Subscribe: Jacob Sullum: Reason Magazine articles.
http://www.reason.com/staff/show/128.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
Tags:
cigarettes  clinton  dangerous  dea  drug  kratom  marijuana  medical marijuana  new  people  percent  trump  year  years 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Jacob Sullum: Reason Magazine articles.

Jacob Sullum: Reason.com articles.





Updated: 2016-09-29T00:00:00-04:00

 



Trump's Phony Crime Crisis

2016-09-28T00:01:00-04:00

Donald Trump, who is modeling himself after Richard Nixon, used the phrase "law and order" seven times during his debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday night. He said blacks and Latinos in America's inner cities "are living in hell because it's so dangerous" and that "some really bad things" are happening in "so many different places." FBI numbers released the day of the debate refute Trump's portrait of a nation besieged by violent criminals. While murders did rise by 11 percent in 2015, that increase was driven mainly by a small number of cities, and the violent crime rate is still much lower than it was in the early 1990s—lower, in fact, than in all but two years since 1971. The homicide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, half the rate in 1991. The violent crime rate was 372.6 per 100,000 last year, up 3.1 percent from 2014 but still half the 1991 rate. The property crime rate, which fell 3.4 percent last year, was twice as high in 1991. Of the country's 100 largest cities, 25 saw significant increases in homicides last year, and just seven of them—Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.—accounted for half of the national increase. It's not clear whether violence will continue to rise in those cities, let alone whether it signals a broader trend. Homicides are down so far this year in Baltimore and Washington, for instance, after rising in 2015. While the jump in the murder rate should not be lightly dismissed, it hardly shows that the nation is experiencing "a moment of crisis" caused by "violence in our streets" and "chaos in our communities," as Trump claimed at the Republican National Convention in July, or that "crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse," as he declared on Twitter around the same time. Judging from the FBI's statistics, crime is less "out of control" than it has been in all but a handful of years during the last half-century. Nor does Trump's favored solution, "stop and frisk," make sense even in the cities where violence is on the rise. Promiscuous use of that tactic, which involves detaining and patting down pedestrians who strike police as suspicious, causes understandable resentment among the young black and Latino men who bear the brunt of it, and there's little evidence that it curtails violent crime. Trump credited the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program with reducing the number of homicides in that city from 2,245 in 1990 to 540 in 2005. Yet homicides continued to fall even after the program was sharply curtailed in 2012, and they are down again so far this year after rising in 2015. Meanwhile, the annual number of stops has fallen by 97 percent from the 2011 peak of more than 685,000. Trump does not seem to care about the reason stop-and-frisk encounters fell so dramatically in New York. They were challenged on constitutional grounds, and a federal judge ultimately concluded that police were routinely violating the Fourth Amendment by stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion. Trump nevertheless thinks a similar program would do wonders in violence-plagued Chicago, apparently not realizing police there already tried that. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois reports, "Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City's stop and frisk practice." As in New York, stops in Chicago overwhelmingly targeted blacks and often lacked a constitutional basis. Stops in Chicago are down sharply this year in response to criticism and new legislation, but that happened after the city's 2015 increase in homicides. Even if the local police tactics Trump advocates were constitutional and effective, he would have no power as president to implement them. When he promises that "safety will be restored" once he takes office, he offers false assurances about a nonexistent crisis. © Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc. [...]



Medical Marijuana Replaces More Dangerous Drugs

2016-09-26T06:30:00-04:00

Insys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that recently became the biggest financial supporter of the campaign against marijuana legalization in that state, makes an oral spray that delivers the opioid painkiller fentanyl and plans to market another one that contains dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC. Insys says it gave $500,000 to the main group opposing Arizona's legalization initiative because the measure "fails to protect the safety of Arizona's citizens, and particularly its children." But one needn't be terribly cynical to surmise that Insys also worries about the impact that legalization might have on its bottom line, since marijuana could compete with its products. A new study suggests Insys has good reason to worry. In an article published last week by the American Journal of Public Health, Columbia University epidemiologist June Kim and her colleagues report that fatally injured drivers are less likely to test positive for opioids in states that allow medical use of marijuana. That finding, together with the results of earlier studies, indicates that making marijuana legally available to patients saves lives by reducing their consumption of more dangerous medications. Kim et al. collected data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1999 through 2013, focusing on 18 states that drug-tested at least 80% of drivers who died in crashes. They found that drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 were half as likely to test positive for opioids in states that had implemented medical marijuana laws (MMLs) as in states that had not. "Among 21-to-40-year-old deceased drivers, crashing in states with an operational MML was associated with lower odds of testing positive for opioids than crashing in MML states before these laws were operational," the researchers write. "Although we found a significant association only among drivers aged 21 to 40 years, the age specificity of this finding coheres with what we know about MMLs: a minimum age requirement restricts access to medical marijuana for most patients younger than 21 years, and most surveyed medical marijuana patients are younger than 45 years." The fact that a driver tested positive for opioids does not necessarily mean the painkillers he took contributed to the crash, so it is not safe to draw any conclusions about medical marijuana's impact on traffic safety from this study. But the FARS data are an indirect way of measuring the extent of opioid consumption in a given state. Kim et al. note that "severe or chronic pain is among the most common indications cited by medical marijuana patients." It therefore makes sense that opioid use would decline (or rise less) in states that recognize cannabis as a medicine. The FARS numbers reinforce the results of another recent study, published last July in the journal Health Affairs, that looked at prescriptions covered by Medicare from 2010 through 2013. Ashley Bradford, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Georgia, and her father, W. David Bradford, an economist at the same school, found that "the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly once a medical marijuana law was implemented." The most dramatic decline was in painkiller prescriptions, which fell by 3,645 daily doses per physician after medical marijuana laws were implemented. There were also statistically significant drops in prescriptions for drugs used to treat seizures (down 1,370 daily doses per doctor), depression (1,280), psychosis (1,123), anxiety (1,106), nausea (1,028), and sleep disorders (615). Meanwhile, Bradford and Bradford "found no changes after implementation of a medical marijuana law in the number of daily doses filled in condition categories with no medical marijuana indication," which "provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws." Medicare prescription drug coverage is mainly available to people who are[...]



