PNN - The VULCAN BROTHERHOOD
R.W. Spisak News Director
Brook Hines Associate Producer
Thania Clevenger Civil Right Director CAIR
Courtney Horne Justice Commentator
Renee Shaker Economic Advisor
Rep. Mark Pafford Democratic Leader Florida House
1. HOLY NAMASTE BATBOY
Recently school officials from Bullard Elementary school in Georgia held meetings with parents over concerns that new de-stressing techniques being employed in the school were pushing non-Christian beliefs upon the children there.
“While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some,” the email states.
As a result, the school is making changes. When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word “namaste” nor put their hands by their hearts, according to the email. The term and gesture are often used as a greeting derived from Hindu custom.
Now, you may have feelings about people using the word “namaste” in passing but technically, it’s a traditional greeting. That being said it is a foreign word—like “nuance.” In an email sent to the parents in the community one of the clear fears is that kids doing “breathing” exercises is one step away from those very same children finding a chakra or growing a third eye.
Moore also wrote that, although teachers have “never used nor taught about crystals having healing powers during these breaks, we understand it has become a belief. Therefore we will ensure that nothing resembling this will be done in the future.”
These are not things that were happening int he school. These are the fears that parents had concerning yoga and meditation. Creating a less stressful environment anywhere, be it at work or at school, is such an obviously good thing. Hopefully this information will help assuage these parents’ fear of the unknown.
2. LOBBYING TO WEAKEN TRANSPARENCY REFORM
he Obama administration strongly opposed a bill to overhaul the government's open-records laws and lobbied behind the scenes to prevent it from getting to the president's desk last Congress, according to emails and talking points obtained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
The records include a particularly revealing set of 2014 talking points used by the Department of Justice that raised about a dozen major and minor objections to the broadly supported legislation. The document says the changes in the bill are "not necessary" and would "undermine" the success of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
"The Administration views [the bill] as an attempt to impose on the Executive Branch multiple administrative requirements concerning its internal management of FOIA administration, which are not appropriate for legislative intervention and would substantially increase costs and cause delays in FOIA processing," according to the opening paragraph of the talking points.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation obtained the documents through a FOIA lawsuit. It first shared them with Vice News, which has reported extensively using open records. The Justice Department told Vice it is not uncommon for the department to share the "potential unintended consequences" of legislation.
The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the legislation, but despite late scrambling, the two bills were never merged and died when the last legislative session ended.
This Congress, both chambers acted quickly to move their respective FOIA reform bills out of committee. And the House passed its version earlier this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee acted quickly last year to advance its proposal, but it had not received floor time in the ensuing year.
The White House has been publicly mum on the reform bills. When the House bill passed this January, the White House simply said it would "take a close look at this legislation." Other agencies have also lobbied against the bill.
The documents released Wednesday show that GOP leadership last March "hotlined" its FOIA bill, meaning it looked to move the legislation through unanimous consent unless there were objections. But Sen. Jeff Sessions put a hold on the legislation, according to an email from a Sessions aide to the Justice Department.
Sessions's office did not respond to a request for comment about the bill.
The largest piece of the FOIA reform legislation would codify a so-called presumption of openness, which requires federal agencies and other parts of the government to adopt a policy that leans toward the public release of documents. President Obama instructed agencies to adopt a similar model when he first entered office. But critics say agencies have not lived up to that promise.
Under the legislation, agencies would have to point to a specific "foreseeable harm" when withholding documents unless disclosing them is specifically barred by law. The legislation would do a number of other things, including creating a single FOIA request portal for all agencies and limiting the amount of time that certain documents are exempt from disclosure. The bill would also make more documents available online.
In the 2014 talking points, the Justice Department raised four "major concerns" with the legislation. Among them were the "foreseeable harm" proposal.
"The bill effectively amends each and every one of the existing exemptions in a manner that is fatally vague and subjective. This addition would vastly increase FOIA litigation and would undermine the policy behind each of the existing exemptions," according to a section of the talking points criticizing the foreseeable harm provision.
Other major objections centered on the creation of a single FOIA request website and the bill's requirement that agencies do a comprehensive review of existing records to see if they should be proactively released.
2. CONCEALED CARRY - Permit Free
If you are over the age of 21, you may now carry a concealed weapon—yes, including a gun—without a permit in the state of Idaho. The law also allows people aged 18 to 20 to receive concealed weapons permits at the discretion of the sheriff of the county they reside in.
Governor Butch Otter—widely known for having the coolest name in electoral politics—signed Idaho’s Senate Bill 1389 into law Friday after it passed through the state senate in early march and then the state house on March 16th. The bill landed on Otter’s desk Monday, and he was happy to put his seal of approval on it.
In a statement to the president of the Idaho senate, Otter wrote:
“I’m a gun owner, a hunter and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. I have consistently championed our citizens’ gun rights throughout my years in public office, and I do so again today in signing Senate Bill 1389 into law.”
The new law expands previous legislation that allowed permitless concealed carry in unincorporated areas of Idaho counties. With the passage of S.1389 it is now legal to do so within city limits throughout the state as well.
However, there are still some restrictions on where an individual may carry a concealed weapon. Alex Kincaid, a criminal defense attorney, explained some of these restrictions to local CBS affiliate KBOI:
“You still can’t go into sensitive places like a courthouse or a juvenile detention center. Or any of these other locations like a federal building.”
Kincaid added that those who wish to carry a concealed weapon while traveling to another state will still have to get a permit and abide by that state’s applicable laws.
Residents do not need any gun or safety training to carry a concealed weapon
By no longer requiring permits, the state simultaneously eliminated all safety training requirements for carrying a concealed weapon. After all, if you don’t have to have a permit, then why should you have to go through the training needed for a permit?
For what it’s worth, Otter did encourage residents to receive training in his letter to the senate president:
“While S.1389 is consistent with the U.S. Constitution, Idaho values and our commitment to upholding our constitutional protections from government overreach, I am concerned about its lack of any provision for education and training of individuals who choose to exercise the right to concealed carry.”
There are 25 states that either do not require permits at all or do not require any sort of legal or safety training to receive a permit.
Permitless Concealed Carry is a Growing Trend
Idaho is the 9th state to allow permitless concealed carry, which is often referred to as “Constitutional carry” by gun right’s advocates who somehow manage to read “the right for anyone to carry a concealed handgun pretty much anywhere at any time” into the one sentence about a “well-regulated militia” that is the 2nd Amendment.
The laws are basically the same from state to state, but there are slight variations. For instance, Arizona’s permitless concealed carry law allows any U.S. citizen over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon, with exclusions for some places like federal buildings and bars. Idaho’s law, on the other hand, only applies to state residents.
Some states share reciprocal concealed carry laws with each other, allowing visitors to abide by the laws of their home state while traveling to reciprocal states. There’s also a continuing push for federal legislation allowing nationwide reciprocity.
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming are the other states that currently allow permitless concealed carry.
Idaho’s law goes into effect on July 1.
3. TOO HOT FOR MY ROBOTS
Radiation in Fukushima was so bad, they couldn’t afford to send people into some places. It turns out, the radiation was so high that even the chrome-domed replacements didn’t fare much better.
“It is extremely difficult to access the inside of the nuclear plant,” Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO’s head of decommissioning said. “The biggest obstacle is the radiation.”
