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Senate Judiciary Holding Marijuana Hearing Next Month

Dept. of Justice building, Washington, DC (gsa.gov)
As promised, Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has scheduled hearings on marijuana policy. "Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws" will take place September 10 at 10:00am EST in Hart 216. The page has a webcast button. No witness names have been posted yet.

One option that may get discussed is the idea for the federal government to sign contracts with states agreeing to permit their legal systems to move forward if the states commit to moving against illegal growers who are exporting outside their states. Mark Kleiman, who is consulting on I-502's implementation for Washington State, suggested it in an article published last wee in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, according to The Seattle Times (hat tip Center for Legal Cannabis). The idea was floated by Stuart Taylor at a forum I attended at the Brookings Institution last April, "Marijuana Legalization: Are There Alternatives to State-Federal Conflict?" Taylor published a paper on it for Brookings last spring, who points to a provision of the Controlled Substances Act that makes it possible for the government to do without congressional action.

Also of relevance: state officials in Washington and Colorado believe the Dept. of Justice has given "tacit approval" for their legalization systems moving forward, according to a report by Talking Points Memo.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensaries get regulation in Oregon, a dispensary will open in Delaware, and they're already popping up in Arizona. There's more medical marijuana news, too; let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Wednesday, the first medical marijuana dispensary in Yuma opened for business. The Jamestown Center on East 32nd Street will serve qualifying patients and is staffed with three pharmacists and a biochemist.

On Tuesday, a new dispensary opened in Tucson. The Downtown Dispensary could potentially be the city's busiest; it is the closest one to the University of Arizona.

California

Last Wednesday, state legislators gave up on a dispensary regulation bill in the face of strong opposition lobbying from law enforcement unions. Senate Bill 439 would have given the state attorney general's guidelines on dispensaries the force of law. Under the status quo, which will now continue indefinitely, the guidelines are not legally binding, allowing recalcitrant law enforcement and local prosecutors to ignore them.

On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors sought to beef up the county's marijuana growing ordinance. They asked legal staff to explore ways to toughen up the ordinance after county residents complained about rampant pot farming. Residents talked of generators humming all night, dogs running loose and squatters. They said they are afraid to walk off their property or have guests over. Under the current ordinance, violations are punishable by a $100 fine. Some supervisors want to emulate nearby Kern County, where grow ordinance violations are treated as misdemeanors, with up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Other supervisors said the county should just enforce the existing ordinance.

Also on Tuesday, the Napa city council scrapped a proposed dispensary ordinance. The city had spent four years trying to craft it. The council also declined to move forward on a proposed ban. The only action the council could agree to was to send a letter to lawmakers bemoaning the confusion over medical marijuana laws. The city has an existing moratorium on dispensaries, but that is set to expire in October.

Colorado

On Wednesday, activists protested at the state Board of Health over allegations that the Department of Public Health and Environment has been illegally sharing confidential patient information through an online database. Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute and Kathleen Chippi of the Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project authored an emergency petition calling for the database to be disabled. The Health Department has agreed to improve security, but the protesters want to see quicker action.

Delaware

Last Thursday, Gov. Jack Markell (D) announced he would move forward with opening a state-registered dispensary. He had balked at implementing that portion of the state's 2011 medical marijuana law after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors, leaving the state's patients without any legal access to their medicine. The law called for one dispensary in each of the state's three counties, but Markell said he would start with one.

Florida

Last Thursday, medical marijuana initiative organizers cleared their first hurdle on the way to the November 2014 ballot. They handed in more than 110,000 voter signatures, well above the 68,000 valid signatures required to trigger a review of the initiative's language by the state Supreme Court. See our feature story on the Florida effort.

Massachusetts

On Saturday, a Sandisfield town hall meeting rejected a proposal for the town to explore running a nonprofit dispensary. The proposal would have allocated $30,000 for a consultant who would advise the town on how to submit an application before next week's competitive filing deadline.The state is currently accepting applications for up to 35 statewide dispensaries. The deadline is August 22.

Michigan

On Tuesday, DEA agents raided an Ann Arbor dispensary. Hit was People's Choice Alternative Medicine. The dispensary had a sign on the door Tuesday afternoon saying it was closed until further notice. It's the second such raid by the DEA in Washtenaw County in a month. On July 30, a search warrant was executed at The Shop -- a medical marijuana dispensary in Ypsilanti.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the state's only dispensary reopened after being closed for seven weeks. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair had closed its doors because of a lack of supply. Because it is the only dispensary operating in the state, it quickly was overwhelmed by demand. Now, they will limit new patients to the seven-county north Jersey region it was originally licensed to serve. Two other dispensaries, one in Woodbridge and one in Egg Harbor, have been given permission to begin growing their crops and are expected to open this fall.