Trump Is Wrong About Terrorism and Immigration

2016-09-21T00:01:00-04:00

Donald Trump predictably blames "our extremely open immigration system" for Saturday's bomb attacks in New Jersey and New York City. His critique overlooks the details of this particular case as well as the general rarity of terrorism by immigrants. Ahmad Khan Rahami, the 28-year-old man police arrested on Monday in connection with the bombings, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan at the age of 7. He seems to have been radicalized within the last few years, a period when he spent nearly a year in Pakistan and became noticeably more religious and taciturn. It is hard to imagine how the "extreme vetting" Trump advocates for immigrants from "any nation that has been compromised by terrorism" could have kept Rahami out of the country. What questions could have been posed to his parents that would have predicted his violent turn two decades later? Trump faults his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for supporting the admission of Syrian refugees, who he says pose an unacceptable risk of terrorism. But according to a recent study by Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, "the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year." Trump has recommended "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on"—a plan that his own running mate called "offensive and unconstitutional." More recently Trump has said the moratorium should apply to all visitors from countries "compromised by terrorism," a category that arguably includes most of the world. Some pundits favor a cleaner approach. "Confronted with the threat of Islamic terrorism," Nowrasteh notes, "well-known conservatives like Larry Kudlow, David Bossie, and Ann Coulter have called for a complete moratorium on immigration." A broad moratorium would have the advantage of preventing all terrorist attacks by newly admitted immigrants. But it would also exclude more than 1 million innocent people each year it was in effect, at a huge economic cost. Nowrasteh cites estimates ranging from $35 billion to $229 billion a year. Nowrasteh reports that tourists accounted for 94 percent of deaths caused by foreign-born terrorists in the United States from 1975 through 2015. Including tourists in the moratorium would raise the annual cost by another $194 billion or so. Given the rarity of deaths caused by terrorism, Nowrasteh shows, such costs cannot possibly be justified. Based on a value of $15 million per life, he puts "the combined human, property, business, and economic costs" of attacks by foreign-born terrorists during the 41-year period covered by his study at $5.3 billion annually, which is "far less than the minimum estimated yearly benefit of $229.1 billion from immigration and tourism." Even that calculation overestimates the potential security benefit of cutting off immigration, since it is dominated by the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, an anomalous event that is unlikely to be replicated. The 9/11 attacks (which were perpetrated not by naturalized citizens or by refugees but by visitors with tourist or student visas) account for 99 percent of the 3,024 deaths caused by foreign-born terrorists from 1975 through 2015. Excluding 9/11, the overwhelming majority of terrorist murders in the United States—more than 90 percent—have been committed by native-born Americans. Except for 2001, the risk of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist has been minuscule and flat for more than four decades. That risk is extremely low even if you include 9/11: about 1 in 3.6 million per year. You are more than 200 times as likely to die in a traffic accident, 20 times as likely to be killed by falling down stairs, and four times as likely to drown in a bathtub. Any politician who wants to impose large costs in response to such a tiny risk has a lot of explaining to do. © Copyright 2016 by Cre[...]