The solution? Robots. The problem? Robots.
“It takes two years to develop a single-function robot,” Masuda said.
As soon as TEPCO’s robots, co-designed with Toshiba, get close to Reactor 3, their circuitry gets destroyed by the radiation. The robots are designed to “swim” in the radiated pools where the radioactive fuel rods are located, to search for and recover them.
The robots are unable to enter Reactor 3 because of the concentrated levels of radiation compared to the lesser toxic Reactor 4, where 1,535 fuel rod assemblies had previously been removed.Workers were also able to stand near enough to the pool to directly observe the process in Reactor 4.
This is the same company, mind you, which “accidentally” used radiation monitoring equipmentwhich maxed out at 100mSv when the radiation was 18 times higher – nobody was concerned that the reading was stuck at 100 for really long periods of time, apparently.
TEPCO claims that the radiation levels in many locations at the site have fallen dramatically. We were unable to verify if they were using the correct equipment at this time. However, more than 8,000 human workers continue to risk their lives clearing the site of debris at any one time throughout the day.
Water is pumped into the reactors to cool them, and the irradiated water is stored in leaky, illegally-constructed-by-desperate-poverty-stricken-people water tanks.
So far, Japanese fishermen have refused to allow TEPCO to release the water it has “treated” into the sea… though TEPCO site manager Akira Ono claims that he is “deeply worried” the storage tanks will leak radioactive water into the sea anyway.
Masuda, for his part, claims that leaks have been greatly reduced ever since the company built a wall along the shoreline. Walls are apparently an important solution for every problem in the world.
“I am not about to say that it is absolutely zero, but because of this wall the amount of release has dramatically dropped,” he said.
In February, TEPCO completed construction of the world’s largest ice wall to prevent the water from leaking into the groundwater, and thus, into the sea. The wall will only be tested later in the year when water is pumped through the pipes and frozen.
TEPCO is developing another robot that will be ready by 2017. However, it is unknown how long that one will last.
4. NEWS FROM JAPAN
- Japan presses China to lift Fukushima-based import bans. Restrictions on imports from ten prefectures on agricultural, forest, produce, and fish products, have been in place since the nuke accident. A formal request was made by Vice Minister of Agriculture, Kazuyoshi Honkawa, at a bilateral subcabinet-level dialogue on agricultural in Beijing. Both countries have reopened diplomatic dialogue for the first time in six years, after suspending talks due to strained political relations. http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2016032100395
- Tepco apologizes to Niigata Prefecture for delaying meltdown announcement. A Niigata investigative panel is studying the safety of units #6&7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, as a pre-requisite for restart. The panel found that Tepco’s corporate emergency manual said a meltdown announcement should be made at 5% core damage, which could have been deduced by March 14th of 2011. The actual announcement came two months later. The Niigata Panel says the failure to reveal the oversight for five years shows that Tepco cannot be trusted to operate the K-K units safely. On the same day as the apology, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said it is suspending the screening for restarts of the two K-K units. The NRA purports that the reason is to get more data on Tepco’s assessment of quake resistance with the K-K buildings and contained facilities. The safety screening was in its final stage, and the agency had previously said the two unit’s newer designs posed fewer safety risks that older ones. The K-K units were going to be the first Boiling Water Reactor systems allowed to restart. The NRA says that during the suspension of screening, other reactors of the same type will be moved ahead of the K-K units. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20160323_30/ --http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20160323_30/
- The new “311 Thyroid Cancer Family Group”, comprised of seven parents of five children who have had thyroid surgery, gets Press coverage. They do not believe that the thyroid cancers were not caused by F. Daiichi. The group is considering filing lawsuits against the central and prefectural governments, along with Tokyo Electric Power Co. One parent says, “We want the Fukushima prefectural government and doctors to demonstrate a better understanding of patients.” Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer from the Daini Tokyo Bar Association, leads the group. He says, “By having the patients and their families unite and cry out as one, it makes it easier for us to make policy suggestions to the government.” A doctor accused of telling a family to not share their opinions with the Press, said the family misunderstood him, “We have been paying the utmost attention to establishing an environment where patients can talk about their worries and doubts, having mental health care specialists getting involved with them at an early stage of their treatments. Such efforts continue well into the post-surgery period.” http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201603240025
- Numerous Fukushima evacuees complain of deteriorated health. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that 23% of the respondents say their health has greatly deteriorated and 46% said it worsened somewhat. Questionnaires were sent to 944 evacuees living in three prefectures, including Fukushima, and 619 responded. 48% said they had increased feelings of concern, 37% felt down or lonely, 28% were more irritated, and 25% said they had difficulty sleeping. On the other hand, 22% said their state of health had not changed since before the accident. Not all remain in temporary housing; some have returned home. When asked what policies they wished to have prioritized, the most popular concerned various financial subsidies.http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/recovery/AJ201603220001
5. Massive radiation plume from Fukushima continues drifting to U.S. West Coast
(NaturalNews) By 2016, nearly as much radiation from the Fukushima disaster will have reached the North American West Coast as was initially scattered over Japan during the nuclear explosions, according to professor Michio Aoyama of Japan's Fukushima University Institute of Environmental Radioactivity.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple nuclear meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A massive cloud of radiation was ejected into the atmosphere, settling all across Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
Approximately 800 terabecquerels' worth of cesium-137 (Cs-137) alone is expected to reach North America by next year, accounting for just 5 percent of the Cs-137 spilled into the ocean as a result of the disaster.
Radioactivity already arriving
Radioactive cesium does not naturally occur on planet Earth and is found only as a result of human nuclear activities. Cs-137 is widely considered one of the most dangerous byproducts of nuclear activity, because it mimics the activity of potassium and therefore accumulates in soil and plants, and is actively taken up by the human body.
Aoyama says that approximately 3,500 terabecquerels' worth of Cs-137 have been released into the sea from the Fukushima plant since March 2011, plus an additional 1.2 to 1.5 terabecquerels that was first released into the air but later fell into the sea. Based on measurements of the pace at which the Cs-137 has been moving eastward, Aoyama recently calculated that 800 terabecquerels would reach the West Coast of North America by next year.
Notably, 800 terabecquerels is nearly as much as (80 percent of) the 1,000 terabequerels that Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Company says fell over Japan following the disaster.
In April, researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced that they had detected traces of Cs-134 in waters collected at the shores of Vancouver Island. Because this isotope has a half-life of only two years, the only likely source of this contamination is from the Fukushima disaster.
Based on this and other studies, Aoyama said that the 800 terabecquerels he has predicted might already have arrived at North American shores.
Media coverage of Aoyama's statements noted that Cs-137 levels measured at U.S. beaches were "only" 1 to 2 becquerels per cubic meter, and should therefore not pose health risks. However, this may be because the bulk of the radioactive material has not yet reached U.S. shores. Measurements taken a little farther off the California coast returned readings of 6.9 becquerels per cubic meter for Cs-137 and 1.7 bequerels per cubic meter for Cs-134, for a total of 8.6. Similarly, the Woods Hole study -- which took place on Canadian, not U.S., shores -- returned total readings of 7.2 becquerels per cubic meter.
How to protect yourself
People concerned that they live in areas where they might be exposed to radioactive cesium have a few ways to protect their health. Certain water filters are able to remove radioactive isotopes, including cesium, from drinking water. According to WaterFilterLabs.com, the Big Berkey filter is the most effective, removing nearly all traces of toxic elements, including 98.6 percent of cesium. Other filters capable of removing cesium include AquaTru and Zero Water.
