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Tell the Drug Czar...

One week ago today, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske (aka the Drug Czar) issued a statement declaring the issue of marijuana legalization a "non-starter" not even worthy of discussion in the Obama Administration.

The Drug Czar's statement also highlighted the extraordinary social and health care costs associated with widespread alcohol use, suggesting that similar problems would occur if marijuana were to be regulated and treated like alcohol.  Yet every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol both for the user and for society.

In response to the Drug Czar's statement, SAFER has launched an on-line petition, calling on the drug czar to either start basing our nation's drug policies on reason and evidence instead of mythology and ideology, or start explaining why he'd prefer adults use alcohol instead of a far safer substance -- marijuana. 

Please visit http://tinyurl.com/yj32wxb or click on the button to the right to sign the petition today. Then forward word of it to anyone who might be interested in siging on before we present it to the drug czar.

Along with launching the petition, SAFER has issued...

An Open Letter to the Drug Czar About Marijuana Legalization

On the afternoon of Friday, October 23, at a time when government bureaucrats make announcements they hope will not be picked up by the media, you issued a statement boldly declaring:

Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration. It is not something that the President and I discuss; it isn't even on the agenda.

As the individual most directly responsible for marijuana policy in this country, this seems utterly irresponsible.  Worse, your decision does not appear to be based on reason or evidence.

Let's begin with one glaringly obvious omission in your statement. You failed to cite a single societal or health-related harm caused by the use of marijuana. Not one! Instead, you offered up some weak guilt-by-association scare tactics.

To test the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana, we only need to look at already legal drugs -- alcohol and tobacco. We know that the taxes collected on these substances pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their widespread use.

Apparently, you believe that marijuana users should be punished and perhaps even jailed because alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs are so harmful to users and society.

Sorry, Mr. Kerlikowske, but that just doesn't cut it. If you are going to remain closed-minded in your approach to marijuana, you are going to need to step it up. Unfortunately, you know as well as we do that you don't have a whole lot going for you, which explains your flaccid, evidence-free statement.

Sadly, we have come to expect this kind of nonsensical garbage from our nation's drug czars. (After all, you have Kevin Sabet, a Bush Administration holdover and former speechwriter for his drug czar,

John Walters, feeding you the same old lines.) But what makes your position on marijuana legalization even more shameful is your background as a law enforcement officer on the streets.

You know -- and maybe at some point during your tenure you will have the guts to admit -- that alcohol is really the drug in our society that causes the greatest amount of harm. This isn't an attempt to demonize alcohol, mind you; it's simply based on alcohol's close association with serious health problems and violent crime, as documented by scientific research and government statistics. The use of marijuana, on the other hand, does not have serious health consequences and is not associated with violent behavior.

Again, you know this from your time on the streets. If you've forgotten, just recall the alcohol-fueled Seattle Mardi Gras riot that occurred on your watch. Or ask you're predecessor, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who called alcohol "the most dangerous drug in America today," during a 1999 ONDCP press conference.

So just why is it that you want to punish people who use marijuana, when you know the likely result is that many of these people will simply turn to using alcohol instead? Ya know, because it's "legal."

We don't want to hear that alcohol does not fall under the mission of ONDCP. You, sir, raised the subject by asserting -- contrary to everything known about the two substances -- that we should look at our experience with alcohol if we want to get a sense of the potential social and health care costs associated with more widespread marijuana use. Moreover, given that the two substances are so popular in our society, you simply cannot discuss the prohibition of marijuana without considering its impact on alcohol usage rates.

You hold a great deal of power in your hands. You can help determine whether we continue to steer adults toward using alcohol -- which you know produces serious societal harms -- or whether we instead allow them to make the rational choice to use a safer substance: marijuana.

Come on. Show us that it is possible to be the drug czar and be thoughtful, open-minded, and accepting of scientific evidence at the same time. Or, at the very least, why don't you find some actual statistics to back up your bluster?