More Evidence That Vaping Is Not a Gateway to Smoking

2016-09-19T00:01:00-04:00

Three years ago, Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),warned that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes." That fear is one of the main justifications for the CDC's hostility toward vaping and the Food and Drug Administration's onerous new e-cigarette regulations, which are expected to cripple the industry. Yet there is no evidence that Frieden's claim is true and considerable evidence that it's not, especially since smoking rates among teenagers have fallen to record lows even as more and more of them experiment with vaping. Two new studies cast further doubt on the idea that e-cigarettes are a "gateway" to the real thing. Frieden and other e-cigarette alarmists make much of the fact that the percentage of teenagers who report vaping has risen dramatically in recent years. They like to focus on the percentage of teenagers who have ever tried e-cigarettes and the percentage who have used them in the last month, without asking how many are experimenters or occasional users and how many are daily vapers—the sort who might get hooked on nicotine and eventually progress to conventional cigarettes. It turns out there's a good reason for the CDC's lack of curiosity on this point: Survey data show that few teenagers who have never smoked use e-cigarettes and that even fewer do so on a regular basis. "Many fear that e-cigarette use by non-smoking students will lead many to nicotine addiction and subsequent cigarette smoking," notes University of Michigan health economist Kenneth Warner in anAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine article published last month. But based on data from the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF), which surveys students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, Warner finds that "non-smoking high school students are highly unlikely to use e-cigarettes" and even less likely to use them regularly. Among the 12th-graders who had never tried conventional cigarettes, 94 percent had not used an e-cigarette in the previous month. Among the never-smokers who reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, 60 percent used them on only one or two days. Less than 1 percent of never-smokers had vaped on 20 or more days in the previous month. The MTF numbers, which are similar to the findings of British surveys, suggest it is quite unlikely that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes," because nonsmokers rarely use e-cigarettes often enough to develop a nicotine habit. Another point Warner emphasizes makes Frieden's claim even less plausible: "A large proportion of students use e-cigarettes containing no nicotine." Warner cites a 2014 study that found most never-smoking Connecticut teenagers who vaped used nicotine-free e-liquid. The significance of that point is underlined by another recently published analysis of MTF data. Richard Miech and three of his colleagues at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (which conducts the survey) report in the journal Tobacco Control that nearly two-thirds of teenagers who have tried vaping consumed "just flavoring" the last time they did it. "Nicotine use came in a distant second," Miech et al. write, "at about 20 percent in 12th and 10th grade and 13 percent in 8th grade." The other options were marijuana and "don't know." Consider the CDC's practice of counting vaping as "tobacco use," which leads it to claim there has been "no decline in overall youth tobacco use since 2011," even though that is clearly not true. It was already absurd to pretend teenagers were using tobacco when they weren't, especially since the CDC used that inaccurate terminology to imply that the rising popularity of vaping somehow cancels out the health gains from the continuing decline in smoking, a far more dangerous habit. Now that it's clear the typical adolescent vaper is not even using nicotine, the CDC cannot assume any che[...]



Trump's Putin Praise Highlights His Authoritarianism

2016-09-14T00:01:00-04:00

Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, use the same word to describe Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "unpatriotic." Satisfying as it may be for Democrats to deploy that adjective against the nominee of a party known for its flag-waving jingoism, it is neither accurate nor adequate in describing what's truly alarming about Trump's admiration of the Russian strongman. "He is really very much of a leader," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer last week. "I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing.' The man has very strong control over a country." Trump, who also cited Putin's "82 percent approval rating," allowed that Russia has "a very different system" of government, and "I don't happen to like the system." Nevertheless, he said, "in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader." Clinton slammed Trump for "taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he preferred the Russian president to our American president," which she called "unpatriotic and insulting." Kaine said the "irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic, and we've got to call it out." Note how Clinton and Kaine equated Trump's insult to Obama with an insult to the nation. If you hate Obama, they suggested, you hate America. Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to jingoism, thought conflating love of country with love of the president is the opposite of patriotism. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong," he wrote in 1918, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Patriotism is in any case a dubious virtue at best. An emotional attachment to the land in which you happen to be born is natural, but when elevated to a moral principle it easily morphs into state worship and warmongering. As a guide to judgment, patriotism is utterly subjective and unreliable. If it is unpatriotic for an American to say Putin is a better leader than Obama, it is equally unpatriotic for a Russian to say Obama is a better leader than Putin. The problem with Trump's comments about Putin is not that they show a lack of patriotism. The problem is that they reflect authoritarian instincts no president of a liberal democracy should have. Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia's system of government while admiring Putin's strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible. In Russia's "highly centralized, authoritarian political system," the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties. According to the department's 2015 report on human rights in Russia, "the government increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent," including politically motivated arrests and prosecutions; discriminated against sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities; and "failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity." The report says torture by police was common, there were "numerous extrajudicial killings," and "corruption was widespread" in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Freedom House, which classifies Russia as "not free," reports that Putin's regime last year "intensified its tight grip on the media, saturating the information landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing the most popular alternative voices." The report also notes that "the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch," "there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day workings of the government," and "vague laws on extremism grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support." Tr[...]



Report Shows Pot Prohibitionists' Desperation

2016-09-12T00:01:00-04:00

During a debate while running for re-election in 2014, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was asked whether voters in his state had been "reckless" when they approved marijuana legalization two years earlier. "To a certain extent you could say it was reckless," he replied. Last May, after repeatedly saying he would reverse legalization if he had "a magic wand," Hickenlooper told the Los Angeles Times, "If I had that magic wand now, I don't know if I would wave it. It's beginning to look like it might work." See if you can guess which Hickenlooper quote appears in the latest report on marijuana legalization in Colorado from the drug warriors at the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA). It's not much of a puzzle. Since suppressing the use of marijuana and other illegal drugs is RMHIDTA's mission, its reports on legalization are indictments masquerading as objective assessments. The same organization that last year falsely claimed public support for legalization had declined in Colorado this year portrays a governor who sounds cautiously optimistic about legalization as unambiguously against it. The report's treatment of Hickenlooper is of a piece with its one-sided approach, which focuses exclusively on the negative consequences of legalization and exaggerates what we know about them. RMHIDTA likes to present dramatic, seemingly scientific charts that make legalization look like a big mistake. The difficulties of interpreting the data presented in the charts are usually relegated to a footnote, assuming they are mentioned at all. On page 79 of the new report, for instance, there is a column chart showing a dramatic increase in "marijuana-related emergency department visits" between 2012, the year Colorado voters approved legalization, and 2013, the year the initiative began to take effect. The footnote says, "2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made." Similarly, a line graph on page 17 shows a sharp increase in "traffic deaths related to marijuana," which a footnote defines as "fatalities involving operators testing positive for marijuana." A footnote in the introduction (on page 11) warns, "This report will cite datasets with terms such as 'marijuana-related' or 'tested positive for marijuana.' That does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident." On reason "marijuana-related" crashes are not necessarily related to marijuana is that people can test positive for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, even when they are not impaired. In fact, as the report notes in its summary of an Associated Press story published last May, "There is no science that shows drivers become impaired at a specific level of THC in the blood. A lot depends on the individual. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems might not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel." RMHIDTA's habit of inviting inferences in headlines while warning readers not to draw them in footnotes reaches ridiculous extremes on page 45, where a column chart labeled "Colorado School Dropouts" (above) shows what looks like a dramatic increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Although the difference between the 2013-14 total (10,546) and the 2014-15 total (11,114) is about 5 percent, the graph makes it look like the number of dropouts more than doubled, because the Y axis begins at 10,200. But never mind: "Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been asked about the number of school dropouts in Colorado numerous times and is, therefore, providing the data. Rocky Mountain HIDTA is not equating the number of dropouts with marijuana legalization." Similarly, a chapter offering "related data" includes this warning: "Some of the data reported in this section is because [sic] there have[...]