Last Friday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) conditionally vetoed a bill allowing medical marijuana for children, but signaled to the legislature that he would okay it if it were changed to require that kids see not only a pediatrician, but also a psychiatrist, and if the use of medical marijuana edibles were limited to children. On Monday, the state Senate approved those changes. Action awaits in the state Assembly.

New Mexico

Last Wednesday, the state Medical Board postponed a hearing on proposed new rules for providers, saying high public interest required it to find a larger meeting space. The hearing was set for a space holding 100 people, but the board said it now expects 400 to attend. It will provide 30-day notice of the new hearing date. The proposed new rules include requiring providers to consult with a patient's other medical providers and requiring a periodic re-diagnosis of conditions warranting medical marijuana use.

Oregon

Last Thursday, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) signed into law a medical marijuana dispensary bill. Kitzhaber signed House Bill 3460, which authorizes the Oregon Health Authority to establish procedures to license and regulate dispensaries. Oregon has an estimated 200 dispensaries already operating, but until now, they have operated in a legal gray area and have been subject to harassment and prosecution depending on the attitudes of local police and prosecutors. This bill will require them to register under OMMA and comply with regulations, which will include testing, tracking to ensure that only valid patients are receiving marijuana, and restrictions on location.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

NJ Gov. Moves on Medical Marijuana for Kids, With Restrictions

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) Friday conditionally vetoed a bill that would have expanded the number of marijuana strains available to patients and allow minors to be treated with medical marijuana with a doctor's referral, but he said he would sign the bill if the legislature specified that marijuana could only be given to minors with a referral from two doctors, including a psychiatrist and a pediatrician. Christie also insisted that marijuana edibles only be given to minors. He conversely relented to allow dispensaries to grow a larger number of strains in order to serve more of patients' needs.

Christie acted just two days after being confronted at a campaign stop by Brian Wilson, father of two-year old Vivian Wilson, who suffers from a rare medical condition that includes a severe form of epilepsy that anti-seizure medications have failed to control. Wilson and dozens of supporters demanded the governor quit stalling and act on the bill.

"Protection of our children remains my utmost concern and our regulations must make certain that children receive the care they need, while remaining well-guarded from potential harm," Christie said in a memo sent to lawmakers. "Today, I am making commonsense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards. I am calling on the legislature to reconvene quickly and address these issues so that children in need can get the treatment they need."

On Monday, the state Senate quickly approved Christie's desired changes to Senate Bill 2842, which was originally drafted to help the Wilsons obtain treatment for their daughter.

"No one who is suffering with a painful and debilitating illness should be denied relief if it can be provided, and that is especially true for a young child," said Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex). "The Wilson family has been prevented from getting their child the help she needs as a result of severe restrictions placed on our state program. We should not make their family, nor any other family in New Jersey, wait any longer for relief. While I believe far too many limitations still exist, these changes will help to remove some of the barriers faced by eligible patients."

"Our medical marijuana law was already the strictest in the nation. The program has been made so restrictive that it has prevented eligible patients from obtaining the relief they are entitled to under the law," said Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union). "These common-sense changes are a small step toward ensuring that children who are suffering from a debilitating condition can get the compassionate care they deserve. I want to thank the Wilson family for working with us on this legislation and for their advocacy on behalf of their daughter, Vivian, and all of the children of the state who are in need of treatment."

The bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Trenton, NJ
United States

ACLU-Illinois Sues Chicago Over Public Housing Drug Tests

The ACLU of Illinois Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) over its policy requiring drug testing of residents in mixed-income developments. The ACLU charges in US District Court that the CHA's policy of suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Lawsuit plaintiff Robert Peery (aclu-il.org)
A positive drug test would lead to the eviction of the resident.

The CHA instituted the mixed-income residence drug testing program as part of its "Plan for Transformation," which tore down many of the city's crime-ridden high-rise housing developments and replaced them with mixed-income developments. Residents of the demolished low-income housing developments were given the option of moving into the new properties, but were required to take an initial drug test and be tested again every time the lease was renewed.

