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Published: Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2018 20:41:38 -0400


This is Your Brain Thinking About the Drug War

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 10:39:00 -0400

During a rally in New Hampshire last month, President Trump promised that the federal government would "spend a lot of money" on a new anti-drug campaign that would scare kids "from ending up like the people in the commercials."

We'll make them "very, very bad commercials," Trump told the crowd. "We'll make them pretty unsavory situations."

Yet research on the effectiveness of past anti-drug campaigns, including a 2014 meta-analysis of 19 studies, concluded that these efforts had little to no effect on use of illicit substances. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at the effectiveness of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which ran from 1998 and 2004 and cost $1 billion. It found that the program may have had the opposite of its intended impact, actually encouraging drug use.

Isn't it time to just say no?

Written, produced, and shot by Meredith and Austin Bragg. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

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Chicago Is Trying to Pay Down Its Debt by Impounding Innocent People’s Cars

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 08:15:00 -0400

On June 21, 2016, Chicago police pulled Spencer Byrd over for a broken turn signal. Byrd says his signal wasn't broken, but that detail would soon be the least of his worries. Ever since, Byrd has been trapped in one of the city's most confusing bureaucratic mazes, deprived of his car and his ability to work. He now owes the city thousands of dollars for the pleasure. Byrd, 50, lives in Harvey, Illinois, a corrupt, crime-ridden town south of Chicago where more than 35 percent of the populace lives below the poverty line. He's a carpenter by trade, but until the traffic stop, he had a side gig as an auto mechanic. Byrd says he's been fixing cars "ever since I was 16 years old and blew my first motor." Sometimes he did service calls and would give clients rides when he couldn't repair their cars on the spot. On this early summer night, Byrd was giving a client, a man he says he had never met before, a ride in his Cadillac DeVille. Police pulled both of them out of the car and searched them. Byrd was clean, but in his passenger's pocket was a bag of heroin the size of a tennis ball. The two were hauled off to the precinct house. Police released Byrd after a short stint in an interrogation room without charging him with a crime. But when Byrd went to retrieve his car, he found out the Chicago Police Department had seized and impounded it. Byrd had run afoul of Chicago's aggressive vehicle impound program, which seizes cars and fines owners thousands of dollars for dozens of different offenses. The program impounds cars when the owner beats a criminal case or isn't charged with a crime in the first place. It impounds cars even when the owner isn't even driving, like when a child is borrowing a parent's car. In total, Chicago fined motorists more than $17 million between March 2017 and March of this year for 31 different types of offenses, ranging from DUI to having illegal fireworks in a car to playing music too loud, according to data from the Chicago Administrative Hearings Department. About $10 million of those fines were for driving on a suspended license, and more than $3 million were for drug offenses like the one that resulted in the impoundment of Byrd's car. (See and download the data here.) Chicago Vehicle Impound Fines in Dollars, March 2017—March 2018 src="" width="700" height="300" frameborder="0"> The city says it is simply enforcing nuisance laws and cracking down on scofflaws. But community activists and civil liberties groups say the laws are predatory, burying guilty and innocent owners alike in debt, regardless of their ability to pay or the effect losing a vehicle will have on their lives. "There's plenty of reason to be concerned that there's injustice being done to people who are mostly poor, people who aren't in a position to fight back," says Ben Ruddell, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois. "The city has been perpetuating an exploitative system, charging exorbitant fees in a way that it knows is likely to make it so folks never get their cars out of impoundment." Byrd calls his car his "livelihood," and he has been fighting [...]

