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Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like Pillreports.com will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (amendtheraveact.org)
"It's not that producers don't care, it’s that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental—a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.  

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a non-profit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Chronicle AM -- August 8, 2014

Things get slow in the dog days of summer, but there's still news from the legal marijuana states, California continues to grapple with regulating medical marijuana, and a couple of items from Britain suggest change could be in the air there. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Britain will provide free foil for heroin smokers in a bid to reduce injecting the drug. (wikimedia.org)
ACLU of Washington Joins Fight Against Local Marijuana Store Bans. The ACLU of Washington announced today that it is representing three state-licensed marijuana business owners who have filed a lawsuit challenging the city of Fife's ban on marijuana operations. The business owners and the ACLU argue that local bans violate I-502, the voter initiative that legalized marijuana in the state. You can view the ACLU's pleadings in the case here.

Colorado Health Department Says Teen Marijuana Use Is Down Since Dispensaries Came, Voters Approved Legalization. An annual survey of teen drug use in the state has found that marijuana use has been declining since hundreds of medical marijuana outlets opened in the state in 2009 and since the state legalized adult marijuana use and sales in late 2012. Current use among Colorado teens dropped from 24.8% in 2009 to 20% in 2013. Meanwhile, nationally, teen current use has increased, from 20.8% in 2009 to 23.4% last year.

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short on Signatures. There will be no popular vote on decriminalization in Wichita this year. Election officials said that campaigners didn't have enough valid voter signatures to qualify. Although they handed in about 3,500 signatures and only needed 2,928, they still came up 180 valid voter signatures short. They say they will now press the city council to act on decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Goes to Assembly Appropriations Committee Next Week. The Assembly Appropriations will examine Senate Bill 1262, the law enforcement- and local government-backed bill to regulate the state's medical marijuana industry next Wednesday. That's the last day the committee meets this session. The bill has already passed the Senate, but must pass the Assembly by month's end or it dies. The bill link above may not represent the latest changes to it; new updates are expected today. The bill has divided the state's medical marijuana community, with some groups supporting it as is and some demanding changes to make it friendlier to patients and the industry.

International

British Liberal Democrats Will End Jail for Drug Possession, Nick Clegg Says. Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg has said that if the Lib Dems win the next election, they will move to abolish prison sentences for simple drug possession, even for Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Half of the people currently being jailed for drug possession in Britain are being held for marijuana offenses. This call for effective decriminalization puts Clegg and the Lib Dems at odds with their governing coalition senior partners, the Tories. Meanwhile, the Home Office is currently undertaking a review of British drug policy.

British Government to Provide Foil to Heroin Users to Encourage Smoking Rather Than Injecting. In a harm reduction move, Britain will begin providing free foil to heroin users to encourage them to smoke the drug instead of injecting it. Injection drug users are more likely to contract blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The move was approved last year by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which said it could also help move addicts toward recovery.

Chronicle AM -- July 31, 2014

One study finds that Colorado is doing just fine with marijuana legalization, another finds that kids aren't smoking more pot in medical marijuana states, there's trouble in Albuquerque, Detroit police go on yet another well-publicized mass drug sweep, Marc Emery vows revenge, and more. Let's get to it:

Seattle PD has adjusted well to marijuana legalization. With one apparent exception. (Seattle PD)
Marijuana Policy

Brookings Institution Report Finds Colorado's Legalization is Succeeding. The Brookings Institution's Center for Effective Public Management today released a report on how well Colorado is managing marijuana legalization. The title of the report, "Colorado's Rollout of Legal Marijuana is Succeeding," pretty much spells it out. "The state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy," according to the report authored by John Hudak, a Brookings fellow in Governance Studies. "In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state." Click on the link to read the full report.

Georgia Libertarian Party Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The Libertarian Party of Georgia says "legalize it." In a Wednesday press release, the party came out four-square for legalization. "Georgia voters should be allowed to vote on the issue", said state party chair Doug Craig. "If the voters were allowed to vote we believe they would vote to legalize. Rights should never be determined by popular vote, but polling gives us a good indication on where the public stands on the issue. As Libertarians, we support giving the public the freedom to choose. Lawmakers should study the issue and allow public input into forming a better policy that stops treating otherwise law abiding citizens as criminals."