"Through the CHA's mixed-income program, public housing families reside in housing that is new, privately-owned and privately operated, alongside market-rate and affordable renters. One of the requirements of renters is that they follow property rules," CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said in a statement Wednesday. "And if those rules happen to include drug testing, then public housing families -- like their market-rate and affordable renter neighbors -- must adhere to those rules."

The suit, filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Joseph Peery, is seeking a temporary injunction to block drug testing and a permanent ban on the practice. It also asks that the CHA be ordered to pay plaintiffs' legal fees.

"Mr. Peery repeatedly has taken and passed a suspicionless drug test," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Peery is a law-abiding person, and does not use illegal drugs. He strongly objects to the CHA's suspicionless drug testing. He finds it humiliating and invasive, and it makes him feel stigmatized as a presumptive criminal and drug user."

"I'm required to go into the business office, urinate in a jar, then hand it to an office staffer. Anyone working in or visiting the office can watch the process," Peery said at a Wednesday press conference. "It's embarrassing. You can only imagine how the grandmothers in the developments feel. We're being singled out in public housing. It's not fair."

"This misguided policy unfairly stigmatizes Mr. Peery and CHA residents like him," said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois. "It presumes he is guilty of illegal drug use, solely because he is a public housing resident, until he proves otherwise with a drug test."

"No one should have to suffer an invasion of their privacy -- like forced urinalysis -- in order to live in their own home," added ACLU staff attorney Karen Sheley.

Chicago, IL
United States

North Carolina Governor Vetoes Welfare Drug Test Bill

North Carolina Gov. Robert McCrory (R) Thursday vetoed a welfare drug testing bill pushed through the legislature by his Republican colleagues. Drug testing welfare applicants or recipients was a "government overreach," he said.

The bill, House Bill 392, would have required people applying for the state's welfare and food stamp programs to undergo drug testing if social service workers determined there was reasonable suspicion they were using drugs. It would also have required county workers to ensure that applicants did not have outstanding felony warrants and were not violating probation.

"While I support the efforts to ensure that fugitive felons are not on public assistance roles, and to share information with law enforcement, other parts of the bill are unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and have potential operational problems," McCrory said in a veto statement. "Drug testing Work First applicants as directed in this bill could lead to inconsistent application across the state's 100 counties. That's a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion," he said.

"This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse," McCrory continued. "Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive for taxpayers and did little to actually help fight drug addiction. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina."

While vetoing the bill, McCrory did issue an executive order that would implement the bill's fugitive felon provision.

The veto won praise from civil liberties and civil rights advocates.

"Our state and federal constitutions protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians against unreasonable searches, and all available evidence has shown that welfare applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public," Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU in North Carolina said in a statement.

The ACLU and other groups had written McCrory on July 31 urging him to veto the bill.

Charlotte, NC
United States

NYC Comptroller Says Legalize and Tax Marijuana in New Report

New York City Comptroller John Liu Wednesday released a report calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Doing so would reduce the harms generated by marijuana prohibition and generate more than $400 million a year in taxes to pay for higher education, Liu said.

New York City Comptroller John Liu (wikipedia.org)
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and financial officer for the city. Liu, who has served one four-year term, is not seeking reelection.

"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities," said Comptroller Liu. "It's time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."

Liu estimated the size of the city's marijuana market at $1.65 billion a year and proposed using tax revenues from the legalized trade to cut tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) by up to 50%.

"In this way, we'll invest in young people's futures, instead of ruining them," he said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol, New York City can minimize teens' access to marijuana, while at the same time reducing their exposure to more dangerous drugs and taking sales out of the hands of criminals."

Under Liu's proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed, and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes. A strict driving under the influence enforcement policy would be implemented concurrently, and marijuana use in public would be prohibited.

The report comes just days after a federal judge slammed the city for its stop-and-frisk policing tactics, which have played a key role in making the Big Apple the world leader in marijuana possession arrests. The street searches are racially biased, the judge found, ordering reforms.

"New Yorkers, like people elsewhere around the country, are questioning our broken polices related to marijuana," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comptroller Liu's report offers another important opportunity for New Yorkers to examine the issues and discuss the range of options for fixing these laws. An increasing number of elected officials in the City and state agree that our marijuana policies are broken -- resulting in racial disparities, Constitutional violations, fiscal waste and needless suffering. While there may not be widespread agreement about how to fix these problems, it's critical that we have an open and vigorous debate about the issue."