Feature: Historic Hearing on Marijuana Legalization in the California Legislature

In an historic hearing Wednesday, the California legislature examined the pros and cons of marijuana legalization. The hearing marked the first time legalization has been discussed in the legislature since California banned marijuana in 1913.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sacramentohearing1.jpg
Ammiano press conference for hearing
Onlookers and media packed the hearing room for the three-hour session. Capitol employees had to hook up remote monitors in the hallway for the overflowing crowd of supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization.

The hearing before the legislature's Public Safety Committee was called for and chaired by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), who earlier this year introduced AB 390, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in the state. While Ammiano has made clear that he supports legalization, the witness list for the hearing was well-balanced, with legislative analysts and representatives of law enforcement as well as reform advocates in the mix.

The hearing began with testimony from legislative analysts, who estimated that the state could realize tax revenues ranging from hundreds of millions to nearly $1.4 billion a year from legalization. The latter figure was from the state Board of Equalization, while the lower estimates came from the Legislative Analyst's Office.

But tax revenues wouldn't be the only fiscal impact of legalization. "If California were to legalize, we would no longer have offenders in state prison or on parole for marijuana offenses," noted Golaszewski. "We estimate the savings there at several tens of millions of dollars a year. There would also be a substantial reduction in the number of arrests and criminal cases law enforcement makes. To the extent they no longer have to arrest people for marijuana, they could shift resources elsewhere."

Golaszewski said there are roughly 1,500 people imprisoned on marijuana charges in California, 850 of them for possession offenses.

The analysts were followed by a panel of attorneys who debated the legality of state legalization. "If California decides to legalize, nothing in the Constitution stands in its way," said Tamar Todd, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance Network.

But while Marty Mayer, attorney for the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), generally agreed with that assessment, he also argued that the state could not unilaterally legalize. "The state of California cannot unequivocally legalize marijuana," he said, noting that marijuana is prohibited under federal law.

Next up were the cops, and there were no surprises there. "Marijuana radically diminishes our society," said CPOA president John Standish. "Marijuana is a mind-altering addictive drug that robs you of memory, motivation, and concentration," he said before Ammiano cut him short, noting that the purpose of the hearing was to discuss public safety and economic impacts of legalization, not to debate marijuana's effects on health.

"Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed to the hilt, but the taxes don't cover the cost of medical treatment, let alone DUIs," Standish continued. "This would lead to an increase in crime rates, social costs, medical costs, and environmental concerns. There is also a very real concern that Mexican drug cartels are behind most of the imported marijuana coming into the US," he added, without explaining what that had to do with legalizing marijuana production in California.

And, pulling out yet another woolly chestnut, Standish resorted to the old and discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use is a stepping stone to hard drug use. "Marijuana is a gateway drug," he said. "Every incident in 30 years of law enforcement I have been in where marijuana has been involved has not been good. Both marijuana and methamphetamine are equally critical problems," he said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sacramentohearing3.jpg
overflow room
After reciting a short list of violent incidents around large-scale illegal grows allegedly operated by Mexican drug cartels, Sara Simpson, acting assisting chief of the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, warned that the cartels were likely to try to maintain their market share. "That could lead to more violence," she warned.

"Legalizing marijuana is bad public policy," said Simpson. "A significant number of marijuana users are incapacitated," she claimed. "When a recreational drug user backs over your four-year-old, you consider yourself a victim of violent crime. Legalization would increase death and injury totals."

"Why would we want to legalize a substance known to cause cancer?" asked Scott Kirkland, chief of police in El Cerrito and chairman of the California Police Chiefs' Medical Marijuana Task Force. "Legalization will only result in increased use of marijuana with a corresponding increase in drugged driving," he warned.

But later witnesses said that California was simply wasting resources by arresting marijuana offenders. Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said that arrest statistics from the past 20 years show that California law enforcement is more focused on prosecuting simple possession cases than cultivation and sales.