People exposed to radioactive cesium in their food might want to consider the patent-pending Cesium Eliminator, developed by the Health Ranger, Mike Adams. Available in powder or pill form, the Cesium Eliminator is an emergency measure to bind up cesium isotopes and keep them from being absorbed by the body, similar to how iodine supplements can help protect the thyroid gland during a nuclear disaster. Cesium Eliminator is not a dietary supplement and is meant for emergency situations only.
6. Japan asks globalist trade organization to force South Koreans to eat radioactive Fukushima food
(NaturalNews) A number of countries are beginning to require Japan to place region-of-origin labeling on its food products to ensure that anything coming from the radiation-infested regions surrounding the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant are adequately screened for contamination. The decisions by countries such as Taiwan and South Korea have angered Japanese officials, who are turning to the globalist World Trade Organization to force the countries to abolish their protective regulations.
In recent days, Japan threatened Taiwan with filing a complaint with the WTO while actually filing one against South Korea, the latter of which had placed new restrictions on Japanese food imports following the disaster.
The Fukushima plant was heavily damaged by a major tsunami that was caused by a massive earthquake off the northern coast of the island in March 2011.
Officials in Tokyo are complaining that the South Korean regulations violate rules of international trade.
As reported by Russia Today:
Under WTO rules, South Korea has 60 days to resolve the matter in bilateral talks. After that, Japan can ask the organization to assemble a panel of trade experts to assess the situation.
The measures imposed by South Korea after the Fukushima accident of 2011 ban a number of products and require additional certification of Japanese food due to concerns that it could be contaminated with radiation.
Trying to "secure the safety of the people" against WTO rules?
Officials with the Ministry of Trade in South Korea said that the restrictions are reasonable, given that the damaged plant is still leaking radiation-tainted water.
Japan made its announcement ahead of a planned meeting with South Korean Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan in Tokyo. He held formal talks with his Japanese counterpart May 23, the first such meeting between both men in two years.
"The government will explain in future consultations with Japan that import restrictions have been placed to secure the safety of people," South Korea's trade, agriculture, foreign affairs, and other related ministries said in a joint statement on May 21, RT.com reported.
Japanese officials said they saw no reason for any trade restrictions on food imports because of the Fukushima accident. Tokyo maintains that radiation levels in Japanese food have declined appreciably since the accident and that ongoing testing of food produced in the region surrounding Fukushima has found that less than 1 percent was contaminated with radiation above Japan's food safety limits by 2014.
Average annual imports by South Korea of Japanese fish and seafood amounted to $96 million from 2012-2014; this is less than half the average of $213 million recorded in the 2006-2010 timeframe.
Taiwan is also cracking down
In September 2013, the South Korean government extended its ban on the importation of Japanese fishery products, covering imports from eight Japanese prefectures including Fukushima.
In recent days, Taiwan began enforcing stricter rules regarding inspections of important Japanese food products for potential radiation contamination, prompting Japan to threatenWTO action against Taipei.
Reuters reported that the new rules would only permit foods with place of origin certificates issued by the Japanese government into Taiwan. In addition, some items from designated places in Japan now require radiation testing before they are permitted to enter Taiwanese markets.
Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration said the latest enforcement was in line with radiation safety management practices that other countries have put in place on Japanese food imports following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Taiwan said this "is necessary to protect the safety of food consumption" for its people.
Japan is, in essence, turning to a globalist trade organization to force Taiwan, South Korea and other nations to consume radiation-tainted foods. In response, perhaps other nations should simply stop importing all Japanese fishery products.
7. Gas buildup under Fukushima threatens hydrogen explosion, warn nuclear officials
(NaturalNews) It is estimated that at least 130 storage containers holding radioactive waste at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan are now leaking, according to new reports. The result is a continuous hydrogen gas buildup that nuclear experts say could one day trigger a cascade of devastating explosions potentially unlike anything the world has ever seen.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) discovered the leaks during a recent inspection, observing that hydrogen and other gases are accumulating in the sediment at the bottoms of many of the storage tanks onsite. The buildup from this is causing contaminated water inside the tanks to expand, blowing off their lids and spilling their contents.
An official from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which was given the bad news during a recent study group meeting with TEPCO, reportedly told the media that this constantly accumulating gas buildup is an imminent danger and that something needs to be done to contain it.
"If the concentration level is high, a spark caused by static electricity could cause a container to explode," stated one unnamed government official about the situation, as quoted by the news source The Asahi Shimbun.
Many of Fukushima's storage containers are faulty; some are missing gas venting holes
In early April, many of the containers identified as leaking radioactive waste were found to be leaking the fluid through their gas venting holes, which are supposed to prevent this very thing from occurring. It was also later discovered that some of the storage tanks weren't even properly outfitted with gas venting holes, exacerbating the problem.
According to Japan-based The Mainichi, TEPCO cleanup crews first observed that at least one storage tank at Fukushima was missing the normal venting holes for preventing gas buildup on May 22. Another 305 tanks currently in use might also be missing their proper venting holes, according to reports.
"Out of the approximately 1,400 containers, 334 -- including ones that are not being used yet -- have not yet been checked for venting holes," reports The Mainichi. "TEPCO has speculated that the work to create the holes was skipped over at a factory in the United States."
TEPCO says hydrogen explosion risk is "extremely low"; says it plans to decrease storage volumes to prevent explosions
While admitting that the problem exists, TEPCO maintains that the risk of a major explosion is minimal. The utility, which has repeatedly been caught lying about the severity of nuclear waste release at the Fukushima plant, contends that it is undertaking a series of measures to address the issue and stop the overflows.
"We think the possibility of an occurrence of hydrogen explosion from these storage facilities is extremely low, since there is no fire origin, or anything that generates static electricity nearby," stated Mayumi Yoshida, a spokeswoman for TEPCO, to The Telegraph.
"For temporary measures, we have been removing the leaked water, installing absorption materials, monitoring by patrol, keeping water level [sic] inside those facilities lower than set and keeping equipment which may generate fire away."
Yoshida also told the media that TEPCO plans to prevent further leaks by decreasing the maximum storage levels for contaminated water inside each tank. This long-term approach, she claims, is an important part of the decades-long decommissioning process that will continue to take place at the plant.
8. Nearly 20,000 Support Petition to Allow Guns at Republican National Convention
early 20,000 people have signed a petition to allow the open carry of firearms at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
The group Americans For Responsible Open Carry started the petition on Change.org on Monday, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal. The petition had a goal of 5,000 signatures and by Wednesday it had reached the goal. As of early Saturday morning, the group had reached just over 18,000 signatures.
The GOP Republican National Convention is going to be held at the Quicken Loans Arena from July 18-21. The Ohio Republican Party told the Beacon-Journal it wasn’t aware of the petition.
The Secret Service along with Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, state and federal officials are handling the security at the event. The Secret Service banned guns at the GOP Convention in Florida four years ago.
“They are coordinating and will be continuously refining security plans leading up to the national convention,” Republican National Convention spokesperson Alee Lockman told the newspaper.
The group has a list of demands for the convention.
First, the group wants the arena to suspend its open-carry ban during the convention. The group then wants the NRA has to condemn Ohio’s law banning guns in some public places.