Trump's 'Softening' Can't Make His Immigration Stance Popular

2016-09-07T00:01:00-04:00

Recent polls indicate that less than a quarter of Americans think the 11 million or so people who live in this country without the government's permission should be forcibly removed. That lack of enthusiasm for mass deportation explains Donald Trump's much-ballyhooed "softening" on immigration, which has produced a mushy mess. While seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Trump insisted that unauthorized immigrants "have to go," along with their American-born children (who are U.S. citizens), raising the total number of deportees to about 16 million. He said a "deportation force" could get the job done "humanely" within two years. Although popular among Republican primary voters, that promise was self-evidently insane. Even assuming that Trump would bow to the legal reality that U.S. citizens cannot be deported, removing 11 million people in two years "would mean arresting more than 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year," as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes. Such a project would be a constitutional catastrophe as well as a logistical nightmare. "There is no conceivable mechanism to accomplish the roundup that Trump has promised while respecting basic constitutional rights," the ACLU warns. Since "undocumented immigrants are not readily identifiable as such," deporting all of them would entail "tactics like suspicionless interrogations and arrests, unjustified and pretextual traffic stops, warrantless searches of workplaces and homes, and door-to-door raids in immigrant neighborhoods." If "practiced on a huge scale throughout the country, those activities would systematically violate the Fourth Amendment." Whether or not Trump has read the Constitution, we know he reads polls, which show the vast majority of Americans oppose his expulsion plan. "It's a very, very hard thing," he conceded in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last month, saying even many of his supporters think it's wrong "to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out." In response to such concerns, Trump suggested he would be open to some form of legalization. Although there would be "no citizenship" and "no amnesty as such," he said, if unauthorized residents "pay back taxes," he would be willing to "work with them." Trump's big immigration speech last week was supposed to clarify what he meant by that. Instead it muddied matters more. "For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else," he said. "Those who have left to seek entry under this new system…will not be awarded surplus visas, but will have to apply for entry under the immigration caps." That approach, which Trump described as "fair, just, and compassionate," sounds even less generous than the one he outlined a year ago. "We're going to try and bring them back rapidly, the good ones," he said then. "We will expedite it so people can come back in. The good people can come back." Trump's softening seems more like a hardening, just in time for a general election in which most voters reject his mass deportation scheme, his border wall, and his message that illegal immigrants represent an intolerable threat. Calling Mexico's president "wonderful" and allowing that "there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people" (up from "some" last year) probably won't be enough to reassure moderates or get Trump the Latino support he needs. The polling firm Latino Decisions estimates that Trump needs at least 42 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the election. Mitt Romney, who said he would encourage "self-deportation" by making economic conditions intolerable for unauthorized immigrants, got just 27 percent in 2012, down from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. Four years ago, Trump him[...]



