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Published: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:53:41 -0500

 



Oregon's Recreational Marijuana Market Approaches Collapse

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:45:00 -0500

(image) Oregon's recreational marijuana market is rapidly approaching collapse thanks to new state regulations, as supply shortages and price increases hit dispensaries across the state.

Yesterday the Oregonian ran a long piece documenting the struggle of many of these businesses, who have been forced to lay off staff and watch their store shelves stripped bare for want of product.

One such dispensary—Human Collective in Southeast Portland—has experienced a severe decline in the amount of marijuana flower buds it could get its hands on, while its inventory of marijuana concentrates is down to about 10 percent of normal. Owner Don Morse has responded by raising his prices and running with half the normal amount of staff.

Another cannabusiness owner told the Oregonian that he expects 70 to 80 percent of the dispensaries operating today to be closed by next year.

These problems are the natural consequence of the onerous and unworkable pesticide testing regulations that went into effect in October. As Reason has reported, these new regulations have massively increased the time and costs it takes to comply, while also severely restricting the number of labs that are permitted to carry out testing.

The predictable result has been many marijuana growers and processors either increasing their prices dramatically or shutting down their operations altogether due to a lack of labs available to test their products.

And now dispensaries are starting to feel this pain.

A survey of cannabusinesses conducted by Golden Leaf Holdings—a marijuana business in Lake Oswego, Oregon—has found that 22 percent of respondents report that they are going out of business or in danger of doing so.

A further 80 percent say that the new testing requirements have "severely impacted" their bottom line. Almost all have said they either have raised or will raise their prices substantially just to stay afloat. Yet even with price hikes, about half of the businesses surveyed reported losing $20,000 or more a month thanks to new regulations.

Despite this slow-rolling disaster, the Oregon Public Health Authority (OHA)—the agency responsible for crafting the pesticide regulations—is standing firm. Johnathan Modie, a spokesman for the OHA, told the Oregonian that the ruination of so many businesses is just "the price of public safety."

Anthony Johnson, a longtime legalization advocate and blogger at MarijuanaPolitics.com, disagrees, instead calling overregulation "the new prohibition," with potential to push producers and consumers into black markets where there are no public safety checks. Indeed, there are already reports of this happening, as many smaller grow operations—unable to bear the costs of sitting on their hands while they wait—have returned to selling on the streets.

This is all a far cry from the hopes of marijuana advocates and users, who expected to find a bit of normalcy in the post-prohibition environment.




FDA Salt Guidance Could Kill More People Than It Saves

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 11:10:00 -0500

The Food and Drug Administration issued proposed guidance in June to the food industry aiming to reduce the amount of sodium in many prepared foods. In its draft guidance, the agency stated: Average sodium intake in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 mg/day. The draft short-term (two-year) and long-term (10-year) voluntary targets for industry are intended to help the American public gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, a level recommended by leading experts and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence. The targets are also intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants, and food service operations to reduce sodium in foods. The FDA further asserted: CDC has compiled a number of key studies, which continue to support the benefits of sodium reduction in lowering blood pressure. In some of these studies, researchers have estimated lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs. So, the science of salt is settled, right? Actually, no. The FDA asked for public comments on its draft guidelines and it evidently received sufficient pushback that it extended the deadline for comments until December 2, 2016. As I reported earlier more and more studies are calling into question that idea that reducing salt consumption at the population level will actually result in net health benefits. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in August 2014 finding that people who consume less 1,500 milligrams of sodium (about 3/4ths of a teaspoon of salt) are more likely to die than people who eat between 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium per day (1.5 and 3 teaspoons of salt). The free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has submitted comments that show that the FDA's confident claim that reducing salt consumption by Americans will save lives is at best, a hope, and at worst, tragically wrong. The CEI comments to the FDA nicely summarizes the relevant scientific studies. Here is the nub of the issue: Reduced sodium consumption affects different individuals in different ways. Only an estimated 17 to 25 percent of the population is "salt sensitive"—they experience higher blood pressure with increased dietary sodium—while 75 percent are considered salt resistant and will experience no change in blood pressure with altered dietary sodium. However, an estimated 11 to 16 percent of the population are inverse salt sensitive, which means reduced dietary sodium can increase their blood pressure. With this heterogeneity in response to salt, trying to force a population-wide reduction in sodium availability in order to reduce incidences of hypertension would be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Among other evidence, CEI cites a 2014 metanalysis in the American Journal of Hypertension of more than two dozen sodium studies which concluded that risk of death appeared to be lowest among individuals consuming between 2,565mg and 4,796 mg of sodium a day with higher rates of death in the upper and lower range. The FDA itself notes that average daily consumption - 3,400 mg - is right in the middle of that range. CEI correctly argues: For a minority of the population, reducing dietary sodium can be an effective means of lowering cardiovascular and hypertension risk. But identifying for whom sodium restriction may be beneficial and by how much is something that individuals and their doctors must determine. For the general population, sodium reduction is, by no means, a silver bullet to reducing hypertension and has the potential to increase risks for a large portion of the population. Treat people as individuals not just as members of an undifferentiated public health herd. Let's hope that the FDA will heed this advice and withdraw its misguided draft guidance.[...]



