The Speakeasy Blog

Hurwitz Family: The Jury Verdict on Dr. Hurwitz

I did not notice this open letter from Dr. Hurwitz's brother when it came out late last month, but I think it is worth a read.
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United States

Drugs to Vaccinate You... Against Drugs!

My friend Grant Smith over at Drug Policy Alliance has commented on NIDA research to develop vaccinations and the philosophical implications of "robbing entire future generations of the basic human right to have freedom of choice and sovereignty over their bodies and minds." As a follow-up, I'd like to point out here the danger from a straight medical perspective. The questions of whether a vaccine will work, what its side effects may be, and what the likelihood is of experiencing such side effects are questions that go along with the development of any new medication. But there is something fundamentally different -- medically and scientifically -- about the concept of a vaccine to permanently disable a person from experiencing the effects of ingesting a drug. First, the neurological system that goes to work when one tries to "get high" is intimately tied to the rest of our neurology -- getting a thrill from chocolate or a rush from exercise, for example, involves some of the same chemical interactions in the brain that are involved in smoking a cigarette or snorting cocaine. I'm not saying that the acts are the same, but they are biochemically similar and related. They have to be -- each of us only has one brain, after all. Second, most drugs, both legal and illegal, either are used medically now or are highly similar to drugs that are used medically now. Cocaine and methamphetamine are both schedule II substances -- highly regulated, but used in medicine. Meth is from the same family as the widely used Ritalin. Heroin is a close variant of morphine. I don't know of current medical uses for nicotine, but I don't think it can be categorically ruled out for all time. Could a vaccination to block the euphoric effects of these drugs interfere with the ability of the same or similar drugs to produce the medical benefits for which they are also used? The only way to really know for sure is to do test people for it. But because only a fraction of all children go on to experience the medical problems that would be treated by the drugs, to do such a test and have sufficient data for it to be meaningful would require vastly expanding the number of kids who have to be given the vaccination initially as part of the research. And possibly excepting Ritalin use, the data would not come in for several decades, because most people acquire the afflictions for which the medications are used late in life. So in addition to the disturbing philosophical implications that Grant has explored, I really see this direction as inherently reckless from a straight medical perspective -- there is just no truly reliable way to know whether the treatment administered to toddlers or grade-schoolers now could put them in a box with respect to medical treatment down the road -- there's just no feasible way to gather enough data in advance, and if we did we might still not find out for 70 years. Rank this one right up there with the drug-fighting franken-fungus -- don't go there!
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United States

Moscow Update

There's an update and action alert from Moscow on the brutalization/free speech violation committed against marijuana march participants. Click here for more...
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Moscow
Russia

Marijuana Activists Brutalized by Moscow Police During Annual Demonstration

Eugene Kazachenko distributed the following disconcerting report from Moscow yesterday:
Dear sisters and brothers! My name is Eugene Kazachenko. I'm from Moscow, Russia. Today, some hours ago my friends from Marijuana march were arrested. They tried to stretch the banner with calling to legalize marijuana. The goal of this march was legalization marijuana for medical use. Now there are about 20 people arrested. The police was very cruel with marijuana activists. With fear for life of our brothers and sisters my friends and I are receiving periodical news of Radio station Ekcho Moskvy ("The Echo of Moscow"). This is the only free radio channel, which real informs of social and political life in Russia. It informs that Police has placed people by faces on the ground. Police has dragged girls upon the ground and has beaten young men. Policemen have banged young men by their faces about parked cars. In the police department some young activist was beaten so cruel that this has caused coming an ambulance. The representatives of The Federal service of drug control have accused all delaying activists in biased attitude to narcotics. Without any reason they have accused participants of Marijuana March in propaganda of narcotics. At the police department some policemen are trying to plant the drugs to activists. However attorney was not passed to his clients for legal defense. On entrance with the sub-machine-gun in hands the policeman did not let to attorney to come into the door of the police department. Marijuana March was organized by Cannabis Legalization League. At this moment all of delaying marijuana activists are in Presnentsky administrative (misdemeanor) court of Moscow (phone number of this court: +7 495 254-53-59). They are accusing for undertaking unsanctioned meetings. This position of government disagrees with 31 articles of The Constitutions of Russian Federation and Public International law. Though many religious confessions concern with a rehabilitation and spiritual counseling for drug abusers, however they never call any attention in regard to the realistic position of medical cannabis. Regrettably Christians and other religious circles of Russia do not raise a voice in rights protection of drugs consumers from unjustified state repression. Because of unchangeable and increased repressive policy of Russia in attitude to consumers of drugs the religious figures are positioning itself apart of to questions of government drugs policy. Hypocritically the majority of them tacitly agrees with official drug policy or on the pattern of flattering politicians they loudly convicts all people, which voice opinion for legalization hemp as a medicine. With respect, Eugene Kazachenko MDiv of Moscow Theological Seminary
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Moscow
Russia

Atlanta Police Nearly Killed 80-Year-Old Woman Two Months Before Killing Kathryn Johnston

It has now been reported that a mere two months before killing 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, Atlanta police conducted a very dangerous, similar raid on the home of 80-year-old Frances Thompson. The supposed drug dealer, named "Hollywood," didn't live there. (Read more about it on Radley Balko's The Agitator blog, the most continuous source of information on the problem of SWAT teams/paramilitarization of policing.) You'd think the Atlanta police would learn from one experience and take the steps needed to avoid making the same mistake. Then again, you'd think police nationally would learn when people wind up dying in these raids. But they keep doing it over and over and over...
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United States

Coordinated Drug War Raids as Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