“Policies of the Quicken Loans Arena do not supersede the rights given to us by our Creator in the U.S. Constitution,” the petition reads.
Americans For Responsible Open Carry also want presidential contender Ohio Gov. John Kasich to use his executive power to override the so-called gun-free zone loophole in Ohio’s law. RNC Chairman Reince Preibus also must explain how “a venue so unfriendly to Second Amendment rights was chosen for the Republican Convention and have a backup plan to move the site if the group’s demands aren’t met.
Finally they call for the three other candidates to pressure the GOP to protect the Second Amendment.
Ohio is an open-carry state, but they are not permitted in the Statehouse and even if concealed, could be banned by businesses and property owners, according to the Beacon-Journal.
Quicken Loans Arena forbids guns and weapons of any kind from “heavily attended” events.
The arena said it is following the state’s concealed carry law and the right for private businesses to ban firearms on its property.
The petition claims that because Cleveland is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, forcing attendees to leave their weapons at home is putting everyone at risk.
“Without the right to protect themselves, those at the Quicken Loans Arena will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life.”
9. John Ehrlichman: "Did We Know We Were Lying About the Drugs? Of Course We Did."
n 1994, John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results? Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman’s boss, Richard Nixon, who declared the first “war on drugs” and set the country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues. I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. I barely recognized him. He was much heavier than he’d been at the time of the Watergate scandal two decades earlier, and he wore a mountain-man beard that extended to the middle of his chest.
At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.
Nixon’s invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn’t end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.
As long ago as 1949, H. L. Mencken identified in Americans “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” an astute articulation of our weirdly Puritan need to criminalize people’s inclination to adjust how they feel. The desire for altered states of consciousness creates a market, and in suppressing that market we have created a class of genuine bad guys — pushers, gangbangers, smugglers, killers. Addiction is a hideous condition, but it’s rare. Most of what we hate and fear about drugs — the violence, the overdoses, the criminality — derives from prohibition, not drugs. And there will be no victory in this war either; even the Drug Enforcement Administration concedes that the drugs it fights are becoming cheaper and more easily available.
Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to change course. Experiments in alternatives to harsh prohibition are already under way both in this country and abroad. Twenty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana, and four — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — along with D.C., have legalized pot altogether. Several more states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will likely vote in November whether to follow suit. Portugal has decriminalized not only marijuana but cocaine and heroin, as well as all other drugs. In Vermont, heroin addicts can avoid jail by committing to state-funded treatment. Canada began a pilot program in Vancouver in 2014 to allow doctors to prescribe pharmaceutical-quality heroin to addicts, Switzerland has a similar program, and the Home Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Commons has recommended that the United Kingdom do likewise. Last July, Chile began a legislative process to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana use and allow households to grow as many as six plants. After telling the BBC in December that “if you fight a war for forty years and don’t win, you have to sit down and think about other things to do that might be more effective,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos legalized medical marijuana by decree. In November, the Mexican Supreme Court elevated the debate to a new plane by ruling that the prohibition of marijuana consumption violated the Mexican Constitution by interfering with “the personal sphere,” the “right to dignity,” and the right to “personal autonomy.” The Supreme Court of Brazil is considering a similar argument.
Depending on how the issue is framed, legalization of all drugs can appeal to conservatives, who are instinctively suspicious of bloated budgets, excess government authority, and intrusions on individual liberty, as well as to liberals, who are horrified at police overreach, the brutalization of Latin America, and the criminalization of entire generations of black men. It will take some courage to move the conversation beyond marijuana to ending all drug prohibitions, but it will take less, I suspect, than most politicians believe. It’s already politically permissible to criticize mandatory minimums, mass marijuana-possession arrests, police militarization, and other excesses of the drug war; even former attorney general Eric Holder and Michael Botticelli, the new drug czar — a recovering alcoholic — do so. Few in public life appear eager to defend the status quo.
This month, the General Assembly of the United Nations will be gathering for its first drug conference since 1998. The motto of the 1998 meeting was “A Drug-Free World — We Can Do It!” With all due respect, U.N., how’d that work out for you? Today the U.N. confronts a world in which those who have suffered the most have lost faith in the old strong-arm ideology. That the tide was beginning to turn was evident at the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, when Latin American leaders for the first time openly discussed — much to the public discomfort of President Obama — whether legalizing and regulating drugs should be the hemisphere’s new approach.
When the General Assembly convenes, it also will have to contend with the startling fact that four states and the capital city of the world’s most zealous drug enforcer have fully legalized marijuana. “We’re confronted now with the fact that the U.S. cannot enforce domestically what it promotes elsewhere,” a member of the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors international compliance with the conference’s directives, told me. Shortly before Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia added themselves to the legal-marijuana list, the State Department’s chief drug-control official, William Brownfield, abruptly reversed his stance. Whereas before he had said that the “drug control conventions cannot be changed,” in 2014 he admitted that things had changed: “How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the fifty states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?” Throughout the drug-reform community, jaws dropped.
As the once-unimaginable step of ending the war on drugs shimmers into view, it’s time to shift the conversation from why to how. To realize benefits from ending drug prohibition will take more than simply declaring that drugs are legal. The risks are tremendous. Deaths from heroin overdose in the United States rose 500 percent from 2001 to 2014, a staggering increase, and deaths from prescription drugs — which are already legal and regulated — shot up almost 300 percent, proving that where opioids are concerned, we seem to be inept not only when we prohibit but also when we regulate. A sharp increase in drug dependence or overdoses that followed the legalization of drugs would be a public-health disaster, and it could very well knock the world back into the same counterproductive prohibitionist mind-set from which we appear finally to be emerging. To minimize harm and maximize order, we’ll have to design better systems than we have now for licensing, standardizing, inspecting, distributing, and taxing dangerous drugs. A million choices will arise, and we probably won’t make any good decisions on the first try. Some things will get better; some things will get worse. But we do have experience on which to draw — from the end of Prohibition, in the 1930s, and from our recent history. Ending drug prohibition is a matter of imagination and management, two things on which Americans justifiably pride themselves. We can do this.
Let’s start with a question that is too seldom asked: What exactly is our drug problem? It isn’t simply drug use. Lots of Americans drink, but relatively few become alcoholics. It’s hard to imagine people enjoying a little heroin now and then, or a hit of methamphetamine, without going off the deep end, but they do it all the time. The government’s own data, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shatters the myth of “instantly addictive” drugs. Although about half of all Americans older than twelve have tried an illegal drug, only 20 percent of those have used one in the past month. In the majority of those monthly-use cases, the drug was cannabis. Only tiny percentages of people who have sampled one of the Big Four — heroin, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine — have used that drug in the past month. (For heroin, the number is 8 percent; for cocaine, 4 percent; for crack, 3 percent; for meth, 4 percent.) It isn’t even clear that using a drug once a month amounts to having a drug problem. The portion of lifetime alcohol drinkers who become alcoholics is about 8 percent, and we don’t think of someone who drinks alcohol monthly as an alcoholic.
In other words, our real drug problem — debilitating addiction — is relatively small. One longtime drug-policy researcher, Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, puts the number of people addicted to hard drugs at fewer than 4 million, out of a population of 319 million. Addiction is a chronic illness during which relapses or flare-ups can occur, as with diabetes, gout, and high blood pressure. And drug dependence can be as hard on friends and family as it is on the afflicted. But dealing with addiction shouldn’t require spending $40 billion a year on enforcement, incarcerating half a million, and quashing the civil liberties of everybody, whether drug user or not.