Canadian Panel Reportedly Recommends Low Marijuana Taxes and Purchase Ages

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 06:30:00 -0500

The task force charged with advising the Canadian government about how to legalize marijuana delivered its report this week. Although the report won't be released to the public until December 21 or thereabouts, National Post columnist John Ivison has the scoop on its major recommendations. It sounds like the panelists learned from some of the mistakes made in Colorado and Washington—in particular, the policies that have helped preserve a black market. "The key recommendation of the panel charged with outlining the framework for Canada's legal marijuana regime is that the system should be geared toward getting rid of the $7-billion-a year black market," Ivison writes. "All the other recommendations flow from that guiding principle." The task force cautions against prioritizing revenue from marijuana taxes, which has been a major selling point for legalization measures in the U.S., because high tax rates make legal merchants less competitive with black-market dealers. "To eat into the black market," Ivison says, "the report is expected to recommend prices should be lower than the street price of $8-$10 a gram." That's $6 to $7.50 in U.S. dollars, which is substantially lower than the prices typically charged by state-licensed retailers in Colorado and Washington. Grams at Medicine Man in Denver, for example, currently range from $12 to $14 (including taxes). Uncle Ike's in Seattle offers a "cheap pot" special for $7 a gram, but prices otherwise range from $10 to $19. Concerns about a lingering black market also inform the task force's recommendations concerning a minimum purchase age. "Provinces will set the legal age for marijuana consumption," Ivison writes, "but the report is likely to recommend the limit be the age of majority—18 in six provinces; 19 in B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the three territories—which would keep many young people from turning to criminal sources." In the U.S., by contrast, all eight states that have legalize marijuana for recreational use have set the minimum age for buying, possessing, and consuming cannabis at 21, the same as the purchase age for alcohol. That decision exposes adults younger than 21 to criminal penalties for harmless activities (such as passing a joint) that are legal for their slightly older friends and siblings. It also helps keep the black market alive as a source of pot for college-age cannabis consumers who are not allowed to patronize legal retailers. Another consumer-friendly policy reportedly recommended by the task force would allow home delivery of cannabis by mail, the way medical marijuana is currently distributed in Canada. Home delivery was not part of the first four state legalization initiatives approved in the U.S., but it was included in the measures that passed in California and Massachusetts last month. Each Canadian province will decide whether marijuana should also be available from storefronts. Ivison notes that Ontario might sell marijuana at its provincially owned liquor stores, although that idea is controversial among people who worry about encouraging consumers to mix bud with booze. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government won't necessarily follow the task force's recommendations. It is expected to introduce legislation next April, and legal recreational sales could start as soon as January 2018.[...]



Alabama Bans Publishing of Prostitution Mugshots, Allows Cops to Hold Suspected Sex Workers for 72 Hours

Wed, 23 Nov 2016 08:20:00 -0500

Under a little-heralded new Alabama rule, it's illegal to publish the mugshots of people arrested for prostitution. Alabama law now stipulates that these mugshots are "not a public record and may not be published in any printed or electronic media or provided to any person" without special permission from a district judge. "We're trying to look at these women less as criminals and more as victims, and we don't want to see them be revictimized," said Rep. Jack Williams (R-Birmingham), who sponsored the legislation. I've railed many times against the journalistic practice of publishing the mugshots of people arrested for prostitution or solicitation of prostitution. Considering the stigma surrounding prostitution, I think any "public interest" served in seeing the faces of those merely arrested for this misdemeanor offense is generally outweighed by the long-term damage it could do—especially in the Internet era—to the the lives and reputations of these individuals. But the decision whether to publish prostitution mugshots, or any mugshots, should be matter of journalistic ethics, not government mandate. If Alabama lawmakers really believe that all people selling sex are victims, perhaps they should repeal laws that make selling sex a crime. But as long as prostitution is a crime in Alabama, there's no justifying a categorical ban on publishing prostitution-arrest mugshots. As Alabama Press Association lawyer Dennis Bailey said, "It's a very blatant form of prior restraint," which is unconstitutional. What's especially strange here is that law passed the state legislature in May and took effect August 1, but newspaper editors say they are just hearing about the measure now. This seems like a pretty big oversight on both the part of state officials and Alabama journalists, who covered the legislation that the mugshot-ban was part of but apparently failed to notice that particular part. Meanwhile, officials failed to specify what, if any, punishment could come from violating the ban. The main focus of the legislation, known as the Alabama Human Trafficking Safe-Harbor Act, was allowing law-enforcement to decline criminal charges for minors engaged in prostitution, and instead refer them to social services or state custody. Alabama police arrested three minors for prostitution in 2015, according to the Anniston Star, which reviewed statewide arrest data. "It's unclear whether any of the children were actually charged with the crime," the paper reported, "or whether police knew they were underage at the time of the arrest." Not charging juveniles for selling sex, whether on their own or under force or coercion, is certainly a positive step. But the legislation contains a lot of language that suggests, arrest or no arrest, these young people aren't simply being seen as victims. For instance: "Once the sexually exploited child is adjudicated, the juvenile court shall retain jurisdiction over the sexually exploited child and may enforce prior orders requiring payment of court-ordered monies." Beyond that, the "Safe Harbor Act" is packed with worrying components unrelated to minors, in addition to the mugshot ban. Most alarmingly, it allows adults arrested for prostitution to be held for up to 72 hours so law-enforcement can screen them for mental-health issues, financial status, living arrangements, and who knows what else, before deciding whether to bring charges or send them to a pre-trial diversion program. Here's the relevant passage: For the safety and well-being of a person arrested for the crime of prostitution under Division 2, Article 3, Chapter 12, Title 13A, Code of Alabama 1975, he or she may be held in custody for up to 72 hours. The person shall be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction as soon as possible within a 48-hour period to conduct an inquiry into the person's access to resources, such as, but not limited to, health care, shelter, mental health counseling, or financial aid. The court may issue an order to assist[...]