This Could Be the First Cannabis-Derived Drug to Win FDA Approval

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 09:50:00 -0400

Epidiolex, a cannabidiol drug used to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy in children, has moved one step closer to approval by the Food and Drug Administration, which could happen as soon as June. If approved, Epidiolex will be the first cannabis-derived drug recognized as a medicine under federal law. The FDA's announcement comes days before an independent, expert panel will vote on its safety. Because of Epidiolex's success in treating diseases with no alternative treatments, the FDA gave it "priority review" status in December, meaning the agency will review the application for the drug within six months (compared to 10 months under standard review). After the advisory board makes a recommendation to the FDA, the agency has until June 27 to reach a decision. The FDA staff report to the advisory committee says Epidiolex reduced seizures in a "clinically meaningful and statistically significant" way for patients suffering from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The results of those studies provide "substantial evidence" of the drug's efficacy, the report says. Both Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut are difficult to treat, as patients experience several types of seizures and are often resistant to medication. Patients who participated in the studies had taken other medications without adequate relief. Over two weeks, total seizures among Lennox-Gastaut patients who took Epidolex fell, on average, by 38 percent in one study and 44 percent in the other, while placebo patients experienced a drop of 18.5 percent and 23.5 percent, respectively. About 40 percent of patients in the cannabidiol (CBD) treatment groups saw a 50 percent or greater reduction in "drop seizures"—violent seizures that cause the upper body or full body to go limp, resulting in falls or injuries. Injuries from falling and poorly controlled seizures are cited as risk factors in the premature deaths of Lennox-Gastaut patients. The author of one Lennox-Gastaut study, Elizabeth Thiele, director of pediatric epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital, called Epidolex "life changing" in an interview with The Washington Post. "One child who comes to mind had multiple seizures a day," Thiele said. "She had been on every medication possible. She is now talking about college options. She would have never had that conversation before." In a Dravet syndrome study, cannabidiol cut the median number of monthly convulsive seizures in half, from 12.4 to 5.9. The median number of seizures in the control group fell only slightly, from of 14.9 to 14.1 per month. People with Dravet syndrome require constant care because of their frequent seizures, and 15 to 20 percent of them do not reach adulthood, dying at an average age of 8. The FDA has not approved any treatments specifically for Dravet syndrome. Since Epidiolex, made by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals, is not available yet in the United States, many families with children who suffer from Dravet travel to states where they can legally obtain CBD oil. Although 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical use of cannabis, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is not legal for any use. A synthetic version of THC, another compound found in marijuana, has been available by prescription since 1985. But Epidiolex would be the first FDA-approved medicine derived directly from cannabis. Currently 1,100 epilepsy patients obtain Epidiolex through the FDA's Investigational New Drug program, which lets patients try medications that have not yet received FDA approval. If the FDA approves Epidolex, it would increase medical access and offer families an alternative to CBD oil, which is legal only in some states. It would also spur further research on cannabis-based medicine. "The important thing for us is that patients like this deserve a pharmaceutical solution," GW Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Justin Glover told the Post. "They should not be moving across the country. They deserve the right to have access."[...]

Will El Chapo’s Arrest Make the Drug Trade More Deadly?

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 12:55:00 -0400

Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been awaiting trial in the United States since his dramatic capture in 2016. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, and kidnapping against Guzmán, who ran the notorious Sinaloa cartel for more than 40 years. El Chapo gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes, and for his controversial 2016 interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn while hiding as a fugitive from the law. The U.S. and Mexican governments have declared Guzmán's capture a major win in the drug war. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron thinks his story better demonstrates the folly of prohibition. "When we interfere on the supply side with the drug trade by taking out kingpins and other ways, we tend to lower the prices partially because we're making the market more competitive," says Miron, who's also the head of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Where there's demand, there's going to be supply." The capture of kingpins doesn't just tend to make cartels more competitive in the marketplace. It can also increase violence as rival factions battle to fill the power vacuum. A 2015 research brief conducted by Miron and his Cato colleagues Jason Lindo and Maria Padilla-Romo shows that capturing a leading drug trafficker "in a municipality increases its homicide rate by 80 percent" over a 12-month period. In neighboring municipalities, the homicide rate rises 30 percent in the six-month period after a kingpin's capture. Over the last decade, the United States has contributed over $2 billion in money and intelligence resources to aid the Mexican government with their counternarcotics efforts, which focus on the elimination of drug cartel kingpins. In 2012, Gen. Charles Jacoby, who led the U.S. Northern Command from 2011 to 2014, admitted to Congress that removing kingpins did not have "an appreciable, positive effect" in limiting the operations and reach of Mexican drug cartels. "In my view the best policy is to legalize everything," says Miron. "The harms come almost entirely from the prohibitions, not from the properties of the substance." Reason spoke to Miron about the lessons to be learned from El Chapo's capture and if the Trump administration's latest calls for tougher punishment for drug dealers to combat the "terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction" is opening a new front in the drug war. Produced by Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. "Cutting to the Chase" by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License ( Source: Artist: "Forgotten Marches" by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial License ( Source: Artist: "Seeger" by John Deley and the 41 Players. Source: Photo Credits: Mario Guzmán/EFE/Newscom—Mexican Attorney General's Office—Pgr/Ho/Prensa International/Zuma Press/Newscom—Str/picture alliance/dpa/Newscom—José Menéndez/EFE/Newscom—Henry Romero/REUTERS/Newscom—Edgard Garrido/REUTERS/Newscom—Shawn Thew/Pool/CNP/MEGA/Newscom—Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