"California's drug war, particularly on marijuana, is focused on drug users," he said. "Virtually every category of crime has declined since 1990, except for a dramatic increase in arrests for marijuana possession. In 1990, there were 20,834 arrests for possession. Last year, there were 61,388 arrests. "

This was going on while arrests for all other drug offenses declined, Macallair said. For all other drugs, arrests were down 29%. Even marijuana manufacture and sales arrests had declined by 21%. More people went to prison in California in 2008 for marijuana possession than for manufacture or sales, he added.

"Our courtrooms are full every day with marijuana cases," said Terence Hallinan, the former San Francisco City and County District Attorney. "It's still against the law to sell even a gram. There are a lot of people in court and jail for marijuana offenses."

The Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego told the committee marijuana law enforcement has especially pernicious effects on the young. "When they find a group of kids with a joint, they take them all in to juvie. When they're incarcerated, they join gangs for safety. Jails have become the boot camps for the gangs," she said. "We need to think about and protect our youth."

"I speak on behalf of California's millions of marijuana users who are tired of being criminals and would like to be taxpaying, law-abiding citizens," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "We think it makes no sense for taxpayers to pay for criminalizing marijuana users and their suppliers when we could be raising revenues in a legal market."

"Today, our marijuana laws are putting our children in harm's way," said retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray. "We want to reduce the exposure of a lifestyle of marijuana use and selling to our children, but prohibition's illegal dealers don't ask for ID," he said.

At the end of the hearing, Ammiano opened the floor to public comment. While most speakers supported legalization, a contingent of conservative African-American religious leaders vigorously denounced it. "I know from personal experience the devastation that occurs in one's life and community as a result of drug abuse that began with marijuana," said Bishop Ron Allen, founder and president of the International Faith Based Coalition.

Also in opposition was Californians for Drug Free Youth. John Redman, the group's director, said legalizing marijuana to raise revenues was reprehensible. "This is blood money, pure and simple," Redman said.

The battle lines are shaping up. On one side are law enforcement, conservative clerics, and anti-drug zealots. On the other are researchers, activists, and, evidently, the majority of Californians. Ammiano gave as a handout at the hearing a sheet listing at least six recent polls showing majority support for marijuana legalization in the state.

The bill isn't going anywhere for awhile. Ammiano said he will hold more hearings later and may revise it based on the hearings. But marijuana legalization is now before the legislature in California.

MPP of Nevada to Offer $10,000 Challenge: Marijuana is Safer Than Alcohol

MEDIA ADVISORY   
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009

 

MPP of Nevada to Offer $10,000 Challenge:
Marijuana is Safer Than Alcohol -- Prove Us Wrong and We'll Pay $10,000

Press Conference Sept. 23 to Reveal Details


PHOTO-OP: Large Mock Check For $10,000


CONTACT: Dave Schwartz,  MPP-NV Manager...................................................702-727-1081


LAS VEGAS -- At a Las Vegas news conference Sept. 23, the Marijuana Policy Project of Nevada will announce details of a $10,000 challenge to the people of Nevada. MPP-NV will pay $10,000 to anyone who can disprove three statements of fact that demonstrate that marijuana is objectively and unquestionably safer than alcohol.


     MPP-NV manager Dave Schwartz will unveil a large mock check for $10,000 as he announces specifics of the challenge, which kicks off a long-term public education campaign regarding the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol, and the harm caused by marijuana prohibition.


     WHAT: News conference to announce the Marijuana Policy Project of Nevada's $10,000 challenge


     WHO: MPP-NV manager Dave Schwartz


     WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 11:00 a.m.


     WHERE:  Near the emergency room entrance of University Medical Center Hospital (behind the hospital), corner of Goldring Avenue and Rose Street, Las Vegas.

     MPP of Nevada is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating Nevadans about the true nature of marijuana and about the harms caused by marijuana prohibition in the state. For more information about MPP of Nevada, please visit http://www.mppnv.org.