Colorado Regulators Ban Marijuana Use in Businesses That Serve Alcohol

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:50:00 -0500

Last Friday, a week and a half after Denver voters approved an initiative allowing cannabis consumption in local businesses, the Colorado Department of Revenue's Liquor Enforcement Division announced that businesses it regulates are prohibited from participating in the pilot program. That means bars and restaurants with liquor licenses can't legally let customers bring their own marijuana to enjoy on the premises, as envisioned by supporters of Initiative 300, which was favored by 54 percent of voters. The department said the new rule has been in the works since last year, prompted by the liquor industry's concerns. Although that sounds like special pleading from manufacturers and distributors worried about competition from another intoxicant, DOR Executive Director Barbara Brohl said the ban is all about safety. "After carefully considering all impacts to Coloradans and industry," she said, the department decided "this rule is in the best interests of public health and safety resulting from public and dual consumption." The Colorado Restaurant Association said it also "expressed concerns about the public dual consumption of marijuana and alcohol," which suggests that some restaurateurs worried that their competitors might attract customers by offering a BYOC option. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public of Public Health and Environment, supports the DOR's decision. "There is substantial evidence that combined use of marijuana and alcohol increases impairment more than use of either substance alone," he said. "If marijuana use is allowed in establishments that hold a liquor license, dual use certainly would occur regularly and present a danger to public health and safety." The rule eliminates one of the major arguments against Initiative 300, but at the cost of consumer choice and business flexibility. Daniel Landes, owner of the City O' City restaurant and bar in Denver, told the Associated Press he'd like to be able to hold special events where cannabis consumption is allowed. "I'm in the hospitality business, and there is no place like this to use marijuana," he said. "That is inhospitable." Since the rule applies statewide, even bars and restaurants in jurisdictions that have been more tolerant of cannabis consumption than Denver will be risking their liquor licenses if they let customers use marijuana. Denver businesses that don't sell alcohol, such as cigar bars, yoga studios, art galleries, newly created cannabis clubs, and restaurants without liquor licenses, can still seek permission from the city to create "designated consumption areas," providing a new option for residents and visitors who have struggled since legalization to find social settings outside the home where they are allowed to use the marijuana they are now allowed to buy. Permits are contingent on approval by an officially recognized neighborhood organization, which can demand restrictions in addition to the ones imposed by Initiative 300. The DOR rule "doesn't completely hinder the entire law," Mason Tvert, an organizer of the initiative campaign, told The Denver Post. "Remember that this whole thing kind of got started with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra fundraiser that was held in an art gallery." I cited that episode as an illustration of Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum in a 2014 Reason feature story. Reason TV has covered the issue too: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pZ_8lj7AWXo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



7 Lame Arguments Against Letting Denver Businesses Welcome Cannabis Consumers

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 08:10:00 -0500

Rachel O'Bryan was campaign manager for Protect Denver's Atmosphere, which opposed Initiative 300, the local ballot measure that will allow specially licensed businesses in that city to create consumption areas for customers who bring their own cannabis. In a recent interview with Westword, O'Bryan raised several objections to the initiative, which was supported by about 54 percent of voters in last week's election. If her points are representative of the arguments deployed against Initiative 300, it's no wonder the measure passed. For instance: 1. "First and foremost, 300 is about bringing your own marijuana anywhere. But how we're going to train these businesses to understand intoxication when they neither serve the marijuana nor have any control of its potency is beyond me." Under Amendment 64, the legalization initiative that Colorado voters approved in 2012, adults 21 or older already are allowed to carry up to an ounce of marijuana when they are out and about. Initiative 300 finally lets them consume that marijuana outside their homes, something the city has stubbornly refused to allow until now. But consumption will not be legal just "anywhere"—only in businesses that choose to allow it and obtain a permit from the city, which requires support from an "eligible neighborhood organization" such as a business improvement district or a registered neighborhood association. A bring-your-own-cannabis (BYOC) consumption site is no different in principle from a bring-you-own-bottle restaurant or club. In both cases the establishment does not sell the intoxicant but still must deal with the potential problems associated with intoxicated patrons. Under Initiative 300, no business owner is forced to assume that burden, but any who think allowing cannabis consumption will attract customers are free to do so, provided they get the requisite approvals. 2. "You've also got the issue of mixing marijuana and alcohol, where impairment can be greater than using either of them alone." Bar patrons have been mixing marijuana and alcohol for many years (albeit surreptitiously), so it's not as if this issue is new. But under Initiative 300, neighborhood organizations have the power to block cannabis consumption permits for businesses that sell alcohol or demand a policy that prevents BYOC customers from ordering drinks. They also can set various other conditions through "good neighbor agreements," including advertising restrictions, employee training requirements, limits on outdoor smoking, restrictions on operating hours that go beyond the initiative's ban on consumption between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., and policies aimed at preventing impaired driving, such as a requirement that BYOC customers arrange transportation in advance. 3. "They'll also have to deal with slow-acting edibles, where the effect may not peak for four hours. How do they deal with that? Are we going to have to keep people locked up for four hours before we can assess impairment?" Consistent with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, Initiative 300 will allow pot smoking only in outdoor areas (which cannot be visible from the street), with the possible exception of cigar bars and tobacconists that decided to welcome cannabis consumers. Indoor consumption generally will be limited to vaporizers and edibles. It's not clear how popular the latter option will be, for precisely the reason that O'Bryan mentions: The onset of the psychoactive effects is unpredictable and may take longer than the customer's visit. In any case, if the issue is whether someone suspected of stoned driving is impaired, it's his condition while behind the wheel that matters, not his THC blood level four hours later. While there is no scientific basis for relating specific THC blood levels to degrees of impairment, that problem applies to any source of THC, not just edibles. 4. "When you're outside, how do you vent the air for odor?" The same question applies to outdoor t[...]