Trump Announces Unprecedented Support for Legalizing Marijuana

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 17:20:00 -0400

(image) On the first great-weather day of Spring 2018, President Donald Trump has committed to withdrawing federal objections to the legalization of marijuana, reports Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment.

President Trump is preparing to support far-reaching legislation to reform federal marijuana prohibition so that states can enact their own cannabis laws without interference.

"Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states' rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana," U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-CO) said in a statement. "Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice's rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

In a briefing with reporters on Friday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the development, calling Gardner's statement "accurate."

"We're always consulting Congress about issues including states' rights, of which the president is a firm believer," she said.

(image) This is huge, as it would unambiguously allow states to pursue legalization without worrying about a federal crackdown such as the one proposed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the start of this year. An unambiguous ally in the White House would also go a long way to ending skittishness on the part of banks and other firms to engage with pot-related industry in states where such business is legal. At Marijuana Moment, Angell writes that the details of the "legislative solution" Sen. Gardner mentions are not known yet, but the Colorado Republican said it will amount to a "universal fix" to all questions regarding pot legalization.

Read more here.

Gardner had been using senatorial privilege to place holds on various administration nominees until he received assurances that the Trump administration would work to allow the untroubled legalization of pot in states that decide to do so. Today, he announced:

"Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees. My colleagues and I are continuing to work diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can pass Congress and head to the President's desk to deliver on his campaign position."

So here we have Donald Trump, who is so terrible on so many issues and pretty damn good on others, moving forward on negotiating peace on the War on Pot. Nothing is over until the last non-violent offender is freed, but this is very good news.

Related: From 2010, "3 Reasons To Legalize Pot Now!"

Overdose Deaths Are the Product of Drug Prohibition

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 00:01:00 -0400

During Prohibition, drinkers never knew what they would get when they set out to slake their thirst. Bootleggers often sold products adulterated with industrial alcohol and other toxins. Some 10,000 people were fatally poisoned before America gave up this grand experiment in suppressing vice. So it was a tragedy but not a total surprise when three deaths were reported in Illinois from synthetic marijuana laced with an ingredient (possibly rat poison) that caused severe bleeding. Nationally, in 2015, says the Drug Policy Alliance, "poison control centers received just under 10,000 calls reporting adverse reactions to synthetic cannabinoids, and emergency rooms received tens of thousands of patients." People consume synthetic cannabis for the same reason people once consumed bathtub gin: Their drug of choice is illegal. Criminal organizations that cater to forbidden demands don't always make a fetish of quality control. After Prohibition was repealed, though, tipplers could buy from legal, regulated suppliers. They no longer had to worry about ingesting sudden death. In nine states and the District of Columbia, pot users now enjoy the same protection. Recreational marijuana is allowed and subject to government regulation and the discipline of the market—ensuring purity through accountability. But in most places, Americans who want to get high have to take their chances with unsanctioned dealers who may be sorely lacking in moral scruples. The bigger toll from modern drug prohibition, however, comes among opioid users. By making criminals of many people who are dependent on prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, the law exiles them to the black market. There, consumers may find legitimate FDA-approved medicines, but they may also buy counterfeit versions or heroin—which often carry far greater hazards. The most urgent danger comes from fentanyl, an opioid at least 30 times more powerful than heroin that illicit producers often mix with other opioids. It plays a rapidly growing role in the epidemic of drug overdose deaths. The number of deaths caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, says the National Center for Health Statistics, increased by 88 percent per year from 2013 through 2016. In 2016, these drugs killed more than 19,000 people. Why would traffickers cut a dangerous drug (heroin, oxycodone) with an even more dangerous one? Fentanyl's low cost and high potency allow sellers to make more money. The iron law of prohibition stipulates that banning a substance encourages more powerful alternatives because they are more compact and thus easier to hide (boxes of pills versus bales of marijuana). The side effect is to greatly compound the dangers of drug use. As if its role in opioids weren't bad enough, fentanyl has shown up in cocaine. Law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts report a surge in this particular mixture, which is especially dangerous because cocaine users usually lack a tolerance for opioids. Fentanyl was just the beginning. The latest additive is carfentanil, a compound 100 times more powerful than fentanyl that is used to tranquilize elephants. It's shown up in a street drug known as "gray death," which sells for much less than pharmaceutical opioids. Its advent is likely to boost the casualty count. These side effects are an inevitable result of treating a vice, or a medical condition, as something to be punished. The simplest way to curb the epidemic would be to make it possible for those addicted to opioids to obtain and use them legally. Pharmacists don't mix up cocktails with sedatives meant for animals weighing 6 tons. Short of some form of legalization, useful steps could be taken. Drug testing kits can detect the presence of fentanyl and other contaminants—but in many places, including Illinois, they are classified as illegal drug paraphernalia. The District of Columbia recently decided to grant an exemption lett[...]

