clinton says "non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons," she becomes part of this movement, whether she likes it or not.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

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Radley Balko police raids testimony, House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime

Transcript on Reason web site here. The following quote sums up the root lack of logic at work in the use of SWAT teams for routine drug enforcement:
"[W]hen you’re dealing with nonviolent drug offenders, paramilitary police actions create violence instead of defusing it."
Location: 
United States

Silly Scott

Scott was being silly last Friday night when he published his "D.C. Needle Exchange Ban Lifted: Let's Do Heroin!" blog post. In fact, Scott was being silly in multiple ways. First, the DC needle exchange ban is only a ban on the District using its own tax dollars to fund the program. The PreventionWorks needle exchange program has been operating now for almost nine years, legally, and before that its predecessor program at the Whitman-Walker AIDS Clinic operated the exchange. It has been making do with private funding. Lifting of this ban means that PreventionWorks will be able to expand its operations, and that more needle exchange programs will be able to open, all of them together reaching more of the people who need the help. But it's not a matter of whether Scott personally could have gotten clean needles. Second, the PreventionWorks office is only a 15 minute walk from our office, so if Scott had really wanted to use heroin all this time, he wouldn't even have had to travel far to get clean needles. (It's a pretty walk, too, and there's a nice coffee shop in the neighborhood.) Third, as I pointed out in my editorial this week, the risk created by infected used syringes, while a major one, is by no means the only risk. So long as heroin itself continues to be illegal, the user will continue to be "at risk of overdose from fluctuating purity or poisoning from adulteration," and the addict will continue to suffer "severe financial debilitation from the high street prices created by prohibition," some of them "driven to extreme measures to afford drugs that would cost pennies to produce in a legal market." I know for a fact that Scott understands this as well as I do, and I published that editorial less than 24 hours before Scott wrote his blog post, so it must have been fresh in his mind. (Fourth, Scott was simply being sarcastic, in case anyone didn't realize it. He and I both scoff at the idea that more needle exchange will lead to increased drug use -- and we have the evidence to back us up.) So, I'm afraid that Scott and I will be holding out for legalization before we start shooting smack. I recommend that you wait too. (I'm being sarcastic too -- we also reject the idea that legalization will lead to large numbers of people using intense drugs like heroin who don't already use them now -- I certainly have no interest in it.)
Location: 
United States

Joe Biden Does Something Good On Drug Policy

I've taken swings at Joe Biden a couple times in The Speakeasy, so I'm very pleased to see this:
In a press release that does not seem to be available online, the American Civil Liberties Union praises Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), historically one of the most gung-ho drug warriors in the Democratic Party, for introducing a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder. Previous proposals would have merely reduced the disparity, in some cases by making cocaine powder sentences more severe. By contrast, Biden's bill would raises the amount of crack that triggers a five-year mandatory minimum sentence to 500 grams, the same as the amount for cocaine powder. [reason]
Here's Biden's statement:
The current sentencing disparity between the two forms of cocaine is based on false notions and old logic. The bottom line is that there is no scientific justification for any disparity. Crack and powder are simply two forms of the same drug, and each form produces identical effects. I will soon be introducing legislation that eliminates the sentencing disparity completely, fixing this injustice once and for all.
Coming from a man whose drug war credentials include authoring the RAVE Act and creating ONDCP, this is an exciting surprise. While many consider fixing the crack/powder sentencing disparity a no-brainer, reducing federal drug sentences is certainly a bold move for Biden.

He's running for president right now, so Biden's willingness to challenge a drug war injustice suggests a shifting perception of the political implications of U.S. drug policy. As obviously flawed as the sentencing disparity is, it's not really that much more palatable than any number of other issues we're working on. If Biden can recognize this problem, there's much more he could potentially come to understand.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

Location: 
United States

President Bush's Commutation Total Just Increased by 50%!

Bush pardons turkeys and political allies but lets
half a million nonviolent drug offenders rot. The news just broke that President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, leaving him with a conviction and a $250,000 fine. Most of the fine is going to be paid by his allies. This might not bother me as much -- I'm generally not a big fan of prison -- were it not that Bush has been such a "pardon Scrooge" during all of his now many years in office. In fact, as of last November the total number of commutations he had done numbered a mere two, according to SF Chronicle columnist Deb Saunders. What a coincidence that of all of the two million people languishing behind bars in this country, the vice president's former aide was one of only .00015% of them -- three people -- who deserved to be spared prison time! I've been watching drug policy, and criminal justice generally, for the last 14 years, and the sheer hypocrisy in this instance even blows me away. Either George Bush proceeds now to release nonviolent offenders in droves -- thousands and thousands of them -- or calling him a hypocrite will be the understatement of the millennium. Clarence Aaron and the Garrison twins would be three good people to start with. (Update: The president cannot commute state sentences, so change the .00015% I referred to earlier to .0015% instead. On the other side of the equation, though, a much higher percentage of federal incarcerations are of nonviolent drug offenses than of state incarcerations.)
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

D.C. Needle Exchange Ban Lifted: Let's Do Heroin!