####

Location: 
NV
United States

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Marijuana is Safer -- So Why Are Driving People to Drink?" by Paul Armentano, Steve Fox, and Mason Tvert (2009, Chelsea Green Publishers, 209 pp., $14.95 PB)

In the past few years, Colorado-based activist Mason Tvert has taken the notion of comparing marijuana to alcohol and used it to great success, first in organizing college students around equalizing campus penalties for marijuana and underage drinking infractions (marijuana offenses are typically punished more severely), then in running a successful legalization initiative in Denver in 2005. Tvert and his organization, SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), continue to hammer away at marijuana prohibition, and now, in collaboration with NORML analyst Paul Armentano and MPP director for state campaigns Steve Fox, he has taken his "marijuana is safer" campaign to a new level -- and, hopefully, to a new and broader audience.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/saferbook.jpg
Having known (and repeatedly interviewed) all three coauthors in the course of my duties for the Drug War Chronicle, I assumed "Marijuana Is Safer" would be a good book. I was mistaken. It's a great book, and an extremely useful one. "Marijuana Is Safer" starts out hitting on all eight cylinders with a foreword from former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and never lets up. It hits its points concisely and engagingly, it is thoroughly researched, and its political arguments are carefully thought out.

Regular readers of the Chronicle may not expect to learn a lot that they didn't know already, but they will likely be surprised, especially when it comes to the deleterious effects of alcohol. Did you know about the nasty effects of acetaldehyde? I didn't. It's what you get when you metabolize ethanol (alcohol), and it's carcinogenic and damages internal organs. Because it is so damaging, the body breaks it down into acetate, but if you're drinking at the rate of more than a drink an hour, you're body starts lagging behind. Something to keep in mind the next time someone invites you to join a drinking contest.

Similarly, you may share the general conviction that alcohol use can lead to violence, disease, crime, and accidents, but "Marijuana Is Safer" offers up the hard numbers -- complete with footnotes. Here's just one hard number: 35,000. That's the number of deaths each year attributed to chronic alcohol consumption. We all know what the number of deaths attributed to chronic use of the chronic is, don't we? That's right, zero.

Armentano, Fox and Tvert offer a mix of history, science, medicine, media critique, and just plain straight talk as they survey the history of alcohol and marijuana use in America, discuss the differing attitudes toward the two drugs, explain the rise of marijuana prohibition, and, most centrally, compare and contrast the effects of the two drugs on individual consumers and society as a whole.

They also dissect the arguments that legalizers have used -- so far, unsuccessfully -- to try to end marijuana prohibition. While those arguments are perfectly valid, the coauthors argue that they cannot counter the objection of people who might otherwise be persuaded: Why should we legalize another vice?

Naturally enough, Armentano, Fox and Tvert have the answer: "We would not be adding a vice; we would be allowing adults the option to choose a less harmful alternative for relaxation and recreation," they write.

They also provide the "money quotes" for several other skeptical responses to a legalization pitch, all designed to highlight the comparison of alcohol and marijuana. And these three are extremely well-positioned to know what to say; all three have been engaging in this conversation for years.

The coauthors also make a compelling argument that the "marijuana is safer" approach is a winner precisely because it forces listeners to think about alcohol and what it does -- something that all Americans know quite a bit about even if they don't drink. The comparison of marijuana and alcohol brings the discussion down from lofty abstractions about freedom and liberty to real world experiences with America's most popular drugs.

The "marijuana is safer" approach works just fine for marijuana, but potentially subverts broader anti-prohibitionist politics. It is difficult to imagine an argument for drug legalization based on "methamphetamine is safer" or "heroin is safer." It also effectively throws up a wall between "soft" marijuana and "hard" other drugs, abandoning broader drug legalization for freeing the weed alone. But perhaps "abandoning" is the wrong word. After all, Armentano and Fox work for marijuana reform organizations -- not drug reform organizations -- and Tvert's work all along has been about marijuana.

But possible unhelpful side-effects for broader anti-prohibitionism aside, "Marijuana Is Safer" is extremely worthwhile. This is a book you can hand to your mother or your teacher or your preacher and provide him or her with a nice framework for looking at marijuana -- one that by its inexorable comparative logic leads to the inescapable conclusion that marijuana should be legalized.