Former House Speaker John Boehner Once Opposed Marijuana Legalization. Now He's a Pot Lobbyist.

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 13:05:00 -0400

Can there be a more obvious sign of the pending end of the war on marijuana than this? Former House Speaker John Boehner announced today he's becoming a pot industry lobbyist. No, really! Here's the Ohio Republican's tweet: I'm joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I'm convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities. @AcreageCannabis — John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) April 11, 2018 He's being joined on the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings (formerly named High Street Capital) with former Republican Massachusetts governor and former Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee Bill Weld. Recall that Republican New Mexico governor turned two-time Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson is already a part of the marijuana industry. Weld and Boehner put out a joint statement expanding on Boehner's tweet. They are taking a very conservative approach, pushing for a federal rescheduling of marijuana so that it can be researched and used for medical treatment. The pair repeatedly invoke marijuana's use as treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans, they reference its use as a substitute for opioids to reduce the risks of overdose deaths, and they invoke the 10th amendment to get that "states' rights" hook in there. Veterans groups have been pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to help its patients gain access to medical marijuana. Only recently did the V.A. give doctors permission even to discuss medical marijuana as a treatment for veterans in state-approved programs. Its doctors still are not permitted to prescribe or assist veterans in obtaining marijuana, even in states where it's legal. And the V.A. will not pay for it. Acreage Holdings is based in New York State and operates in 11 states. It has cultivation and processing facilities as well as dispensaries. It obviously is well-positioned to take advantage of new business opportunities if the V.A. gets approval not just to prescribe medical marijuana but to cover it. So getting the V.A. to cover medical marijuana for vets seems a likely lobbying aim. The company's ambitions are "keenly focused on expanding its footprint and continuing acquisitions, with aspirations to become the dominant national platform in the space," and they're pojecting that the cannabis industry will be bringing in $9 billion in retail revenue by 2020. So ultimately, Boehner's transition is just like what we've seen from so many lawmakers before. They retire from Congress, then get jobs representing the very firms that used to lobby lawmakers for friendlier regulations and for porkbarrel spending. Don't be surprised to see Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan, doing something similar now that he's retiring too. It's a double-edged sword in this case. Boehner's power and influence will be welcome in lobbying for changes to a horrible remnant of a drug war policy that has put thousands and thousands of Americans in prison cells. Boehner's involvement can be particularly important right now, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' continued opposition to marijuana. Yesterday, Boehner announced that he'll be touring the country to campaign on behalf of Republican lawmakers facing midterm elections. The way he has crafted his message is clearly meant for Republican voters and lawmakers. At the same time, it'll be important to keep an eye on how federal regulations are crafted if Boehner's efforts are successful. We certainly wouldn't want just one marijuana provider to get a crony contract that gives them prime or exclusive access to V.A. customers.[...]