A Tech Agenda for the Trump Administration

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 07:00:00 -0500

A new president-elect is here again, and as usual, not everyone is happy about their fellow countrymen's choice. Among these mourners is most of Silicon Valley, which some estimates suggest sent Hillary Clinton 60 times the campaign donations given to her rival Donald Trump. It's easy to see why most technologists—Peter Thiel (as usual) excluded—preemptively favored the prospect of a Clinton presidency, what with her decades of government experience, tailored technology platform, and close relationships with Silicon Valley executives. But technology policy does not have to be a partisan battlefield. If President-elect Trump is serious about "Making America Great Again," one of his first priorities should be to implement policies that will make America innovate again. Below are a few tech-policy ideas that people from all kinds of political backgrounds could benefit from and get behind. Ditch precautionary regulation and embrace permissionless innovation The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Lucas famously said that "Once you start thinking about growth, it's hard to think about anything else." A one percent difference in annual GDP growth can mean the difference between widespread prosperity and continued stagnation over the course of a decade. And one of the best ways to encourage growth is to encourage innovation. It's no secret that regulation kills innovation. But few people realize just how over-regulated Americans actually are. A recent study by my colleagues at the Mercatus Center estimates that our major mess of federal regulations has depressed annual economic growth by around 0.8 percent. Who knows what kind of quality-of-life improvements we could have been enjoying right now without such sabotage? Perhaps we could have been Tweeting from our flying cars. But alas, such lost wonders are unseen, and therefore go unmourned. Modern regulations are so harmful for growth because of their prohibitory nature. Many policies are guided by an outdated risk-management concept called the "precautionary principle." This approach dictates that certain economic activities should be discouraged or even banned altogether if policymakers deem them to be too risky. But if you cut off all risks, you cut off many rewards. For example, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations rob severely ill people of the option to pursue experimental drug treatments. Federal Aviation Administration rules for commercial drone far overestimate the risk of collision, thereby pushing the most promising applications to other countries (Amazon is currently testing drone delivery in the UK because their rules are more accommodating than ours). And the list goes on and on. To promote innovation and growth, the Trump administration should embrace what my colleague Adam Thierer calls "a culture of permissionless innovation." Entrepreneurs should not be required to ask for permission to innovate from skeptical bureaucrats. They should be free to experiment and even fail without preemptive interference. Where risks do prove to be uniquely damaging to the public, common law norms or smart regulations could be appropriate to address them—but this should be one of the last remedies, not a knee-jerk reaction. Limiting our economic activities means limiting our human possibilities. As a businessman, Donald Trump was notorious for taking big risks and reaping big rewards. As a president, Donald Trump should allow and encourage the rest of America to do the same. Get serious about "the cyber" Trump was not exactly a brilliant paragon of cutting-edge cybersecurity policy on the campaign trail. The few times that he did bring it up, it was largely to attack Hillary Clinton for her own lax security with her personal email server, or to issue vague platitudes about how a Trump administration would be great at "the cyber." But if President Trump follows through on his promise to bring in the "b[...]



Trump Regulatory Rollback: Auto Fuel Efficiency Standards

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:00:00 -0500

(image) The Obama Administration imposed fuel efficiency standards on the automobile industry requiring them to increase fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Now carmakers are reportedly asking the incoming Trump administration for a "a pathway forward" on setting final fuel efficiency standards through 2025 and calling on the next administration to "harmonize and adjust" the rules.

Predictably, any hint that regulations might be rolled back brings forth howls of protest from activists. And so it has. Public Citizen, the self-styled "people's voice in the nation's capital" issued a press release decrying the notion that corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards might be loosened:

In 2009, in the aftermath of financial losses that stemmed from poor sales of inefficient fleets and higher oil prices, American taxpayers rescued the auto industry after it nearly went out of business. Now, this same industry sent a memo to Trump's lobbyist-staffed transition team asking for permission to ease off improved fuel economy standards.