From The Washington Post:
The House yesterday lifted a nine-year-old ban on using D.C. tax dollars to provide clean needles to drug addicts, handing city leaders what they consider a crucial new weapon against a severe AIDS epidemic.
Well, I know what I'm doing tonight. Heroin. Because concerns about the availability of clean needles were the only thing stopping me.

Pro-AIDS activist Mark Souder is furious. He thinks this will cause a heroin epidemic or something. He's right, if you can call a bunch of heroin users that would otherwise be dead an epidemic.

Not to mention that all my friends are pawning their playstations in anticipation of getting super-wasted on uncut, AIDS-free H. I hear it's like having sex with a cloud.

Location: 
United States

Marijuana Policy Reformers Don't "Hide Behind AIDS and Cancer Patients"

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In an otherwise great piece putting ONDCP's pot potency panic in perspective, Clara Jeffery at Mother Jones throws a brick at drug policy reformers:
As in so many things these days, one wishes for something approximating independent analysis. I don't trust the government's research on drugs; its hyperbole and scare tactics on pot in particular seemed design to defend status quos (border and prison policies) that worsen, not solve, larger societal problems at hand. Nor do I trust NORML et al, even, and perhaps especially, when, having gotten nowhere on legalization per se, they reframe the issue as a balm for the sick and dying. Allowing medical marijuana is a no-brainer in my book, but I just think it's a little unseemly when perfectly healthy pot-positive types hide behind AIDS and cancer patients.

Jeffery questions the credibility of the federal drug war establishment, then borrows their favorite talking point and slaps us with it.

Yet, the idea that marijuana policy reformers have somehow exploited patients is incoherent on its face. We have defended patients because their persecution is one of the most tragic consequences of the great war we oppose. That our efforts on behalf of patients have been particularly successful is a product of political realities, not an indictment of our strategy. We don't get to choose which of our issues gain traction.

This fight was brought to our doorstep in the form of sick people and their caretakers getting arrested. Our disgust over the persecution of medical marijuana patients is very real and our willingness to fight and win major victories on their behalf has been amply demonstrated. These patients are our friends and family, literally.

Nor are we hiding in any sense of the word. Really, what could be more obviously wrong than the suggestion that marijuana reformers are somehow concealing our agenda? It is plastered atop our websites, it is spelled out in our press releases and on our t-shirts, and it is the first thing we'll explain to anyone willing to listen.

Clara Jeffery, why is it ok for you to call medical marijuana a "no-brainer," and not us? We spoke of compassion, and we then built compassionate policies out of thin air and against massive opposition. No, we don't hide behind AIDS and cancer patients. We march with them.

Update: Paul Armentano at NORML tells me that Mother Jones turned down a remarkably similar story he submitted a month ago, only to then publish this version. This illustrates two important things:

1. While Mother Jones purports not to trust NORML, they like Paul Armentano's story ideas and echo his analysis.

2. Having received multiple submissions from Paul, Mother Jones almost certainly knows that he does not "hide behind AIDS and cancer patients," because they've seen him writing about other topics, including this one.

Ultimately, the attack against NORML is just completely without merit or provocation. Clara Jeffery owes an explanation.

Location: 
United States

Is it Ok to Out Prohibitionist Politicians for Past Pot Use? Yes.

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When Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman regurgitated ONDCP anti-pot propaganda, he got more than he bargained for. It all began with this statement from the senator:
"I oppose the legalization of marijuana because, as noted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana can have serious adverse health affects on individuals. The health problems that may occur from this highly addictive drug include short-term memory loss, anxiety, respiratory illness and a risk of lung cancer that far exceeds that of tobacco products. It would also make our transportation, schools and workplaces, just as examples, more dangerous." [CelebStoner.com]
Unfortunately for Coleman, NORML board member Norm Kent was hip to his hypocrisy. Having partied and protested alongside Coleman in college, Kent crafted an open letter to the Senator exposing his marijuana use and fundamentally undermining Coleman's reckless characterization of the drug's risks:
Dear Mr. Coleman,

My friend Norman.

Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.

Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice...

Truly, nothing could better refute Norm Coleman's attacks against marijuana than the life of Norm Coleman. He smoked marijuana in college – like so, so, so many others – and now he is a U.S. Senator. He does not have lung cancer or schizophrenia.

As a general rule, I don’t think it's our business who smoked pot in college. But so long as a great and terrible war is waged against marijuana users, we cannot always afford to take the moral high ground. Kent's letter reveals Coleman as a shameless liar in far fewer words than it would take to explain that marijuana doesn’t cause cancer or idiocy.

Most importantly, Norm Coleman's public humiliation sends a message to other politicians that flagrant lies and rank hypocrisy will not be tolerated in the marijuana debate. Until our leaders finally get the message that Americans don’t want this war, cheap political posturing will continue.

If a little narcing of our own can help silence other would-be drug war demogogues, I say let 'em have it.

Update: In hindsight, the above doesn't exhibit much respect for individual privacy, which is an important value that must always be considered even when dealing with dishonest folks. As Kent's letter notes, Coleman mentioned getting high in the school newspaper and used marijuana defiantly on the roof of a school building during a protest, so he'd already sacrificed any expectation of privacy.

Location: 
United States

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