Surgeon General Advises Greater Use of Naloxone to Help Save Lives

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 17:00:00 -0400

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a rare (first since 2005) "national advisory" yesterday that said "For patients currently taking high doses of opioids as prescribed for pain, individuals misusing prescription opioids, individuals using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, health care practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life." It's an encouraging sign in a culture often all too ready to believe that anyone using opioids in a risky way just deserves to die that the federal government is giving its imprimatur to one of the most realistically efficient ways to limit deaths (which can be administered as a nasal spray or via injection) associated with opioid abuse. Some of the points the Surgeon General made in his advisory include that: Research shows that when naloxone and overdose education are available to community members, overdose deaths decrease in those communities.2 Therefore, increasing the availability and targeted distribution of naloxone is a critical component of our efforts to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths.... In most states, people who are or who know someone at risk for opioid overdose can go to a pharmacy or community-based program, to get trained on naloxone administration, and receive naloxone by "standing order," i.e., without a patient-specific prescription.3 ....most states have laws designed to protect health care professionals for prescribing and dispensing naloxone from civil and criminal liabilities as well as Good Samaritan laws to protect people who administer naloxone or call for help during an opioid overdose emergency.3, 5 "Naloxone is increasingly being used by police officers, emergency medical technicians, and non-emergency first responders to reverse opioid overdoses. There are two FDA-approved naloxone products for community use that are available by prescription, but too few community members are aware of the important role they can play to save lives. Past Reason coverage on naloxone includes Jacob Sullum debunking the "moral hazard" argument against widespread naloxone availability; reports on widening legal availability in Pennsylvania, Maine, and California; and Ronald Bailey explaining how naloxone is one part of a general policy approach to opioids far smarter than Trump's general "get tough" bluster. A useful state-by-state breakdown of laws regarding naloxone access and use.[...]

Rep. Joe Kennedy III Is Sad that Pot Legalization Will Restrict Cops and Prosecutors

Sun, 01 Apr 2018 12:15:00 -0400

Dan Savage of The Stranger has flagged this awful interview of Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), one of those Kennedys and widely believed to be a big, big star for the Democrats in the years and decades to come. Suffice it to say that rarely has a congressman, even one blessed to belong to the most famous family in U.S. politics, been more tone-deaf and out of touch when it comes to drug policy. In response to a question about legalizing marijuana from Vox's Ezra Klein, former prosecutor Kennedy responds: So this one, um, this one's a tough one for me. My views are not do not exactly line up with my own state and it's something I'm struggling with.... [We] decriminalized it when I was in the court system, when I was trying cases, or shortly thereafter, if I remember the years right, in Massachusetts. When we decriminalized it it actually had a pretty big consequence for the way that Massachusetts prosecutors went about trying cases in terms of—because an odor of marijuana was, at last initially, because marijuana was an illegal substance, if you smelled it in a car, you could search a car. When it became decriminalized you couldn't do that. So that was the way that we hadn't—the base case that prosecutors used to search cars for under cover contraband, guns, knives, a whole bunch of other stuff, all of that got thrown out the window. That's not to say that's right or wrong, but that is to say that when that went through a public referendum, which is how that law was passed, I don't think anybody had [given] much though[t] to, you're actually gonna change one of the foundational principles for law enforcement that we use in our court system. [emphasis added by Savage] Given his age (late 30s), past job, and status as the son of a former congressman and descendant of presidents and senators, Kennedy can't claim he hasn't thought about the issue. If your response at this late stage in the ongoing legalization movement is to start talking about how decriminalization made it harder for cops and prosecutors to search and convict people on non-pot-related charges, you've really got a screw loose. And as much as I'd like to, let's not get ahead of ourselves when it comes to declaring victory in the War on Pot. As Cato's Clark Neily tweeted in an unrelated conversation just yesterday, "There were more arrests for marijuana-related offenses in 2016 than for all violent crimes combined. Low-hanging, irrelevant fruit, and no cost-benefit analysis whatsoever." Savage riffs: Joe Kennedy III sounds like he's channeling Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III here. What Kennedy is pining for here amounts to a stop-and-frisk program for people in cars—or a stop-and-harass-racial-minorities-in-cars program. Stop-and-frisk on sidewalks was ruled unconstitutional by the courts and has been shown to be ineffective by social scientists. And if it's not okay and not helpful to randomly stop people on the street and search their persons for no reason whatsoever, how can it be okay or helpful to randomly stop people in vehicles and search their cars for a subjective, bullshit, easily abused reason like, "Something smells funny!"? Kennedy's stock has been rising over the past few months for at least two reasons. First, he delivered the Democratic response to Donald Trump's 2018 State of the Union address (to mixed reviews, at least in part stemming from his "drool mouth" problem that became a Twitter trend for a few days). Second, Democrats are waking up to the fact that the average age of their leading candidates for the 2020 presidential race (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders) is well north of 70. If his answer to the question of pot legalization is any indication, Kennedy is not only out of touch with the 60 percent (and growing) of Americans who want the stuff treated basically like alcohol, he's [...]