Peter Guither at the Drug WarRant blog has pointed out what he calls a "blatant and pathetic effort" by the State of Kentucky to secure drug war funding from Congress:
State police, local law enforcement, sheriff's offices, HIDTA and multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the nation collectively conducted undercover investigations, search warrants, consent searches, marijuana eradication efforts, drug interdiction and arrest warrants for a period of one week. This collective effort, Operation Byrne Drugs II, was conducted from April 23-29 to highlight the need and effectiveness of the Byrne grant funding and the impact cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement.
Actually it is the media efforts that seem to be coordinated, in addition to the drug enforcement. I noticed a suspiciously similar press release distributed by the California Dept. of Justice last July about a suspiciously similar incident:
BNE task forces, comprised of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, throughout the state served 16 search warrants, seized three firearms, confiscated 53 pounds of methamphetamine, 91 pounds of marijuana, and 37,747 marijuana plants. State drug enforcement agencies across the U.S. on July 27, 2006 participated in a "national day of drug enforcement." Organized by the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, "Operation Byrne Drugs" promoted the continued funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program that supports local and statewide drug enforcement. The federally funded program has suffered deep cuts over the last few years, directly affecting BNE. In fiscal year 2001-02, BNE received more than $11.5 million for personnel and operating costs. In fiscal year 2006-07, BNE received less than $6 million, nearly a 50% decline over five years.
your tax dollars at work to get more of your tax dollars Now I run an advocacy group, and I can tell you with confidence that this is exactly what groups who want to achieve a legislative objective will do -- organize media-worthy events in order to get the attention of the policymakers you need to influence, in this case Congress. The main differences between what we do and what the narcs are doing are that: 1) They are using taxpayer funds to carry out their media/lobbying campaign to secure taxpayer funds; and 2) They are using the authority the government has given them to wield state power including guns in order to arrest and incarcerate people, as a component of their media-lobbying campaign. We will generally just hold a press conference or a rally, or issue a report. I suspect that in strict legal terms they have not violated the law. But make no mistake -- this is lobbying of Congress by state agencies to get our money, and they are destroying numerous lives in order to do it. I don't agree with drug enforcement at all (as readers know), but even for those who do, clearly enforcement decisions about when and whom to raid should be based on law enforcement/public safety needs, NOT politics. Unfortunately, it is not only drug money that corrupts our law enforcement; it is drug war money too.
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KY
United States

Narcing for Fun and Profit

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According to the DEA, people absolutely love working for the DEA (links added for irony):

DEA significantly exceeded ratings of other Government agencies in many measures of “Performance Culture,” including:
• employees feel personally empowered;
creativity and innovation are rewarded along with providing high-quality products and services;
promotions are based on merit;
• performance appraisals are a fair reflection of performance;
• poor performers are dealt with; and
• complaints and grievances are fairly resolved.

Heck I might enjoy working there too if I weren't so knowledgeable about drug policy. But it comes as no surprise that these folks enjoy waging war on their fellow citizens with no performance measures or accountability. In 34 years DEA has exhausted untold sums at our expense while failing to make a dent in America's drug problem.

…But at least they're having a really great time.

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United States

Meth Makes You Do Stupid Things

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They arrested 49 Indian store clerks for unknowingly selling household items that could be used to make meth.

They inadvertently taught children how to make meth as part of a meth education class about why you shouldn't do exactly that.

Several states have created databases of meth offenders. So if you're trying not to buy meth, you'll know exactly who not to call.

They've built a "meth gun," which isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds.

They declared National Meth Awareness Day, so we can celebrate not doing meth. The planning was so intensive that the Attorney General forgot why he fired 9 U.S. Attorneys.

And just last month, they arrested a guy for possessing too much cold medicine because he could have used it to make meth, even though he didn't.

But, spectacularly absurd as they may be, these things really do not compare to this. From today's Des Moines Register:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia., said today that the illegal and highly addictive drug is being colored, flavored and packaged in ways to make it appealing to younger users.

He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill that would increase the penalties for those found to have manufactured, created or distributed an illegal drug that is flavored, colored or packaged to make it more appealing to people under 21.

Hopefully, the legislation will state specifically that the meth must be "packaged to make it more appealing to people under 21" thereby burdening prosecutors and judges with the arduous task of figuring out what the hell that means. Better yet, perhaps this proposal will collapse under the weight of its own stupidity. But I'm not holding my breath.

If you need some background on why candy-flavored meth isn't worth getting all tweaked out about, I've discussed it here.

Most notably, it's worth considering that the more candy you've got in your meth, the less meth you actually have. So Congress is basically attempting to encourage dealers to sell a stronger product.

Maybe there should also be higher penalties for selling the more potent and addictive candy-free meth. No wait, forget I said that.

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United States

Racial Profiling: Another DOJ Cover-up?

A new report from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that black and Hispanic drivers are significantly more likely to be searched, arrested and subjected to the use of force than whites.

It was initially encouraging to see the DOJ release this year's report without any shenanigans considering what happened last time:
The Justice Department intervened, insisting that BJS not publicize that nasty part about minority drivers being more likely to be searched, arrested, handcuffed, beaten, maced, or bitten by dogs.

A conflict emerged in the course of which BJS Director Lawrence A. Greenfeld was removed from his post. His attempt to provide the media with an unbiased summary of his agency’s findings was apparently too much for his superiors at the DOJ. Ultimately, no press release was sent out, and the study was unceremoniously posted in the bowels of the BJS website.
Perhaps it's a sign of progress and lessons learned that DOJ declined to bury this year's equally shocking findings. After all, covering up racial profiling is one way – however shameful and undignified – of admitting that it exists.

Yet, upon closer inspection, we find that this year's BJS report omits the single most important piece of information contained in the previous report: hit-rate data showing whether minorities were more likely to be hiding contraband.
Likelihood of search finding criminal evidence

Searches of black drivers or their vehicles were less likely to find criminal evidence (3.3%) than searches of white drivers (14.5%), and somewhat less likely than searches of Hispanic drivers
(13%).
This revealing fact fundamentally undermines the sole premise from which police agencies and others have sought to defend ongoing racial disparities such as those revealed this week. Consider the following hypothetical (but really quite typical) debate with a racial profiling apologist:
RPA: There's no such thing as racial profiling. Cops don't even know the race of the driver until after they've made the stop.

Me: Who gets pulled over is only one part of the equation. The data show that minority drivers are more likely to be searched, arrested, and subjected to the use of force after being stopped…

RPA: Well, if that's true it's because those people committed more crimes.

Me: Actually, the data show that searches of white people are more likely to produce evidence of a crime.