Let's not forget that the reason the auto industry had to be bailed out was because automakers built a fleet of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles that they could no longer sell. More fuel efficient cars would have saved them and taxpayers the trouble, but now it appears that the auto industry has learned nothing from its recent mistakes.

Federal regulators raised fuel efficiency standards because they save consumers money and are an important part of our effort to combat climate change.

Back in 2009, I criticized Obama's proposed CAFE standards as an inefficient stealth tax on driving. It's inefficient because drivers pay more, car companies make less money, and state and federal governments don't get any extra revenues. If activists and politicians want Americans to drive more fuel-efficient cars, the simple and honest thing to do would be to substantially raise gasoline taxes concluded a 2002 National Academy of Sciences report. Ultimately, I argued, setting CAFE standards is just a way for cowardly politicians to avoid telling their fellow citizens that they should pay more for the privilege of driving.




Here Come the Cannabis Cafés

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 09:30:00 -0500

As four more states legalized marijuana this week, Denver voters took the considerably less dramatic step of authorizing a pilot program that will allow cannabis consumption in specially licensed businesses. Under Initiative 300, which was favored by 54 percent of voters on Tuesday, a business that wants to let customers bring their own marijuana and enjoy it on the premises can establish a "designated consumption area" with the consent of "an eligible neighborhood organization" and a permit from the city. That may sound boring, but it addresses a problem that has bedeviled Colorado residents and visitors from other states since legal recreational sales began in 2014: Where are they allowed to consume the cannabis they are now allowed to buy? So far Denver's answer has been that marijuana use is allowed in private residences but not in private businesses, a policy that pushes cannabis consumers into the streets and parks. But marijuana use is not allowed there either, which helps explain why tickets for public consumption have sextupled in Denver since legalization. That is not a tenable situation for a drug that is supposed to be "regulated in a manner similar to alcohol," which people are free to consume in a wide variety of settings outside their homes. The four marijuana legalization initiatives that passed this week address the consumption question in a couple of different ways. Three make provision for more discreet versions of Amsterdam's famous (but technically illegal) cannabis cafés, while the fourth passes the issue to the state legislature. The Massachusetts initiative, Measure 4, allows consumption of cannabis products on the premises of businesses that sell them, subject to regulation by the state and approval by local voters. California's initiative, Proposition 64, likewise says "a local jurisdiction may allow for the smoking, vaporizing, and ingesting of marijuana or marijuana products on the premises of a [cannabis] retailer." In addition to regular marijuana stores, where consumption will not be allowed, Maine's Question 1 allows "retail marijuana social clubs" to sell cannabis products specifically for on-site consumption. Nevada's Question 2 is more tentative. It makes consuming cannabis in a marijuana store, "a public place," or a moving vehicle a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $600. The initiative defines "a public place" as "an area to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted regardless of age," which leaves the door open to age-restricted establishments (other than marijuana stores) that could allow cannabis consumption on their premises. Question 2 also says "the legislature may amend provisions of this act to provide for the conditions in which a locality may permit consumption of marijuana in a retail marijuana store." Reason TV covers Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pZ_8lj7AWXo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Addendum: This post has been updated with the final election results.[...]



Porn-Regulating Prop 60 Faces Final Showdown Tonight in California

Tue, 08 Nov 2016 17:30:00 -0500

Today Californians vote on Proposition 60, a ballot measure sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) that would require condom usage in adult films; empower a full-time state porn czar to monitor said films for violations (and impose steep fines); establish a licensing scheme for porn-production companies; and allow California residents to bring civil suits against porn producers or anyone with financial interests in a sex scene sans prophylactics (which could, in turn, expose porn performers real names and addresses to the public). AHF President Michael Weinstein, the main driver behind Prop 60—and the man who would be the state's first porn czar—has also repeatedly petitioned the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to make condoms in porn a requirement of state workplace-safety regulations; Cal/OSHA voted against such a rule again last February. And he's the genesis of a 2012 Los Angeles County law requiring condoms in porn filmed in Los Angeles County. "He wants to be the sheriff of porn town," said Karen Fuller Tynan, a California lawyer who specializes in adult-industry case, at an AVN panel in Las Vegas in January. "He really wants to get rid of us, and wants to rule us." Weinstein, however, maintains that he's interested in stopping the spread of HIV. The porn industry, including the performers Prop 60 is ostensibly meant to protect, has been vocally opposed to the measure, as have HIV/AIDS organizations and the state Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties. A partial list of opponents includes adult-industry trade association the Free Speech Coalition, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the St. James Infirmary, Equality California, all seven of California's largest newspapers (the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Orange County Register, the East Bay Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the San Diego Union Tribune) and dozens of other papers. My cali peeps are tellin me #Prop60 & #Prop61 are wolves in sheep clothing (coming in one name but meaning another) and y'all should vote NO https://t.co/estYmabRDt — Questlove Gomez (@questlove) November 8, 2016 According to Prop 60 opponents, the measure presents too much of a risk to performer privacy, giving California residents "the ability to out porn performers and get paid for it," as Violet Blue put it at Engadget. ("You're incentivizing the viewer to sue us," adult actor Tommy Gunn told the Hollywood Reporter.) They also worry the law could end up ensnaring individuals who do private webcam shows from their own homes (a rising part of the porn industry) or make amateur adult-films involving real-life a lover, spouse, or friend; California couples with an exhibitionist streak could find themselves facing tens of thousands in fines. But most importantly, it's completely unnecessary—the adult-film industry is self-policing, performers are tested every 14 days, and there hasn't been a single case of on-set HIV transmission in porn since 2004, they say. Vice News Tonight reporter (and Reason alum) Michael Moynihan talked to Yes On 60 campaign manager Rick Taylor on the show's season debut Monday and asked him about his group's claims that the porn industry lies about HIV transmissions. Taylor defended the claim by saying that "none of us know, truthfully, and they don't know and I'm not gonna tell you I know. What I do know is that STDs on a daily basis gets transmitted." Here's a bit more of the exchange: Moynihan: STDs? But if this is the concern, why do the ads you guys run have three people that stated they have contracted HIV on an adult set? They're saying that in the ad. They're saying 'we contracted this on a set,' but you're saying you don't know? Taylor: I'm saying that I believe they did. I'm say[...]