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Up in the Air After City Messes Up Signature Requirements. What a mess! The city of Albuquerque told initiative organizers they needed 11,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, so to ensure that they had a comfortable cushion, organizers turned in 16,000 signatures. Then, two days after signatures were handed in, the city said it had made a mistake, and organizers needed 14,000 signatures to qualify. The measure could still qualify, but if it comes up with more than 11,000 valid signatures, but less than the 14,000 needed to make the ballot, look for legal action.

East Lansing, Michigan, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. The Coalition for a Safer East Lansing turned in about 2,300 signatures for its decriminalization initiative Tuesday. If they end up with enough valid signatures to qualify, the measure will go on the ballot in November. Similar efforts are afoot in more than a dozen other Michigan towns and cities.

Medical Marijuana

National Bureau of Economic Research Report Finds Medical Marijuana Has Not Led to More Teen Use. The finding comes in the working paper Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero," the authors said.

Drug Policy

Broad Coalition Forms to Highlight Plight of Drug War's Youngest Victims. More than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations are joined by notable figures such as Michelle Alexander in calling for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and here in the United States. They have all signed on to a letter of support for new policies. The signatories -- which include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization -- are notable for their diversity in cause and focus, yet have come together around the issue of the drug war's impact on youth, at home and abroad. Click here for a full list of supporters.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Police in Yet Another Militarized Drug Blitz. In the latest in a series of mass raids under the rubric of "Operation Restore Order," heavily armored Detroit Police SWAT teams and other officers targeted the Ninth Precinct on the city's east side today. More than a hundred police were involved. The first house they hit had no drugs, the second contained some weapons and drug paraphernalia, the third resulted in the seizure of a couple dozen crack rocks.

One Seattle Police Officer Wrote 80% of Marijuana Tickets; Now, He's Off the Streets. One police officer who apparently doesn't think much of Washington's marijuana legalization law -- he wrote snide remarks on some of the tickets -- is responsible for a whopping 80% of all public pot smoking tickets written by the Seattle Police in the last six months. In one instance, Officer Randy Jokela used a coin toss to decide whom he would cite. He has been assigned to other duties while the department's Office of Professional Accountability investigates.

International

Marc Emery Vows Political Revenge on Canadian Conservatives. Out of prison in the US, but still stuck in an American deportation center awaiting his return to Canada, "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery is vowing political revenge on Canada's Conservatives. He has served nearly five years in federal prison for selling marijuana seeds after the Conservatives allowed him to be extradited from Canada. "My own government betrayed me and I'm going to wreak an appropriate amount of political revenge when I get home and campaign against the Conservative government," Emery said. "The whole thing is nonsense. I should never have been turned over to the US government," said the fervent Liberal supporter. Canadian elections are next year.

(This article 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.)

Chronicle AM -- June 10, 2014

New York City residents are still getting arrested for marijuana at the rate of 80 a day, New York state residents face another year without medical marijuana passing, Philly heads for decriminalization of a sort, the Justice Department supports retroactivity for recent sentencing reforms, the Sinaloa cartel has apparently lost another key leader, and more. Let's get to it:

NYC marijuana arrests just keep on coming. (www.nyc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Claims Marijuana Taxes Violate Fifth Amendment. Denver attorney Robert Corry Jr. has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed marijuana retailer arguing that paying pot taxes violates a citizen's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the state from collecting taxes and the return of all taxes collected. A similar lawsuit has been filed in Washington state by attorney Douglas Hiatt.

New York City Marijuana Arrests So Far This Year at Same Pace as Last Year. New Yorkers are still being arrested for small-time pot possession in high numbers under new Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). According to the Marijuana Arrest Project, so far this year, NYPD is arresting an average of 80 people a day for pot possession, compared to 78 a day throughout 2013 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). Another constant is that blacks and Latinos continue to make up the vast majority of marijuana possession busts. They accounted for 87% of pot arrests last year and 86% so far this year. Click on the title link for more details.