Congress May Finally Be Ready to Legalize Hemp

Sat, 31 Mar 2018 07:38:00 -0400

Earlier this week, leaders in Congress announced steps to legalize hemp. A bipartisan bill, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, is set to be introduced next week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell says the bill "will finally legalize...hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from [the] list of controlled substances." Hemp is the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. Hemp can't get you high and, unlike tomatoes, has no documented history of turning miraculously into marijuana. But the federal government has long designated hemp as a banned crop. "Currently regulations consider hemp to be a drug," I wrote in 2013. "The DEA bars farmers from growing hemp without a permit. Not surprisingly, the DEA doesn't issue such permits." The seeds of the imminent legislative push were planted four years ago, when Congress passed an amendment to the Farm Bill that allows some hemp to be grown for research purposes. The federal government's Drug Enforcement Administration immediately violated the law by seizing a shipment of hemp seeds destined for Kentucky. The state sued the DEA, which was forced to back down. So what's the problem today? For one, the DEA continues to drag its heels on complying with other facets of the law. Another is that the 2014 Farm Bill provision I noted at the time is so narrow that only under our idiotic drug war could it be viewed as a step forward. The Farm Bill language granted monopoly growing power to state universities and agriculture departments. No individuals could grow hemp legally. By way of comparison, imagine if Congress passed a law that continued to ban American farmers from growing tomatoes but carved out an exception that allowed state government units to grow tomatoes. That's roughly where we're at with hemp farming in this country today. Despite the inane domestic prohibitions, hemp products are ubiquitous worldwide. Foods containing hemp are also common. That's increasingly the case here in the United States. In 2013, for example, I reported that Amazon sold nearly 250 different hemp food products. Today, that number stands at nearly 800—an increase of more than 200% in just five years. But little of the hemp foods sold in this country comes from hemp grown in this country. Most of the hemp used in foods and other products sold in the U.S. comes from Canada, China, and Europe. Growing consumer demand for hemp products mirrors growing acceptance in the states for hemp farming. In 2013, only nine states had adopted laws regulating hemp production. Several months ago, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 34 states had passed legislation regulating hemp farming. Despite the federal ban, that number is growing. Earlier this month, Missouri's state senate voted to regulate hemp farming. States where growing marijuana is legal (though still illegal under federal law) are leading domestic sources of hemp. As of 2106, there were around 400 industrial hemp operations in Colorado. Hemp acreage in Colorado grew from just over 2,000 in 2015 to 9,000 last year. Besides ending an entirely pointless federal ban and helping to meet consumer demand, legalizing hemp would help ease the way for hemp farmers to do some of the things farmers need the opportunity to do if they want to succeed, including buying crop insurance or opening bank accounts, both of which the current federal ban can make difficult or impossible. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 will be co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "I fully support the cultivation of industrial hemp," Sen. Paul told me by email this week. "Allowing farmers throughout our nation to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost Kentucky's economy and bring much-needed jobs to the agriculture industry." In a 2016 column on food pol[...]

Mitch McConnell Wants to Take Hemp Off the Controlled Substance List

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 17:29:00 -0400

(image) Earlier today, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wants hemp removed from the list of controlled substances and would seek to legalize it as an agricultural commodity, according to The Washington Post.

Declassification would allow farmers to grow hemp without a federal permit, offering states more control over the hemp industry and easing the regulatory start-up costs faced by growers. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), seeks to lessen the stigma surrounding hemp products.

Hemp—a product that does not contain enough THC to possess the psychoactive properties of cannabis—has long been punished by the drug war for being tangentially related to pot. In states where hemp is legal, hemp products must contain no more than .003 percent in order to stay on the market. And yet it's useful in a number of products, including textiles, food, and oils.

"We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky's past," said McConnell at a press conference, according to Forbes.