RPA: Wow, you must have gotten straight A's at the Al Sharpton Academy of Social Science.

Me: This data comes from the Department of Justice.

RPA: Hang on, I'm getting a call. Oh yeah, gotta take this. Good talk.
DOJ was able to provide a racial breakdown of hit-rates in its previous report (the one it buried) thus the omission of such information from this week's report is highly conspicuous. And of course, DOJ's previous attempts to cover up racial profiling data attest to the agency's lack of candor and credibility on this issue.

The larger question then is why the Department of Justice seeks to downplay racial profiling in the first place. BJS reports primarily reflect the behavior of local law-enforcement agencies, not the feds. The only real embarrassment here for DOJ is its ongoing failure to provide adequate monitoring of police practices at the state level. An activist such as myself may be keenly aware of DOJ's abdication of this responsibility, but I suspect that most people are not.

In any case, we'd be hard pressed to generate any further controversy surrounding cover-ups at the Department of Justice this season. Instead, let's do our best to make sure everyone knows how to handle police encounters. No matter how thorough, a traffic stop report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics won't save your ass on the New Jersey turnpike anyway.

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United States

Sonoma County and the Future of Marijuana

Last weekend, I drove into California on US 101, the Redwood Highway, blowing past Crescent City and the Pelican Bay supermax prison as I headed south toward Sonoma County, where I will be residing for the next couple of months. The area's world-famous vineyards and wineries began appearing just south of Ukiah, and by the time I actually crossed the Sonoma County line, the vines were everywhere. When I got to my hotel in Santa Rosa, I was met with a complimentary bottle of Sonoma County wine and handed a hardcover book listing all the vineyards in the region. They offer tours and tastings, there are wine festivals and myriad events. Wine is big business in Sonoma; it is part of the local culture, and it is a celebration of the good things in life. So, why am I going on about the wineries of Sonoma County? Because this is what the marijuana industry should be like. Both wine and weed are "soft" drugs around which has grown a connoisseur culture. Both are eminently social drugs, to be shared and celebrated with friends and family. While both can be abused, neither is associated with the serious problems around hard-core alcoholism or hard drug use. Northern California's wine industry is an open, above ground, and vital part of the regional economy. It drives tourism to the area. Northern California's marijuana industry is hidden, underground, and a vital part of the regional economy. It, too, drives tourism to the area, but to a much lesser degree. If pot were to move out from the shadows—if we were to move to a system of regulation instead of prohibition—and we started treating marijuana growing with the respect we give wine-making, I can foresee a Northern California Marijuana Country that would parallel the wine country experience. Imagine taking off on a tour of the pot farms of Mendocino or Humboldt counties (or even Sonoma County, for that matter): You drive off the highway and through beautiful countryside, past fields of marijuana plants glistening in the sun, and through the gates of the local boutique grower's estate. The skunky odor of maturing buds fills the air. In the tasting room, workers display the estate's best, while visitors taste and contrast the varieties. (In wine tastings, the tasters spit out the wine after tasting it to avoid over-intoxication. Will pot smokers merely roll the smoke around their mouths without inhaling for similar reasons?) Marijuana is already a key part of the Northern California culture and economy. Embracing and developing the marijuana economy is only a matter of time. And the wine country model is a good and entirely appropriate path.
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CA
United States

What Do Cops Think About the Atlanta Indictments?

What do police officers have to say about the indictment of three Atlanta police officers -- two of whom have now pled guilty -- in the murder of Kathryn Johnston? Well, not much.

Officer.com has a thread on this topic, which consists primarily of debate over the facts of the case. There are a few factually incorrect statements, and several corrections, but what you won't find is any substantive discussion of the systemic drug war corruption that made this tragedy inevitable.

The only exception is this comment from the ubiquitous Howard Wooldridge of LEAP:
The 'facts' will probably always remain murky. I blame the Drug War for the entire incident and grandma was simply more collateral damage. This is far f/ the first oops which caused death and won't be the last. Until we become as wise as our grandparents and end this New Prohibition, our profession will continue to suffer, as does the community we protect. Someone tell me one advantage, one good outcome of this policy after we have spent a trillion taxpayer dollars and arrested some 36 million people...Hiway Howie
Sadly, no one even responds to Howard. It is really quite disappointing to find that one of the most shocking revelations of police misconduct in recent years provokes such shallow discussion from law-enforcement officers.

Until police take interest in the numerous lessons to be learned from such tragedies, the list will just continue to grow.
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United States

Analysis of Hurwitz Verdicts Online...

... in Alex DeLuca's War on Doctors / Pain Crisis blog. In case anyone was wondering, I disagree with the guilty verdicts. But based on what I've read so far, I can't be too harsh on the jurors this time. The following is an uncomfortable thought to have to state: It's not clear to me that a jury is a competent body for reliably evaluating the extremely complex facts at work in medical care, especially when it intersects with criminal law and the "drug war." This case, and dozens more like it, should never have been brought in a criminal venue. A prominent civil liberties attorney told me a couple of years ago he is working on a book about the unwarranted extension of federal power into civil matters where they have no business, including pain control -- I think I will check back with him to see how it is coming along. The main point is, whatever one thinks of Hurwitz's decisions in this matter, having them reviewed by juries in criminal cases brought by federal prosecutors seeking hard time is an absolutely disastrous scenario for pain patients. The under-treatment of chronic pain is a quiet but widespread tragedy afflicting our country today. Prosecutors deserve the lion's share of the blame -- that profession is desperately need of some housecleaning if any is. Click here -- an article posted in a newsletter we published in DRCNet's early days -- for some history from the first chapter of the Hurwitz saga.
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United States

Partial Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform Approved by Sentencing Commission