Seattle Animal Control Accessing Grocery Purchase Data Looking for Evidence of Unlicensed Pets

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 13:35:00 -0500

It's possible to make a libertarian argument in favor of municipal-provided animal control services. Feral dogs, at the very least, present a concrete threat to public safety and have been known to injure and even kill people. But even if a small government case were made for animal control, what actually happens is that these municipal agencies end up expanding far beyond the public safety purposes for which they were created and take on a bureaucratic life of their own. Go figure! Pet licenses aren't just for covering the bureaucratic costs of making sure animal owners can be held responsible for their pet's behavior. They're revenue generators. Cities and counties want the money for things like fancy, expensive animal shelters and the staff needed to operate them. The public often supports the idea of these shelters because people hate seeing animals suffer, and they associate big shelters with more space, and therefore the likelihood of fewer animals being put to sleep. But citizens aren't exactly putting up the money to pay for it, and in reality, many pet owners do not comply with licensing laws. Obviously, this does not mean that these owners are not taking care of their pets; they're making sure the animals are getting vaccinated and are otherwise not presenting a public safety threat to their communities. It just means that municipal governments are missing out on millions of dollars that they think they're entitled to. All that leads us to King County, Washington (home of Seattle). The county's animal services recently sent out loads of threatening letters to pet-owning residents, warning them that failing to get their pets properly licensed could lead to $250 fines. The county was going extract money from them either way. But how did the county know who owned pets if they weren't licensed? It turns out they got their mitts on direct mail lists from stores that tracked customer purchasing habits through membership cards and the like. For the stores and the private retail environment, they're tools to more directly market consumers with goods they may want or need. In the hands of government, it becomes a lot more sinister. A woman who no longer owned a pet received one of these threatening letters and wondered what was going on. The media picked up the story. From the Seattle Times: The county hired a Seattle mailing company named Lacy & Par, which retrieved a list of prospective pet owners from another data firm. The county took that list of possible pet owners, compared it against an internal database of licensed pets, and — voilà! — had a list of Fido lovers who might be stiffing the county. Out went the letters. These lists, though, could be complete crap, given that the example that triggered the story was about a woman who owned no pets receiving a letter. It seems likely that this method sent the letter to tons of people who did not own pets and likely missed any number of residents who do own pets that are not licensed. The Times reporting suggests that there's probably not going to be an enforcement follow-up. That is to say, animal control officials aren't going to be showing up on these people's doorsteps to spot check whether they've got unlicensed pets. They were hoping to scare citizens into complying, and a few apparently did. This example, though, could be another camel poking another nose under the citizen privacy tent to take a big sniff. We have many, many other examples of municipal government collecting citizen data for petty policing purposes and then misusing it in broad, judgmental fashion like this. Consider cities where police collect license plate numbers of vehicles in areas where prostitutes are known to frequent and then sending threatening letters to the homes connected to those cars. Do they know whether[...]