Philadelphia City Council Committee Approves Decriminalization Measure. A city council committee yesterday approved a bill that would make possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a code violation punishable by a $25 fine -- but would still give police officers the discretion to arrest. But Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill. His Public Safety Director, Mike Resnick, said the opposition stems the discretional arrest provision, which he said could create unfair situations. A final vote is likely next week.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina "March Against Fear" Aims to Generate Support for Medical Marijuana. North Carolinian Todd Stimson is leading a 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Key New York GOP Legislator Says He Will Not Allow Vote on Medical Marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

Clark County, Nevada, Commissioners Approve 18 Dispensary Licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. County commissioners approved the licenses yesterday. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

Drug Testing

Repeated School Drug Tests of Pennsylvania 10-Year-Old Provoke Scorching Editorial. The editorial board at the Pennsylvania news website PennLive has penned a strong editorial condemning the drug testing policy at the Susquenita Middle School, which has resulted in a 10-year-old girl be tested three times so far. The editorial notes that state law requires that school districts actually show there is problem and show that drug testing helps, but that Susquenita has failed to do either. "Repeatedly drug testing a trouble-free 10-year-old student like Natalie Cassell shows how ridiculous this kind of random snooping is. Innocent students are treated like criminals, while drug-using students can dodge the tests simply by deciding not to join after-school activities," PennLive noted. "At a time when school districts across the state are pleading for more state funding, surely Susquenita schools can find a better uses of money than an unproven, highly invasive program that randomly tests innocent 10-year olds.

Sentencing

Justice Department Supports Making Drug Sentence Cuts Retroactive. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Smarter Sentencing Act Gains Four More Sponsors. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 picked up four more cosponsors Monday, three Democrats and one Republican. They are Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rep. Tony Cardenas (D), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The measure now has 37 cosponsors, 24 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since January.

Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Governor Unveils Plan to Fight Opiate Use. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) today released a $20 package of proposals to deal with "the opioid addiction epidemic" in his state. He is calling for a summit of regional governors, as well as streamlined access to treatment, better prevention measures, and "strengthening safe prescribing and dispensing practices" to "minimize diversion and misuse." That last bit is likely to raise concerns among people worried about adequate access to prescription opiates. But unlike some other state-level responses to rising levels of opiate use, Patrick's did not contain a law enforcement component. The link leads to the full press release.

International

Key Sinaloa Cartel Figure Reported Dead. Reports are emerging from Mexico that Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, a key figure in the Sinaloa cartel, has died of natural causes. After the capture of cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman by Mexican authorities earlier this year, Esparragoza and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada were viewed as the effective leaders of the cartel.

Spanish Authorities Close Down Barcelona Cannabis Club for Selling… Cannabis. A Barcelona cannabis club has been closed after police spotted a man approaching tourists and taking them to the club to score. Under Spanish law, one can grow marijuana for personal use, but not sell it. The cannabis clubs have sprung up as a way for consumers to pool their growing resources. Members pay an annual membership fee for a chance to share in the proceeds of the collectively cultivated cannabis, but they're not supposed to sell it.

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

The president makes some delphic comments on marijuana policy, some of his congressional critics get ready to go after him for such comments next week, Dutch cities want legal marijuana growing, the Welsh government funds a harm reduction drug testing program, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Don't know what's in your drugs? The Welsh government wants to help.
In CNN Interview, Obama Punts on Rescheduling, Hints Support for Decriminalization. In an interview with CNN released today, President Obama said rescheduling marijuana was a job for Congress [Editor's Note: The executive branch can also reschedule it, according to statute] and that he considered the criminalization of personal use his main concern, although he also worried about the impact of commercialization.

House Government Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Policy Next Week. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the committee, said he will hold a hearing next Tuesday to examine what he called the Obama administration's "schizophrenic" position on marijuana laws. "The purpose of the hearing is to try to sort out the increasingly schizophrenic federal policy we have, because the DEA administrator was overhead denouncing what the president said," Mica said Friday. "We have states that are enacting laws -- municipalities that are considering it -- that are in conflict with federal law." There could be more hearings to come after that, he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner No Fan of Legalization. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a radio interview on Thursday evening expressed doubt that marijuana should be legalized. "We already have a city with a high addiction -- what would that do to the city of Baltimore?" Batts said. He also linked marijuana to homicides in the city, although the killings he described were a function of black market drug sales. "When you're calling your weed dealer or drug dealer, and you show up with money and you get robbed and it turns into a shooting, that's what we're seeing."

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Names Recipients of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses. The Department of Public Health Friday announced the names of the first 20 dispensary applicants who will be awarded licenses to to open dispensaries. An additional 15 will be forthcoming.