And for those readers with an interest in activism, this book needs to be on your bookshelf. It's full of handy, well-documented facts, it's got the answers to the questions you're likely to hear, and it's even got a how-to activism section at the back. I guarantee that if you own this book, it's going to be very well-thumbed before very long.

SAFER Book Launch

SAFER is hosting a party to celebrate the launch of Marijuana Is Safer. The event will include appetizers and an auction, and all proceeds from book sales will benefit SAFER. Copies of the book will be available for just $20 -- or for $30, get a copy and have one sent to a Colorado legislator! -- and SAFER's Mason Tvert will be on hand to discuss the book and sign copies.
Date: 
Sun, 08/23/2009 - 2:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: 
1550 Blake Street
Denver, CO
United States

The Great Marijuana Book Bomb

The highly acclaimed book co-authored by SAFER's Mason Tvert, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, is now available. A book about marijuana has never hit #1 on Amazon.com, but with your help that could change. Please join hundreds of other marijuana reform supporters in purchasing the book via Amazon on Thursday, August 20. Amazon re-ranks book sales on an hourly basis, so Marijuana is Safer doesn't need to be the bestselling book for the past month; it just needs to generate a lot of sales on the day of the Book Bomb. If everyone acts, it will reach the top. For more information visit http://www.MarijuanaBookBomb.com.
Date: 
Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:01am - 11:59pm

Lecture: Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?

Mason Tvert is the cofounder and executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and the SAFER Voter Education Fund. He appears frequently in the news and travels the country promoting the "Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol" message. He resides in Denver, where he serves on the city’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel appointed by Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. "Marijuana is Safer" compares and contrasts the relative harms and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in the world—marijuana and alcohol. Through an objective examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol? VIDEO: Part 1 of 2. SAFER's Mason Tvert debates a DEA Agent about why adults in Denver should be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZMzQ_8Px80 Part 2 of 2. SAFER's Mason Tvert debates a DEA Agent about why adults in Denver should be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYFxLNVm7cI For more information, contact 417-434-8279 or mssussdp@yahoo.com.
Date: 
Thu, 09/10/2009 - 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Location: 
3950 Newman Rd
Joplin, MO
United States

Book Premier: "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"