In Wired President Obama Praises Progress: But Does Not Know How It Happens

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 15:15:00 -0400

The folks over at Wired invited President Barack Obama to guest edit the November issue of the magazine. The theme is Frontiers. I finally got around to reading the president's introduction to the issue, "Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive." I entirely agree with the president. In his essay, the president writes: Let's start with the big picture. By almost every measure, this country is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago, or even eight years ago. Leave aside the sepia tones of the 1950s, a time when women, minorities, and ­people with disabilities were shut out of huge parts of American life. Just since 1983, when I finished college, things like crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, and poverty rates are all down. Life expectancy is up. The share of Americans with a college education is up too. Tens of mil­lions of Americans recently gained the security of health insurance. Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks to lead our businesses and communities. Women are a larger part of our workforce and are earning more money. Once-quiet factories are alive again, with assembly lines churning out the components of a clean-energy age. And just as America has gotten better, so has the world. More countries know democracy. More kids are going to school. A smaller share of humans know chronic hunger or live in extreme poverty. In nearly two dozen countries—including our own—­people now have the freedom to marry whomever they love. And last year the nations of the world joined together to forge the most comprehen­sive agreement to battle climate change in human history. I reported on all of those positive trends and more in my book, The End of Doom. As a politician, President Obama will naturally hype policies like climate change regulation as part of his legacy. But setting that aside, all of his other claims about improvements in the human prospects are true. But where the president disappoints is when he tries to explain how all of this truly marvelous progress occurred. Consider: This kind of progress hasn't happened on its own. It happened because people organized and voted for better prospects; because leaders enacted smart, forward-­looking policies; because people's perspectives opened up, and with them, societies did too. But this progress also happened because we scienced the heck out of our challenges. Science is how we were able to combat acid rain and the AIDS epidemic. Technology is what allowed us to communicate across oceans and empathize with one another when a wall came down in Berlin or a TV personality came out. Without Norman Borlaug's wheat, we could not feed the world's hungry. Without Grace Hopper's code, we might still be analyzing data with pencil and paper.... Because the truth is, while we've made great progress, there's no shortage of challenges ahead: Climate change. Economic inequality. Cybersecurity. Terrorism and gun violence. Cancer, Alzheimer's, and ­antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Just as in the past, to clear these hurdles we're going to need everyone—policy makers and commu­nity leaders, teachers and workers and grassroots activists, presidents and soon-to-be-former presidents. And to accelerate that change, we need science. We need researchers and academics and engineers; programmers, surgeons, and botanists. And most important, we need not only the folks at MIT or Stanford or the NIH but also the mom in West Virginia tinkering with a 3-D printer, the girl on the South Side of Chicago learning to code, the dreamer in San Antonio seeking investors for his new app, the dad in North Dakota learning new skills so he can help lead the green revolution. That's how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of[...]



Denver Initiative Would Finally Allow Marijuana Use Outside the Home

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:30:00 -0400

Four years after Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which made that state the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use, residents and visitors still struggle to find places where they are allowed to consume the cannabis they are now allowed to buy. Initiative 300, which will appear on the ballot in Denver next month, aims to alleviate that problem by allowing specially licensed businesses to designate areas where customers can consume cannabis they bring with them. It is a tellingly timid response to a frustrating situation that belies Amendment 64's aspiration that "marijuana should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol." Despite that goal, Amendment 64 prohibits consumption of marijuana products in businesses that sell them, so Colorado has nothing like Amsterdam's cannabis cafés (which have been tolerated for decades despite their illegality). The initiative eliminated penalties for private marijuana use by adults 21 or older, but it did not legalize "consumption that is conducted openly and publicly," which remains a petty offense punishable by a $100 fine. The meaning of "openly and publicly" is a matter of dispute, and some jurisdictions, including Denver, read it to prohibit any use outside of private residences, a policy that impairs social use by residents and makes almost any use by visitors legally problematic. As the Yes on 300 campaign notes, this cannabis consumption conundrum "has led to a 500% increase in public consumption tickets issued in Denver since the passing of Amendment 64 in Colorado, with African-Ameri­­cans being arrested at a rate 2.6 times higher than whites." Denver's refusal to allow any marijuana use outside the home, ostensibly motivated by a desire to shield bystanders from offensive sights and smells, has perversely encouraged conspicuous consumption. When people are not allowed to use marijuana inside private businesses such as bars and restaurants, they tend to do it in locations that are more visible to the general public, such as parks and sidewalks. The result is more, rather than fewer, encounters with marijuana by people who prefer to avoid it. An initiative that had enough signatures to qualify for the Denver ballot last year would have addressed this problem by allowing cannabis consumption in bars and other businesses open only to customers who are at least 21, which is the minimum purchase age for marijuana. But the initiative's backers withdrew it before it was certified, hoping to reach a compromise with local officials that would allow marijuana use within specified limits. No such deal was forthcoming, and the new initiative seems to be aimed at soothing the worries of people who thought the 2015 measure went too far. Under the "pilot program" created by Initiative 300, which expires in 2020 unless the Denver City Council decides to extend it, a business could establish a "designated consumption area" with the consent of "an eligible neighborhood organization" and a permit from the city. Only noncombustible marijuana use (including vaping) would be allowed indoors, although pot smoking could be permitted in outdoor areas shielded from public view. Consumption areas would be banned within 1,000 feet of a school. Customers and employees in a consumption area would have to be at least 21, and consumption would be prohibited between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. The neighborhood organization could impose additional restrictions as a condition of its approval. In a recent editorial endorsing Initiative 300, The Denver Post notes "gripes from tourists who wish to try some legal Colorado weed" and from "taxpaying residents [who are] unable to use it at home because of pressures from family, condo associations, housing aut[...]