Drug Testing

Judge Reinstates Delaware Valley (PA) School District Drug Testing Program. A Pike County district judge has lifted a temporary injunction barring random, suspicionless drug testing for students who drive to school or participate in extracurricular activities. The parents of a 12-year-old female student who faced drug testing if she wanted to join the scrapbooking club and the ACLU had challenged the program in 2011 and won the injunction, but Judge Joseph Kameen ruled earlier this month that the policy was constitutional under state law. It is unclear if the ACLU of Pennsylvania is done with this case.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced in New York. State Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) this week filed a bill, Senate Bill 6744/Assembly Bill 8637, that would help prevent accidental opioid overdoses by expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone. The legislation would dramatically increase the accessibility of the life-saving reversal tool by allowing authorized health care professionals to issue standing orders, or non-patient specific prescriptions, to certified training programs that would in turn train individuals on the signs of overdose and provide them with the naloxone kits. By expanding naloxone distribution, this legislation will help reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses.

International

Welsh Government Funds Program to Test Drugs for Public. Public Health Wales has set up the Wedinos Project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project) to identify what drugs are in circulation there and use that information for harm reduction purposes. Samples are sent to the Wedinos laboratory in Cardiff anonymously and the test results posted online, identified by a reference number. The service is open to the public. "It's essential intelligence for our health workers, for our substance misuse workers, for the police, for young people and their families. By providing timely and accurate information this service can save lives," explained Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This is the first government-funded program of its type in the United Kingdom.

Dutch Cities Call for Legal Marijuana Cultivation; Government Says No. Eight of the Netherlands' 10 largest cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, signed a joint manifesto Friday calling for the creation of "a national system of certified and regulated cannabis cultivation." Another 25 municipal councils also signed on. While the Netherlands allows for the sale of marijuana through its famous cannabis coffee shops, growing marijuana remains illegal. "We want cannabis cultivation to be regulated so the national market is manageable and more transparent, and to decrease the influence of organized crime," said the manifesto. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten rejected the proposals: "I really don't think this is the solution," the Liberal minister told Dutch public television. "Mayors just have to learn to live with it," he said.

Marijuana Growing Courses Underway in Uruguay. Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation has launched special training courses on cultivation of the popular plant, local media reported. Some 50 would-be growers are currently enrolled.

Chronicle AM -- January 14, 2014

Lots of activity on the marijuana and medical marijuana fronts today, and an academic study casts doubt on the utility of student drug testing. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Vote Tomorrow. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana goes for a vote before the city council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is expected to pass. The measure is also expected to get through a vote of the full council later.

Pennsylvania NAACP Backs Away from Legalization. The president of the Pennsylvania NAACP said Monday that even though one state branch supported marijuana legalization last year, that support was "illegal" and didn't reflect the state group's position. The Cheltenham branch had supported a legalization bill introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), but state NAACP head Jerome Mondesire said that was a no-no. "That can't be done locally," he said. "They've been asked to back away from it and they have."

Colorado Marijuana Possession Cases Dropped Big-Time After Legalization, But Didn't Disappear. Figures from the Colorado judiciary show that marijuana-related cases dropped 77% between 2012 and 2013, and the number of simple possession cases has dropped from 714 a month in the first part of 2012 to just 133 a month a year later. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana only remains illegal for people under 21.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Activists with Wyoming NORML last week filed a proposed initiative with state officials that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow 12 plants and let all Wyoming adults 21 and over possess marijuana for personal use. Organizers are aiming at the 2016 ballot. The proposed initiative would decriminalize recreational use and public displays of 3 ounces or less of marijuana.

Project SAM to Help Fight Legalization in Alaska. Project SAM, the anti-marijuana legalization group headed by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former drug czar's office employee and media go-to guy Dr. Kevin Sabet, will assist local efforts to defeat a proposed marijuana legalization initiative. The initiative has handed in signatures and awaits signature verification. Sabet said Monday he had been asked by a "handful of leaders" to help fend off legalization. Sabet also repeated his favorite frightening refrain -- that legalization would not lead to regulated marijuana sales, but to "Big Marijuana," supposedly something akin to Big Pharma or Big Tobacco.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Dispensary Initiative Filed. California's third largest city (sorry, San Francisco) could see a popular vote to block a ban on dispensaries after activists filed an initiative Monday with city officials. City officials have been moving to close them down, but initiative backers hope to get enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The city has been sending "cease and desist" letters to dispensaries and is set to vote on an ordinance that would effectively ban them in 99% of the city. The initiative would set a minimum of 50 dispensaries for the city. Organizers need 20,372 valid voter signatures by May 16 to qualify.