Three of the nation's most successful marijuana policy reform organizations will come together at the Oaksterdam University Student Union in Oakland to premier the highly acclaimed new book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? Co-authors Mason Tvert (of SAFER) and Paul Armentano (of NORML) will be on hand to discuss Marijuana Is Safer, beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a session of Q & A and time for book-signing. More information on Marijuana Is Safer is available at http://www.MarijuanaIsSafer.com. About the Book Nationally recognized marijuana-policy experts Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert compare and contrast the relative harms and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in the world-marijuana and alcohol. Through an objective examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol? Marijuana Is Safer reaches for a broad audience. For those unfamiliar with marijuana, it provides an introduction to the cannabis plant and its effects on the user, and debunks some of the government's most frequently cited marijuana myths. For current and aspiring advocates of marijuana-law reform, as well as anyone else who is interested in what is becoming a major political battle, the authors spell out why the message that marijuana is safer than alcohol must be a prominent part of the public debate over legalization. Most importantly, for the millions of Americans who want to advance the cause of marijuana-policy reform-or simply want to defend their own personal, safer choice-this book provides the talking points and detailed information needed to make persuasive arguments to friends, family, coworkers, and elected officials. About the Authors Steve Fox is the Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation's largest organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. From 2002-2005, he lobbied Congress as MPP's Director of Government Relations. He cofounded Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) in 2005 and has helped guide its operations since its inception. He is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School and currently lives in Maryland with his wife and two daughters. Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the NORML Foundation. A recognized national expert in marijuana policy, health, and pharmacology, he has spoken at dozens of national conferences and legal seminars and has testified before state legislatures and federal agencies. He appears regularly on Drew Pinsky's nationally syndicated radio show, Dr. Drew Live, and his work has appeared in over 500 publications. Armentano is the 2008 recipient of the Project Censored Real News Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He currently lives in California with his wife and son. Mason Tvert is the cofounder and executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and the SAFER Voter Education Fund. He appears frequently in the news and travels the country promoting the "Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol" message. He resides in Denver, where he serves on the city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel appointed by Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Advance Praise for Marijuana Is Safer "The follies of marijuana prohibition have never been laid bare with more erudition and plain common sense. Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? is a book every citizen needs to read, and a question we all have to raise our voices to ask." -Barbara Ehrenreich, bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation "Finally, a book that confronts the half-baked hallucinations of a drug policy gone mad. If you are one of the millions of Americans who support keeping marijuana illegal but enjoy a good beer, glass of wine or cocktail now and then, I suggest you read Marijuana is Safer, rehab your mind, and get high on the facts. If, on the other hand, you already believe our marijuana laws are illogical, this book will give you hope that change is in the air--and show you how you can do your part to push it along." -David Sirota, nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author of The Uprising and Hostile Takeover "I have always maintained that the legalization of marijuana would lead to an overall drop in substance abuse in this country. In particular, the option of legal marijuana use, as an alternative to the death and violence associated with alcohol use, would be a welcome societal change. Surprisingly, though, there has never been a book dedicated to conveying this basic idea to the public. But with Marijuana is Safer, now there is. Kudos to Fox, Armentano, and Tvert for their remarkably insightful and important book." -Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico "Our current draconian laws prohibiting the use of marijuana by responsible adults are doubly flawed. Not only does such prohibition violate fundamental freedoms but also, as this book documents, it undermines personal health and public safety. Regardless of your views on the civil liberties issues, this book should convince you of another compelling justification for marijuana law reform: that it will promote health and safety for all of us, including our nation's children." -Nadine Strossen, former President, American Civil Liberties Union, and Professor of Law, New York Law School "From my own work and the experiences of other members of the law enforcement community, it is abundantly clear that marijuana is rarely, if ever, the cause of disruptive or violent behavior. That marijuana causes very little social harm is reason enough in a free society to legalize it for adults. But as Steve, Paul, and Mason so brilliantly demonstrate in this book, an even more persuasive reason is that by prohibiting marijuana we are steering people toward a substance that far too many people already abuse, namely alcohol." -Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department "I took great pride in my performance on and off the field, and often questioned why our culture embraces alcohol while simultaneously stigmatizing those who choose to consume a less harmful alternative, marijuana. Marijuana Is Safer makes an irrefutable case for liberating current cannabis policy by comparing and contrasting its use with that of alcohol. This outstanding book makes it clear that it is inconsistent, both legally and socially, for our laws to punish adults who make the 'safer' choice." -Mark Stepnoski, five-time NFL Pro Bowler and two-time Superbowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys "In a society too often paralyzed by fear when it comes to finding smart solutions to our failed drug war, Marijuana Is Safer offers a pragmatic way forward. The authors offer a new and common sense approach to marijuana policy--one that is motivated not by incarceration or punishment, but by reducing the overall harm to our society." -Rick Steves, travel guidebook writer and TV and radio host
Date: 
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 5:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: 
1915 Broadway
Oakland, CA
United States

Pain Relief: FDA Panel Urges Ban on Darvon, Related Drugs

Acting on a petition from the public interest group Public Citizen, a Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel last Friday voted narrowly to recommend that a widely used opioid pain medication be removed from the market. The drug is prophoxyphene, which has been in the pharmacopeia for more than a half century, and is most widely prescribed under the brand names Darvon and Darvocet.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/darvon65mg.jpg
65 mg Darvon pills (usdoj.gov)
Prescribed for the relief of mild to moderate pain, prophoxyphene is used in dozens of generic pain medications, too. According to a briefing paper prepared by Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Darvon and Darvocet, some 26 million prescriptions for the pain-fighting pair were written in 2005.

The FDA approved new Darvon formulations as recently as 2003 and a generic phophoxyphen pain medication in 2005. The drug has also passed a number of FDA reviews in the past half-century, including one occasioned by another Public Citizen petition in 1978. The FDA can ban a drug if it is proven unsafe or ineffective when taken as directed.