Criticism Has Delayed a Kratom Ban but Probably Won't Prevent It

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 08:30:00 -0400

The Drug Enforcement Administration's decision to withdraw its ban on kratom, a pain-relieving leaf from Southeast Asia, underlines the arbitrariness of the federal government's pharmacological taboos, which are based on undefined terms subjectively interpreted by bureaucrats with broad discretion to decide which substances Americans may ingest. The DEA's backtracking was prompted by complaints from kratom consumers, the companies that serve them, researchers who study the drug, and members of Congress. But despite the agency's newfound interest in public input on the question of kratom's legal status, it seems likely that we will end up with the same prohibitory result after a somewhat more elaborate process of post hoc rationalization. When the DEA announced at the end of August that it was temporarily placing kratom's main active ingredients in Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it declared that a ban was "necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety." When the ban did not take effect on September 30 as expected, DEA spokesman Russell Baer assured Washington Post drug policy blogger Christopher Ingraham that "it's not a matter of if—it's simply a matter of when, in terms of DEA publishing the final order to temporarily schedule kratom." Since Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg "has determined that kratom represents an imminent hazard to public safety," Baer said, "I have a sense that publishing our final order will be sooner as opposed to later." Rosenberg's determination was based on an unpersuasive, weakly supported analysis that dismissed kratom's benefits and exaggerated its hazards. Critics pointed out that the DEA's emergency scheduling authority, which Congress approved in 1984 at the agency's behest, was aimed at dangerous new synthetic drugs that might cause many injuries and deaths during the time required by the standard scheduling process. Here is how then-DEA Administrator Francis Mullen explained his understanding of "imminent hazard to the public safety" in a letter to legislators: The "imminent hazard" implies a need for immediate response to a drug trafficking and abuse situation that has occurred with such rapidity and with insufficient warning that normal control mechanisms would result in a large number of deaths and injuries or the continuance of an uncontrolled trafficking situation....The burden would be on the Government to prove that such an urgency exists and that the public safety would be jeopardized during the period that a drug would remain uncontrolled during routine scheduling action. As examples of substances that would be covered by the new provision, Mullen cited "newly synthesized drugs or uncontrolled analogs of existing drugs such as PCP and fentanyl," which "can cause widespread deaths and injuries in a very short period of time following their synthesis." Kratom, a "minimally toxic" natural substance that humans have used for centuries with little evidence of serious harm except in exreme cases, hardly fits that description. "The use of this emergency authority for a natural substance is unprecedented," noted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in a September 29 letter to Rosenberg. Whatever legislators may have had in mind when they created this prohibition shortcut, they did not define "imminent hazard to the public safety." The CSA says only that the attorney general (who has delegated his scheduling authority to the DEA) should consider a 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 formulation leaves bureaucrats like Rosenberg free to describe any[...]



What You Do Know Can Also Hurt You

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 00:01:00 -0400

We live in the information age, which is called that for the same reason the ice age got its name: an overwhelming proliferation of the stuff. We automatically assume that more information is better than less. But as the dinosaurs learned about ice, even something useful can be dangerous in excess. The lesson is, so far, lost on most lawmakers and regulators. In July, President Barack Obama signed a bill requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such. It's an outwardly innocuous requirement that is supposed to leave consumers better informed but will actually cause many to be misled. The implication of the mandate is that there is some important difference between foods that contain GMOs and foods that don't. But there isn't. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that genetically engineered food is safe for humans, animals, and the environment. This scientific reality is at odds with public opinion. A June poll by ABC News showed that only one-third of Americans think genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Federally required labels will encourage them to persist in that delusion. What's the harm in telling people a simple fact? "A government-mandated label operates as a de facto warning to consumers," writes Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan H. Adler in the fall issue of Regulation magazine. "A mandatory label for organic produce that says 'Produced with animal feces' could be literally true, but would also stigmatize the products at issue." The government says tomato sauce may contain trace amounts of maggots. But it would not make sense to make companies publicize that ingredient, because the disclosure would raise false fears. There are other ways in which labeling requirements can be harmful. Starting next year, the Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants to publish the calorie count of each beer on their menus. But there's scant evidence this sort of information makes much difference. Julie Downs, a scholar at Carnegie Mellon University, says that "putting calorie labels on menus really has little or no effect on people's ordering behaviors at all." This rule, however, may have an unintended effect on ordering behaviors—by taking some beers off the table. The tests needed to provide accurate information entail costs that are trivial to mass-market manufacturers, which can spread across huge volumes, but not to small breweries, which can't. The expense is even greater, notes Berry College economist E. Frank Stephenson, for breweries "that rotate beers frequently, produce seasonal specialties or occasionally tweak their recipes." Not surprisingly, the big beer-makers are in favor of the rule. The Brewers Association, a trade group for smaller ones, is not so keen on it. The added cost imposed by the new rule is not likely to yield commensurate benefits. Drinkers who prefer low-calorie beers already know what to order, while craft beer aficionados generally put a priority on flavor over everything else. The consumers who get the least benefit will bear the costs of the mandate, in higher prices or fewer options. (Full disclosure: My stepson works for a craft brewery.) Beer and food are not the only realms where more data works to the detriment of consumers. Most states issue report cards for hospitals. This may sound like a foolproof way of protecting patients from incompetent providers. The truth is more complicated. University of Chicago law professor Omri Ben-Shahar tells me that "healthier and wealthier people are disproportionately likely to use the report card." Hospitals that get high marks will attract more of these patients—and[...]