Alabama Medical Marijuana CBD Bill Filed. The Alabama legislative session begins today, and a medical marijuana bill awaits. The bill, House Bill 104, was pre-filed last week and is sponsored by Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), and Allen Farley (R-McCalla). It would provide a medical necessity defense for people seeking to be treated with cannabidiol (CBD).

Minnesota Governor Not Ready for Medical Marijuana, But Open to Study. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Monday he is not ready to allow medical marijuana in the state, but would be open to a study on the issue. "I've said since I ran for office that law enforcement has enough to contend with, and I am not going to support something that has the adamant opposition of law enforcement in Minnesota, and that is still the case," he said. "I'd be supportive of funding for an independent, objective study of what other states have done, what have the results been," he said.

Key Supporter Says New York Medical Marijuana Bill Not Ready for Senate Vote. State Sen. Diane Savino (D) said Monday that a pending medical marijuana bill "isn't ready" for a Senate vote. Medical marijuana bills have repeatedly passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a handful of independent Democrats, including Savino. "We're not playing politics with this issue," Savino said. "There are patients whose lives are being affected by this issue. We're going to build support for this the way we build support for everything else. There is sufficient support in both conferences." But, she added, "...You can't force a bill to the floor until the bill is ready. The bill will be ready when I let you know it's ready."

Washington State Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Patients, Program. In the wake of legalized marijuana under I-502, medical marijuana supporters have filed a bill, House Bill 223, to keep some key medical marijuana provisions from being swept away in the legalization tide. The bill would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulating dispensaries and preserve patients' rights to grow their own medicine. I-502 legalized sales and possession of marijuana, but not home growing, and there have been some efforts within officialdom to wipe out or reduce personal cultivation for patients as well under its rubric. (The bill was not up on the legislative web site as of Tuesday.)

Drug Testing

Study Finds Student Drug Testing Ineffective; Positive School Environments Better. A study published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that school drug tests don't deter kids from smoking marijuana, but that creating a positive school environment may be more effective. Researchers tracked students from schools with and without drug testing policies and found no significant differences in the likelihood that students would try marijuana. "Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it's not working," said study author Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center.

International

Kazakhstan MP Wants Marijuana Farms Leased to Pharmaceutical Companies. A Khazakh member of parliament -- who also just happens to be the president's daughter -- has suggested leasing broad swathes of land currently using for illicit marijuana farming to major pharmaceutical companies. MP Dariga Nazarbayeva suggested to parliament that "We review our attitude to cannabis." The interior minister, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, appeared receptive, saying, "You can't just seal off 140,000 hectares of land. Cannabis is spreading across our country." Decades of eradication efforts in Kazakhstan have proven ineffective.

Teen Drug Use Survey Figures Spark Marijuana Debate [FEATURE]

This year's annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey on the habits of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Wednesday, and most of the results were uncontroversial. But with two states having already legalized marijuana for adults and opinion polls suggesting more and more Americans are ready to move ahead with legalization, battles are raging over the numbers on teen marijuana use and what they mean.

The survey found that for most drugs, teen use levels are stable or declining. Synthetic marijuana use was down, as was cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and the use of inhalants, synthetic stimulants, prescription opioids, salvia divinorum, and hallucinogens other than LSD.

Drugs where teen use levels were stable included LSD; amphetamines; Adderall, specifically; Ritalin, specifically; ecstasy; cocaine; crack; heroin; methamphetamine; crystal methamphetamine; sedatives; tranquilizers; Rohypnol; Ketamine; and steroids. For most of these drugs, use levels even in 12th grade were quite low. For instance, 2.2% of seniors reported using LSD, 2.3% reported using Ritalin, and 4.0% reported using ecstasy.

When it comes to marijuana, 23% of seniors said they smoked in the month prior to the survey, 18% of 10th graders did, too, and so did 12% of 8th graders. Some 6.5% of seniors reported daily use, as did 4.0% of 10th graders, and under 2% of 8th graders.

It helps to put those numbers in historical perspective. All of the numbers are above the historic lows in teen drug use reported at the end of the Reagan-Bush era in the early 1990s, but well below the historic highs in teen drug use reported in 1979, just before the Reagan-Bush era began.

For seniors, the all-time low for monthly use was 11.9% in 1992, but the recent high was 23.1% in 1999. This year's 22.7% is actually a decline of two-tenths of a percent from 2012, and in line with figures for the past decade showing rates hovering in the upper teens and low twenties. It's a similar story at the younger grade levels.