It’s possible, of course, that one reason we have a relatively small number of drug addicts is precisely that the most addictive drugs are illegal. If cocaine were to be legalized, says Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University who has been a critic of the war on drugs since the 1970s, there’s no evidence indicating that the number of cocaine abusers would be less than the number of alcoholics, or about 17.6 million. Moreover, legalizing cocaine might worsen both cocaine addiction and alcoholism, Kleiman adds. “A limit to alcoholism is you fall asleep. Cocaine fixes that. And a limit to cocaine addiction is you can’t sleep. Alcohol fixes that.”
Kleiman’s prediction of a big increase in post-legalization addiction rates seems intuitively correct. Common sense and decency dictate that any plan for legalizing drugs ought to make provisions for a rise in dependence. Millions of addicts already go untreated in the United States. Although treatment is a bargain — the government estimates that for every dollar spent on drug treatment, seven are saved — treatment and prevention get only 45 percent of the federal drug budget while enforcement and interdiction get 55 percent, and that’s not including the stupendous cost of incarcerating drug offenders. Treatment may become more available now that the Affordable Care Act requires many insurers to pay for mental-health services, including drug addiction, at parity with physical illnesses. Training effective treatment providers is time-consuming and expensive, but the billions freed up by the end of enforcement and mass incarceration could be used to help address that need.
It is also not a certainty that legalizing drugs would result in the huge spike in addiction that Kleiman predicts. In fact, some data argue against it. The Netherlands effectively decriminalized marijuana use and possession in 1976, and Australia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, and New York State all followed suit. In none of these jurisdictions did marijuana then become a significant health or public-order problem. But marijuana’s easy; it isn’t physically addictive. So consider Portugal, which in 2001 took the radical step of decriminalizing not only pot but cocaine, heroin, and the rest of the drug spectrum. Decriminalization in Portugal means that the drugs remain technically prohibited — selling them is a major crime — but the purchase, use, and possession of up to ten days’ supply are administrative offenses. No other country has gone so far, and the results have been astounding. The expected wave of drug tourists never materialized. Teenage use went up shortly before and after decriminalization, but then it settled down, perhaps as the novelty wore off. (Teenagers — particularly eighth graders — are considered harbingers of future societal drug use.)
The lifetime prevalence of adult drug use in Portugal rose slightly, but problem drug use — that is, habitual use of hard drugs — declined after Portugal decriminalized, from 7.6 to 6.8 per 1,000 people. Compare that with nearby Italy, which didn’t decriminalize, where the rates rose from 6.0 to 8.6 per 1,000 people over the same time span. Because addicts can now legally obtain sterile syringes in Portugal, decriminalization seems to have cut radically the number of addicts infected with H.I.V., from 907 in 2000 to 267 in 2008, while cases of full-blown AIDS among addicts fell from 506 to 108 during the same period.
The new Portuguese law has also had a striking effect on the size of the country’s prison population. The number of inmates serving time for drug offenses fell by more than half, and today they make up only 21 percent of those incarcerated. A similar reduction in the United States would free 260,000 people — the equivalent of letting the entire population of Buffalo out of jail.
When applying the lessons of Portugal to the United States, it’s important to note that the Portuguese didn’t just throw open access to dangerous drugs without planning for people who couldn’t handle them. Portugal poured money into drug treatment, expanding the number of addicts served by more than 50 percent. It established Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, each of which is composed of three people — often a doctor, a social worker, and an attorney — who are authorized to refer a drug user to treatment and in some cases impose a relatively small fine. Nor did Portugal’s decriminalization experiment happen in a vacuum. The country has been increasing its spending on social services since the 1970s, and even instituted a guaranteed minimum income in the late 1990s. The rapid expansion of the welfare state may have contributed to Portugal’s well-publicized economic troubles, but it can probably also share credit for the drop in problem drug use.
Decriminalization has been a success in Portugal. Nobody there argues seriously for abandoning the policy, and being identified with the law is good politics: during his successful 2009 reelection campaign, former prime minister José Sócrates boasted of his role in establishing it.
So why doesn’t the United States decriminalize? It’s an attractive idea: Lay off the innocent users and pitiable addicts; keep going after the really bad guys who import and push the drugs. But decriminalization doesn’t do enough. As successful as Portugal’s experiment has been, the Lisbon government still has no control over drug purity or dosage, and it doesn’t make a dime in tax revenue from the sale of drugs. Organized crime still controls Portugal’s supply and distribution, and drug-related violence, corruption, and gunned-up law enforcement continue. For these reasons, the effect of drug decriminalization on crime in Portugal is murky. Some crimes strongly associated with drug use increased after decriminalization — street robberies went up by 66 percent, auto theft by 15 percent — but others dropped. (Thefts from homes fell by 8 percent, thefts from businesses by 10 percent.) A study by the Portuguese police found an increase in opportunistic crimes and a reduction in premeditated and violent crimes, but it could not conclude that the changes were due to the decriminalization of drugs. Heavy-handed enforcement also requires favoring scare tactics over honest inquiry, experimentation, and data gathering; and scare tactics are no way to deal with substances as dangerous as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Portuguese-style decriminalization also wouldn’t work in the United States because Portugal is a small country with national laws and a national police force, whereas the United States is a patchwork of jurisdictions — thousands of overlapping law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors at the local, county, state, and federal levels. Philadelphia’s city council, for example, voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in June 2014, and within a month state police had arrested 140 people for exactly that offense. “State law trumps city ordinances,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told thePhiladelphia Inquirer. And while marijuana may be legal in four states and D.C., under federal law it is still as illegal as heroin or LSD — and even more tightly controlled than cocaine or pharmaceutical opioids. The Obama Administration has decided, for the moment, not to interfere with the states that have legalized marijuana, but times change and so do administrations. We cannot begin to enjoy the benefits of managing drugs as a matter of health and safety, instead of as a matter of law enforcement, until the drugs are legalized at every level of American jurisprudence, just as alcohol was re-legalized when the United States repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933.
One of the evils that led to Prohibition in the first place was the system of “tied houses” — saloons owned by alcohol producers that marketed their product aggressively. As Prohibition was ending, John D. Rockefeller commissioned a report published as Toward Liquor Control that advocated total government control of alcohol distribution. “Only as the profit motive is eliminated is there any hope of controlling the liquor traffic in the interests of a decent society,” he said. That never happened, of course. Tied houses were banned, but Seagram, Anheuser-Busch, and other companies became gigantic from the manufacture and sale of alcohol; only eighteen states assumed any direct control over the distribution process.