New York City, NY
United States

Delaware Governor Moves on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

More than two years after signing a medical marijuana bill into law, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) signaled Thursday that he is ready to move forward with drafting regulations for dispensaries, or "compassion centers" in Delaware-speak. Markell halted the dispensary portion of the law after in February 2012 after receiving a letter from US Attorney Charles Oberly warning that the state risked federal action if it moved to regulate dispensaries.

But in a letter to lawmakers Thursday, Markell said he will issue a request for a proposal to open a single dispensary next year. The 2011 law called for dispensaries in each county of the state's three counties. Markell acted after other states, including New Jersey and Rhode Island, have issued licenses for dispensaries without the federal government coming down on them.

"The sensible and humane aim of state policy in Delaware remains to ensure that medical marijuana is accessible via a safe, well-regulated channel of distribution to patients with demonstrated medical need," the Wilmington News Journal quoted Markell as saying in the letter. The letter was addressed to Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, both Wilmington Democrats who had supported the bill and urged Markell to move forward.

Currently, Delaware medical marijuana patients are in limbo. While they can register as patients with the state, they have no legal place to buy their medicine, and the state law does not permit them to grow their own.

In the letter, Markell said he hoped to address Justice Department concerns by including "tight security requirements," including round-the-clock video monitoring and limiting the dispensary to growing 150 plants and keeping an inventory of no more than 1,500 ounces of usable marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which had helped shepherd the law's passage, said in a message to supporters Thursday that Markell's move was "very welcome news that is a long time coming."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Dover, DE
United States

Oregon Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill

Oregon is about to join the ranks of states with legal, regulated medical marijuana dispensaries after Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to do just that.

Kitzhaber signed House Bill 3460, which authorizes the Oregon Health Authority to establish procedures to license and regulate dispensaries. But he did so with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

In his signing statement, Kitzhaber warned that anyone involved with medical marijuana still faces possible federal prosecution and said that he had received many requests from concerned parties to veto the bill and that he "shares those concerns to a certain extent." He also urged the director of the Health Authority "to broadly engage all stakeholders, including law enforcement" in promulgating rules.

That said, Kitzhaber also said he had two main goals with the bill. "First, we want to ensure the overall safety of our communities through appropriate rules to license and regulate dispensaries, and second, we want to allow the patients safe access to marijuana if they are eligible for treatment under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act."

Oregon has an estimated 200 dispensaries already operating, but until now, they have operated in a legal gray area and have been subject to harassment and prosecution depending on the attitudes of local police and prosecutors. This bill will require them to register under OMMA and comply with regulations, which will include testing, tracking to ensure that only valid patients are receiving marijuana, and restrictions on location.

The governor's concerns notwithstanding, advocates praised the signing of the bill.

"We are pleased to get both the signature and the direction from Governor Kitzhaber. Now it is up to those people who are part of the medical marijuana program that we draft these rules right and implement them responsibly to provide both safe access to patients and be good neighbors in our communities," said Geoff Sugerman, one of the leading proponents of the bill.

"This is the next step in ensuring a system that provides safe access to as many patients as possible while making sure these facilities are holding themselves to a high standard of conduct," said Sam Chapman, a lobbyist for Oregonians for Medical Rights who helped draft the bill. "Now we need to make sure those who are operating facilities understand their responsibilities to their patients and their communities."

State Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) and State Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Lane County) were chief sponsors of the bill.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Salem, OR
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana wars continue in California, a Michigan town gets intrusive, Nevada prepares to rake in the dough from dispensaries, and Washington patients organize in the face of legalization. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a state task force charged with setting policy on dealing with pollution generated by marijuana growers met for the first time. The task force is the outgrowth of a Butte County request that state water regulators take part in dealing with the problem. Its members include county officials, state legislators, a representative from the governor's office, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Water regulators had told local officials they were reluctant to send their employees to grow areas, and the parties involved agreed to create a task force aimed at producing a policy that could be applied statewide on how to attack the water pollution threat.

Also last Thursday, police raided and shut down the first dispensary to open in Los Angeles County. The historic IMCC Wellness Center in Inglewood, which opened in 1999, was raided by numerous officers, who said the three other dispensaries in the city would also be shut down. The owner, Paul Scott, suspects local authorities have been emboldened by the recent state Supreme Court decision holding that localities can ban dispensaries.