The agency collected reports of more than 1,400 deaths in people who had taken the drug since 1957, though experts stressed the figure does not prove the drug was the cause of death in all cases. Nor does it seem an exceptionally large figure for an opioid drug prescribed millions of times a year for more than 50 years.

The panel also relied on a Florida Medical Examiner Commission report on 2007 drug-related deaths that showed 87 deaths linked to prophoxyphene.

"If that's not a risk, I don't know what is," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head doctor for Public Citizen.

There may be a risk, but it's relative. That same report listed 476 deaths caused by alcohol poisoning, 743 from tranquilizer overdoses, and 843 from cocaine. Among opiate-caused deaths, methadone led with 785, then Oxycontin with 705, hydrocodone with 264, morphine with 255, Fentanyl with 117, and heroin with 93 -- all greater than the number of deaths attributed to Darvon and its generic equivalents. Even the tranquilizer Meprobamate killed more people with 88 deaths listed. (Cannabis was listed as the cause of death in zero deaths.)

Still, despite weak evidence to justify removing Darvon and its brothers from the pharmacopeia, the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend that 14-12 last Friday. A final decision will come in a few weeks.

"It's not a very clear-cut picture," Sharon Hertz, MD, deputy director of the agency's analgesia drugs division, said at a press briefing after the decision. "It's not straightforward that it should or shouldn't come off the market."

Some panel members saw little benefit in keeping Darvon on the market. "I would say, little 'b', big 'r' for this drug. That's little benefit and lots of risk. And that's unsettling," said Ruth Day, PhD, who voted to remove the drug.

It "looks like it offers placebo benefits with opioid risks," saids Sean Hennessey, PhD, a panel member and epidemiologist from the University of Pennsylvania.

But other panel members warned that banning prophoxyphene could leave pain patients in the lurch. It could also drive them to other pain, more potent pain medications, like Oxycontin, they warned.

"Every drug you're talking about that's going to deal with pain has difficulty," said Mary Tinetti, MD, a professor of medicine at Yale University. "There is the possibility that the drugs that would take its place would cause at least as much harm in some people."

Xanodyne hopes it can keep the drug on the market. "I'm hoping to do everything we can to keep this product available to the 22 million people who need it," the company's vice president for clinical development and medical affairs, James Jones, told WebMD.

Random Drug Testing Won’t Save the Children From Heroin

Here’s drug czar John Walters shamelessly using a young woman’s death as an opportunity to plug student drug testing:

Heroin killed 19-year-old Alicia Lannes, and her parents say she got the drug from a boyfriend.  Experts say that's how most young kids get introduced to drugs: by friends or relatives.

While teen drug use is declining, Walters says a Fairfax County heroin ring busted in connection with Lannes' death proves it's still a problem.  He supports a federal program used in more than 4,000 schools to randomly drug test students.

"There's no question in my mind had this young woman been in a school, middle school or high school with random testing," said Walters, "She would not be dead today." [FOX DC]

Walters sounds supremely confident, as usual, yet the reality is that random drug testing is often impotent when it comes to discovering heroin use. Student drug testing programs typically rely on urine tests, which can only detect heroin for 3-4 days after use. Only marijuana -- which stays in your system for up to a month – can be effectively detected this way. Thus, random testing actually incentivizes students to experiment with more dangerous drugs like heroin that increase your chances of passing a drug test.


And thanks to the complete failure of the drug war, heroin is stronger today than ever before:

The drug enforcement agency says the purity of heroin found in Virginia is typically higher than usual—making it more deadly.

"They tend not to know how to gauge the strength and they usually take more than they need to," said Patrick McConnel, who oversees Treatment for Youth Services Administration Alcohol and Drug Services.

There are no easy answers here, to be sure, and I don’t claim any monopoly on the solutions to youth drug abuse. But I guarantee you that the problem isn’t our failure to collect more urine from young people. As long as the most dangerous substances continue to be manufactured, distributed, and controlled by criminals, the face of our drug problem will remain the same.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School