The DEA Thinks All Kratom Use Is Abuse

2016-09-05T00:01:00-04:00

At the end of this month, kratom will be illegal throughout the United States thanks to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which last week announced that a ban is necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." The way the DEA reached that conclusion provides an illuminating window on the prohibitionist mindset, which dresses pharmacological phobias in the garb of science. Kratom is a pain-relieving leaf that acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose. But the most important thing to know about kratom, if you want to understand the DEA's reasoning, is that it's not from here. Kratom comes from a tree, Mitragyna speciosa, that is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has gained a following in the United States only recently, hawked by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, "dietary supplement," or legal high. As far as the DEA is concerned, the fact that people in other countries have used kratom for centuries to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean themselves from opiate addiction counts for nothing. All the DEA needs to know is that our shores have been invaded by a foreign drug that is increasingly popular among Americans as a home remedy and recreational intoxicant. From the DEA's perspective, that is intolerable, regardless of the drug's hazards or benefits. If you think I'm exaggerating, consider how the DEA decided that kratom meets the criteria for "temporary" placement in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category. The DEA has at least two years to make that designation permanent, which it almost certainly will do after going through a somewhat more elaborate process of bureaucratic self-justification. For the time being, it need only consider three factors: "the substance's history and current pattern of abuse; the scope, duration and significance of abuse; and what, if any, risk there is to the public health." That exercise is easy, because according to the DEA all use of kratom is abuse and the substance has no benefits. That means any hazards associated with kratom pose an unacceptable risk to public health, even if they compare favorably to those associated with legal intoxicants, over-the-counter remedies, and prescription drugs. "Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects," the DEA says. "Kratom is misused to self-treat chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms, with users reporting its effects to be comparable to prescription opioids." So if you use kratom to relax, relieve pain, or get off heroin, that's abuse. "Kratom is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market in the United States," the DEA says. So if you use kratom for fun, that's abuse. Any medicinal use of kratom has to be abuse, the DEA figures, because kratom has not been approved for any indication by the Food and Drug Administration. Nor has the government approved kratom as a recreational intoxicant or a utilitarian stimulant (possibly because no such regulatory categories exist for new drugs), so those uses are also beyond the pale. The DEA's blinkered thinking is especially glaring when it frowns on kratom as a substitute for heroin. "Kratom has a history of being used as an opium substitute in Southeast Asia," it says. "Especially concerning, reports note users have turned to kratom as a replacement for other opioids, such as heroin." So if a heroin addict switches to a less dangerous drug, that is "concerning," even if the switch enables him to taper off his drug use and ultimately stop completely. In other words, even using kratom to reduce drug abuse is drug abuse. With logic like that, it's a cinch for the DEA to conclude that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, kratom's main active components, have "a high potential for abuse." In th[...]



The Perverse Penalties of Leper Lists

2016-08-31T00:01:00-04:00

Officially, the restrictions imposed by Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) aim to keep former convicts on the straight and narrow after they're released from prison. But in practice, a federal appeals court said last week, the rules are so tenuously related to that goal and so burdensome that their main effect is inflicting additional punishment on sex offenders who have already completed their sentences. The question addressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was relatively narrow: whether SORA is so punitive that applying it retroactively violates the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws. But in resolving that issue, the court brought some long overdue skepticism to bear on laws that purport to protect the public from sex offenders, suggesting they make little sense even when they're constitutional. The 6th Circuit was responding to a challenge brought by five men and one woman who committed sex offenses before the state legislature expanded SORA's requirements. "What began in 1994 as a non-public registry maintained solely for law enforcement use," the appeals court observed, "has grown into a byzantine code governing in minute detail the lives of the state's sex offenders." That code, like similar laws in many other states, is based on the premise that sex offenders pose a special threat because they have especially high recidivism rates. But the appeals court noted that "Michigan has never analyzed recidivism rates despite having the data to do so," and research by the Justice Department indicates that sex offenders "are actually less likely to recidivate than other sorts of criminals." SORA also was shaped by the misconception that sex crimes against children are typically committed by strangers, although the Justice Department estimates that 90 percent involve perpetrators who already knew their victims. A provision added in 2006 bars registrants from living, working, or "loitering" within 1,000 feet of a school, regardless of whether their crimes involved children. That rule makes it hard for sex offenders to find housing, disqualifies them from work with multiple locations, separates them from their families, and prevents them from attending school events involving their children and grandchildren. Since those conditions are not exactly conducive to rehabilitation, it's not surprising that a 2013 study funded by the Justice Department found Michigan's residence restrictions were associated with an increase in recidivism. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Law and Economics likewise found evidence that publicly accessible registries have a perverse effect on recidivism. In 2011 legislators compounded the Michigan registry's stigma by dividing sex offenders into three tiers that supposedly correspond to the danger they pose. Those classifications, which are based entirely on the crime of conviction and do not involve any individual assessment, can be very misleading. All of the plaintiffs in this case qualified for Tier III, supposedly the most dangerous category. Yet one of them was convicted at age 18 of having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, while another was convicted of "a non-sexual kidnapping offense arising out of a 1990 robbery of a McDonald's." Although neither is a rapist or child molester, the appeals court noted, they face the same requirements, including lifetime registration that brands them as "moral lepers." Another SORA provision added in 2011 requires that registrants notify police "immediately" and in person when they move, change their names, buy or borrow a car, enroll in school, start a new job, switch to a new email address, or plan to travel for more than seven days. "The requirement that registrants make frequent, in-person appearances before law enforcement," the 6th Circuit said, "appears to have no relationship [...]



Philippine Anti-Drug Strategy: 'Kill Them All'