We’ve grown used to living with the consequences of legal alcohol, even though alcohol is undeniably costly to the nation in lives and treasure. But few would argue for a return to Prohibition, in part because the liquor industry is so lucrative and so powerful. Binge drinkers — 20 percent of the drinking population — consume more than half of the alcohol sold, which means that for all the industry’s pious admonitions to “drink responsibly,” it depends on people doing the opposite. At the same time, Big Alcohol’s clout keeps taxation low. Kleiman, of NYU, estimates alcohol taxes to be about a dime a drink; the societal cost in disease, car wrecks, and violence is about fifteen times that. Neither the binge-dependent economics of alcohol nor the industry’s capture of the regulatory process is something we would want to mimic when legalizing substances such as heroin and crack cocaine. We’ll have to do a better job at legalizing drugs than we did at re-legalizing alcohol if we want to hold addiction to a minimum, keep drugs away from children, assure drug purity and consistency of dosage, and limit drugged driving. Last November, Ohio voters rejected marijuana legalization, most observers believe, precisely because the proposed initiative would have allowed only ten companies, all of which sponsored the initiative, to grow and distribute marijuana in the state.
If we can summon the political will, the opportunity to establish a state monopoly on drug distribution, just as Rockefeller urged for alcohol in 1933, is now — before the genie is out of the bottle. Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands have successfully made heroin legally available to addicts through networks of government-run dispensaries that are divorced from the profit motive. The advantages of a state monopoly over a free market — even a regulated one — are vast.
In the 1970s, the eighteen states that established government control over alcohol distribution at the end of Prohibition began to water down their systems by feeding their wholesale or retail alcohol businesses, or both, to private industry. Still, in 2013 a team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that even in “weak monopoly” states, consumption of spirits was 12 to 15 percent lower than in states with private liquor stores or grocery stores. In states that retained control over retail sales, alcohol-related traffic fatalities were about 7 to 9 percent lower than in states that did not; crime rates were lower as well.
Just about everybody who thinks seriously about the end of drug prohibition agrees that we’ll want to discourage consumption. This goal could be accomplished, at least in part, under a system of regulated, for-profit stores: by setting limits on advertising and promotion (or banning them altogether), by preventing marketing to children, by establishing minimum distances from schools for retail outlets, by nailing down rules about dosage and purity, and by limiting both the number of stores and their hours of operation. In a for-profit system, however, the only way government can influence price — the strongest disincentive to consumption — is by levying a tax, and getting taxes right is no small task. First, on what basis should the tax apply? Federal taxes on alcohol are set according to potency, but keeping up with the THC content of every strain of marijuana would be impossible. Weight? The more potent the drug, the less you need to buy, so taxing by weight might end up promoting stronger drugs over weaker. Price? Post-legalization prices are likely to plummet as the “prohibition premium” — which compensates dealers for the risk of getting caught — disappears, competition sets in, and innovation increases production. To keep prices high enough to discourage use, legislators will have to monitor those prices constantly and risk their jobs by pushing for politically unpopular tax increases.
“It’s too hard to adjust taxes quickly enough,” said Pat Oglesby, a North Carolina tax lawyer who was chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee from 1988 to 1990 and who now researches marijuana taxes. “Legislatures love lowering taxes. Getting them to raise taxes is like pulling teeth.” What’s more, if legislators overdo it and set taxes too high, they’ll risk reawakening a black market in untaxed drugs.
A government monopoly on distribution solves the problem by making the setting of prices a matter of administration, not legislation. Government officials, whether at the state or federal level, would have infinite flexibility to adjust the price — daily, if necessary — to minimize use without inspiring a black market. The production of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin could remain in private hands, and the producers could supply the government stores, just as Smirnoff, Coors, and Mondavi provide their products to state liquor stores. If the cost of producing a drug drops because of innovation or competition, the government agency selling that drug to the public would see an increase in revenues. Likewise, it is much easier for the government to set the dosage and purity of products it sells in its own outlets than to police the dosage and purity of products that are spread throughout a free market. And the government could decide on its own to what extent it wants to permit advertising, attractive packaging, and promotions.
Finally, of course, when the government holds a monopoly, the public, not private shareholders, enjoys the profit. The states that retain control over alcohol distribution collect 82 to 90 percent more in revenue than states that license private alcohol sales collect in taxes, depending on whether they control both wholesale and retail. That the government should profit from a product it wants to discourage could be seen as hypocritical, but that’s the way things stand now with tobacco, alcohol, and gambling. States generally reduce the moral sting of those profits by earmarking them for education or other popular causes. In the case of drugs, the profits could go toward treating addicts. The great thing about trying a state monopoly first is that if it doesn’t work, it’s politically much easier to liberalize to a regulated free market than to go the other way.
But as long as federal law in the United States maintains an absolute prohibition on marijuana, cocaine, and heroin — and stringent restrictions on methamphetamine — it’s hard to imagine state drug monopolies on the model of state liquor stores. Even if the international bans on Schedule I drugs were to lift, could our legislators muster the will to legalize them, much less to expand government to distribute them? It’s one thing for the chief executive to turn a blind eye to the states’ experiments in licensed marijuana commerce; it’s another to grind the gears and shift conservative congressional sensibilities.
This is a pity, since a government monopoly would be the least expensive and most flexible way to legalize drugs. It would generate the most revenue and — more important — it would protect public health. Until Congress reschedules marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, and until we get over the idea that government can do nothing right, we’re stuck with second best: state-size experiments that ignore the federal ban on marijuana and license private industries. Colorado is the furthest along that path, and its experience is instructive.
Colorado has allowed medical marijuana since 2000 through a system of licensed private dispensaries. The state originally required marijuana businesses to be vertically integrated; dispensaries could sell only what they grew themselves — a replication of the old tied houses. The theory was that it was easier to regulate businesses from “seed to sale.” In November 2012, 55 percent of voters approved Amendment 64 to the Colorado constitution, which legalized recreational marijuana. (The initiative was strategically timed; having marijuana on the ballot helped draw young and progressive voters to the polls to win the state for President Obama.) After the election, Colorado chose a system of licensed businesses over state monopoly; in 2014, it dropped the requirement that recreational dispensaries be vertically integrated — one business can now grow marijuana for another to sell. As soon as Governor John Hickenlooper formalized the results, five weeks after the vote, Coloradans twenty-one years of age and older could legally possess and use marijuana. Stores and commercial cultivators were not allowed to open, though, until January 2014, fourteen months after the vote. The delay was meant to allow the state time to expand the Marijuana Enforcement Division, within the Department of Revenue, to incorporate retail marijuana into its jurisdiction, and to allow the division to write rules concerning signage, advertising, waste disposal, video surveillance, labeling, taxes, and required distances from schools.
Already, legal marijuana in Colorado is following the grim economics of alcohol. Daily smokers make up only 23 percent of the state’s pot-smoking population, but they consume 67 percent of the reefer. That may have been true too when marijuana was illegal; maybe the number of daily stoners is neither rising nor falling. We’ll never know, because one problem with illegal markets is that you can’t track them. But we do know that the legal, for-profit marijuana business in Colorado is already mimicking the alcohol business in its dependence on heavy users. From a public-health standpoint, that’s troubling.
The effect of legalization on crime has been difficult to determine. Overall, crime fell in Denver by almost 2 percent in 2014, the first year of full marijuana legalization. And, strangely, surveys of 40,000 teenagers before and after legalization showed that although fewer now believed marijuana to be harmful — just as the opponents of legalization predicted — fewer were smoking pot. Were they lying? Was it a statistical anomaly? Are pot dealers harder to find now that they’re competing with legal stores? Or is it possible that marijuana, once legalized, lost its cachet?