The US Sentencing Commission has voted for a partial reform to the infamous crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity -- Families Against Mandatory Minimums announced Friday. According to FAMM the new rules would help about 78% of federal prisoners serving crack cocaine offenses by reducing their penalties about 16 months. We consider it a small but important step -- even equalizing the penalties would be kind of small when measured next to the vast federal gulag -- but it will help some people and it's a start. When the Commission voted 4-3 for equalization of crack and powder cocaine penalties almost 12 years ago, Congress voted -- for the first time in the history of the Sentencing Commission -- to block the reform. Had Congress not acted, the quantity thresholds triggering draconian five- and ten-year mandatory sentences for crack cocaine -- five grams and 500 grams, amounts that have been compared with a sugar packet and a candy bar, respectively -- would have been raised to the larger quantities that now trigger the same penalties for powder cocaine. The move by Congress sparked unrest in the federal prison system. If Congress leaves it alone this time, the new rules will take effect on November 1.
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United States

Mixed Result in Hurwitz Case

See NYT's John Tierney's initial post-Hurwitz trial blog post. Not the result we were hoping for by any means. On the other hand, the last time was far worse, and according to eyewitness accounts the prosecutors seemed really disappointed too. Judge Brinkema has the power to give a much less draconian sentence or even time served, and her handling of the case seemed pretty reasonable; we'll find out in July what she decides.
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United States

Reuters Admits Flawed Marijuana Reporting

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Given ONDCP's ongoing claims of 20-30 fold increases in marijuana potency, yesterday's announcement that potency has merely doubled feels more like a concession than the latest drug war scare tactic. Yet thanks to lazy reporting, this lukewarm story became the next great threat to public safety.

From Associated Press:
The government estimates that 4.1 million Americans use marijuana. Use by teenagers has declined recently, but federal officials worry that marijuana is being cited more often in emergency room visits.
From Reuters:
The marijuana being sold across the United States is stronger than ever, which could explain a growing number of medical emergencies that involve the drug, say government drug experts.

Neither story explained the concept of "emergency room mentions" from which these claims were derived. And these two reports were republished in major papers everywhere from Dallas to Sydney.

Importantly, people who mentioned marijuana to doctors weren't in most -- if any -- cases directly injured by it. Upon admission to the emergency room, you're instructed to report any drugs in your system in case they could interfere with your treatment (and it's really not marijuana they're worried about). Patients who mention marijuana include everyone from heroin users to gunshot victims to various people who fell and couldn't get up.

Marijuana is growing in popularity as a medicine, which could also help explain why sick people report having used it.

Fortunately, thanks to incredulous readers, Reuters was forced to clarify:

Lots and lots of readers asked for examples of these emergencies. We updated the story with an explanation which should have been made clear from the start, that medical emergency "means that the patient mentioned using marijuana and does not mean the drug directly caused the accident or condition being treated."

Is it any wonder that readers were confused? Statements such as "marijuana is being cited more often in emergency room visits" or "a growing number of medical emergencies that involve the drug" clearly imply that marijuana caused or contributed to the patient's hospitalization. That was ONDCP's intention, passed along uncritically by Reuters and AP with the inevitable effect of confusing the public.*

Like many things you read in an ONDCP press release, the statement on emergency room visits was so misleading that it becomes false if you change any of the words. "Mentioned" is simply not the same as "involved." Thus the media reports became more misleading than the press release they were based on, which was pretty bad to begin with.

Even when properly explained, "emergency room mentions" remain a vague and ultimately unhelpful measure upon which to base alarmist claims. ONDCP's reliance on such tenuous, circumstantial evidence speaks to the credibility of their position on marijuana policy in general.

*Reuters made a partial correction, but AP has not. Contact them here.

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United States

ONDCP Admits Exaggerating Marijuana Potency

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Well, that's not exactly how they phrased it. But that's what happened. After years of claiming that marijuana is 25-30 times stronger than it used to be, ONDCP admitted that marijuana potency has merely doubled:

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released the latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project which revealed that levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana—have reached the highest-ever levels since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970's. According to the latest data on marijuana samples analyzed to date, the average amount of THC in seized samples has reached 8.5 percent. This compares to an average of just under 4 percent reported in 1983 and represents more than a doubling in the potency of the drug since that time.

Compare that to John Walters' statement in The San Francisco Chronicle on September 1, 2002:

The THC of today's sinsemilla averages 14 percent and ranges as high as 30 percent.

Even stronger stuff is on the way. The point is that the potency of available marijuana has not merely "doubled," but increased as much as 30 times.

Maybe he thought we wouldn't remember. It's curious that ONDCP and NIDA are so proud to announce that they've been wildly exaggerating marijuana potency for many years. Apparently, they see value in finally legitimizing their claims that pot is getting stronger, even if doing so raises the question of what the hell they've been talking about all this time.

Yet a doubling of marijuana potency hardly compliments the ONDCP's ongoing effort to eradicate the stuff from the planet. Nor does it bear any relationship to the intoxication levels experienced by users, who titrate their doses to achieve the desired effect regardless of potency.

Besides, now that researchers at Harvard have informed us that THC shrinks tumors and likely prevents lung cancer, more of it can only be a good thing.

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United States

Wanna Beat a Drug Test? Switch From Pot to Oxycodone

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Yesterday, I wrote about false positive drug test results, noting that many schools aren't required to confirm positive results and quoting a top expert who believes that more expensive follow-up testing is often not being conducted. Obviously, the potential for innocent students to be accused and stigmatized is profoundly disturbing. Still, the issue of false negatives raises interesting issues as well. From The New Scientist:
Of 710 drug tests performed, 85 gave incorrect results, either because the urine sample was too dilute to interpret properly, or because the test picked up prescription medicines. Meanwhile, routine tests failed to detect the painkiller oxycodone in nearly two-thirds of cases.
So the synthetic opioids driving America's growing problem with prescription abuse among young people are remarkably difficult to detect through the exact urine testing programs ONDCP is pitching as a solution to the problem of youth drug abuse.

As marijuana remains the easiest drug to detect, is it any wonder that kids are turning to dangerous synthetic opioids that are undetectable 2/3 thirds of the time? We've always understood that more dangerous drugs leave the body faster, but oxycodone usually fails to show up even when it's still in your system.

Thus the ONDCP's argument that drug testing 'identifies use before it becomes a huge problem' is fundamentally incompatible with what these tests actually do. Given the ease with which one can avoid detection of all drugs other than marijuana, only students with severe addiction problems are likely to be identified. And if their problem is oxycodone, they'll often evade detection altogether.