2016-08-29T00:01:00-04:00

Thirty-three countries have laws that authorize the death penalty for drug offenses. The Philippines is not one of them. But since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president last May after promising to "fatten all the fish" in Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals, police and vigilantes have killed hundreds of drug dealers and users. Testifying before the Philippine Senate last Tuesday, National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa said cops had killed 756 drug suspects since July 1, the day after Duterte was sworn in as president, while 1,160 people had been killed "outside police operations." The death toll rose by 137 between Monday and Tuesday, so by now it is presumably in the thousands. Duterte's methods may be bloodier than those typically employed by American prohibitionists, but his logic is similar, casting peaceful transactions—the exchange of money for psychoactive substances—as acts of aggression that pose an existential threat to the nation. This is war, after all, so there is no room for legal niceties. Dela Rosa says the drug suspects were killed because they resisted arrest. Duterte, a former prosecutor whose anti-crime slogan is "kill them all," has repeatedly said police waging his war on drugs should "shoot to kill" if they face any resistance. As mayor of Davao, he declared that criminal suspects are "a legitimate target of assassination," and after taking office as president he urged citizens to kill drug users as well as drug dealers. "These sons of whores are destroying our children," he told a crowd in a poor neighborhood of Manila. "I warn you, don't go into that, even if you're a policeman, because I will really kill you…If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful." When Duterte was Davao's mayor, hundreds of people died in that city at the hands of vigilantes, homicides he both encouraged and disavowed. Now Dela Rosa says the vigilante killings since Duterte became president will be investigated, but it's no mystery why they have recently exploded. Nor is it surprising that the vigilantes have not been very discriminating about the people they mark for death. Last month Michael Siaron, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver in Manila, was shot by gunmen who left a cardboard sign next to his body identifying him as a "pusher." His relatives say he occasionally used methamphetamine (the main target of Duterte's drug war), but they insist he never sold it. After The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a front-page photograph of Siaron's wife cradling his body in the street under the headline "Thou Shalt Not Kill," Duterte seemed unmoved. "There you are sprawled on the ground, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ," he said in a speech to Congress. "That's just drama." The police also have been less than punctilious about whom and when they kill. After two small-time Manila dealers, 49-year-old Renato Bertes and his 28-year-old son, Jaypee Bertes, were killed while in custody last month, the cops claimed the arrestees had tried to grab their guns. But an investigation by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights found both men had been severely beaten and were incapable of resistance. The evidence in that case, which a senator described as a "summary execution," was so clear that the government had no choice but to bring murder charges against two officers. Many other cases in which police claim to have killed drug suspects in self-defense will not get the same scrutiny. Duterte says he wants to reinstate the death penalty, which at this point seems redundant. Why bother making it official when you can execute people much more efficiently in the street? While the complete lack of due process makes Duterte's homicidal anti-drug crackdow[...]



Hulk Hogan's Gawker Smackdown Hurts Press Freedom

2016-08-24T00:01:00-04:00

Nine years ago, Gawker ran a blog post headlined "Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People." The item rankled Thiel, a billionaire who had co-founded Paypal and invested early in Facebook but had not yet gotten around to publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation, although he had told people close to him. This week Thiel finally got his revenge as Gawker ceased operations, driven out of business by an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit he financed. Whether or not you mourn the loss of Gawker, a website known for its snarky blend of gossip and journalism, its death does not bode well for freedom of the press. The lawsuit that Thiel supported involved the professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, a.k.a. Terry Bollea, who claimed to have been mortified by a 2006 video showing him having sex with the wife of his best friend at the time, Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Clem, who arranged the liaison, recorded it without Bollea's knowledge, and in 2012 someone sent the 30-minute video to Gawker, which posted a 100-second excerpt along with a 1,400-word description. Given Bollea's eagerness to discuss his sexual exploits, including the incident shown in the video, on talk shows and in print, his claim of life-impairing trauma seemed rather implausible. Last March a Florida jury nevertheless awarded him $115 million in compensation for the emotional distress and economic harm the video supposedly inflicted, later tacking on $25 million in punitive damages. That absurdly disproportionate award, which was even more than Bollea had sought, was a measure of the jurors' disgust rather than any injury he suffered, and it probably will be reduced on appeal. But it already has driven Gawker Media into bankruptcy, leading to its purchase by Univision, which decided to shut down Gawker while keeping the company's other outlets alive. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece defending his involvement in the Hulk Hogan case, Thiel argues that the threat of ruinous litigation is necessary to protect privacy from media outlets that thrive by violating it. "Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it," he writes. "A story that violates privacy and serves no public interest should never be published." The public clearly was interested in the Hulk Hogan sex tape, which generated more than 7 million page views. Whether the public should have been interested is a different question, and Thiel thinks his answer should be legally enforceable. Gawker argued that the video, which had been described by other outlets and discussed by Bollea himself, was already a news story, and the first few paragraphs of the accompanying post tried to place it in cultural context, giving the appearance of a purpose other than titillation. The 2007 post about Thiel's sexuality likewise aspired to a serious purpose: questioning the "wrongheaded sense of caution" on this subject among venture capitalists. I'm not sure I buy these rationales, but I am sure they should be judged by readers, not by courts. Empowering jurors to define the public interest and decide which stories serve it is bound to have a chilling effect even on journalism that Thiel would consider legitimate, because people commonly disagree about such matters. "Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist's profession," Thiel says. "It's not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it." Notwithstanding his avowed reticence, Thiel is drawing a line by supporting Bollea's lawsuit and offering to help other litigants who believe journalists have violated their privacy. His choice of cases will tell journalists where he thinks the line should be, and they will cross it at their peril. People who do not like what journalis[...]