Colorado has run into glitches. The fourteen months between the vote and the opening of the stores wasn’t enough time to write regulations on such variables as pesticide use in cultivation or dosages in edibles. Nor was there time to write a new training curriculum for police, who found themselves not knowing exactly what to do about the large quantities of marijuana they were encountering. People have been stringing extension cords together to make their own grow rooms — and burning down their homes. They’ve pumped so much water into pot cultivation that monstrous blooms of black mold have rendered their houses uninhabitable. And Denver has seen a spate of burglaries and robberies at marijuana greenhouses and stores. The law let local jurisdictions decide whether to allow retail pot stores. Only thirty-five counties did so at first, which is partly why the state received only $12 million in new marijuana taxes in the first six months of legal pot sales — about a third of what regulators had anticipated. (“That’s changing,” said Lewis Koski, the forty-four-year-old who is the deputy senior director of Colorado’s Enforcement Division, in 2014. “Just about every week we have new jurisdictions allowing it.”) It may also be that the state set the tax on retail marijuana too high — 10 percent on top of the usual sales tax. Some smokers are apparently continuing to buy on the black market, which is often cheaper. (It may be that almost everybody who wanted to buy legal pot already had a medical-marijuana I.D. card; 111,000 Coloradans — more than 2 percent of the population — hold them, and medical pot carries only the regular sales tax.) Still, in 2015, Colorado collected about $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees, almost double what it took in the year before.
Cracking down on unlicensed growing operations and training cops has been relatively easy. What’s going to be tougher is keeping big business from overwhelming the exercise and rigging the game. Even with only four states and the District of Columbia having legalized, and only twenty-three states allowing the medical use of marijuana, legitimate production is already a $5.4 billion industry. Forbes has published a list of the “8 Hottest Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies.” Cannabis stocks include biotech companies, makers of specialized vending machines, and manufacturers of vaporizers that allow inhalation without tar or burning the product. The combined value of marijuana stocks rose by 50 percent in 2013 and by 150 percent in the first three weeks of 2014, before settling down to a still-impressive 38 percent gain for the year. In September 2014, MJardin, a maker of turnkey growing operations, announced that it was considering an initial public offering. Even the Wall Street Journal analyzes marijuana as a serious investment opportunity. These enormous bets are being placed at a time when recreational marijuana is still illegal in forty-six states and under federal law.
The citizens of the U.S. jurisdictions that legalized marijuana may have set in motion more machinery than most of them had imagined. “Without marijuana prohibition, the government can’t sustain the drug war,” Ira Glasser, who ran the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978 to 2001, told me. “Without marijuana, the use of drugs is negligible, and you can’t justify the law-enforcement and prison spending on the other drugs. Their use is vanishingly small. I always thought that if you could cut the marijuana head off the beast, the drug war couldn’t be sustained.”
Even in my hometown of Boulder, which may be the most pot-friendly city in the United States, “it’s not marijuana gone wild,” as Jane Brautigam, the city manager, told officials from Colorado and Washington during a public conference call in September 2014. People were, for the most part, “feeling okay about it,” she said. Marijuana charges in Colorado were down 80 percent: only 2,000 or so Coloradans were charged for marijuana offenses in 2014, as opposed to nearly 10,000 in 2011. Brautigam has had to shut down a few marijuana businesses for violations, but no more than in other industries. “There was an implication that there would be people smoking all over the place,” she said. “That hasn’t happened.” When I checked in with her office in January, things were still going well, Patrick von Keyserling, the city communications director, told me, in large part because “it’s a very well-regulated industry.”
To the extent that we in Colorado think about legal marijuana, now that the initial excitement has worn off, we have a smug sense that we have taken the lead in doing something smart. We are as divided as any place over immigrants, guns, and climate change, but our police don’t waste their time chasing down pot smokers anymore. Adults don’t have to worry, as they used to, about neighbors smelling reefer smoke wafting from their patios. Even if marijuana tax revenues — which are slated to help public schools — aren’t what we’d hoped, our state is making money from something that used to cost it money. Marijuana is no big deal. We look at other states that treat it as a public menace and wonder what in the world they’re thinking.
Nobody I spoke with in the United States or elsewhere envisioned stores selling heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine as freely as Colorado stores sell marijuana or as state liquor stores sell vodka. The way most researchers imagine hard-drug distribution, short of a state monopoly, involves some kind of supervision. A network of counselors — not necessarily physicians — would monitor how a drug fits into a person’s life. When Kleiman, at NYU, allows himself to imagine legal cocaine, he pictures users setting their own dose. “You can decide whether you want to raise your quota — a bureaucratic process — or see someone about your cocaine problem. This is to give your long-term self a fighting chance against your short-term self.”
Eric Sterling, the executive director of the anti-prohibition Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, envisions a similar system. “Someone might say, ‘I want cocaine because it stimulates me in my creative work,’ or, ‘I want cocaine to improve my orgasms.’ The response might be, ‘Why don’t you have enough energy? Do you exercise?’ Or, ‘What might be interfering with the current quality of your sex life?’ ” Those who want to try LSD or other psychedelics, Sterling suggests, might go to licensed “trip leaders,” analogous to wilderness guides — people trained, indemnified, and insured to take the uninitiated into potentially dangerous territory.
Of course, it’s easy to imagine people who enjoy cocaine, heroin, or psychedelics saying “to hell with all that” and continuing to buy on the black market. But, as Sterling points out, doing so is risky. If someone as rich and well-connected as Philip Seymour Hoffman can die from a heroin shot, nobody is safe. Also, as Sterling notes, “It’s a hassle to be an addict. Find a dealer, score, find a place to get off . . .” If a lawful, regulated system is fine-tuned — so that drugs are cheap and trustworthy, the process is not too burdensome, and the taxes on them are not too high — users will likely come to prefer it to the black market. Competition, not violence, will destroy the criminal gangs that control illegal drug distribution. “Ultimately this is all about building the proper cultural context for using drugs,” Sterling says, a context in which “the exaggerations and the falsehoods get extinguished.”
In 2009, Britain’s Transform Drug Policy Foundation put out a 232-page report called “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation.” The authors suggested issuing licenses for buying and using drugs, with sanctions for those who screw up — much like gun licenses in some U.S. states, or driver’s licenses. Users would have their purchases tracked by computer, so rising use would, in theory, be noticed, making intervention possible. Legal vendors would bear partial responsibility for “socially destructive incidents” — the way bartenders can be held responsible for serving an obvious drunk who later has an accident behind the wheel. For pricing, the report suggests prices high enough to “discourage misuse, and sufficiently low to ensure that under-cutting . . . is not profitable for illicit drug suppliers.” And although the British group argued for a generally more laissez-faire market than European and Canadian government-run heroin-distribution systems, it embraced a complete ban on any kind of advertising and marketing, and argued instead for plain, pharmaceuticalstyle packaging.