So student drug testing is more likely to increase prescription drug abuse than prevent it. But before we accuse ONDCP of having its head up its ass yet again, check out their awesome life-saving guide on how to dispose of valuable unused prescriptions by mixing them with kitty litter.

If only more people disposed of their drugs instead of snorting them, we'd be out of the dark forest of hopelessness and instead skipping merrily through the lush meadows of healthiness and well-being. Surely, there's nothing more euphoric than being completely sober, even if it requires frequent urine inspections to keep you that way.
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United States

Review of Lies, Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics by Matt B. Robinson and Renee G. Scherlen (SUNY Press, 2007).

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(Click here to read about DRCNet's book offer for members.) Reviewed by Randall G. Shelden, UNLV Looking back on my career and what I have learned there is a rather consistent theme in my thinking and writing about the subject of crime and justice. It might go something like this: we have a system in place that has a vested interest in keeping crime (including drug use) at a certain level. All sorts of careers and a lot of money (literally tens of billions of dollars each year) are dependent upon a steady supply of offenders - even if they have to pass new laws creating new categories of offenders (this especially applies to drugs). This is why many have used such terms like "crime control industry" or "criminal justice industrial complex." Agencies within this complex can sort of "have their cake and eat it too" in that they can have it both ways: when what they do is clearly failing they can merely claim that the problem still exists and they need to continuing doing the same thing (with more money of course). Obviously when things are going well they can take responsibility. This is the pattern with local police departments and in fact the entire system, namely that when crime is down they take credit because of some program in place; however, when crime goes up, they can shift responsibility to all sorts of variables. Favorites include a growing population in their jurisdiction (which is not usually that relevant), a growing youth or "crime risk" population (again, not that critical), "broken" or "dysfunctional" families and, two of my favorites, "outside influences" (e.g., gangs moving) or "liberal programs." Another way of putting this is that, as Jeff Reiman has observed, nothing succeeds like failure! A friend once told me something he learned when studying for his MBA. It is called "optimal starting and stopping points." What this means is that in order to bolster your argument or to make a case that what you are doing is working you pick out a time period that best represents your success and avoid time periods that do not. So it has been with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Matt Robinson and Renee Scherlen do an exceptional job of showing exactly this in Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics. They do this by critically examining six years (2000-2006) of the National Drug Control Strategy. They read through each and every annual report, looking especially for both accurate and inaccurate use of statistics and evidence of honesty and dishonesty in each report. They examined each and every claim made by ONDCP and evaluated ONDCP's stated goals (e.g., reducing drug use and drug availability). What they found for each year, almost without exception, was an almost total misuse of some very simple statistics (e.g., from various annual drug surveys, such as NHSDA, ADAM, MTF). They discovered that in many instances ONDCP employed the "optimal starting and stopping points." For instance, Robinson and Scherlen found that for the 2000 strategy report ONDCP uses a baseline of 1985 that shows a decline in drug use from that year to 1999. Yet the ONDCP was not started until 1988 and the largest drop in drug use was between 1985 and 1988, with the rate remaining steady for the rest of the decade. Other reports use 1979 as a starting point (the peak of drug use). On another occasion the ONDCP claims to prove that George Bush's goal during his 2002 "State of the Union speech of a 10% reduction of drug use by youth within two years was met, but uses a time period that started one year prior to Bush's speech! The authors also found numerous instances where they cite declines in youth drug use during a certain period, but ignore the fact that drug use was increasing among adults. In some cases the ONDCP reproduces a chart that clearly shows drug use increasing, but fail to comment on this rather obvious evidence of failure. On the other hand, on some occasions the ONDCP readily admits "disturbing trends" such as the fact that throughout the decade of the 1990s drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders (Monitoring the Future) is "close to record highs." Yet in this case, the ONDCP sort of ignores such an obvious failure and instead uses this as evidence of a need to get tougher in the war on drugs! Nothing succeeds like failure! Robinson and Scherlen note that ONDCP tends to "celebrate declines even when they are short-term or occurred a decade ago, and downplay increases unless they are being used to create alarm" (p. 66). More examples like this are presented throughout this book. Perhaps more importantly, even when there are some decreases in drug use, ONDCP fails to provide any evidence that this is because of what they did. Moreover, like I said above concerning police departments, Robinson and Scherlen note that "ONDCP only takes credit when drug use trends decline, but takes no responsibility when drug use trends increase" (p. 68). One of the most important chapters in this book is chapters 5 and 6 where they examine ONDCP's claims of success in "healing America's drug users and disrupting drug markets" and claims concerning the costs of the drug war. In these two chapters Robinson and Scherlen also critically examine ONDCP claims about the nature of the drug problem itself. First, ONDCP fails to differentiate between drug use and drug abuse and instead claims that "Drug use promises one thing but delivers something else – something sad and debilitating for users, their families, and their communities. The deception can be masked for some time, and it is during this time that the habit is 'carried' by users to other vulnerable young people." This is an outlandish claim totally lacking empirical foundation. As Robinson and Scherlen correctly note, drug use does not lead to such outcomes and in fact the majority of youths who use drugs do so only a few times and quit completely in their early 20s (p. 96). Such a conclusion is a general consensus by drug experts – obviously a group ONDCP fails to consult! ONDCP also claims that drug testing is effective, yet can cite only anecdotal evidence (such as a statement by one woman based upon a one conversation with a grocery bagger – see p. 102) and ignore comprehensive studies that find that it clearly does not work (e.g., as cited on the Monitoring the Future web site). This is called "confirmation bias" – selecting evidence that supports your position while ignoring contrary evidence. The ONDCP clearly has failed to disrupt drug markets and there has been a steady decline in the price of illegal drugs, as Robinson and Scherlen clearly show with charts taken from ONDCP's report. Yes, you read this correctly: ONDCP reproduces charts that show prices falling yet fail to make any statement that suggests that their goal of raising prices by disrupting drug markets is not working! This is one of the best points about the Robinson and Scherlen book in that they use readily available data – some reproduced by ONDCP – which clearly contradict ONDCP's claims! Robinson and Scherlen also examined claims about the costs of drugs and the drug war. Once again, they demonstrate that ONDCP misuses statistics. Here the authors show that the bulk of the costs of drugs stems from the drug war itself and the fact that some drugs have been criminalized. I could go on and on with more examples. Suffice it to say that Robinson and Scherlen have provided a thorough critique of the claims made by those in charge of the drug war. This book will no doubt prove to be a valuable resource for those trying to make sense of a war that has created so much havoc within our society. Incidentally, the first two chapters provide the reader with an excellent overview on the how the drug war came to be, including a brief history of anti-drug legislation. For those not familiar with this history, these chapters will provide much needed information to fill this gap. Read it, learn from it, use it. Randall G. Shelden is Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he has been a faculty member since 1977. He is the author or co-author of several books, including Girls, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice (3rd edition), with Meda Chesney-Lind (which received the Hindelang Award for outstanding contribution to Criminology in 1992); Youth Gangs in American Society (3rd ed.), with Sharon Tracy and William B. Brown (both with Wadsworth); Controlling the Dangerous Classes: A History of Criminal Justice (2nd forthcoming, Allyn and Bacon); Criminal Justice in America: A Critical View, with William B. Brown (a revised edition of this book is forthcoming with Waveland Press). His most recent book is Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in American Society (Waveland Press). His web site is: www.sheldensays.com. (Click here to read about DRCNet's book offer for members.)
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United States