Marijuana's Mystifying Misclassification

2016-08-22T00:01:00-04:00

On August 11, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith did not try to conceal his contempt. "LSD, MDMA, a plant that grows in the yard—all one thing," he said sarcastically. "The DEA announced today it will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs in all the world, along with heroin, LSD, and MDMA….Thanks, DEA, you've really got a lot of credibility." Smith's dismay was echoed by activists, scientists, commentators, and members of Congress from both major parties, who said the DEA's decision was at odds with what we know about marijuana's hazards and benefits. There is a lot of truth to that critique, and the DEA can reasonably be faulted for stubbornly refusing to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category that is supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use," and "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision." But bureaucratic intransigence is only part of the story. The other part is the CSA itself, a legal morass that leaves crucial phrases undefined, gives the DEA wide discretion to decide where drugs belong, and establishes arbitrary, inconsistent rules that make it impossible to properly classify many drugs. Since Schedule I is the CSA's most restrictive category, people tend to assume it's supposed to be a list of "the most dangerous drugs in all the world," as Shepard Smith put it. But Chuck Rosenberg, the DEA's acting administrator, says that's a misleading way of describing Schedule I. In fact, he says, the decision to keep marijuana in that category did not involve an assessment of its relative hazards. While the DEA's determination that marijuana belongs in Schedule I was widely interpreted to mean it thinks marijuana is about as dangerous as other drugs in that category and more dangerous than drugs in lower schedules, the head of the DEA insists that is not what the decision means. "Schedule I includes some substances that are exceptionally dangerous and some that are less dangerous (including marijuana, which is less dangerous than some substances in other schedules)," Rosenberg writes in an August 11 letter to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose predecessors filed one of the rescheduling petitions that the DEA rejected this month. "That strikes some people as odd, but the criteria [sic] for inclusion in Schedule I is not relative danger….It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating 'danger' scale—rather, specific statutory criteria (based on medical and scientific evidence) determine into which schedule a substance is placed." Rosenberg's concession that marijuana "is less dangerous than some substances in other schedules" stands in stark contrast with his predecessor's refusal to say whether heroin is more dangerous than marijuana. A year ago, Rosenberg admitted that "heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana," and now he is taking the further step of saying some drugs in lower schedules are also more dangerous. But he argues that such observations do not mean marijuana should be reclassified. According to the DEA's official explanation of its decision, the only factor that mattered was whether marijuana has a "currently accepted medical use." The agency says meeting that criterion requires the sort of large, expensive clinical studies that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new medicine. While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985) and are under way with Sativex,[...]



Trump and Clinton Pretend Protectionism Has No Price

2016-08-17T00:01:00-04:00

Donald Trump talks about cutting taxes and regulation. Hillary Clinton, not so much. But their economic visions, laid out in dueling speeches last week, reflect a strikingly similar fear of what happens when people are free to engage in peaceful, consensual transactions without government interference. Those transactions would not happen if they were not mutually beneficial, and the same truism applies when the two parties happen to be on different sides of a political border. But Trump and Clinton fear the unpredictable consequences of free (or relatively free) markets, which reward consumers and businesses that serve them well while punishing those that can't compete. "All of our policies should be geared towards keeping jobs and wealth inside the United States," Trump says. Clinton promises to "stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages." Both candidates claim to appreciate the benefits of international trade. But those benefits come from specialization that generates the greatest value at the lowest cost, which cannot happen without shifts in employment. If you oppose trade that "kills jobs" or that fails to keep them within the United States, you oppose trade, period. "Let's go out and build the future!" Clinton exclaims. Trump says Clinton is "the candidate of the past," while "ours is the campaign of the future." The future they have in mind looks a lot like the past. If American prosperity was once based on manufacturing, they say, it must always be so. Trump, who thinks a reduction in manufacturing jobs is ipso facto evidence of economic decline, promises to "put our coal miners and steelworkers back to work" and "put new American metal into the spine of this nation." Clinton emphasizes "how important it is the build things," saying, "We are builders and we need to get back to building!" This manufacturing fetish is no more reasonable than pining for the days when most Americans were farmers. The share of the U.S. labor force employed in agriculture fell from nearly 80 percent in 1800 to 1.5 percent in 2012, mainly because of dramatic improvements in productivity. That trend involved a lot of "lost jobs," so according to Trump and Clinton it was a disaster. Two major causes of the decline in manufacturing's share of employment are rising productivity and competition from more-efficient producers in other countries, both of which are a boon to consumers—i.e., all of us. The government cannot prevent or reverse the loss of those jobs without sacrificing those gains. Trump recognizes that regulations represent "a hidden tax on American consumers," who pay more for products made by companies subject to the government's costly mandates. But he refuses to admit the same is true of restrictions on trade, which by design protect domestic producers from lower-cost foreign competitors. Clinton and Trump both want to punish American companies that take advantage of lower production costs in other countries to offer their customers more value for their money. Trump complains that such companies "ship products into the U.S. tax-free," while Clinton promises a "more patriotic tax code that puts American jobs first," including "a new exit tax" for companies that "move their headquarters overseas." As a businessman, Trump understands why making products in America does not always make sense. As Clinton points out, "He's made Trump ties in China and Trump suits in Mexico." Clinton's campaign created a web page listing U.S.-based alternatives to the foreign manufacturers of various Trump-branded products. It says these companies are "ready and able to produce the goods he makes overseas"—at a higher cost, of course. Clinton never mentions that part, because she does not want to a[...]