The survey also found that the notion that regular use of marijuana is harmful is losing favor among teens. Only 39.5% of seniors saw it as harmful, down from 44.1% last year, and down significantly from views over the past two decades.

Despite the relative flatness of the marijuana use numbers, some warned that the sky is falling, cherry-picking the numbers and warming to favored themes to support their points of view.

Ever since Reefer Madness days, teen marijuana use has worried the grown-ups.
"Let these numbers be a wakeup call to parents and decision-makers alike," said Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy advisor in the Obama Administration now serving as the director of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "There is no way to properly 'regulate' marijuana without allowing an entire industry to encourage use at a young age, to cast doubt on the science, and to make their products attractive -- just like Big Tobacco did for 50 years. Today's Big Marijuana is no different."

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Teens deserve to grow up in an environment where they are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and drug use never factors into that equation. Today's news demands that all of us recommit to bolstering the vital role prevention and involved parenting play in keeping young people safe, strong, and ready to succeed."

"This is not just an issue of increased daily use," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC -- the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- have gone up a great deal, from 3.75% 1995 to an average of 15% in today's marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago."

Volkow also latched onto figures showing that 12% of 8th graders had tried marijuana in their lives.

"We should be extremely concerned that 12% of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana," Volkow added. "The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life."

In 2012, MTF added questions about where students obtain marijuana. In states that have medical marijuana, 34% of pot-smoking seniors said one of the ways they got their marijuana was through someone else's prescription (recommendation). And 6% said they got it with their own recommendation.

"A new marijuana industry is forming in front of our eyes, and make no mistake about it: they are delighted their customers -- today's youth -- consider their product safe," remarked former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, a Project SAM cofounder. "The rise of legalization and medical marijuana has sent a message to young people that marijuana use is harmless and non-addictive."

But while the drug czar, Dr. Volkow, and Project SAM were sounding the tocsin about the threat of teen marijuana use, others reacted more calmly, taking solace from the findings that teen cigarette smoking and drinking, not to mention other drugs, had declined.

"These findings should put to rest any claims that reforming marijuana laws and discussing the benefits will somehow contribute to more teens using marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy."

The declines in teen cigarette smoking and drinking show that regulation -- not prohibition -- is the way to address substance use, Tvert said.

"Regulation clearly works and prohibition has clearly failed when it comes to protecting teens," he argued. "Regulating alcohol and tobacco has resulted in significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and we would surely see similar results with marijuana. At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA and other government agencies to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana could be a more effective approach to preventing teen use."

Marijuana Use Fairly Stable, Annual Survey Finds

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use is out, and anyone trying to use the numbers to argue that marijuana reform is causing a spike in teen pot-smoking is going to have a hard sell.

Here's what MTF had to say about teen marijuana use:

"Annual marijuana prevalence peaked among 12th graders in 1979 at 51%, following a rise that began during the 1960s. Then use declined fairly steadily for 13 years, bottoming at 22% in 1992 -- a decline of more than half. The 1990s, however, saw a resurgence of use. After a considerable increase (one that actually began among 8th graders a year earlier than among 10th and 12th graders), annual prevalence rates peaked in 1996 at 8th grade and in 1997 at 10th and 12th grades. After these peak years, use declined among all three grades through 2006, 2007, or 2008; after the declines, there began an upturn in use in all three grades, lasting for three years in the lower grades and longer in grade 12. In 2011 and 2012 there was some decline in use in grade 8, with 10th and 12th grades leveling in 2012. In 2010 a significant increase in daily use occurred in all three grades, followed by a nonsignificant increase in 2011. In 2012 there were non-significant declines for daily use in the lower grades and a leveling at 12th grade with use reaching 1.1%, 3.5%, and 6.5% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively."
 

The bolding is ours. There are short term ups and downs, but they seem to be of mainly rhetorical and polemical significance.

If you look at the handy tables at the end of the report, you see that combined lifetime marijuana use for all three grades (8, 10, and 12), was at 30.7% last year, about the same as it was in 1995 (31.6%) or 2005 (30.8%). Much happens, but little changes.

Ditto for annual use: 26.1% in 1995, 23.4% in 2005, 24.7% last year.

Ditto for monthly use: 15.6% in 1995, 13.4% in 2005, 15.1% last year.

Ditto for daily use: 2.7% in 1995, 2.9% in 2005, 3.6% last year.