False Positives: The Dark Secret of the Drug Testing Regime

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The New Scientist has an excellent story on student drug testing which reveals, among other things, that the stupid tests don't even work:

What's more, such tests can flag kids who are "clean" and miss genuine users. A study led by [director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children's Hospital Boston, Sharon] Levy and published this month in Pediatrics (DOI: 01.1542/peds.2006-2278) examined recent drug tests of teenagers being treated for substance abuse. Of 710 drug tests performed, 85 gave incorrect results, either because the urine sample was too dilute to interpret properly, or because the test picked up prescription medicines.


"Drug tests can be very difficult to understand and interpret," says Levy. "There are lots of circumstances under which a kid could be using drugs and not test positive or have a positive test when they are not using drugs."
 

The tests were wrong 11.9% of the time. That's unbelievable. If 12 students out of 100 are getting bogus results, these tests aren't even close to being useful. And while follow-up tests can sometimes set things straight, consider this:

While the rules for federally funded testing say positive results must be checked by an approved lab, no such rules exist for the approximately 500 schools that are testing without federal grants. "Confirmatory testing adds a lot of cost. I don't think most schools are doing it." Levy says.
 

So the tests are wrong with frightening regularity, yet many schools don’t even have procedures for following up on positive results. That doesn't mean they aren't doing it, but it certainly raises doubts. Here's just one example of how a false positive test can destroy a student's relationship with their school.

As reformers, I believe we've been remiss in failing to emphasize false positives as a primary argument against student drug testing. It may prove difficult to establish the frequency with which they occur, but one is too many and the victims are highly sympathetic. When innocent non-users are accused and subjected to the stigma of drug use erroneously, all perceived values of the program are cast into doubt. This is an argument that might catch the attention of "clean" kids and proud parents who think they've got nothing to lose here.

Funny Side-note: SSDP's Tom Angell once urine tested himself for fun. Tom's reputation for partying is rather undistinguished, so we were certain he'd come up negative across the board. Instead, he came up positive for amphetamines and barbiturates (isn't that what killed Elvis?).

It was amusing that the test was so completely wrong the first time we ever tried it. But then we got chills thinking about families being torn apart by these fraudulent products. Come to think of it, there's nothing at all funny about any of this.

 

Location: 
United States

Charges Dismissed Against Loretta Nall; Happy 4/20 To All of Y'all!

Alabama housewife turned activist Loretta Nall is out from under the long arm of the law, with the marijuana charges against her dropped as Cannabis Nation celebrates its unofficial national holiday, 4/20. She was arrested over an alleged roach after a pro-marijuana legalization letter she wrote to the Birmingham News prompted police and officials at her daughter's school to improperly interrogate the young child. The letter and the child's statements were the basis of the search warrant that led to her arrest. She was convicted in district court in 2004 of two misdemeanor counts and given a 30-day suspended sentence. But, activist that she has become, she appealed the conviction and sought to get the evidence from the search thrown out. Today, the judge ruled that prosecutors did not respond to Nall's motion, granted her motion, and suppressed the evidence. Prosecutors responded that without the evidence the case could not continue, and the judge then dismissed the charges. After her arrest, Nall blossomed as a marijuana reform activist, founding the US Marijuana Party, doing countless appearances and interviews, writing letters to the editor, and running for governor of Alabama under the Libertarian Party banner in 2006. Now, with the order of dismissal in her hand as of this afternoon,(and posted on her blog, Nall is in a justifiably exuberant mood:
I am exquisitely pleased to announce that on April 17, 2007 my attorney informed me that the DA's office in Tallapoosa County *UNCONDITIONALLY SURRENDERED* to *ME* and will be formally withdrawing charges against me by the end of this week in the case that has dragged on for five years. Guess what that means friends and neighbors? Hidday Ho, just guess what that means! And, in the ultimate irony for the prosecution, it was finalized today on 4/20 Tallapoosa County authorities must rue the day they went after the fiery mom five years ago because while they may be done with her, she isn’t done with them. The righteous reefer wrath below suggests Nall wants justice—and she wants heads on a pike:
So, here is the beginnings of my list of demands. I want a federal investigation into the Tallapoosa County DA's office, the Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force, the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office, the Alexander City Police Department and into Judge Kim Taylor's office. I want to know how many people are in jail on bullshit charges like mine. I know that I cannot be the only one. I want the Alabama Bar Association to investigate the complaints I am in the process of filing against the DA and Deputy DA of Tallapoosa County. I'd like both E. Paul Jones and Damon Lewis's license to practice law hanging on my wall. I want them arrested, prosecuted and jailed. I have to "make an example out of them" and "send a strong message" that there will be "zero tolerance" for this kind of prosecutorial misconduct. I want [teacher] Beth Shaw charged for conspiring with the school resource officer, Eric McCain, to have me jailed, for inviting DHR workers and police officers to interrogate my children without counsel and other unbiased adults present REPEATEDLY, for filing a malicious complaint with DHR that I was starving my children, for going outside the school and telling personal friends that I was starving my children, for having a box of food with "Bell's Special Snack" written on it under her desk that she only allowed Bell to eat from, for turning notes I sent to the school about my children over to police, for making school a hostile environment for my children and for allowing my five-year-old baby to be humiliated in front of her peers. I want Beth Shaw's license to teach hanging on my wall next to the DA's law licenses. I want her house, cars and retirement account. I want her fired and barred from ever working with children ever again. That bitch needs to suffer. I want Eric McCain charged for using a letter to the editor as a way to question my daughter at school without counsel or another unbiased adult present, for conspiring with Beth Shaw to have me jailed on bogus charges, for humiliating my 5-year-old baby in front of her class, for LYING on the witness stand UNDER OATH. For fabricating this whole damn case because my letter to the editor was not in line with his views on marijuana. I want Eric McCain's badge to hang on my wall next to Beth Shaw's teaching certificate and the DA's' law licenses. If he has one of those nifty cop hats, then I want that, too. I want him barred from ever working as a police officer and from working with children ever again. And, I want him sterilized, because it is never a good idea to allow vermin to breed. I'd like them all jailed. I want pictures.
Go get 'em, Loretta! It's time for some reefer justice; in fact, it's long past time. When do we get our drug war Nuremburg? I tried calling Loretta this afternoon, but it's already past 4:20 in Alabama, so I' m assuming she is celebrating in the appropriate manner. Damn, it's just past 4:20 here now. Gotta go.
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United States