Also last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council made moves to retool a draft medical marijuana cultivation ordinance that had failed to pass in the spring. The council ordered administrators to make several changes to the draft ordinance, which is modeled on the cultivation ordinance adopted by the Lake County Board of Supervisors last summer. The ordinance would limit the number of plants according to parcel size, but got hung up earlier over whether to include daycare centers in the definition of schools, from which grows must be at least 600 feet distant. The council now wants to define daycare centers as a separate category, but maintain the 600-foot requirement, although it would have a grandfather provision.

On Monday, a letter from the Contra County DA to Richmond officials saying dispensaries are illegal was made public. Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson sent a letter dated July 25th to the City Council of Richmond advising them that the medical marijuana dispensaries they approved are illegal and are in violation of state and federal laws. Peterson also warned those who facilitate these actions may be liable as well. He copied the letter to city governments throughout the county.

Also on Monday, Doc Holliday's Collective in Mentone closed under protest, with demonstrators marking its last day of operation. The dispensary shut down after reaching an agreement with San Bernardino County authorities over thousands of dollars in fines it had racked up for continuing to operate despite a county ban on dispensaries.

Also on Monday, a Coronado family filed a lawsuit charging officials took their children for a year because the father was a medical marijuana patient. Michael Lewis, Lauren Taylor and their children Cameran and Bailey Lewis sued San Diego County and seven of its officers, the City of Coronado and two of its police officers for civil rights violations, battery, false imprisonment and negligence, in Superior Court. The suit alleges the children were taken without any actual evidence of abuse or neglect, solely because of the father's medical marijuana use, and that police and child welfare workers lied about the nature of the case. It took 364 days and an appellate court ruling for the parents to get their kids returned.

On Tuesday, there was strong public support for a restrictive cultivation ordinance in Merced County. Advocates of a crackdown on grows supported a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of plants to 12, no matter what the size of the parcel. The county sheriff's office showed slides of massive marijuana grows, and deputies linked them to various crimes, as well as fires and environmental pollution. Several residents also spoke about the violence they witnessed in their own neighborhoods, where pot plants are growing. No one spoke in opposition to the ordinance, but two speakers asked for exceptions for caregivers and others stressed the difference between "cartel operations" and legitimate grows for patients. A second hearing will take place on September 10, and the board of supervisors will vote on the ordinance then. If approved, it will go into effect a month later.

Michigan

On Tuesday, the Jackson city council approved an intrusive cultivation ordinance that would limit patients to using no more than 20% of their homes to grow or consume their medicine. The ordinance also bans dispensaries. The ordinance had stalled in June over the 20% requirement and two others -- that tenants must provide a statement from landlords approving the use of medical marijuana, and that "combustible materials" were to be prohibited in homes where marijuana was grown. Those latter two provisions have now been removed, but even the 20% provision stuck in the throats of some council members. The measure passed 4-3, and will go into effect September 12 after a final vote. Protestors outside the council meeting said they will sue the city if it attempts to enforce the new ordinance.

Nevada

On Tuesday, the state Board of Examiners approved initial funding for the Tax Department to implement tax collection efforts on medical marijuana sales next year. A dispensary law passed the legislature this year, and sales will begin next year. The Board approved a $529,000 funding request from the department, most of which is the cost to start the collection process involves one-time changes to its tax system at a cost of $496,000. The agency also is seeking ongoing funding of about $52,000 a year to hire a new tax examiner, he said. The state will collect a 2% excise tax on medical marijuana growers and sellers, and purchasers will pay a sales tax as well.

Washington

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates launched a "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign to ensure that the effort to implement marijuana legalization in the state does not result in negative impacts on patients or the dismantling of the state's Medical Use of Cannabis Act. Assisted by Americans for Safe Access, the campaign seeks to educate lawmakers about the distinct needs of patients and avoid seeing the medical marijuana program folded into the recreational system, a possibility that is being raised by some observers.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

The Other Reason Bloomberg's Wrong About Stop and Frisk

The other piece of big news today was a federal judge finding New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" program unconstitutional. Judge Scheindlin used some pretty scathing language in her nearly-200 page opinion. Phil's article is here.

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling, claiming that the stop and frisk practice works and makes the city safer. But as I pointed out in a recent post, while there is research suggesting NYC police have done a lot of good innovating, so far at least the research has not borne out stop and frisk as being one of them.

That is to say, there are other things police do in New York, besides stop and frisk, that have produced a larger than average crime drop than other cities. And they also do stop and frisk, which research hasn't found to help with that.

One more note for now is that we have also written, and more extensively, about NYC as the world's marijuana arrest capital. This is different from the stop and frisk practice, but stop and frisk undoubtedly fuels it.

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