The daily use figures could be alarming ("Daily Teen Pot Smokers Up 25% Since 1995"), except the trend-line is not steadily upward, but varies from year to year (it was 3.7% in in 2001 and 2.7% in 2007).

Look for some terrifying spin about how the numbers show the kids are going to pot. But when you look at the numbers more closely and over time, when it comes to teens and marijuana, meh, what's new?

Job Opportunity: Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is seeking a new executive director to replace outgoing ED Aaron Houston. The Executive Director will provide leadership, management and coordination of the organization's overall mission and vision. Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director manages the daily operations of the organization, which includes the immediate supervision of staff. Pursuant to the organization's objectives and strategic plan, the Executive Director devises and implements specific objectives, tactics and activities to accomplish the organization's overall mission. The Executive Director must coordinate fundraising, outreach and communications for the organization. The Executive Director must demonstrate a deep understanding and connection to drug policy reform and youth development and advocacy.

Specific Responsibilities include:

Administration:

  • Provides regular, thorough and timely reporting to the Board on all programs and activities.
  • Manages and supervises staff, including the hiring, evaluation, and termination as necessary.
  • Serves as a leader and mentor for staff, interns and chapter leaders.
  • Oversees the organization's finances, which will be carried out in a highly structured and disciplined fashion with careful, regular reporting to the Board.

Advocacy and Policy Development:

  • Develops annual objectives to meet organizational goals that are consistent with established priorities and the organization's long-term strategic plan.
  • Plans and proposes programs consistent with the vision, values, and mission of the organization, including its commitment to diversity. Proposed programs should include detailed plans for implementation and measurable goals.
  • Develops programs designed to strengthen the skills of students, provide opportunities for chapters to accomplish political, policy and fundraising objectives, and advance SSDP's role and profile in advancing sensible drug policy.

Fundraising:

  • Coordinates with the Board and staff to raise funds to sustain and strengthen the organization.
  • Promptly notifies the Board on all significant financial developments, including significant new donors, foundational grants, losses in funding, large contracts, potential litigation, etc.
  • Cultivates existing individual and institutional donor relationships; solicits new individual and institutional donors, including foundation and grant opportunities.
  • Encourages chapters and students to develop expertise in fundraising.

Communications:

  • Effectively communicates with media and the public in an organized, clear and concise manner in order to promote SSDP's mission and goals.
  • Maintains clear and regular communication with SSDP staff, Board and chapters, as individuals and groups, regarding SSDP's mission and objectives.
  • Cultivates cooperative relationships with organizations and individuals working for sensible drug policies to carry out the organization's objectives, strategies, and tactics.
  • Serves as the primary spokesperson for the organization, but encourage students and chapter leaders to serve as spokespersons whenever possible and appropriate.

Salary will be commensurate with experience; please include salary requirements in your cover letter. The Executive Director will work out of SSDP's International Headquarters in Washington, DC. Start date is October 1, 2013.

Applications will be accepted until September 9, 2013, with consideration on a rolling basis starting immediately. No applications will be accepted after September 9. To apply, email your cover letter and resume to kris@ssdp.org. Visit http://www.ssdp.org for further information about SSDP.

New Anti-Drug Ad is Scary and Ironic

The Partnership at DrugFree.org has been putting out outrageous anti-drug propaganda for many years, but this latest spot takes us in a really strange direction…

This thing goes into overdrive instantly, and for a second I thought they were seriously suggesting smashing up your kids' stuff to keep them off drugs (unfortunately, it's only a short trip from the typical nuttiness one can expect from anti-drug zealots like these). But the conclusion reveals a more nuanced message, encouraging parents not to break their kids' crap with a bat, but rather to seek help from sources like DrugFree.org if you think your child is involved with drugs.

Now I would never recommend that anyone get drug information from DrugFree.org, as you could write several books on what those people don’t know about drugs (those books already exist, in fact), but I suppose I'd have to agree with the ad's central message that going apeshit with an aluminum baseball bat in your own driveway is a bad plan.

I find it amusing, however, that parents are now being warned not to overreact to their kids' drug use by the very same organization that's spend many years and many millions to convince parents to be scared senseless at the thought of their kids doing drugs. Parental panic is a product of the hysteria that's been spread by these very same people, and it's the height of irony that they now dramatize this legacy of confusion and fear in a peculiar attempt at self-promotion. I have a feeling it won't work so well.

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