I'll Have A Porous Border With "Cheese" Please

Bryan Preston at Michelle Malkin's mega-blog Hot Air is very upset about the "cheese" epidemic that's killing kids in Texas. Preston's no rabid drug warrior, rather he falls into the growing camp of frustrated observers who reject legalization but acknowledge that drug-freedom is not exactly on the march.

Here's his depressing conclusion, including my own optimistic reactions:
All around, it’s an awful story. Drug cartels will always stay a step or two ahead of law enforcement. Legalization really won’t work.
It worked against the alcohol cartels in Chicago. They were always "a step or two ahead" until their livelihood was transferred to private business owners. Poisonings from rancid bathtub gin went away too, as did violent turf wars. It was glorious.
Unless we find a way to license every weed patch, meth lab, crack house and "cheese" shop in every country in the hemisphere and enforce the relevant regulations, the drug networks will always find a way to operate outside the law.
Black markets for legal products are tiny and very rare. People buy their beer at the store, not from an alcoholic in an alley. Have some faith in capitalism, man.
Legalize one drug, they’ll just invent another one or mix a couple of current ones for a whole new buzz, and then they’ll sell it to kids no matter what age restrictions we try to slap on.
The current market couldn't be better designed to maximize dangerous merchandise and unrestricted youth access. We have everything to gain in these areas and nothing to lose. Recall that the whole premise of this story is that a new drug cocktail is killing young people.
They’re criminals, and that’s just what criminals do. Our lax border laws aid and abet these criminals in preying on yet another generation, and the media and political elites just paper over the inconvenient particulars. It’s a shame and a disgrace.
Yes, there's plenty of shame disgrace to go around. Criminals take over any profit-making opportunity left available to them, but drugs are far too valuable and dangerous to leave in crooked hands. As for the border, it's the drug war that incentivizes traffickers to cut holes in the fence. It's also black market corruption that fosters political turmoil throughout Central and South America. This is a big reason people are fleeing Mexico in the first place.

Bryan Preston, you hate the solution we propose. I know you do. But do you prefer things the way they are now? The dead youth? The turf wars? The porous border? The wasted billions?

Isn't it time to try something completely different?
Location: 
United States

Cannabis Doesn't Cause Cancer, But It Might Cure It

When a NIDA funded study last May revealed no link between lung cancer and lifetime marijuana smoking, important questions were raised. We know that marijuana smoke contains carcinogenic compounds, thus NIDA's findings seemed to suggest that marijuana smoke somehow protects the user from its own inherently carcinogenic properties.

Via Forbes.com, new research offers more insight into this fascinating revelation and brings us closer to the conclusion we've long suspected: cannabis just might cure cancer.
Harvard University researchers have found that, in both laboratory and mouse studies, delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cuts tumor growth in half in common lung cancer while impeding the cancer's ability to spread.

The compound "seems to have a suppressive effect on certain lines of cancer cells," explained Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

According to the researchers, THC fights lung cancer by curbing epidermal growth factor (EGF), a molecule that promotes the growth and spread of particularly aggressive non-small cell lung cancers.
I once witnessed Andrea Barthwell get stumped at an ONDCP press conference when someone asked her to cite a reference for her claim that marijuana caused lung cancer. That was funny, but this much funnier.

Evidence that marijuana doesn't cause lung cancer has long consisted of the observation that marijuana smokers don't get cancer. But now you can google "marijuana+lung+cancer" and discover a list of excellent references refuting this old favorite of the prohibitionist camp. Heck, I can't even find it on the ONDCP's website anymore.

Still, it's generally been assumed that the failure of marijuana smokers to contract lung cancer was attributable to their reduced consumption compared to that of cigarette smokers. That THC actually suppresses cancerous cells is a far more exciting and promising explanation. This suggests, among other things, that administering THC to one's lungs though non-smoking methods just might be remarkably good for you.

With each passing year, the controversy surrounding medical marijuana becomes less of a debate and more of a referendum on the blind idiocy of the liars and quacks who've portrayed it as anything other than a miracle drug.

If marijuana proves capable of curing cancer, will these people finally shut up?