I voted for marijuana legalization even though I hadn’t smoked pot in years and wasn’t much interested in doing so. Legalization seemed a sensible political and economic measure, and a way to distinguish Colorado as a progressive beacon of the West. But one night in July, I was headed for the Cruiser Ride, Boulder’s goofy, costumed weekly bicycle parade, and I thought it might be fun to try it stoned. It was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known where to find a joint. Now, I simply pedaled to the Green Room, a marijuana retail store a mile from my house. Although I wear every one of my fifty-nine years on my face, I was carded — in a reception room decorated with portraits of Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix. A bud tender escorted me into the store, where I stood at a counter, separated from the customer next to me by a discreet, bank-teller-like divider. I picked up a card titlededibles education: start low, go slow and read that if I bought any of the pot-laced artisanal goodies, I should not consume them with alcohol; I should keep them out of the reach of children; I should start with a single small serving and wait two hours before taking more. “Everybody’s metabolism is different,” it said. For a new consumer, no more than one to five milligrams of cannabis was recommended; the potency of the buttery candies and cookies was listed on the labels. This was a far cry from the fibrous, foul-tasting pot brownies I used to eat before late-night college screenings of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A young bud tender — tattooed and achingly professional — presided over a copious array of marijuana blossoms in large glass apothecary jars. I confess I got a little lost as he discoursed, with Talmudic subtlety, on the differences between Grape Ape, Stardawg, and Bubba Kush. The joint that I bought for $10 — fat, expertly rolled, and with a little paper filter — came in a green plastic tube with a police-badge-shaped sticker reading department of revenue, marijuana. For someone who started buying pot in alleys when Gerald Ford was president, this felt like Elysium.
I wasn’t allowed to light up in the store or outside on the street; I had to go home to smoke legally. As instructed, I started low and went slow, taking only one hit. Twenty minutes later, I was stoned in that good way I remembered: I felt perceptive and amused, with none of the sluggishness or paranoia common to the old fifteen-dollar ounces. That single joint I bought is so strong that even though I’ve taken hits from it half a dozen times since my Cruiser Ride, I still have about a third left, a treat to keep around for the right occasion.
So under legalization I have become a pot smoker again. But I don’t drive stoned or need treatment, so who cares? I drink a beer or a dram of Laphroaig most days too, and I still hit my deadline for this article.
If it is now time to start thinking creatively about legalization, we’d be wise to remember that, like carefully laid military plans, detailed drug-liberalization strategies probably won’t survive their first contact with reality. “People are thinking about the utopian endgame, but the transition will be unpredictable,” says Sterling, of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “Whatever system of regulation gets set up, there will be people who exploit the edges. But that’s true for speeding, for alcohol, for guns.” Without a state-run monopoly, there will be more than one type of legal, regulated drug market, he says, and the markets won’t solve every conceivable problem. “Nobody thinks our alcohol system is a complete failure because there are after-hours sales, or because people occasionally buy alcohol for minors.” Legalizing, and then regulating, drug markets will likely be messy, at least in the short term. Still, in a technocratic, capitalist, and fundamentally free society like the United States, education, counseling, treatment, distribution, regulation, pricing, and taxation all seem to better fit our national skill set than the suppression of immense black markets and the violence and corruption that come with it.
10.Corrupt Politics Poisoning the Destiny of Children
on HUFFIEST by Evaggelos Vallianatos
I am astonished and pleased by the level of Congressional discourse on the poisoning of the water of Flint, Michigan.
I remember inviting witnesses for a House hearing on corruption at agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. Yet my boss cancelled the hearing at the last moment. No explanations. This was sometime in the spring of 1978.
Corporations and rich people lobby members of Congress incessantly. In return, members of Congress expect donations to their reelection campaigns. They are so busy collecting promises and funds that technical issues or government regulation and environmental protection are mere blips on their radar. If they focus on them, it’s because they want to score victories against their political opponents. “Hearing” is more than gathering of evidence. It is primarily political theater.
However, the tragedy of thousands of residents of Flint, Michigan drinking lead-laced water since 2013 has galvanized an unusual Congressional interest. Senators and Representatives want to know how and why the poisoning happened. Why did the State of Michigan and the US Environmental Protection Agency fail to safeguard the water of Flint?
These are important questions. How we answer them, especially how Michigan and EPA answer them, will determine the continuation or the interruption of the mechanisms that allowed lead in the drinking water of Flint and, probably, the rest of the country.
I watched two of the Flint water hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, March 15 and 17, 2016. Marc Edwards, professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, accused the EPA of willful blindness. He said he expected the poisoning of the water of Flint to happen. After all, the same thing had taken place in Washington, DC, 2001-2004, and the Centers for Disease Control and the EPA learned nothing from that experience. Edwards accused these agencies for callous disregard of children’s health. They cannot be trusted, he said.
Indeed, the entire country may be on the verge of Flint-like water conditions.
Edwards is a reliable witness. He has followed the water problems of the country and the role of EPA for a long time. In fact, he tested the Flint water and sounded the alarm for elevated amounts of lead. He accused former EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman of “unacceptable and criminal” behavior.
An EPA insider working out of Chicago, Miguel Del Total, warned his colleagues of probable water poisoning in Flint. In July 8, 2015, he complained his work on Flint put his career at risk. “It almost sounds like I’m to be stuck in a corner holding up a potted plant because of Flint. One mis-step in 27+ years here and people lose their minds,” he wrote to a colleague.
The other major failure of the EPA was in not using its power to enforce the law and overcome the political bias of Michigan in allowing the poisoning of the Flint water to go on. Section 1431 of the Safe Water Drinking Act gives the EPA administrator the authority to protect people in situations of probable “immanent and substantial endangerment” — exactly the conditions at Flint.
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy put the blame for the poisoning of the water of Flint squarely on Michigan officials. But the Republicans on the committee zeroed in on her and the EPA. How come the EPA had not updated the Lead and Copper Rule? Why didn’t McCarthy fire Hedman but let her resign? Why didn’t the EPA use its emergency powers to prevent the poisoning?
The Democrats on the committee turned on Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan. Why did he take so much time to declare a state of emergency?
Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democratic minority leader on the committee, barely hiding his anger, said to the governor of Michigan he did not trust him. Why, he asked the governor, should the people of Michigan pay a million for his legal fees and, in return, the governor, to save money, put the people of Flint to such a danger? Shouldn’t you resign? He asked Snyder.
The children of Flint, Cummings said, are facing a destiny “cut off and messed up.” Yes, indeed, the future of the poisoned children is likely to be full of troubles.
But the larger moral question is that, like Edwards said, we have had plenty of Flints before Flint. Why do we tolerate such unacceptable and criminal behavior from the industry and the government?
Did the Republican and Democratic members of the House committee have to fight their private wars by taking sides? The Republicans, after all, have been trying to shut down EPA. So listening to them preach EPA officials of screwing up, did not sound convincing.
Let’s hope Americans learn the Flint lesson this time. Flint is us.
PNN - Brotherhood of Vulcan
News Director and Associate Producer Brook Hines brings us the latest on Democratic Politics.
We visit with Florida Representative Mark Pafford at the end of the session, and the end of his term in office will discuss the State of the Florida Legislature.
Ms Thania Clevenger Civil Rights Director of CAIR Florida talks about the poisonous Islamophobia, propounded by Candidates Cruz and Trump.
Friend of the show Mr. Courtney Horne talks about the Private Prisons and the continued burden of slavery borne especially by African Americans.
Ms Renee Shaker Economic Analyst and special Economic Advisor to PNN will discuss the current economic woes facing the US and Europe this Election Year.
TUNE IN SUNDAY 7pm (Eastern) and 4pm (Mountain)
Ms Renee Shaker Economic Analyst and special Economic Advisor to PNN will discuss the current economic woes facing the US and Europe this Election Year.
TUNE IN SUNDAY 7pm (Eastern) and 4pm (Mountain)