As a Kentucky native, McConnell has long been an advocate of hemp as a cash crop. In 2014, McConnell also supported the Farm Bill, which authorized state agriculture departments to create and commercialize industrial hemp research programs in partnership with universities. Since it passed, Kentucky's hemp industry has been booming.

In 2017, hemp production and cultivation research was approved for more than 12,800 acres in 71 Kentucky counties—and that number is expected to grow, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Following Kentucky's lead, 30 other states have approved hemp research programs.

McConnell also mentioned he's open to speaking with Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a staunch proponent of the drug war—about the hemp industry.

"Some challenges remain today between the federal government and farmers and producers in Kentucky," McConnell said at the event, suggesting he will continue to use legislative powers to stress the difference between "hemp and its illicit cousin."

Did Donald Trump Kill the Libertarian Movement? Or Just Put It in Suspended Animation?

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:25:00 -0400

(image) "The challenge for libertarians is to explain to people that you don't get all the good stuff we like—the Netflixes, the Whole Foods, the Ubers—without having certain free-market and live-and-let-live institutions, ideas, and temperaments in place."

Today I appeared on Ricochet's podcast Michael Graham in the Morning to discuss whether Donald Trump killed libertarianism, if the president's idiotic push for killing drug dealers will work, and whether there are any principled Republicans or Democrats left. Spoiler alert: Most of my answers involve some variation on the word no.

Go here to listen via iTunes. And go here to stream on Ricochet's site. My appearance kicks in at 26:40.

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Sessions 'Strongly Encourages' Federal Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty for Some Drug Dealers

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:35:00 -0400

(image) Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty "when appropriate" in order to combat the opioid crisis, in a March 20 memo first obtained by NBC. The instructions came a day after President Donald Trump called for capital punishment for some drug offenders.

To combat the opioid crisis, Sessions writes, "federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal," such as working with the Department of Justice Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and bringing civil and criminal actions against opioid makers and distributors. U.S. Attorneys should also seek the death penalty when the law allows:


Federal prosecutors have been allowed to seek the death penalty for certain drug offenses since 1994, Politico reports, thanks to a law signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet Politico also reports that no prosecutor has sought death for a federal drug offense in the 24 years since then, and civil liberties groups argued after Trump's speech on Monday that the Supreme Court has ruled against using the death penalty in cases where the defendant did not commit murder.

But that makes it a strategically brilliant policy for Sessions and Trump to endorse. Trump said Monday that most big drug dealers do only 30 days or a year in jail (which is not true), and Sessions wants longer sentences for drug offenses, propped up with mandatory minimums. Between the two of them, something like a 15- or 20-year mandatory minimum for importing or dealing illicit fentanyl would probably hit the spot. That would be unlikely to pass the Senate as an opening offer, but it looks a lot more generous when you compare it to executing people. Never mind that the statutes Sessions cites aren't all that relevant to the opioid debate, which involves more online activity and accidental overdoses than it does armed scuffles over drug turf.

Seeking the death penalty under existing laws, meanwhile, could still net life and de facto life sentences.

By throwing fuel on the fire Trump started, Sessions is priming the chattering class and the media to see single and multi-decade sentences as a humane alternative to execution. Those sentences are more humane, but only when compared to capital punishment. Trump and Sessions have rapidly and unapologetically shifted the Overton Window on drug penalties. With the most barbaric option on the table, punishments that are simply cruel and excessive are destined to seem more tolerable.

You can read Sessions' entire memo after the jump.


