California Gov. Jerry Brown granted 63 drug pardons over the weekend, many of which were to individuals convicted of minor possession offenses.
Brown made the pardon official in a statement released last Friday, confirming that “the individuals granted pardons all completed their sentences and have been released from custody for more than a decade without further criminal activity.” Although this does not remove the conviction from their record, it does allow certain rights to be restored like sitting on a jury. Brown has typically timed pardons around the holidays and granted 127 of them last Christmas, including 93 for drug-related offenses.
Roughly two-thirds of those pardoned had been convicted on charges of possessing, selling or manufacturing controlled substances like marijuana. Several of them now work as drug counselors or are active in public service by supporting non-profits.
“I’ve been waiting 14 years for this call…this just blows me away,” said Clark William Guest, who served 60 days in jail and five years of probation after stealing from his landlord to support his meth addiction. “Good people make mistakes and we’re allowed to make U-turns.” Guest now works as the coordinator of the drug rehab program he participated in following his conviction.
While Brown has been fairly liberal with pardons during his time in office, having granted hundreds since 2011, previous California governors were far less generous. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gray Davis granted 29 pardons combined over a 20-year period.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official told reporters last weekend that President Barack Obama is planning clemency for “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of drug offenders currently serving long sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
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The tony suburbs of Main Line outside Philadelphia were shocked to learn that two of their own were busted for running a large drug operation that sold drugs to local high school students.
Neil Scott, 25, and Timothy Brooks, 18, used their sports and social connections along with business skills learned while students at The Haverford School to establish a sophisticated drug operation that catered to an upper-class clientele. "They were using very traditional business principles," said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. "To take those skills and turn it into this kind of illegal enterprise is very distressing."
Scott and Brooks supplied dealers with cocaine, marijuana, hash oil, and Ecstasy, and sent them to sell their wares to students at Haverford, Gettysburg, and Lafayette. According to Brooks’ attorney, Greg Pagano, his client had been depressed ever since suffering an injury that led him to leave the University of Richmond and move back in with his parents in Villanova. "He, regrettably, lost his way," Pagano said. "His parents are devastated."
Scott had previous experience selling medical marijuana at a dispensary in San Diego, where he lived last year before moving back to Pennsylvania. He told police that he needed a way to make money and decided to sell high-grade marijuana “because everyone between 15 and 55 loves good weed," according to the affidavit.
Authorities seized over $11,000, eight pounds of weed, a loaded assault rifle, two other weapons, and equipment to manufacture hash oil. They didn’t calculate the amount of money made from the operation, but learned through Scott that the pair made $1,000 a week off marijuana alone.
"Those choices reflect badly on the values the school stands for," said John Nagl, headmaster of The Haverford School. "They let down themselves and their families, who've made huge sacrifices to send them to this school."
When a friend asked a wildlife photographer to help save the Peruvian rainforest by buying a 100 acre parcel, Charlie Hamilton James thought it sounded like a good idea.
A Peruvian forest ranger from Manú National Park was desperately trying to gain control over a key piece of the Amazon, an easy access point for illegal loggers to gain entrance into the park. The only way to stop them would be to purchase the land. Afterwards, the ranger promised to legally build a guard station in order to prevent illegal access to the park.
The plan seemed quite straightforward to James – buy the land, stop the loggers, and thus do your part in saving the rain forest. After forking over $10,000, James decided to visit his sliver of Eden in the jungle. Following a tough journey, he arrived to find that he had bought, “an impenetrable tangle of dense scrub” that looked nothing like the idyllic rain forests he had shot for magazines.
But that was only the beginning of his nightmare; he soon discovered that the land was being used as an illegal cocaine plantation. Cocaine thrives on the slopes of the Andes. Although a small crop of only 3,000 plants in a cleared area, it was still a scene of high crime. Isolated in a lawless part of the country, James was caught in a bind. A local farmer told him, "You have bought the most dangerous piece of land, off the most dangerous family, in the most dangerous area of southern Peru.”