Location: 
United States

Losing Your Job: Another Thing For MMJ Patients to Worry About

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This might be the greatest intro ever to a major media story on marijuana. From USA Today:
On a typical weekday, stockbroker Irvin Rosenfeld has a marijuana cigarette before work, then goes to his firm's smoking area for another after he gets to the office. By day's end, he usually has smoked more than a half-dozen joints — and handled millions of dollars' in clients' holdings.


His firm, Newbridge Securities, supports his use of marijuana and says it hasn't hurt his performance.
In so many ways, the mere existence of Irv Rosenfeld demonstrates the fundamental wrongness of typical anti-marijuana rhetoric. That he receives his medicine directly from the federal government proves that they've always known the truth, despite subsequently pretending not to. His success demonstrates that marijuana, even in large doses, can be part of a healthy and productive lifestyle.

Of course, Irv is one of a shrinking handful of federally approved medical marijuana patients. The security he enjoys is highly anomalous:
None of the states with medical marijuana laws requires employers to make accommodations for the use of the drug in the workplace, says Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Yet, there are legal gray areas for companies, say employment lawyers such as Richard Meneghello of Portland, Ore., who does seminars for companies on the topic.


Meanwhile, there are questions about whether medical marijuana laws would offer any protection to employers if a worker who used marijuana to treat pain ended up injuring others or making a mistake on the job. It's unclear whether such an incident has occurred.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California for 10 years and it's "unclear" whether an incident has occurred. I think that says it all. Come what may, the truth will always be that competency is best determined by conventional means and not through urinalysis.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond that of competent employees establishing the trust of sympathetic employers:
Scott Seidman, a Portland lawyer who represented Columbia [a company sued for firing an MMJ patient], says the company had to maintain its drug-free workplace policy because it is a federal contractor.
Once again, the federal prohibition against medical marijuana is central to the problem. Unless, of course, you're one of the few people who receive medical marijuana in the mail each month from the same government that says there's no such thing.

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United States

Punk Rocker's Drug Test a False Positive -- But Charges Still Pending

Dr. Bronner's sent out this follow-up press release earlier today: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Adam Eidinger April 17, 2007 Breaking News! Orange County Crime Lab Test Shows Dr. Bronner's Soap Clean of GHB or Any Other Drug Germs' Drummer Don Bolles Wrongly Imprisoned; Police Field Drug Test Kits Faulty ESCONDIDO, CA – The Bronner family, makers of the popular organic Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, has learned that the confirmation drug-testing at the Orange County crime lab of soap taken from Don Bolles does not contain GHB (Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate). The crime lab's confirmation tests use the GC-MS method which is much more accurate than the field drug test kits used by the Newport Beach Police, which on April 4th produced a false-positive for GHB for Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap. Based on this flawed faulty field test, Newport Beach police threw Don Bolles, drummer for the legendary punk band The Germs, in jail for three and half days over Easter weekend. Media reports that Dr. Bronner's soaps test positive for THC are also false. Bruce Margolin, attorney for Jimmy Michael Giorsetti who goes by the stage name Don Bolles, was told Friday by the Orange County DA that Mr. Bolles' soap tested negative for drugs. "Mr. Bolles' charges of felony drug possession charges have been proven false," said David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "It's shocking that the DA's office is sitting on the lab results on the soap and hasn't dropped the charges already. Mr. Bolles has always been innocent in this case, but as long as these charges are pending he may not get a passport to travel out of the country to perform and is in major legal jeopardy," said Bronner who appeared in court last Friday to support Mr. Bolles. The next court appearance for Mr. Bolles is May 18, 2007. "Don and our soaps shouldn't have to wait a month to clear this up," says Bronner. "Our customers need to know now this whole soap opera is a mistake by police who tormented an innocent 50 year old man with jail. We purchased the same NarcoPouch® 928 GHB field test made by ODV, Inc. that was used by the police, and ran tests on our soaps. We confirmed that the test is useless when used on soap since every test came back positive. We also tested other common brands of soap including Johnson & Johnson's popular Neutrogena brand, as well as Colgate-Palmolive's popular Tom's of Maine brand, which gave the same false-positive tests as well. What kind of justice system allows police to use field drug tests that deprive citizens of their God-given liberty, that test positive for something as common as soap? What kind of policies and regulations are in place on police drug-testing practices and products, such that a US citizen can be tossed in the slammer over Easter weekend for possession of soap? Police departments nationwide should immediately stop using the ODV, Inc. field test for GHB as it is not accurate when used on soaps and who knows what other common household products." ODV, Inc is a subsidiary of Armor Holdings, Inc. Mr. Bolles was arrested following a search of his vintage 1968 Dodge A-108 van by the Newport Beach police. During the search they found an 8 oz bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner's soap which is made with organic coconut, olive, hemp, peppermint and jojoba oils. The police ignored repeated pleas by Mr. Bolles that the liquid was nothing more than soap. "I've used only Dr. Bronner's soap for 35 years," says Mr. Bolles. "I use it for everything - bathing, washing my hair, washing my clothes - it goes everywhere I go. I'm scheduled to go to Europe to tour with The Germs this summer, but these felony charges could keep me from traveling out of the country." To arrange an interview with Don Bolles or David Bronner please contact Adam Eidinger.
Location: 
Escondido, CA
United States

Peru's Garcia Seems Determined to Stoke Conflict With Coca Growers

Although the Peruvian government cut a deal with coca growers in San Martin state last month to end a strike, promising a temporary end to forced eradication of coca crops, it has since decided to resume the destruction of crops. Garcia has also vowed loudly to bomb coca crops and maceration pits. It is almost as if he is seeking confrontation with growers. Now he's getting it. Coca growers in Tingo Maria, Aucayacu, and Leoncio Prada announced strikes beginning today. Growers in San Martin's Tocache district are already rumbling over the government's reversal on eradication. And someone has taken more direct action: On Friday, snipers opened fire on an eradication team in Yanajanca, killing one civilian eradicator and wounding five police officers. Garcia is headed for Washington soon for trade talks. Is he attempting to curry favor with the US by taking a tough line on coca and cocaine? And what kind of price in terms of domestic conflict and violence is he willing to pay?
Location: 
Peru

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