Trump’s ‘Tough’ Drug Policies Are Not Smart

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:01:00 -0400

During a visit to New Hampshire on Monday, Donald Trump gave a 19-minute speech about opioid abuse in which he used the word tough or variations on it 19 times, more than four times as often as he used the word smart. That ratio seems about right, given the details of the president's plan to end "this scourge of drug addiction in America" and "raise a drug-free generation of American children." Trump's plan is heavy on tactics that have already failed. For instance, he favors "spending a lot of money" on "very, very bad commercials" that will "scare" kids away from drugs by depicting "pretty unsavory situations." Trump does not seem to realize that the federal government already tried that, and the results were disappointing. Evaluations found that the taxpayer-financed propaganda did not make teenagers less likely to try drugs and may even have had the opposite effect. Trump's supply-side ideas are equally innovative. "We have got to get tough," he said, and toughness requires "the death penalty for the really bad pushers and abusers." The president's fixation on killing drug dealers is little more than a bloodthirsty fantasy. Congress approved execution of large-scale drug traffickers back in 1994, but the provision has never been carried out and probably never will, since the Supreme Court has said the Eighth Amendment requires that the death penalty be reserved for "crimes that take the life of the victim." Trump also wants to reduce the weight thresholds for mandatory minimum sentences in opioid cases, which is more constitutionally feasible than copying Iran's drug penalties but no more likely to affect the drug supply. As every tough drug warrior who has preceded Trump during the last century has discovered, the economic incentives created by prohibition mean there are always more dealers to replace the ones behind bars. Those same incentives spell doom for Trump's plan to "keep the damn drugs out" by building a "big, beautiful wall" along the border with Mexico. Drug smugglers attracted by prohibition profits will always find ways around, over, under, or through any wall, no matter how big or beautiful. Trump bragged that U.S. Customs and Border Protection "seized nearly 1,500 pounds of fentanyl last year, nearly three times the amount seized in 2016." Since CBP will never manage to intercept more than a small percentage of incoming drugs, rising seizures are a sign of failure, not success, especially when they are accompanied by falling retail prices. The government has more control over the supply of legally produced opioids, which are subject to quotas set by the Drug Enforcement Administration and regulation of the doctors who prescribe them. "We're going to cut nationwide opioid prescriptions by one-third over the next three years," Trump said. That strategy does not seem very promising, given that opioid-related deaths mainly involve heroin and illegally produced fentanyl. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of opioid prescriptions fell by 16 percent from 2012 to 2016, while the number of opioid-related deaths rose by 82 percent. Restricting the supply of pain pills contributes to that death toll by driving nonmedical users into the black market, where the drugs are more dangerous because purity and potency are unpredictable. The pressure to reduce prescriptions also hurts legitimate pain patients, who are left in agony when their doctors arbitrarily decrease their doses or cut them off entirely. The Trump administration reportedly wants to impose the CDC's opioid prescribing guidelines, which encourage doctors to be as stingy as possible with pain pills, on patients covered by Medicaid or Medicare. That will mea[...]

Kansas Registers Drug Offenders as Well as Sex Offenders

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 17:29:00 -0400

Back when meth was the drug war's primary target, several states created registries for people convicted of making or selling the drug. Kansas went further than anyone else. There, anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute any illegal recreational drugs other than cannabis are required to register for a minimum of 15 years—and unlike other states, the Kansas registry includes their picture. (It formerly included their addresses, but that was later removed due to fear of retaliation.) More than 4,500 Kansans are now registered drug offenders, and many of them face surveillance, public isolation, and other unnecessary hardships as a result. Kansas lawmakers are now reviewing a bill that would eliminate drug offenders from the criminal registry. "It is a drain on resources with no science, studies, or data to justify it," defense lawyer Jennifer Roth said at a hearing. While they are on the registry, those convicted of drug charges are required to appear at the country sheriff's office four times a year. They must also make an appearance any time they move, get a new job, buy a vehicle, change emails, or get a tattoo. Each quarterly visit costs offenders $20, and failing to register—an offense that includes failing to make any one of those appearances—can lead to prison sentences. The consequences can be crushing. The formerly incarcerated already have an extremely difficult time obtaining a job. And many people examining the registry fail to distinguish between drug charges and sex-related offenses, leading to further problems. The public is hostile to sex criminals, and people are quick to assume the worst about persons registered (though many sex offenders on the registry may not deserve to be there either). This harsh public treatment leads to social isolation, and critics of the registries suggest such isolation makes recidivism more rather than less likely. Similarly, while there isn't much evidence that registries actually prevent crime, several studies suggest that felons without foreseeable job prospects are more likely become repeat offenders. "The problem with these registries is that we're creating a class of untouchables within our society who cannot rent apartments or secure employment," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Prison Legal News during the original push to add drug offenders to the registries. "When you diminish the likelihood that ex-felons can live and work in society, you increase the chances that they will return to criminal behavior." In light of such problems, other states have rolled back their registering requirements. Hopefully Kansas will join them soon.[...]