When harvest time came, there were no Colombians and no Uzis. The female pickers of the coca crop were amazed when told the value of their harvest abroad. They didn’t even know cocaine was illegal. After all, what does illegal mean in the ‘Wild West’ of Peru?
After the harvest, the threat of the cocaine crop for James passed into the challenge of preventing more illegal logging by the locals. It turned out the cocaine was a side business with a small profit margin when compared to the logging. James is doing his best to maintain the integrity of his so-called piece of paradise, but it’s an uphill battle against poverty. The future does not look very bright.
In an attempt to circumvent existing laws, drug traffickers in Brazil are funding projects at home and abroad to design synthetic drugs. The goal of the new line of drugs is to produce effects similar to popular illegal drugs while creating a temporary veil of legality. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) is doing its best to keep pace with the latest developments.
In Brazil, a drug is considered illegal only if it is included in ANVISA’s list of prohibited substances. The drug traffickers elude the authorities by inventing new synthetic drugs that are not on the list. This cat and mouse battle is heating up as the financial stakes increase, with drug traffickers needing their investments to pay off.
The inclusion of a drug on the ANVISA list must be requested by the International Narcotics Control Board (JIFE), the United Nations, or one of the country’s internal drug enforcement agencies. Afterwards, ANVISA experts study the substance to determine whether it should be on the list. As expected, such a study takes time and resources.
Renato Pagotto, an officer with the Brazilian Federal Police’s Drug Enforcement Office, described the challenge: “The drug traffickers who produce synthetic drugs hire these ‘drug designers’ to come up with new formulas to circumvent the laws in each country. They simply produce new drugs with small modifications in the chemical molecules, forming substances that are not yet covered by law.”
Battling this new wave, ANVISA plans to update its list more frequently. The most recent update was on Feb. 21, 2014 when 21 drugs were added. The new drugs included Methylone and 25I-NBOMe, which are similar in effect respectively to Ecstasy and LSD. The targeted population for these drugs are middle-class teens who typically attend raves.
According to the Federal Police, most of the new formulas are developed in Europe, then produced in India or China. Users and dealers often are unaware that the substances are new, said São Paulo Public Prosecutor Cassio Roberto Conserino. “They don’t know that these aren’t the original drugs and that they may be even more damaging.”
As attitudes toward substance abuse treatment have become more accepting, treating addiction has increasingly become a billion-dollar business. Bain Capital, the investment firm once headed by former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has seen the potential in the industry and recently acquired Habit OPCO Inc., the largest chain of substance treatment facilities in Massachusetts.
In March, Governor Deval Patrick declared opiate abuse a public health emergency. In 2012, there were 669,000 heroin users nationwide, nearly a 50 percent jump from 2009, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And as opiate addiction affects more middle-and upper-middle-class people, it’s no wonder that substance abuse treatment is now a $7.7 billion industry, growing at a rate of two percent every year, according to IBISWorld Inc.
Habit OPCO, which has 13 locations from Boston to Springfield, treats about 860 people daily in Boston alone. Bain acquired the clinics for $58 million through CRC Health Corp., the biggest provider of substance abuse treatment and behavioral health services in the country.
While the industry’s growth is promising, treating addicts has never been simple. Habit OPCO charges patients $135 a week for methadone treatment, which includes daily doses of methadone and access to doctors and other services. But it is difficult to predict how addicts’ recoveries will play out in the long run. Though methadone relieves withdrawal symptoms, allowing people to function without getting high, it is not a cure for addiction.
As attitudes toward substance abuse treatment, especially harm reduction approaches like methadone therapy or needle exchanges, become more accepted, the growth potential of this industry could be even higher. “This field, substance abuse, is going to be more changed than any other,” said Deni Carise, deputy chief clinical officer for CRC Health. “We’ve pretty much convinced the country now that this is a health care issue. This isn’t about bad people trying to become good. This is about ill people trying to get well.”
Now that Bain has placed its bets on methadone clinics, the pressure to grow profits at CRC Health and Habit OPCO will surely mount. But Carise is determined to provide the same quality of care now as they did then, without cutting corners. “Frankly, the way to make a lot of money in this particular business is to do it badly,” she said. “We’re just not going to do that.”