FDA E-Cigarette Regulations Give Smoking a Boost

2016-08-15T00:01:00-04:00

The Food and Drug Administration's e-cigarette regulations, which took effect last week, immediately struck two blows against public health. As of Monday, companies that sell vaping equipment and the fluids that fill them are forbidden to share potentially lifesaving information about those products with their customers. They are also forbidden to make their products safer, more convenient, or more pleasant to use. The FDA's censorship and its ban on innovation will discourage smokers from switching to vaping, even though that switch would dramatically reduce the health risks they face. That effect will be compounded by the FDA's requirement that manufacturers obtain its approval for any vaping products they want to keep on the market for longer than two years. The cost of meeting that requirement will force many companies out of business and force those that remain to shrink their offerings, dramatically reducing competition and variety. All of this is unambiguously bad for consumers and bad for public health. Yet the FDA took none of it into account when it estimated the costs imposed by its regulations, simply assuming that good intentions would ensure good results. Although preventing fraud is the official intent of the FDA's speech restrictions, the agency's rules prohibit statements that are accurate and highly relevant to consumers choosing between smoking and vaping. Nicopure, one of the companies that is challenging the FDA's regulations in federal court, used to tell consumers that in vaping "nothing is burned," "no smoke is released," and "no ash" is generated. It also noted that the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contains "no tar" and only "a fraction of the 4000 chemicals currently found in standard tobacco cigarettes." Although all of these statements are indisputably true, they are illegal under the FDA's reading of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. That law gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, a category to which it has arbitrarily assigned tobacco-free e-cigarettes, even when they contain nicotine that is not derived from tobacco or no nicotine at all. The Tobacco Control Act prohibits unapproved "modified risk" claims, including any "explicit or implicit representation that [a] tobacco product or its smoke does not contain or is free of a substance or contains a reduced level of a substance, or presents a reduced exposure to a substance in tobacco smoke." According to the FDA, that means e-cigarette companies are not allowed to advertise the main advantage of their products. Even describing an e-cigarette as "smokeless" or "smoke-free" is asking for trouble, since "the Agency will evaluate an [e-cigarette] manufacturer's use of 'smokeless' or 'smoke-free' (and similar descriptive terms) on a case-by-case basis." Instead of immediately banning all e-cigarettes and e-fluids, the FDA gave manufacturers a couple of years to seek approval for each of their products. But that grace period does not apply to any variations introduced after August 8, 2016, so the FDA has in effect banned product improvements. In a declaration supporting Nicopure's lawsuit, CEO Jeff Stamler notes that his company "introduced approximately 288 new e-liquid products, 6 new vaporizer products, and 23 new vaporizer components" in 2015 alone. Now any new product requires premarket approval, so "as a practical matter Nicopure will be unable to introduce new products for several years." The ban applies even to minor changes. The American Vaping Association notes that "any variation of the nicotine level, bottle size, flavor amount, ingredient type, etc. in a current product (i.e., one being marketed on August 8, 2016) will result in a 'new' prod[...]



Trump Trounces Clinton in the Lie Olympics

2016-08-10T00:01:00-04:00

This fall Americans will decide what sort of liar they want as their president. Do they want a tiresome, hairsplitting, lawyerly liar, or a bold, flamboyant, spontaneous liar—the sort of liar who could keep surprising us even after years in office? Last week Hillary Clinton gave us a preview of what life would be like with the first kind of prevaricator in chief. It was not fun. In an interview with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, Clinton doubled down on the devious defenses she has been offering since March 2015, when The New York Times revealed her use of an unsecured private email server as secretary of state. Last year, you may recall, she said there was no classified material in her electronic correspondence, or at least none that was classified at the time, or at least none that was marked as classified. An FBI investigation found none of those statements was true. Yet when Wallace pointed that out, Clinton said FBI Director James Comey had in fact confirmed "my answers were truthful." Given another chance to correct the record last Friday, Clinton repeated the same fallacious argument that earned her Four Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler: Because she was not charged with lying to the FBI about her State Department emails, everything she told the public must have been true, even though it demonstrably was not. But Clinton also said she "may have short-circuited" her answer and suggested that "Chris Wallace and I were probably talking past each other." To recap: After the email story broke, Clinton repeatedly offered assurances that turned out to be false. Then she said the FBI had validated those statements, which was also false. Then she falsely insisted her claim about the FBI was true, even while implying that it resulted from a misunderstanding—which also was not true, as anyone who watches the video or reads the transcript can see. Untangling Clinton's lies is as tedious and unrewarding as untangling that unused mass of twine at the bottom of the tool drawer. When Donald Trump lies, by contrast, you really know you've been misled, and you have to be impressed by the sheer audacity of his mendacity. This is a guy who asserts with a straight face that the "real" unemployment rate is not 5 percent but 42 percent and that President Obama plans to admit 200,000 refugees from Syria—20 times the actual number. This is a guy who promises to eliminate the $19 trillion national debt in eight years and to cut annual Medicare spending on prescription drugs, which totals $78 billion, by $300 billion. This is a guy who repeatedly insists he saw "thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey openly celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center, despite a complete lack of evidence to support that claim, and denies that he mocked a newspaper reporter's physical disability, despite a video that shows him doing it. This is a guy who claims he always opposed the war in Iraq, despite a recording of him supporting it before the invasion. "There's never been a presidential candidate like Donald Trump," writes Kessler, the Post fact checker, "someone so cavalier about the facts and so unwilling to ever admit error, even in the face of overwhelming evidence." And Kessler's list of Trump's whoppers does not even include the billionaire reality TV star's claim that he has read the Constitution, which seems quite unlikely given that Trump thinks that document has 12 articles, empowers judges to sign bills, authorizes presidents to rewrite libel law, and bans birthright citizenship. According to a recent CNN survey, 66 percent of voters consider Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy, while 65 percent say the same of Trump[...]